I was pretty sure that staring at a bowl for long enough would produce some sort of life-altering effect. That’s what should happen at the Bauhaus archive, right? If you appreciate things for their simplicity, for their perfect proportions, for their precise combination of logic and function—you too will be changed. So as I walked through two rooms of Thingness, a retrospective of designer Jasper Morrison’s work over the last thirty-five years, I berated myself for comparing the experience to walking through the showroom—albeit a more expensive version—at Ikea.
How could you! I scolded myself. This is art! It’s not just a stool, it’s groundbreaking! Of course, my companion knew nothing of my inner turmoil. I drifted from porcelain vase to steel fork, diligently reading each description and awaiting my transformation.
The next room was somewhat more successful. Called The Good Life, Morrison had photographed inanimate objects and provided his explanations for how they came to be. How did this vase break? he wondered. Did anyone intend on fixing it? Or: “We cannot be sure who placed the melon packaging on the newspaper rack, or why.” I liked that I could follow Morrison’s thought process. And many of the pictures were beautiful—lots of bright colors, shot off-center, and focused on something that I might not normally see. Instagram worthy, some might say.
I sat down in a chair in the middle of the room, leafing through a book on primitive objects that had been resting on a stack of wooden crates. After I’d scanned the print along the far wall, three green glass bottles resting on a wooden table, I didn’t pay any more attention to it.
We moved to another room, an overview of some of Bauhaus’s most important students and designs. I was disappointed that no bowl had changed my life, so rushed through in order to get to the gift shop. I’d heard that it was the best part of the museum, and had already started to agree. Once there, I stood among all the the beautiful and stylish bowls and knives, imagining life as the proud owner of every piece. But that would be the kitchen of a person enlightened by simplistic design, and I hadn’t earned the right.
It wasn’t until we sat at an outside table, drinking coffee from the museum cafe, when my friend first mentioned how comfortable the chair had been when we’d read coffee-table books. “Was it?” I asked. I hadn’t noticed. But I hadn’t considered the chair especially un-comfortable, either. They’d been plastic chairs in a public space, set up for people who wanted to rest from the creative epiphany they were waiting so hard to receive.
We went back to investigate. With fifteen minutes until the museum closed, we had to act quickly. The chairs weren’t just chairs—but instead a Morrison design for Vitra, his “all plastic chair.” Each one was a different color: red, brown, green, yellow, white, and greyish-blue—and otherwise sleek and un-fussy. On second trial, they really were pleasant to sit on; the seat and back were slightly concave and made of a gummy plastic that reacted, ever so slightly, to shifts of movement. A wave of longing washed over me. Imagine all of the things that I could achieve while sitting in that chair. My living space would always be spotless. My bowl of pasta would be the stuff of Michelin stars. And my writing projects would write themselves. Very simply, this chair could change my life.
An employee I hadn’t seen before approached, bellowing that the museum was about to close. So, we scrambled out of our chairs toward the exit. But with an inexplicable change of heart, the man led us back to the large print on the far wall, forcing me to pose with my hand gripping one of the green bottles. Then, he led us back through the showroom, instructing us to keep our eyes on the photographs of rooms as we walked past. “See how the kitchen is always facing you? Just like Mona Lisa’s eyes,” he said.
As we walked away, I admitted that I’d wondered if the man had been Jasper Morrison incognito, getting an afternoon kick out of giving the inside scoop to unsuspecting visitors. My friend had wondered the same thing–“But his name tag had ‘Joachim,’ written on it,” he pointed out. I spent the rest of the evening checking the Vitra website for “all plastic chair” availability. Because even though no bowl changed my life that day, maybe I should clear some space for a new piece of furniture.