The collection

12th March 1999 at 00:00
Week 10: The Red and Blue Chair, The Design Museum, London SE1. Museum and gallery staff put their favourite artefacts on display.

A pen, a cup, a kettle - ordinary products that we use everyday may not seem worthy of a place in a museum, but at the Design Museum we believe that even the most ordinary product has an extraordinary story to tell.

If your knowledge of design is such that you think IKEA is a design movement or that Bauhaus is a modern dance group, you would most definitely benefit from a visit.

The museum's most popular area is Chair Alley - a collection of chairs that demonstrates the changes in their use, form and function over time - it provides the public with a perfect opportunity to gain a better understanding of what good design is all about, or even bad design come to that. Visitors are encouraged to touch the chairs and to try them out to see which is the most comfy.

The most popular is the Red and Blue Chair by the Dutch De Stijl designer Gerrit Rietveld. You could be forgiven for thinking that it was designed for the minimalist style-conscious Nineties. It may come as a surprise then to learn that it was designed in 1918. Looking more like a Mondrian painting in 3-D, with its geometry, minimal decoration and clean lines, it became a metaphor for the Modern Movement of the Twenties.

De Stijl was a group of Dutch artists and architects which formed in 1917 and was strongly influenced by Cubism and Dutch Calvinism. Apart from Rietveld, Mondrian was also a member, as was Theo van Doesburg and J J P Oud. The group advocated an abstract aesthetic style which was composed solely of straight lines, primary colours and black and white. Although it broke up in 1931 the designs have had a lasting effect on 20th-century culture.

If you visit the Design Museum you can test the Red and Blue Chair for yourself and explore the designs of the Modern Movement in a new exhibition called Modern Britain 1929-1939.

Gillian Shaw was, until recently, schools training manager of the Design Museum. The Design Museum, Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD. Tel: 0171 403 6933

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