April 1, 2009
Paola Antonelli talks about her job, her love of obituaries, and Battlestar Galactica.
Job description: The title is “senior curator.” The description is exhibitions, collections, and MoMA personality regarding design.
Current projects: I’m working on an exhibition on Ron Arad that is opening at the end of July, as well as several proposals about communication and visualization design and big, gigantic construction machines.
First step on a project: I talk about it with my husband to make sure that he really does not like the idea, which is usually a good sign.
Last step on a project: A big toast with the people that I worked with
How do you break a creative block? I watch Battlestar Galactica—something that takes me completely away from everything.
Why do you do what you do? I’m very lucky. I did not choose it. I just landed exactly where I had to. I do it because it is what I was born for. I have a feeling that I never made a choice in my life. I was just a good surfer and took the right waves and kept a good balance and good grace.
Education: Trained as an architect
Mentors: I have many. We can start with Sara Little Turnbull, Giulio Castelli, Paolo Viti, Italo Lupi. The most important thing that they all taught me is really how to live. I tend to be hard on myself, and they were a little more able to enjoy life.
World-saving mission: “World-saving” seems too bombastic. I think “world-improving,” maybe, which would be to make people more aware of design.
First act as “design czar”: It would be to meet with the other czars that are not in design and teach them that design is intrinsically constructive and positive and therefore can be used for many other purposes.
Dream team: If I had to choose a collaborator? Well, I don’t know if it would be a total disaster, but my hero is Bernard Rudofsky. I would need to be his assistant because I don’t think I could
be his peer.
Office chair: I have an Aeron chair, and to relax I have a beanbag—a big sack of red.
Office sound track: I never listen to music when I’m working. When I have music around, I just totally focus on it.
Favorite tchotchke: I have one of Matthew Waldman’s fairies. It is so cute. It looks over me. My office is full with things that have their own characters, so it’s like a little city. But the fairy is particularly dominant in the city.
Most useful tool: My BlackBerry
Best place to think: The place where I have always had the best ideas in the world is the beach or sea. I consider my best decision to be moving from economics to architecture. I was in Sardinia, which is where I was born, sitting on a rock. That is, as I recall it, one of the best moments of my life.
Current read: The Dead Beat, by Marilyn Johson. It’s a great book about obituaries and people who love obituaries. I love obituaries in the Economist and the New York Times because they are so inspiring. They are like little biographies in 900 words.
Something old: Italo Calvino collected about a hundred different fairy tales from different parts of Italy. My whole childhood was tormented by dreams of these fairy tales, of these princes burning alive and witches falling into abysses. I still have the book, the original. It’s old and worn. It’s called Fiabe Italiane.
Something new: I am starting to learn more about the Arduino. It is this kind of open-source processor that people who do physical computing use. It is really beautiful.
Favorite space: Outer space. I love science fiction.
Guilty pleasure: I’m a real magazine junkie. I subscribe to, like, 25 magazines at home. Some of them are really serious (Harper’s, the Atlantic Monthly, the Economist), and then others aren’t (InStyle, Entertainment Weekly).
Learned the hard way: To respect organizational structure