Conscious Composition:
Design Exhibitions to Know

“Design is only design if it communicates knowledge.” These are the words of the acclaimed Italian modernist artist and designer Enzo Mari (b. 1932). Design serves as a narrative of humanity, encapsulating our collective experiences. Through the form, we not only shape physical objects, but have the ability to imbue them with meaning and significance. From Enzo Mari’s Perpetual Calendar and Roberto Burle Marx’s modernist landscapes to renewable structures such as Brazil’s Museum of Tomorrow and Denmark’s Copenhill, design is a way of visiting the past and carving out the future. Here, we bring you a list of current and upcoming exhibitions that showcase innovation, environmental consciousness and ingenuity.

Transform! Designing the Future of Energy | Vitra Design Museum | 23 March – 1 September

Energy is the main driving force of our society. It’s political and omnipresent, informing the buildings, products and infrastructure of contemporary society. As a result, design plays a key role in the current transition to renewable energy. This is explored by Vitra Design Museum who shine a light on the energy sector today. From the design of solar houses and wind power stations, to futuristic visions of self-sufficient cities, across archetypes, photography, film and installation, the show considers what a sustainable future looks like, examining our relationship to our landscape. Audiences are also invited to participate in generating their own energy, by pedalling on stationary bikes to see how long it takes to produce enough electricity for activities such as brewing a coffee, browsing the web or taking a shower.

An abstract artwork by Anthony Akinbola comprised of vertically oriented sections of durag and acrylic paint in various shades of yellow, pink, and peach. The sections appear neatly aligned except for in the top left corner, where they range in size and appear to drape like crumpled fabric.

By Way Of: Material and Motion | Guggenheim | Until 12 January 2025

What is the importance of material? Guggenheim New York presents an exhibitions that moves from the 1960s to the present day. It explores the role of the studio, a place of inspiration, invention and experimentation, to the post-war move towards working in plein air, entrusting intuition over formal training. Of particular focus are artists who belonged to Arte Povera, an Italian movement from the 1960s to the 1970s that explored a wide range of materials beyond the traditional canvas. Included are works from Jannis Kounellis and Mario Merz, alongside contemporary artists Mona Hatoum, Rashid Johnson and Senga Nengudi. Depicted here, we see Jubilee by Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola. The piece is an assemblage of acrylic and weaved materials on wood, resulting in a sculptural, multi-layered design.

Biophilia: Nature Reimagined | Denver Art Museum | 5 May – 11 August

“Biophilia” is a term popularised by American biologist Edward O. Wilson to describe his theory that, as humans have evolved as a species, they have been intricately intertwined with the natural world. Wilson’s hypothesis invites deep reflection and poses relevant questions for audiences to consider life in our hyper-accelerated digital and urban-centric world. Inspired by this, Denver Art Museum’s exhibition brings together more than 70 imaginative works, including architectural models, digital installations, fashion and photographs, to collectively highlight the power nature. International designers and artists such as Iris van Herpen, Studio Gang and teamLab show their work in a display that takes its inspiration from organic forms. Shown here is Nana Lure Chandelier, a light fixture by PELLE that mimics the look of a rubber plant.

Crafting Modernity: Design in Latin America, 1940-1980 | MoMA | Until 22 September

The postwar era in Latin America was a period of dramatic transformation, characterised by great economic growth and modernisation. In the 1940s, as WWII raged in Europe, countries in the region replaced imported goods with domestic products. These readily available materials led to the rise of national industries, generating opportunities for local designers. More than 100 objects inform the show, focusing on six countries — Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela — that spearheaded the development of domestic design. Significant homes such as Lina Bo Bardi’s Casa de Vidro and Alfredo Boulton’s house in Pampatar are explored as case studies. Other highlights include the dynamic prints of Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, renowned for his development of urban public space.

Enzo Mari | The Design Museum | 29 March – 8 September

Italian modernist artist and designer Enzo Mari was one of the 20th century’s most significant designers. During his prolific career, he created countless enduring and timeless designs, filling the homes and streets of Milan and beyond. The artist aimed at creative elegant, functional and low cost pieces such as the Elisa chair and Box chair (1971) as well as the Legato table (2001), winner of the Compasso d’Oro award. He famously declared, “When I create a project I always want it to last for at least 100 years or even 1000 years.” This retrospective brings together hundreds of his projects, from furniture to graphic design to installations and children’s toys. Alongside this, the museum hosts a display of commissioned tributes from contemporary international artists that celebrate Mari’s legacy, such as Nanda Vigo and Martino Gamper.

Image Credits:

1. Ed Kashi, Petroleum Pipeline, Okrika Town, Nigeria, 2006 © Ed Kashi/VII/Redux

2. CRA – Carlo Ratti Associati, Helsinki Hot Heart, 2021, © CRA – Carlo Ratti Associati

3. Anthony Olubunmi Akinbola, Jubilee 2021 Du Rag and acrylic on wooden panel

4. PELLE, Nana Lure Chandelier, hand-sculpted and hand painted cast cotton paper, patinated steel, and LED; 96 x 82 x 82 in. © Jean & Oliver Pelle. Image courtesy of PELLE.

5. Roberto Burle Marx, Mineral roof garden, Banco Safra headquarters, São Paulo, 1983, Photo © Leonardo Finotti.

6. Lo Zoo di Enzo by Nanda Vigo. 2020 © Triennale Milano. Photo Gianluca Di Ioia