SunPost, “Social: Wolfsonian–FIU Power Of Design Festival
Featuring World Renowned Visionaries,” February 20, 2014
Miami Socialholic, “Don’t Miss:
Funkshion: Fashion Week Miami, Wolfsonian-FIU Inaugurates Power of Design 2014,
MOCA Presents a Night of Music, Miami-Dade County Youth Fair & Exposition
and Miami Rescue Mission, and Afrojack Launches Capsule Collection at G-Star
RAW,” February 20, 2014
I had the opportunity to sit down with author and cultural historian
Kurt Andersen for coffee on the morning of Sunday, March 23, the concluding day
of Power of Design. A longtime admirer of The Wolfsonian, Andersen served as
emcee and moderator of the ideas festival. We discussed some of the themes and
“big ideas” that emerged during the festival, and the weirdness of staying in a
Miami Beach resort hotel during Spring Break.
Shawn Clybor: Did you
have any connection or affiliation with The Wolfsonian prior to your work on
Power of Design?
Kurt Andersen: No. One line from my professional life has
been writing about design. I was contacted by [museum director] Cathy Leff
early in the process. At that point the festival was not totally figured out. When
she told me that the theme of the festival was “complaints,” I though it was
really interesting, and her irresistible enthusiasm for this still-germinating
idea gave me a good reason to be in Miami at end of winter. And then I found
out part of my job was to talk to my friend Andy [Borowitz]. We just get to sit
around for an hour and talk? That works.
Clybor: How have you
enjoyed the festival overall? Were there any highlights?
Andersen: The scene
in our hotel lobby on Saturday night was an unanticipated field study! [Spring
Break in Florida. You get the picture.] Otherwise, I would say last night’s
Prophets of the Digital Age event. At first I was not sure about doing it
because I was already doing the other events during the day. But getting to
talk to Clive Thompson, Jaron Lanier, and Michael Chabon in an open-ended way
was really attractive to me.
Clybor: It was an
extremely lively conversation, to say the least. At one point Clive and Jaron
were battling for the microphone, and I thought it was going to get violent.
Andersen: It got
out of control. They were really arguing. I warned the speakers beforehand that
they disagree in fundamental ways. And I knew already that Jaron is very convinced
of his own correctness. I kind of made a joke to Clive beforehand: He’s gonna call
you what Dan Aykroyd used to call Jane Curtin on Saturday Night Live…
prediction. At one point Jaron told Clive he wasn’t going to answer one of his
questions because it was “stupid,” so they weren’t too far away from that. But,
moving away from the drama, what did you take away from Prophets of the Digital
Andersen: For me a highlight was Chabon’s description of how
we go down useless rabbit holes with Internet research, and then
serendipitously find Internet nuggets that we never would have found any other
way. Our time wasting versus our eureka moments. This is my experience as well.
It wasn’t new to me as an insight, but it was amusing, and he put it cleverly.
Clybor: It was so
wonderful just to hear him speak.
organizers really went into left field for Chabon. He’s not someone you would
think of when you think “Internet.”
Clybor: Yes. I have
to say kudos to them for the research they put into organizing the panel. It
wasn’t just three famous people who have something to say about the Internet. These
individuals were selected intentionally because they represent sharply
Andersen: The organizers were incredibly on the case and
thorough about managing the whole process. Panels can be really boring. Really,
though, all of the panels for the entire festival were well curated. People
think it’s easy to organize panels. You just put people together and one talks
after the other, as opposed to thinking about it as an intellectual and
theatrical craft. I’m asked to do panels and roundtables a lot, and I’ve
learned to say no ninety percent of the time. This festival was, for a lot of
reasons, really well and thoughtfully considered. For a beta version of
something, I thought this was cool.
Clybor: So now that
we’re discussing the event as a whole, did you notice any common themes or
threads emerge during the festival? For instance, I heard you mention a few
times during the festival the tension between the need for a Robert Moses–type governmental
figure to cut through bureaucratic red tape to resolve citizen complaints,
versus a more “bottom up” approach that allows citizens to fix their own
problems without government getting in the way.
