“We don’t have to have a $45 million building,” Tanner Woodford assures me as he describes the mission of the Chicago Design Museum (700 N Sacramento Blvd, no. 201), which hosts its opening reception Monday 11 as the third annual Chicago Design Week begins.
The ChiDM is a pop-up institution that will occupy 6,000 square feet of Humboldt Park’s former Cribben & Sexton Universal stove factory through June 30. Its five concurrent exhibitions include surveys of designers Ed Fella’s and Debbie Millman’s non-commercial work, a Russian poster show that pays homage to the Constructivist designer Alexander Rodchenko (1891–1956) and an overview of IBM’s 100-year history. For the fifth exhibition, “Fresh Produced,” the ChiDM invited graphic designers such as Rick Valicenti, Kate Bingaman-Burt and Plural to create new works inspired by signs hand-painted for Chicago grocery stores.
Woodford, who’s a senior interaction designer at Morningstar as well as the ChiDM’s director, began laying the groundwork for the museum with cofounder Mark Dudlik five years ago. At the time, the two friends (who met as undergrads at Arizona State University) were based in Phoenix, where Dudlik still lives. “We started talking about how there wasn’t a strong [design] community” in the city, Woodford recalls. So the duo started Phoenix Design Week, a conference that celebrates its fourth anniversary in September. They also noted “the lack of design museums at home and abroad,” says Woodford, who moved to Chicago last year.
Having realized that “a design museum doesn’t have to be a full-time, brick-and-mortar institution,” Woodford explains, he and Dudlik opened the pop-up Phoenix Design Museum in October 2011. After the ChiDM closes its physical space, it will continue to organize events and prepare for more exhibitions next June.
Asked why it’s important to call this initiative a museum, Woodford says, “It roots us in our history. I know you can show historical work in a gallery, but this demands a certain excellence. We’re trying to highlight excellent design. Some of it is happening currently; some of it happened 50 years ago or 30 years ago. But we’re trying to do it in a new way.” The ChiDM won’t abandon all traditional museum trappings, however: It contains a gift shop.
The Chicago Design Museum opens Monday 11.