Shelving remains an innocuous area of contemporary design’s mythology. Anyone with more than ten books that they care about enough to have on public display has likely mooned after a set of Vitsoe shelves (and then balked at the price); but while Dieter Ram’s precisely structured shelving system has achieved the status of an icon, it’s tough to think of many other examples that wouldn’t seem wilfully esoteric. Hence why the most recent show at the Serpentine’s new Sackler Gallery, design is a state of mind, by Italian designer Martino Gamper, was the first exhibition that I, and likely you, will have visited that is devoted to what is, essentially, storage. In the most anodyne and descriptive terms, this is an exhibition that could be paraphrased as shelves in use.
Salubrious shelves, for the most part, created by the likes of Gio Ponti, Anna Castelli Ferrieri, Charlotte Perriand and Alvar Aalto, though there is also a representative from the IKEA catalogue and, of course, Vitsoe. Together they make a surprisingly engaging display of structurally ingenious solutions to what scans as a basic problem: the provision of stable, flat surfaces. Here we are shown that this can be achieved either through typically trabeated constructions or by the use of complicated suspension mechanisms, counter balances and extensive bracing. While some are exercises in rationality, a mere substrate for other objects, there are plenty that would challenge an owner to find an ornament worthy of their support.