Andersen: Yes, and another theme was how to fight against
our ongoing need to codify and code everything. The smooth friction of the
digital universe is created by trillions of lines of coding, and yet in life we
are saying “less coding.” Andrés Duany [who cofounded the New Urbanism movement
and spoke at the Cities and City Life panel] has been critical for a long time about
the damage caused by encoded bureaucratic impulses. I also remember when Dickie
Davis said something [she is director of public and customer relations at Miami
International Airport and spoke at The Air Travel Experience panel] about how federal
immigration staffing at Miami International Airport is a disaster. You seldom
hear someone in her position say that. I was happy to see that degree of
Overall, I would say that political economy was a really
major theme. And this axis [between top-down and bottom-up] looks quite
different from our standard “public” versus “private” debates. This is not
about some Mad Max radical libertarian thing, but at the same time let’s not
deny that bureaucracy is not a dead hand of regulatory inertia. Let’s get
beyond the tired, sclerotic Fox News and MSNBC talking points. That’s why I
loved the Cities panel. They weren’t just some tired politicians; they were
practical people asking, “How do we do this?”
Clybor: My last
question: Do you consider yourself a complainer?
Andersen: No, I
really don’t. I’ve been a boss. I learned a lot from having employees. People
who complained about their job, my reaction was: “Fix it. Propose a solution,
or get over it and see this as a temporary thing.” Don’t just be in a situation
and complain about it. Which is not to say that I’m the person who accentuates
the positive. I call a spade a spade. It’s more that I’m inclined to be around
Shawn Clyboris a cultural historian of East-Central Europe and a former Fulbright-Hays
Scholar. He has published several articles on the relationship between art and
politics in communist Czechoslovakia and post-communist Czech Republic. He is currently
cataloguing a private collection of Czech avant-garde books and teaching at the
Ross School. He earned a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University in 2010.
On Sunday afternoon, a group of South Florida
investigative reporters and editors gathered in The Wolfsonian’s auditorium to
discuss ways in which journalism responds to complaints, which they loosely
defined as societal, political, and environmental wrongs.
The panel was moderated by The Miami Herald’s Jane Wooldridge, who also coordinated Power of
Design’s Solve This Miami!
competition, which awarded a $25,000 grant from The Wolfsonian to a local
nonprofit. Members of the panel were Dan Christiansen, founder and editor of Broward Bulldog; Jim DeFede of CBS4;
Carol Marbin Miller, investigative reporter with The Miami Herald; and Alicia Zuckerman, editorial director at WLRN.
“Watchdog journalism is important to our community
and to the civic health of any community,” said Wooldridge in her opening
remarks. She described the journalists on the panel as “driven to do the work
that they do because they feel it is important to the community” and “people
who give up all kinds of personal time and personal lives to do work that is
Each journalist discussed examples of his or her
work, much of it recent, including investigations into the abuse of children,
environmental concerns around global warming, terrorism, and ethical violations
by police officers.
A good portion of the panel was devoted to an
ongoing Miami Herald investigative
series titled Innocents
about the deaths of nearly five hundred Florida children in the past six years,
following a shift in Florida welfare policy; in all cases, the Florida
Department of Children & Families had received warnings about the families
of these children. Carol Marbin Miller, co-author of the series, has spent many
years reporting on abuse, neglect, and wrongful death of children and
Rather than focusing much on particulars of the investigative
or even her motivation in covering these topics, Miller repeatedly encouraged
the audience to be part of the solution. “You all have to do and say something
if you care about our children. The primary goal of government, and of any
civilized society, is to protect those who can’t protect themselves. We have
all let this happen. If we do nothing then we are complicit,” she said.
“Let your feelings be known to the legislature and
the governor. The situation has to be made too painful for the state legislature
and the governor’s office to do nothing. They have done nothing for decades. If
I were a civilian I would be sitting in the governor’s office right now. I
would be in court representing these children. I would go to the hospital and
hold infants as they withdraw. There are a million things you can do to help.”
Jim DeFede, in addition to discussing recent work,
talked about how in the past, when he was a columnist with The Miami Herald, he would often tag-team on Miller’s stories in
order to keep them “alive.” If a story runs in the newspaper only once, often
“politicians will say all the right things when a story hits, but will they do
anything?” What effects change, DeFede said, is to keep “hammering” at the
story. “It’s a lot more annoying for officials if we keep doing it. We have to
keep at it. The challenge when we hit with a big story is, how do we keep it
Dan Christensen of the Broward Bulldog then summarized an ongoing story he’s been investigating
about a family living in South Florida that abruptly disappeared just prior to
9/11—ties to the 9/11 hijackers have since surfaced, but much remains unknown. “This
is an example of an investigation that can take a lot of time and doesn’t
necessarily lead to a complete answer,” he said.
Alicia Zuckerman of WLRN focused on the extensive
series of recent radio programming titled Elevation Zero: Rising
Seas in South Florida, which ran for a full hour each day for
a week, in addition to eighteen additional stories online and in social media.
