The Utopian Impulse: Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area  

Posted by Big Gav in

Bloginity has a look at an exhibition about the life and works of Bucky Fuller - The Utopian Impulse: Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area.

The Bay Area attracts dreamers, progressives, nonconformists, and designers. Buckminster Fuller was all of these, and though he never lived in San Francisco, his ideas spawned many local experiments in the realms of technology, engineering, and sustainability—some more successful than others. The Whole Earth Catalog, Apple, The North Face, and Governor Jerry Brown have all cited Fuller as a key influence on several projects.

From March 31 through July 29, 2012, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present The Utopian Impulse: Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area, the first exhibition to consider Fuller’s local design legacy. The presentation will feature some 65 works, including prints, drawings, photographs, documentary video, books, models, and ephemera representing some of Fuller’s most iconic projects alongside those by Bay Area designers inspired by his oeuvre.

“Late in his life Fuller selected 13 design projects for which he obtained U.S. patents and featured them in a portfolio called Inventions: Twelve Around One, to be marketed to art collectors,” notes SFMOMA Acting Department Head/ Assistant Curator of Architecture and Design Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, who organized the presentation. “The images represent an earnest revolutionary effort on Fuller’s part that did not succeed in the way he would have liked in his time, but today stands as a totem for nonconformist thinking. This exhibition attempts to capture the wonderful eccentricity inherent in Fuller’s views and to celebrate him as a visionary.”

The Utopian Impulse opens by introducing Fuller, primarily with prints from the Inventions: Twelve Around One portfolio (1981), as well as several key works on loan from the R. Buckminster Fuller Archive at Stanford University. Pairing the artist’s own drawings of projects dating from the late 1920s through the mid-1970s with iconic imagery of built work, the portfolio commemorates his most well-known ideas, such as the 4D House (1928), a hexagonal autonomous dwelling meant to be optimally resource efficient and mass producible from factory-made kits that could be easily shipped anywhere and quickly assembled on site. Extending this optimization to transportation, Fuller’s ultra-light three-wheeled Dymaxion Car (1933) featured unprecedented fuel efficiency and an aerodynamic, teardrop shape, which was determined in collaboration with his friend, designer Isamu Noguchi. While these projects held promise in efficiency in the name of societal good, each was rife with design problems that proved too difficult to solve.

The exhibition also presents several of Fuller’s big-picture ideas, including his World Game (1969–71) project, a data-visualization system intended to facilitate global approaches in solving the world’s problems—or, in Fuller’s own words, to “make the world work, for 100 percent of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.” ...

Fuller strove for the Fordist dream of improving society through mass production, which inherently conflicted with his “more with less” philosophy promoting self-reliance, sustainability, and low ecological impact. Perhaps overambitious about his abilities to bypass business and societal norms, ultimately Fuller was not able to earn both financial and critical success for his designs, so he lectured tirelessly around the globe to survive.

“While his appeal to the government and to the counterculture movement was broad, he still never quite fit in,” says Fletcher. “Perhaps it was frustrating for him or maybe it was a calculated elusiveness. Either way, the view of Fuller as an outsider has emerged as an emblem for ‘thinking differently,’ which is a starting point for many Bay Area initiatives."

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