Curious by Design: Constance Rubini

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Constance Rubini

For curator and art historian Constance Rubini, curiosity about the objects we live with and use every day represents the start of a more sophisticated understanding of our world.

“Sophisticated design is about the intelligence of an object. How well it answers a problem,” Rubini explains. “It’s not just about the function of an object but about the materials used, what the objective of the design is. Design is rarely abstract. It is often linked to its context, its culture.”

This sense of curiosity has led Rubini most recently to Bordeaux where, in 2013, she took up the post of Director of the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in Bordeaux. For many, Bordeaux is best known for its wine, rather than its art and design. Somewhat contrarily, Rubini believes the city’s sophisticated design culture is due a reappraisal.

“There is a great culture of graphic design in Bordeaux, there is fantastic art – and the city has striking architecture”, says Rubini. This was recognized in 2007 when much of the city was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in recognition of its centuries of architectural innovation. This spirit can be seen in buildings like the beautiful 18th century Opera House, designed by Victor Louis, and his Grand Hotel opposite, which houses the InterContinental Bordeaux Le Grand Hotel. Along with the Mollat library, Le Petit commerce restaurant, Bordeaux Law Courts (built by Richard Rogers), and the city’s place du Parlement, the Opera House is one of Rubini’s favorite spots in Bordeaux.

For Rubini, the city combines the sophistication of Paris with the spirit of the south of France; high design seamlessly merging into small streets, cozy brasseries and a relaxed pace of life. “There is the time and opportunity to explore more here; to develop,” Rubini says. “And of course there is the museum.”

When she joined the museum, after serving as a curator of the celebrated Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris for a decade, as well as editor of renowned design journal Azimuts, it was known simply as the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. But for Rubini, an essential ingredient was missing.

“Design is everywhere in our lives. Almost every object we touch has been designed by someone. Even small, everyday objects have a beauty. I’ve always been fascinated by the way things are made. I see design as central to life.”

This passion prompted her to change the museum’s name to include ‘design’, and it is now known as the Musée des Arts Décoratifs et du Design.

The name change also reflects the museum’s central place in French design culture. Its diverse collection of furniture, ceramics and glassware, musical and measuring instruments, tableware and personal items offer many examples of French decorative art and design, from Bordeaux and beyond. It provides visitors with a glimpse of the city’s history, as well as shows how design has evolved through different ages and in different parts of the world up to the present day.

This sense of change and evolution is important to Rubini. Just as travel can shift our point of view, relocating from Paris to Bordeaux in 2013 allowed her to reappraise her perspective on design and refresh her sense of curiosity.

“When it comes to design you can be influenced by things you see and hear, and use them in a different context to nourish your work. The more curious you are, the more open you are to everything around you. When you’re curious you tend to observe things more closely. By feeling more comfortable with your surroundings, you develop a different point of view.”

For Rubini, with this understanding of different points of view comes a greater appreciation of sophistication. “Being curious adds a richness to life”, she concludes.

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