Where does art stop and design start?

April 8

Marc Newson, Lockheed Lounge, Courtesy of the Art Gallery of NSW

Have art and design finally fused? Some days it feels like the border between the two is slipping away. Technology has made the world of images and design so accessible one could be guilty of blaming technology for driving art and design into the same box.

For artists who are working today, it’s hard to know where art stops and design starts. Or if they should choose one discipline over another. This month we ask if art and design can coexist in one practice and what it takes to straddle both worlds successfully?

To unpack the cross over we caught up with art dealer Michael Reid. Michael has a broad business perspective. He’s presented both types of work in his gallery and during his prodigious career worked for Christies in London and Sydney; for The Australian as a business writer and he’s helped to launch the career of many Australian artists as owner of his own gallery over 13 years.


Question: What’s driven the fusion of art and design?

Michael Reid: We have the most visually literate people who have ever walked the planet. The information super highway is essentially a highway where information is conveyed by images and not words. We are becoming visually literate at the expense of literature.

There are so many factors, but the fact that every person as a device in their bag or on their person, is a big factor shaping in the visual culture.


Piet Mondrian, Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow, 1930
Bauhaus, was a German art school operational from 1919 to 1933 that combined crafts and the fine arts. It had a strong emphasis on an aesthetic approach to design. 


Have art and design always been separate disciplines in your mind?

I am historian, so I tend to think a little longer term. I think where we have arrived at today is where the arts and craft movement wanted us to be 100 years ago. That whole school, believed that beauty was in everything we did and everywhere.

Thirty years ago I think we were in a stage where design was put in a box and used industrially. So there was industrial design – where things were made by machines and things were made, that were easy to use and were industrially made.

And we have now moved to artistic, creative and aesthetic design were things made for every day use can also be beautiful.

I think the rise of some major designers in the last 20 years – like Marc Newson was a classic example – where you have the notion that functionality and beauty were actually one and the same thing.


What other factors are influencing the fusion of art and design?

There has been an implosion of high and low art. That old notion that artists must paint, and designers must work in metal. When all that explodes inward, but what we can do thanks to technology explodes outward, you’ve got artists now that are working with textiles and materials in way they were not 10 years ago, because it was not possible.

Soon everyone will have 3D printers in their homes and our relationship to design will change again.


The Art Gallery of NSW’s recent exhibition Adman: Warhol before pop examined Warhol’s career in advertising and graphic design before he entered the  art world. 


Should artists straddle design and art in their careers?

My advice to artists is be professional. Brett Whitely worked in advertising, Norman Lindsay worked for the Bulletin. Artists have traditionally always worked. This idea that all artists can support themselves with their practice is veneer thin.

Not many can. Gaugin was a bank teller. If you are going to do both you need to separate your practice out and have a different brand for it. For example you might take photos professionally under one name and have a brand for that.

A lot of photographers who are world class and major now, were actually involved in fashion or photo journalism. Many, many photographers came from being photojournalists like Narelle Autio and Trent Parke for example. Artists that have to work, are more interesting because they have to engage and become professional. They have to navigate deadlines and outcomes.

New_Press release_Helmut Newton_Permanent Loan Selection_Helmut

Photographer Helmut Newton, worked predominately in fashion. Through his experimentation in the field he developed a new aesthetic movement of erotica that went on to earn him great acclaim in the art world. 


Has your gallery changed to reflect changing times?

I have shown furniture in the gallery by Khai Liew. Alesandro Ljubicic has done perfume to match paintings. Our business today is really to be an art hub. Most of our engagement is digital, but I offer a physical space as an arts hub. It’s an art hub for education, it’s an arts hub for advice, it’s an arts hub for a whole range of artist management practices, it is not just about selling stuff on walls.


What are the pitfalls for artists moving into design?

With our artists we say “no” a lot. That’s our job to filter stuff, all the time. With Alesandro Ljubicic I say no nine times out of ten and with all my artists we say no a lot of the time but every now and then if the artist wants to do it then we won’t necessarily curb their enthusiasm. We just manage it. It’s all on contracts. We limit the copyright.

Do artists make mistakes when they venture into design? Absolutely. Do artists get it wrong from time to time? Absolutely. But I think we are more forgiving, you learn a lesson and you move on.


Do galleries and artists have to be more entrepreneurial? Like musicians have?

You do realise, that every day there are less and less art dealers, we cannot represent even a fraction of the talent out there. We want artists to explore alternative methods of promotion and practice. We want artists that have a level of professionalism and business nous about them – we want artists with ideas that can actually put themselves on the radar because then we can work with them better.

Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst’s, Treasures From The Wreck Of The Unbelievable, 2017 installation view at Palazzo Grassi

In today’s art market we can see the borders between art and design have blurred. Where as designed historically solved a problem and art raised a question, the two have now have significant overlap. As the digital space grows, the visual literacy of the audience allows  artists to take more risks both aesthetically and conceptually. However designers are still required to maintain a sense of functionality within their work. 

The upcoming Den Fair will present both designers and artists side by side bringing the two disciplines together simultaneously. 

.M Contemporary at Stand no. G18. Denfair is happening 8-10 June Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, 1 Convention Centre Pl, South Wharf VIC 3006.

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Where does art stop and design start?

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