“How do you cover a slow-moving threat? Our approach was to look at it through
the lens of science, policy, and individual stories,” she said.
One audience member complained about the type of
news stories that come out of South Florida, including the frequent pieces on Medicare
fraud and ID theft. Christensen’s response was to look to the lack of strong
leadership. “This is a transient community,” he said, citing a study reporting
that Florida is the most disengaged state in the nation and South Florida is
the most disengaged part of the state.
“As a journalist, I’m glad that we are rife with
corruption and scandal,” DeFede said. “Florida is a place where people go for
second chances. And we want so desperately to be substantive, to be a
world-class community, that we are easy prey for hucksterism.”
Zuckerman noted that for journalists, it comes down fostering
a relationship of sorts between public officials and the public, while pointing
out the responsibilities of each group in terms of responding to the complaints
exposed by watchdog journalism: “As journalists, we hold public officials
accountable. We are letting the public know what we find out and giving the
public the tools to do what needs to be done.” Andrea Gollin is the writer/editor for special projects for The Wolfsonian, including the Power of Design website and blog.
Todd Oldham, in addition to his
work curating BUMMER in conjunction with Power of Design and participating in
two panel discussions (The Wolfsonian: Collecting Complaints and The Air Travel
Experience), spent Sunday morning creating bracelets out of multi-colored pipe
cleaners and decorating with duct tape (as pictured above).
The designer led two children’s
craft workshops, held back-to-back in the lobby of The Wolfsonian. Solutions! New Ideas and Art Made From
Things You Might Otherwise Throw Away, attracted more than fifty kids and
their parents. Oldham, with a little help from a few Wolfsonian staff members,
managed to ignite creativity while using unexpected materials, much of it
recycled (and donated by Florida International University’s recycling
department). The workshop was co-sponsored by the Miami Children’s Museum.
Oldham explained that although
it’s fascinating to see what children are capable of when given free rein to
just do, growing up distracts. “We un-teach
children. Humans have natural creative abilities and society undoes it,” he
said. Oldham has held similar programs in many different locations and said
that youth-stemmed creativity is universal, although parental support is crucial.
The creations that resulted from
Solutions! ranged from jewelry to
robots riding skateboards. One six-year-old boy created a giraffe using toilet
paper rolls and yellow construction paper. A ten-year-old girl transformed a
cardboard box into a rather fashionable purse by using patterned duct tape
(from Oldham’s personal line) to hide the worn marks of the throwaway
Below are a few of Sunday’s
accomplishments, designer and all.
Iris, 7: A bracelet and mini-art installation made from tape,
pom-poms, and pipe cleaners.
Jonah, 6: A basketball hoop with a backboard and support. Jonah
chose to use pom-poms as basketballs and remembered to attach a cup to the
bottom for efficient storage.
Sebastian, 6: A giraffe in its natural habitat made from recycled toilet paper rolls, construction paper, and felt.
India,8:Treasure chest made from a tissue box, duct tape, and paper. Treasure included.
Isabella, 9: Two purses with duct tape flower decoration and
Anaiya, 8: A desk with a cup holder and a robot made from an old Gatorade bottle and tape.
Alessandra, 5: Rainbow snowman made from a plastic juice bottle
with pom-pom buttons and a hot
air-balloon made with two upside-down bottles and construction paper.
Photo credits: Top two photos, Manny Hernandez. Photos of kids with artwork, Mariam Aldhahi.
Andrew Blauvelt is senior curator for design, research, and
publishing at the Walker Art Center, where he previously served from 1998–2009
as design director and curator. A practicing graphic designer, his work has
received nearly one hundred awards and has been exhibited and published in the
U.S., Europe, and Asia. Commenting on his poster, which reproduces a museum constituent's 1962 letter of outrage sent to the Walker Art Center in reaction to an avant-garde "Happening," along with the director's response, he says, “It has been said
that without complaints and offense there would be no advancement in the arts.
Complaint, a free speech right, meets freedom of expression. A defense of
positions sincerely held.”
Inalienable Right is a poster exhibition curated by Steven Heller in
conjunction with Power of Design 2014: Complaints.
Michele Oka Doner’s guided walk on the beach was one of the optional
activities on Saturday afternoon during the break between panel discussions.
Blogger Mariam Aldhahi tagged along.
Artist Michele Oka Doner (b.
