The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) announced this month that Paola Antonelli, the museum's senior curator of architecture and design, has been appointed its first director of research and development. In the new position, Antonelli will be tasked with directing the way that the museum evaluates new initiatives, opportunities, and tools. What this work entails is largely ... you guessed it ... still in development.
"One motto I spread in 'Design and the Elastic Mind,' " Antonelli says, referring to the exhibit that she curated in 2008, "is that artists are the interface between revolutions and life. Artists bring in the human factor to revolutions that get their start in technology and science. We're used to thinking that progress comes from the technology, science, and financial sectors. Culture brings, in truth, a slower, more sustainable, more holistic and trustworthy kind of progress."
It will take time for that truth to manifest in her work at MoMA, she says. The initial emphasis of the new department will be on internal communications. Further, she will be splitting her duties as senior curator and R&D director. "I'm still trying to figure it out," she says, noting that she's given herself a December deadline to divvy up her workload. "I have to discover where there are synergies possible. (I'm sorry for the terrible word.)"
Nevertheless, she already has some ideas about where she will be taking the project. She cites Xerox PARC, a hardware and information-technology systems division responsible for Ethernet and object-oriented programming, among other innovations. Antonelli says that a conference launched by the Netherlands Institute for Design and Fashion—an open-ended investigation that operates under the title, "What Can Design Do For..."—serves as another touchpoint. "I am always thinking but not necessarily declaring out loud, 'What can MoMA do for ... ?' " she says.
In the nearer term, Antonelli's work as R&D director will be visible in two forms. Every other week, she says, she will be publishing a R&D digest, with notes on diverse topics including "tasty bits of new forms for the use of media for culture and art." She has also begun organizing a semi-public salon series. The first topic will focus on curation, bringing together "purebread museum curators" and a journalist, online curator, and songwriter. But MoMA R&D won't be a public lab or branch of the museum's communications or education departments. She says that R&D departments don't immediately expose themselves to the public.
"Some [R&D departments] start in very formalized ways. Others are very much spontaneous acts that start from conversations at dinner tables with a glass of wine," Antonelli says. "I'm starting from not the dinner table, but at least the MoMA conference table."