California: Designing Freedom

Museums, Art and design
4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(1user review)

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

We are all Californians. That’s the bold statement that the Design Museum’s new exhibition makes as it examines how Californian ideals have affected our everyday lives through technology.

The exhibition traces the progression of design in California from the 1960s to the present. It reveals how design was heavily influenced by counterculture movements. Hippies, surfers, gay activists and black activists – all united in their quest for freedom – used design to promote their respective causes. The ideologies of those countercultures were the unwitting precursors to the start-up ethos of Silicon Valley and the technology that we have today.

Freedom is the dominant theme. It’s explored from five different angles: movement, perception, expression, self-reliance and association. The ‘Whole Earth Catalog’ is on display, a self-sufficiency magazine that has been hailed as the original Google. Other highlights include Black Panther posters by Emory Douglas circa 1969, the hand-stitched ‘rainbow flag’ by Gilbert Baker and some impressive Syd Mead ‘Blade Runner’ concept art which fittingly explores the consequences of technology on society.

The centrepiece is the juxtaposition of a replica Captain America chopper from ‘Easy Rider’, a symbol of escapism and individuality, with the Waymo self-driving car, a symbol of ridiculously advanced technology and equally terrifying hands-free jokes.

From skateboards to iPhones, it’s hard to deny that California has influenced and changed the world we live in. This exhibition make you think about what will happen to individual freedom if design technology gets too advanced – but if we’re all Californian we’ll probably just sit back and ride that wave.

By: Fuchsia Millevoi

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Tastemaker

Lit with the sugared almond glow of a West Coast sunset, the California Exhibit is a thing of beauty. Expected perhaps, given both its catalogue of iconic design inspiration over past decades and its location inside the brand new, ultra gorgeous Design Museum but worth noting and nodding in appreciation over none the less.

Exploring the most famous – and some less familiar – brands to come out of the Golden State, this one room exhibition is a comprehensive look into how they came about, the challenges they surmounted and the stimulation they provided for future generations of dreamers. From the dawn of Apple computing to the quintessentially American motorbike from Easy Rider via the first ever Gay Pride rainbow flag, blueprints for the new offices of Facebook, a detailed 3-d construction of Google Maps, surfboards and skateboards and a peek into the planning behind the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the space covers technology (perhaps more than any other field of interest here though sport, culture and music are also represented) in a way that’s both visionary and intriguing.

There are plenty of spots in which to listen to speeches on everything from early computer games to the threat of the rise of machines and one of my favourite parts was the scattering of bean bags in front of a rolling film comprised entirely of different shots of the state set to the music of some of its most famous alumni; infamous oversized donuts sit side by side on the screen with glistening beach scenes, shabby downtown squats and the gated communities of the rich and famous.

Give yourself a couple of hours to wander round – with only a month left it might get busier towards the end of its run here but it was relatively peaceful on our mid-Saturday afternoon visit – and leave time to visit the cracking gift shop where, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find a dozen things to make note of for Christmas gifts. A must for anyone who loves graphics, design, Americana or the place of technology in our current world, this is a dream of an exhibit well worth making a beeline for…now please excuse me while I go Spotify me some Beach Boys.

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