1945) was raised on Miami Beach, just minutes from The Wolfsonian. By
channeling her deep connection to the natural world, Oka Doner has created many
public art installations inspired by South Florida’s flora and fauna. One of
her better known pieces, A Walk on the
Beach (1995–2009), is a fundamental part of Miami International Airport’s
image. A mile long, the dark terrazzo walkway, inlaid with cast bronze elements
and scattered with mother-of-pearl, draws its inspiration from the artist’s longstanding
love of the beach.
Based in New York City, she maintains
ties to the Miami art scene. She is a member of The Wolfsonian’s advisory board
and longtime friend of its founder, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr., with whom she
co-authored the book Miami Beach:
Blueprint of an Eden. Few people are better versed on Miami Beach’s
history, ecology, and in the growing emergence of Miami as an art and design
powerhouse. These factors combined make her the ideal tour guide for a
Power of Design walk on the beach.
Oka Doner made three main stops
on a trek that delved deep into the artist’s psyche by going back to where her
journey began: Ocean Drive.
Stop One: The coral rock walls that stretch north to south along the western edge of the beach are among the few remnants of the pre-gentrified strip of Ocean
Drive. Each piece of coral, so deeply embedded into the walls over thousands of
years, evokes the artist’s major terrazzo installation at the airport. Oka
Doner, though, rather than discuss her art or inspiration, relayed fond childhood
memories of her mother teaching her how to lie on the wall like a lady.
Stop Two: Palm trees along the beach may spur admirers of Oka
Doner’s work to consider the large scale and types of structures she often
gravitates to in her work. For her, however, the trees are mature versions of
what she witnessed being planted decades before as a young girl—and a new
driver—practicing her automotive skills by traversing Ocean Drive in her
Stop Three: The scarce greenery that dots the shoreline sends Oka
Doner back to a time when the entire stretch of beach was covered in spiky
plants and shrubbery, since wiped out by development. Oka Doner provides
insight into her inspiration for her jewelry design when she shares stories of summer
days spent on this same beach gathering natural materials for her very first
personal collection. Even now, she says, she sometimes prefers seaweed
necklaces over more conventional options.
The walk was refreshing,
enlightening, and created a peculiar sort of nostalgia—a longing for a time we
were never part of. By visiting vital locations of an artist’s childhood that
continue to inspire her work, we were given a peek into the mind and creative
process of a Miami Beach native whose art owes much to her South Florida roots.
Mariam Aldhahi is a graduate student in the MFA in Design Criticism
at the School of Visual Arts. This coming summer, she will be working at The
Wolfsonian as part of her thesis research.
Jane Gittings Robert has been
working as a designer since 1981. She spent her early career in Chicago working for the offices Robertz Webb and Bagby and Company. Since
1997 she has run her own firm, concentrating on package and book design. She
has won numerous awards from the AIGA and the STA, and her work has been
published by the AIGA, the Type Directors Club, and Graphis. Her most recent book
was published by Chronicle Books for the restaurant Salpicon in Chicago. She is
married to the photographer Francois Robert (who also contributed posters to this exhibition).
Complaints! An Inalienable Right is a poster exhibition curated by Steven Heller in conjunction with Power of Design 2014: Complaints.
This is a painting on view in our permanent exhibition, Art and Design in the Modern Age. It’s alternately
called Suicide with Skyscrapers or Man on the Ledge. The artist is Stuyvesant
Van Veen, a New Yorker who was best known as a mural painter.
This painting is remarkable in how strongly it invites the
viewer to engage at the level of narrative. What’s going to happen next seems pretty
straightforward. Either he’s going to jump or he’s not.
But how this young man got there is more of a mystery. And
the painter makes it even more of a mystery by electing to portray face from an
oblique angle. By obscuring the expression on his face, Van Veen deprives us of
the kinds of psychological indicators that might help us figure out how he got to
this place, what brought him to the ledge. The clues are found not in the way
Van Veen rendered the human figure, but in how he painted the surroundings—in
other words, in social psychology rather than in individual psychology.
In particular, the painting embodies a trenchant complaint
about life in modern times, one most associated with the French social theorist
Emile Durkheim. Durkheim’s wrote a book in 1897 called Suicide. In that book, he introduced the concept of anomie, as a way of getting at one of
the more disturbing aspects he identified in urban, industrial societies. In
such a society, the values, the ideologies enunciated by the larger community can
lose their connection to the experience of individual people. And as a result
the norms that govern behavior lose their hold over individuals. Where that
happens, social deviance—crime, drug abuse, suicide—can flourish.
