JAPANESE DESIGN TODAY 100 presented by the Japan Foundation at the Design Exchange (234 Bay), to April 29. $5, stu/srs $4. 416-363-6121. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
It's hard to believe now that the phrase "made in Japan" once evoked titters and visions of shoddily made, cheap-ass goods.
The need to save space in Japanese homes and offices along with the country's unique aesthetic culture have driven worldwide esteem for Japanese design over the last 40 years. A seemingly endless stream of objects blend meticulous engineering and futuristic fluid lines with a touch of playful, sometimes outlandish whimsy.
The Japan Foundation's Japan Design Today 100 at the Design Exchange reasserts the nation's leadership in producing interesting mass design with an array of 100 housewares, appliances, vehicles, toys, furniture and of course electronics.
Starting with a brief historical survey of design since the 1950s (Sony's pocket transistor radio, circa 1956, is the opener), the show then focuses mostly on 90s-design-boom enterprises like the Idée Company, Tokyo Designers' Block and the Issey Miyake Design Studio.
Compactness and innovation set the tone, from the 29.7-square-metre minimalist house to the wall-mounted pull-cord CD player, bucket-sized washing machine and Miyake's piece of square folded cloth that turns into a blouse or dress with a few judicious scissor cuts.
Foldable, stackable and otherwise reconfigurable furniture abounds: ultra-minimalist interlocking benches, an armchair made from plastic webbing and a variation of the rattan floor cushion that's ergonomically reconfigured for Westerners. Lighting fixtures are zippable, disposable and thoroughly portable, and sometimes sport sponge or thick plexiglass lampshades.
A sampling of the burgeoning toy market includes Sony's new robot dog and ultra-sleek PlayStation 2, plus some notable collectibles and transformers.
Created for our fast, cheap and out-of-control disposable culture, this profusion of funky design ideas does suffer from a lack of truly solid, enduring artifacts. But even if they aren't necessarily built to last, Japanese design makes them innovative, pleasing and super-smart.