California: Designing Freedom at the Design Museum

A new exhibition looks at the influence of some of the West Coast's most iconic creations on modern life

This year, American art has been on Britain's radar like never before. Many of the capital's most hotly anticipated exhibitions are centred around art from across the pond, the biggest being the post-Depression era America after the Fall exhibition at the Royal Academy. This major retrospective features iconic work from 20th-century giants, including Jackson Pollock, Georgia O'Keeffe and Edward Hopper, as well as hosting Grant Wood's masterpiece American Gothic for the first time outside North America.

Taking a typically unconventional approach to American art, however, is The Design Museum, which looks towards the sun-soaked West Coast in an intriguing new exhibition opening later this month.


(Image credit: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)

California: Designing Freedom explores the Golden State's unique take on design and technology and the effect these industries have had on the rest of the world. California's role in mid-century modernism may be well documented, but this new exhibition is the first of its kind to examine a different side of distinctly Californian design and its global reach. Starting from the hippie counterculture movement of the 1960s to the rise of Silicon Valley and continuing advances in technology, Designing Freedom comprises over 200 objects ranging from surfboards to political posters, LSD blotting paper to an original Apple I computer. The familiar thread running through these seemingly disparate objects is that of individual freedom and how California ‘has pioneered tools of personal liberation’.

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The show is curated into five themes exploring rebellion, technology, virtual reality (both technologically and recreationally speaking), community and self-sufficiency. It examines iconic California-born brands such as Disney and Apple, and how the West Coast's unique cultural identity has been forged through design over the past 50 years.

Highlights of the exhibition include politically charged Black Panther posters by graphic artist Emory Douglas, hand-drawn sketches of the early Apple Mac icon, concept artwork from seminal sci-fi flick Blade Runner and, for the first time in the UK, Waymo's self-driving car. The show aims to present how Californian design and the idea of self-liberation have impacted many aspects of modern-day life worldwide, and how the state's culture of design and technology 'has made us all, in certain ways, Californian'.

California: Designing Freedom runs from 24 May to 15 September, tickets £16;

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