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Art and Design Part II: Mary Wafer, Ian Grose and Stephen Hobbs

Detail from one of Wafer's images

The world is upside down. American sporting heroes are transforming into the new IT girls. Burgers have become gourmet dishes. And, of course, fashion and design objects are being sold as if they are art (think Guild) while art is looking more and more like products of design. The formal-pop-abstraction turn (or should I say trend?) in contemporary art, the popularity of the art fair as the main public site where art is consumed and displayed, and the consumption of imagery/art via Instagram and other social media platforms has increasingly rendered art a slightly gimmicky, trend driven, visual-game where spectacle and novelty are prized above all else. Welcome to “like” culture.

Predictably, there are those in the art world who are finding it difficult to come to terms with the manner in which art is collapsing into design. Particularly artists themselves, who often arrogantly assume they are making “art” when no cares what it 'means' (I don't give two fucks about your back story) and look down on designers. Artists and academics have long sought to collapse the boundaries between high and low art – theoretically that is. It sounded so much more risqué and exciting on paper than the reality of it, particularly when that reality threatens the status that artists have enjoyed for so long, as this noble and honoured class of people who exist in a non-commercial, theoretical and philosophical stratosphere detached from the everyday. This has allowed artists to be lauded as these veritable seers able to see into our society and expose its mechanics because of their supposed position of detachment. This may have all been an illusion, but what happens when that illusion is really threatened and when furniture makers become more anarchic than artists and artists are just reproducing designs? If you have attended a design fair of late you will know what I mean - there is space for invention there that I'm not feeling in art right now. I'm increasingly becoming as interested in what Gregor Jenkin will do to a table as I am with what manner of blob Zander Blom will arrive at next.

This isn’t a new dilemma exactly. Andy Warhol and pop artists of the sixties provoked it, when they set out to reproduce the world of design, though admittedly, there was an element of subversion in their rendering, often of scale – so that the thing they reproduced, be it a comic strip or eraser, was clearly in a different class of object. Warhol took it further, rather than simply mimicking the object, he adopted other elements of design in the production of his art, by setting up the Factory, where other people made and reproduced his art.

We find ourselves in quite different times now; where design is rare and one-offish and art is reproducible. This is because art has become trade and design has become art. We have entered a post-industrialisation era, so not surprisingly the reproduction of desig