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Paola Antonelli, MoMA senior curator talks design

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Paola Antonelli was once asked how she manages to gather so many threads of design together in her job as senior curator in the Museum of Modern Art’s department of architecture and design.

She responded, “I’m like a curious octopus. I am always reaching around in all kinds of places and taking in things from everywhere.” Indeed, her sources are wide and varied, from many disciplines including design, architecture, science and technology.

Antonelli, who is coming to Washington on Oct. 11 to deliver the distinguished designer lecture at George Washington University’s interior design program, is a major player in the American design crowd. Italian-born and trained as an architect, Antonelli, 49, was a design editor before beginning work at MoMA in 1994. She has authored many exhibition catalogues and lectures frequently at high-level global conferences such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Her job of curating groundbreaking museum exhibitions and her impassioned eloquence on her subject gives her a platform for promoting the important role of design in pretty much everything.

Antonelli is the fourth speaker in the annual series, following interior designer Vicente Wolf, product designer Karim Rashid and architect Gisue Hariri.

“I started this lecture series as a way to bring the most creative thinkers in the design profession to our campus to inspire our students,” says Stephanie Travis, associate professor and director of George Washington’s interior design program. “I have long admired Paola Antonelli’s work and her writings and I thought she would be a great addition to the series.”

We spoke to Antonelli last week by phone while she was at her desk at the museum sitting in a red Sacco bean bag chair. Here is an edited excerpt. You can follow Antonelli on Twitter @curiousoctopus.

What will you be talking about at your lecture?

I will be lecturing on the new frontiers of design. I will be telling students that the world really is their oyster as long as they learn to branch out. Designers have been catalysts and enablers of networks. I think designers are the most exquisite generalists.

What are you working on at the museum?

We are working on a reinstallation of contemporary design galleries, which will happen in February.

What pieces have you acquired recently for the museum collection?

We have acquired the Endless Chair by Dirk Vander Kooij. He uses a robot, an automated process that is so sensuous, as if you were drawing over the icing on a cake with a syringe. We have also acquired Massoud Hassani’s Mine Kafon, which looks like a giant dandelion but is a land mine clearance device powered by the wind. It’s designed by an Afghani designer, based on his childhood experiences, and is an acquisition I am deeply proud of.

What’s your latest furniture purchase for yourself?

I bought Hella Jongerius’sWorker chair by Vitra. It’s red.

What design blogs do you follow?

I have tremendous respect for Designboom. They give you a great overview of many different things. I also like Dezeen, Core77, Design Observer, Hyperallergic and Wired UK.

If you go

Paola Antonelli’s lecture, which is open to the public, is Thursday, Oct. 11, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at George Washington University’s Funger Hall, 2201 G St. NW. Doors open at 6 pm. Admission is free, but seating is limited and on a first-come basis. Visit the GWU Web site for more information.

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