Designers’ attempts to fix the hot mess that fossil fuels and reckless waste have made of this planet are the theme of a new exhibition in Milan. “Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival” (through Sept. 1) displays about 100 objects and four commissioned projects tackling the strained or ruptured ties between humankind and the natural world.
Organized by Paola Antonelli, the senior curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art, as the 22nd Triennale exhibition at the Palazzo dell’Arte in Milan, “Broken Nature” finds hope, or at least fascination, in the visionary responses to the dark prophecies cast for our future on earth. The exhibits are as practical as Lia, the first fully biodegradable pregnancy test, and as fraught as efforts by Neri Oxman, an M.I.T. architect, to embed building materials with melanin, the skin pigment that defends against ultraviolet rays.
“The deep and urgent issues” facing our species “have provoked a groundswell of creativity of the best kind — diverse, critical, complex, sometimes dark,” Ms. Antonelli wrote in an email. “The time for Pollyannish ‘green’ design has come and gone, thankfully.”
Jorge Mañes Rubio and Amanda Pinatih, “Design Museum Dharavi,&rdquo, also in «Broken Nature.»CreditJorge Mañes Rubio and Amanda Pinatih
Another look at nature as the mother of design invention (with an assist from the laboratory) can be seen at the Pompidou Center in Paris, in “The Factory of Life,” the third installment of an annual series called “Mutations/Creations.” Among the 100projects occupying the intersections of biology, engineering and art are the “Semi-Human Vase” by Hongjie Yang, a Chinese designer based in the Netherlands, which is made from living cells, and a 3-D-printed garden planted with micro-algae by EcoLogic Studio in London. Through April 15. —Julie Lasky
Classical Gas: Snark Park Opens at Hudson Yards
The New York studio Snarkitecture has created elaborately playful temporary installations, including monumental marble runs, canopies formed by cylindrical balloons and plunge-ready seas of plastic spheres that have sparked a craze for Instagrammable ball pits. On March 15, the studio will settle down, in a manner of speaking, with the opening of Snark Park at Hudson Yards in Manhattan, a 3,000-square-foot museumlike space where Snarkitecture will introduce three hands-on installations each year.
The project “was very natural for us, because a lot of what we do is this interactive, experiential, accessible stuff between art and architecture,” said Ben Porto, a partner in Snarkitecture with Daniel Arsham and Alex Mustonen. “It will almost be an incubator for us,” he added, referring to the possibility that concepts introduced at Snark Park will move on to other cities.
The first installation, “Lost and Found,” involves a forest of columns embedded with surprises like a chamber lined in memory foam, a periscope and walls of Ping-Pong balls. The instructions are simple, Mr. Porto said: “Get up, interact and touch the art and architecture.” Snark Park is at 20 Hudson Yards, 2nd Floor; $28 for adults, $22 for children 4 to 12. —Tim McKeough
Why Kintsugi Is Indestructible
Kintsugi , the Japanese technique of mending broken ceramics with gold, has spread throughout the world. But today’s applications gleam a little more like Trump Tower than grandmother’s cracked teacup. On the design circuit, streaks of gold appear on a new Himalayan wool rug from Illulian, on wall tiles from the Italian manufacturer Officinarkitettura and on maximalist china from Seletti (right). Gold seams even run through the white suede floorboards of Infiniti’s new QX Inspiration concept electric vehicle. But this is kintsugi in name only — no karat, only slick.
It appears that Westerners like the idea of kintsugi even more than the real deal. Though we may break, we can be fixed. The scars make us interesting. Much of what passes for kintsugi has more to do with feel-good affirmation than with literal repair. (There’s even a “kintsugi” meditation on the mindfulness app Calm.)
Leonard Koren, who wrote the classic book about creative imperfection, “Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers,” is not surprised by kintsugi’s popularity as a design feature and as a metaphor for self-help. “People are constantly looking for guidance, for understanding,” he said. “It makes sense that in a culture that commercializes literally everything, even arcane aesthetic notions and techniques will be tweaked, packaged and mass-marketed.” —Lila Allen
A Redux for Marguerita Mergentime
In 2000, Virginia Bayer went to an exhibition of 20th-century American women designers at the Bard Graduate Center in New York. She knew her grandmother Marguerita Mergentime (1894-1941) had designed curtains and carpets for Radio City Music Hall, had items exhibited at the Metropolitan and Brooklyn Museums, and sold her graphic table linens at stores like Lord & Taylor, B. Altman and Macy’s. But her work was nowhere to be found.
In 2017 Ms. Bayer and two collaborators published “Marguerita Mergentime: American Textiles, Modern Ideas” (West Madison Press), ensuring her grandmother wouldn’t be forgotten again.
Now Miss Mergentime’s work, which took inspiration from Pennsylvania Dutch motifs, nautical pennants and the Milky Way, is re-emerging in new editions. Last fall, the gift shop at the Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian design museum, reissued some of the designer’s folk art-inspired pieces, including little red schoolhouse tea towels and quilt-patterned coasters. And last month, the MoMA Design Store introduced mugs and plates covered in Mergentime dots, shields and wedges, and napkins that highlight different colors and motifs depending on how you fold them. Gift cards and notebooks reproduce her “Wish Fulfillment” graphics, including a crystal ball, palm reading and tea leaves predicting variations on health, wealth and success. (The patterns were originally printed on cocktail napkins as an icebreaker for parties.)
Miss Mergentime designed the napkins in 1939 as the country recovered from the Depression, “so the fortunes are all positive,” Ms. Bayer said. “In that era, making people happier for not too much money and in their own home was important to her.” —Alexandra Lange
Wearstler Designs for Jensen
For the first time, Georg Jensen, the company founded in 1904 by a Danish silversmith, has invited an American designer to create a home collection. Its choice? Kelly Wearstler.
This might seem an unlikely pairing: Ms. Wearstler, who is based in Los Angeles, is credited with bringing Hollywood glamour back to interiors, and Georg Jensen designs are historically quite minimal. But according to Nicholas Manville, the company’s senior vice president for design, Ms. Wearstler’s pieces “are very strong as objects, but also complement spaces nicely, and finding that balance isn’t always easy.”
Her Frequency collection consists of six undulating tabletop items in hand-finished stainless steel.
The collection will be online and in stores in early April. Prices range from $95 for a small bowl to $250 for a large hurricane lamp and a centerpiece bowl (above). Information: 212-759-6457, georgjensen.com. —Rima Suqi