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Lausanne design museum is breath of fresh air

One of the inflatable objects in "Air takes Shape". aucun

The first exhibition at Lausanne's new Museum of Design and Contemporary Applied Arts is sure to leave you breathless - it is dedicated to inflatables.

Museum officials were hoping that the launch wouldn’t go with too much of a bang – among the items on display in the Air en Forme – or Air Takes Shape – exhibition are inflatable armchairs, overcoats and a tent in the form of a bright gold cube. But it is not just about gadgets.

“The word inflatable often has pejorative connotations,” says museum director Chantal Prod’hom. “I noticed that inflatables were making a comeback a generation after the pioneers of the 1960s and I wanted to explore why designers, architects and artists were using this strange technique.”

She says the fascination with inflatables is that air, normally invisible and intangible, suddenly becomes physical and has a finite volume. The organisers have taken the concept as far as they can – even the exhibition catalogue is inflatable.

“I found that it was a fascinating world – you have the protection dimension, an erotic dimension, the crazy, fantasy ideas,” Prod’hom told swissinfo. She said the fun element of the inflatables seemed ideal for the party that accompanied the opening of the new museum.

“I think it’s important to put on exhibitions that actually communicate with the public. I don’t think you need to read the 20 pages on inflatables to get to understand the show. You can go deeper if you want, but this is very immediate,” she says.

The work of some 50 artists and designers has been divided into eight themes ranging from the classic early inflatables of the 1960s to the most contemporary designs. The exhibition does not just concentrate on art – included is a section on rescue, with lifebelts and car airbags. Other themes include Play, Fantasy, Accessories and Invasion.

The collection shows how the boundaries between design, applied arts and pure art are not as well-defined as many believe.

“These labels are very much used in the academic and institutional worlds. In contemporary art, the artists don’t care too much. They will use whatever they need as tools,” says Prod’hom.

Items on show range from mass-produced everyday, often disposable objects to the unique and weird, such as an airship, inside which visitors can place their heads and conduct a conversation.

The museum, already known as mu.dac as a result of its e-mail address, replaces the former Museum of Decorative Arts and is in the renovated Maison Gaudard, opposite Lausanne’s cathedral. Parts of the building date from the 14th Century, and the local authorities have expressed their delight at having one of the city’s oldest and most important buildings back in use. The opening of mu.dac also brings to an end the ambitious renovation and expansion of all the city’s municipal museums.

“Before we did not have enough room to present our collections,” says Rosmarie Lippuner, the outgoing museum director. “We have quite large collections, including one of the biggest collections of glass sculptures in the world and the Jacques-Edouard Berger collection of ancient Egyptian and Chinese art.

“We’re very happy to be in this new building, because it’s very beautiful and it’s in a perfect location. Before we would never get any passing tourists visiting the museum – you had to know it was there. Now we’re in the middle of the Old Town, and we think we’ll be able to attract people who come to visit the cathedral.”

The Air en Forme exhibition runs at the mu.dac until October 8.

by Roy Probert

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR