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A hat from Cameroon, part of the Textile Museum's
A hat from Cameroon, part of the Textile Museum's "Seldom Seen" exhibition. (The Textile Museum)
By Linda Hales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 5, 2006

Design is flourishing on every level and in every field, so the astonishing number of spectacular exhibitions opening this spring at major museums should come as no surprise. But frequent-flier miles will be needed to keep up.

Local offerings remain few and mostly small. The Textile Museum will display choice works from its collection in February and Greek embroideries in March. The Embassy of Finland will exhibit contemporary architecture in March. In late May, the National Building Museum's long-awaited extravaganza of "green" design and architecture will bring a full-size demonstration house to a gallery off the Great Hall. In the absence of a museum dedicated to design, that's as much as Washingtonians can expect.

So, if I could pick three cities to visit, I'd head for Boston, New York and London, where the most intriguing exhibitions will be on display.

· The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston will move shortly to a breathtakingly cantilevered building by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (they won a National Design Award for architecture last fall). For its last hurrah in the old setting, the ICA is staging a provocative show of architecture and furniture for mobile lifestyles.

Called "Living in Motion: Design and Architecture for Flexible Dwelling," the exhibition includes more than 150 objects and 500 drawings and films. Chinese houseboats, South American hammocks and Uzbek yurts are featured along with the high-end multi-functional designs of Eileen Gray, Joe Colombo, Rem Koolhaas and Philippe Starck. Hibachi cookers, beach chairs, blanket chests and folding screens are also part of the modern mix.

The exhibition was organized by the Vitra Design Museum, Europe's foremost design source (and partner with the Library of Congress on the 1990s Charles and Ray Eames retrospective). If you can't get to Boston before the show closes May 7, pull up a folding chair or pop a tent and dream the nomadic dream.

· Streamlining, that super-whoosh aesthetic from the 1930s and 1940s, gave this country its first golden age of industrial design. In New York, beginning March 16, "American Streamlined Design: The World of Tomorrow" will recall the excitement at the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design and Culture. The show, which originated in Paris and runs through June 11, makes the point that the sleek lines favored by Norman Bel Geddes, Henry Dreyfuss, Raymond Loewy and Walter Dorwin Teague are influencing designers around the world today.

· Dining has inspired centuries of functional and decorative design. On May 5, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum will open "Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table, 1500--2005." Curators at the Smithsonian's New York outpost are tracing the evolution of Western habits with examples from the permanent collection, enhanced by a few choice baubles from Tiffany.

· In London, the Victoria and Albert Museum promises the most scholarly and expansive design exhibition of the season with "Modernism: Designing a New World," which opens April 6.

The V&A prides itself on being the authoritative word on decorative arts and design. It wrote the definitive books on art nouveau and art deco in 2000 and 2003, and sent exhibitions this way. With "Modernism," the V&A promises a sweeping reassessment of the 20th century's defining movement.

All that's missing is a North American tour. "Modernism" closes July 23 and is not scheduled to cross the Atlantic.

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