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New Curator Regards L.A. as Incubator of Design Ideas

MOCA's Brooke Hodge finds potential in overlap of fashion, film and media.

February 08, 2001|JEANNINE STEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Brooke Hodge, the new curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Contemporary Art, comes to her post with a fresh perspective on Los Angeles. Previously she was assistant dean of the arts programs at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, adjunct curator of architecture and design at Harvard University Art Museums, and before that, exhibitions coordinator for the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal.

At MOCA, Hodge, 40, is responsible for organizing exhibitions and programs about design in the museum's three venues: the main galleries downtown, the Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo and the Gallery at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. She talks about the increased interest in design among collectors, as well as L.A.'s place in the design sphere. As a newcomer, she sees L.A. as a new city, an incubator for ideas.

Question: Why is there such an unprecedented interest in design these days? From magazines to television shows to exhibitions, it seems like the topic is everywhere.

Answer: I think design has become more accessible to people. It's available at lots of different levels, like Target stores and Ikea, and these places are producing things that are of good quality design. It's been a thriving time for design in the last five years, and that's really good. The more that it's out there, the more people realize they can pick and sample different things. People don't want to be saturated with Martha Stewart or have their whole house furnished with Ikea, but they can get a few pieces. It's more individual.

Q: Are people aware that these objects represent a fairly high level of design?

A: I think so. I would guess that if somebody goes to Target and gets a Michael Graves toaster, they're going to know it's a Michael Graves toaster, and it's designed by someone who has a name. It's not elitist anymore. Also, [online auctions] such as EBay have made things more available to people, and magazines have made people more aware of design. But I do think this is true of industrial and product design, not necessarily architecture. Architecture is harder for people to grasp, even though it's all around us.

Q: Why is that?

A: I think that people don't understand what architects do, and I think they take architecture for granted, unless it's one of the top 10 tourist attractions. Exhibitions are difficult for people because you can't show the buildings, you have to show representations of them, and architectural drawings are hard for most people to understand. But I think with new ways of representing architecture and showing it in exhibition that will change. In school, most people don't have any kind of education that involves architecture, even in art classes. I don't think they're given the tools to understand it or appreciate it.

Q: How do you make it more accessible to people?

A: Through programming related to exhibitions--lectures, educational programming for children to educate them about what an architect does and what are the different types of buildings, how buildings are made--so they'll start to look at the city in a different way and understand its components. I think design is much more straightforward, but there are probably certain kinds of design that people also take for granted, such as packaging and movie titles. Most people probably don't realize they're looking at something that's been designed.

Q: Is there a generational difference in how design is perceived or appreciated?

A: I don't think it's generational; it might be geographical. West Coast people are more open to modern design, and the East Coast has more of an antique preference. I think younger generations have been certainly more exposed to design and can develop an appreciation for it earlier. But I grew up with parents who had Georg Jensen flatware and Danish modern furniture, and that definitely influenced me. I like clean lines and fairly simple things.

Q: But what about graphic design? The magazines and ads geared toward 20-somethings seem very colorful and layered and frenetic.

A: I do think there is a generational difference with advertising and graphics. They're playing to the MTV generation, so things have a quick pace, and you get the message across really fast.

Q: How will this affect design in the future?

A: You can see it happening now, with the use of bright colors in object design, the use of new materials. You can see it in movie titles, like "Snatch." It's definitely fast cuts with a very, very contemporary feeling. But I've been wondering if some aspects of design are going to be throw-away, because things are available at different price levels. You can buy a Michael Graves toaster, but in a year you might see another toaster you like better.

Q: Is it bad to be such a throw-away culture?

A: Not necessarily. It already happens in fashion. I think it's definitely interesting and keeps it lively, which is important. But I wonder whether we'll end up having the same kinds of things become design icons in 25 years.

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