So here is my narrative. Look again at the painting. Here is
a young man in the heart of New York, one of the biggest, most crowded cities
on earth. Perhaps he’s moved there from a small town, a place where everyone
knew everyone else, and where everyone was in everyone else’s business. Maybe
the promises that brought him to New York—success or glamor or love or sex—have
been broken. And here he is—not another soul in sight. An individual without
community, a portrait of anomie.
Jon Mogul is The Wolfsonian's assistant director for research and academic
Caption: Painting, Suicide
with Skyscrapers [Man on the Ledge],
1940. Stuyvesant Van Veen. New York, New York. Acrylic on canvas. The
Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection.
Note: This post is based on the presentation for The Wolfsonian: Collecting Complaints on March 21, 2014.
Jaron Lanier, Clive Thompson, and Michael
Chabon gathered for a conversation moderated by Power of Design master of
ceremonies Kurt Andersen to discuss whether now is the best of times or the
worst of times when it comes to technology and its impact on our lives and
minds (Prophets of the Digital Age took place Saturday, March 22, 7:00–8:30pm).
Something struck me about the Prophets of the Digital Age
event co-organized by The Wolfsonian and Intelligence Squared London as part of
Power of Design, which attracted a full house—more than 350 people showed up at
the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) for the event. Despite the
“ultra-partisanship” of American life, we rarely get to witness a genuinely
passionate, off-the-cuff disagreement in which none of the participants has an advantage over the
Lanier, a pioneering computer scientist turned Internet
skeptic, called upon the audience to acknowledge the “empirical realities” of
the twenty-first century: social inequality has exploded and the general public
is increasingly ignorant when it comes to science. Thompson, a technology
writer and firm proponent of the digital age, countered that these were
political problems; when it comes to digital technologies, the general public
has acted in inventive, unanticipated, and liberating ways. Chabon, a Pulitzer
Prize–winning novelist, argued that because humans created machines they
reflect human nature—like us, Internet is equally horrible and wonderful.
After Chabon spoke, Lanier interjected passionately that Thompson
was not looking at the larger, structural effects of digital technologies, and
that Chabon was too resigned—improvements can and should be made to make the
web a better place for everyone. Emotions got heated, especially when two of
the speakers’ microphones stopped working. With only one microphone between
them, the speakers had to share (which they did with varying degrees of
willingness). In the long run, I think this had a positive effect: no matter
how angry Lanier and Thompson became, they had to “pass the torch.” This act of
forced sharing helped de-escalate the tension. At points, I half-expected bloodshed.
One of the interesting themes that emerged during the
discussion (and which also surfaced during Andy Borowitz’s discussion earlier
in the day with Kurt Andersen) was how users of Twitter and Facebook are
generating free content that, according to Thompson, equals “more writing than
has ever been produced in human history.” Lanier agreed that once we, as a
society, are able to place a fair price the data that we are currently giving
away to billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg, we will be able to create a more
adequate space for “personhood to exist” in the digital universe. This really
struck me, and I have been thinking a lot about how (and whether) this problem
really can be avoided without avoiding “social” forms of online media
altogether. (If you have any ideas, feel free to send me a message, preferably
not on Facebook or Twitter.)
Overall, I’m a huge Chabon fan. As such, I enjoyed his
contributions the most. One of the highlights for me was his response to an audience
member’s question as to whether it was possible to reinvent oneself, or to keep
secrets, in the digital age. Chabon responded that secrets, and their
concealment, were a central plot device in literature—affairs, illegitimate
children, sordid past lives, etc. But, he asked, how are such secrets possible
in the digital age, when young people no longer care much about discretion?
At the same time, he noted, novels are losing their ability to
blur the boundaries between fact and creative liberty. When he published his
award-winning novel The Amazing
Adventures ofKavalier & Clay in
2000, a number of people thought he was writing historical fiction based on
real people, and asked him where they could buy comic book art drawn by the
novel’s protagonists. With Google, this is no longer possible. (When he said
this, it reminded me that I was one of those people: when I first read the
novel, I looked up the lead characters to make sure they didn’t actually
exist.) When Lanier responded to Chabon that falsehoods and myths are created
online every day, Chabon quipped, “So maybe the novel is no longer a good way
of fooling people.” For me, it was this sort of pensive melancholy that made
Chabon’s contributions so delightful.
Shawn Clyboris a cultural historian of East-Central Europe and a former Fulbright-Hays
Scholar. He has published several articles on the relationship between art and
politics in communist Czechoslovakia and post-communist Czech Republic. He is
currently cataloguing a private collection of Czech avant-garde books and
teaching at the Ross School. He earned a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern
University in 2010. Photo credit: World Red Eye