The Minimalism in Ornamentation
Making a comeback to bolster design and conquer new markets
Jean-Marc Barbier, June 3, 2019
Thomas Boog_Design
Thomas Boog_Design
Apart from intellectual reasons, the industrialisation of the following decades put an end to ornamentation. “All the more so since, in the 1960s and 1970s, the developing European production system is still very rigid, and a very smooth and clean formalism in design is well suited to product lines that are meant to fit into an ever more rationalised environment.” Of course, in the 1920s and 1930s, Italian futurists such as Giacomo Balla and the Surrealists experimented with their various creative whims, but they were unable to influence the overall trend. Nor, in the Fifties, can “the comeback of architects, decorators and interior designers influenced by Ruhlmann, who presented furniture and decorations that were a continuation of the Art Deco style as it had looked in 1925 and which might be termed ‘late modern’. […] They received orders from the national office in charge of furnishing official premises, as well as orders from shipbuilding companies and some hotels. […] But they no longer innovate and for the most part carry on reproducing the same things as before the war without looking for new clients.”

"Whippet Bench", design by Radi Designer
First banished, then rehabilitated, the popularity of ornamentation has swung back and forth like a pendulum with changes in designers’ tastes, according to Gérard Laizé, the managing director of the VIA. “At the very beginning of industrial design, ornamentation - the quintessential decorative art - was disparaged by designers because it was intended for rich, private clients (who owned yachts and stayed in luxury hotels), used rare materials and took a huge amount of working time to make. Industrial design went along with the post-war social movement based on the principle that everything should be accessible to everyone. Its fundamental principles were mass production, standardisation through the application of Taylorism, and affordable prices. This led to ornamentation being judged ‘decadent’ because it was superfluous and therefore out of place for anyone who believed in economies of scale.”

"t.e. 15" pewter plate, design by Studio Job
With the 1973 oil crisis, there were the first signs of an emerging post-modernism. This probably first became visible through a return to figurative painting and then by “design looking once more to art”. Jean-Paul Aron spoke of the “museum-drunkenness”. In 1980s Italy, Gaetano Pesce worked on the notion of diversified series. Memphis set out a “new vocabulary of shapes and colours in response to the stereotypical trivialisation of institutional design, which has been unable to renew itself.”

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