Paola Antonelli Talks Art and Innovation on Hello Cindy!

On everyone’s favorite work day, Friday, senior curator for the department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Paola Antonelli, logged onto Instagram Live for a Hello Cindy! chat with Interior Design Editor in Chief Cindy Allen (@thecindygram). Working from her MoMA outpost in downtown Manhattan, Antonelli is doing well and acknowledged that she is “among the very lucky ones” with a healthy family and job. 

It’s been hard for this Italian daughter to be so far from home right now. “I think everybody’s behaved, really, like troopers,” Antonelli said about the industry’s response to the cancellation of Salone el Mobile.Milano. As both a New Yorker and a Milanese, COVID-19 has elicited a whirlwind of emotions from Antonelli, but it’s resilience that she likes best. “You learn a lot from the challenge,” Antonelli said as she explained the re-shuffling and new initiatives the MoMA staff is taking on. 

Allen commented that she heard through the grapevine some museums perhaps were selling art, but as Antonelli cleared up, it’s mostly appraisals that are going on. “It’s not about selling art to keeps the lights on, but to have a little more care in the museum,” she said, adding that museums worldwide are more in contact with each other, and their local government officials too. Additionally, within museums, crisis management task forces have evolved to navigate the current situation and Antonelli is on the MoMA’s team, which is working to setup the museum with respect to social distancing. “We need to think of how to accommodate people, we cannot have all the public come at the same time as before,” she said. Her choice adjective to describe this newfound way of thinking: “Fascinating.”

The two women then marveled at Instagram’s capability to display pictures on screen during a chat. What Allen showed and Antonelli explained was an exhibition by Neri Oxman, a professor at MIT, that has been in the works for 10 years. The theme combines the ideas of technology and art, creating the technology one needs, and how the process of creating is art itself. Allen also showed a close up of silkworms that helped make the silk pavilion in the exhibition, though Antonelli joked that the creatures posed a unique design challenge given that they “poop and pee with abandon.” As they say, art imitates life and visa versa. It’s important to note that no silkworms were harmed in the making. Other projects shown include a 3-D-printed mask that’s inspired by the body’s final breath, and synthesized melanin that shows how it’s been transformed by human injustice. 

The week of May 14, Antonelli and Oxman are going virtual with their planned exhibition. It’s part of a MoMA Online speaker series that offers a closer look at pieces in their collection, digitally. But when the time comes to safely visit public spaces again, and only then, Allen and Antonelli encourage everyone to see the newly renovated museum.  In the meantime, Antonelli says: “it’s a wonderful time to show what we’re made of.” 


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