Insightful exhibition opening: “Tõnis Käo: ‘Design as Experiment’, Retrospective”

On the evening of 21 January 2016, the exhibition “Tõnis Käo: ‘Design as Experiment’, Retrospective” opened in the Red Dot Design Museum Essen in Germany. It is the first joint project of the Folkwang University of the Arts and the Red Dot Design Museum. Already in 2014, the Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design in Tallinn had curated the exhibition. It shows an overview of the life’s work of Tõnis Käo, who is regarded as a pioneer in system design.

Because of his expertise he has been a jury member of the Red Dot Design Award numerous times. Tõnis Käo, who completed his studies at Folkwang University of the Arts, is part of a generation of all-rounders in design. Above all else, his strengths lie in interdisciplinary work and in his approach of understanding “Design as Experiment” (title of an essay by Prof. Dr. Peter Zec about Tõnis Käo, which became the title of the exhibition). His work always focused on designing the future. Many ground-breaking designs that have written design history are testament to this focus and are thus presented in the exhibition.

The around 120 guests of the vernissage were welcomed by Vito Oražem, Managing Director of the Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen, who portrayed the exhibition’s way from Tallinn to the Red Dot Design Museum Essen. Subsequently, Garrelt Duin, Minister of Economic Affairs, Energy and Industry of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, delivered his welcoming speech. He emphasised that the exhibition stands for bridge building between Estonia and North Rhine-Westphalia and honoured “the lifework of a great designer who had formative influence on entire generations”.

Moreover, the President of the Folkwang University of the Arts, Prof. Kurt Mehnert, underlined that Tõnis Käo pushed design research forward with his untiring efforts. Being a representative of Estonia, Harry Liivrand, Cultural Attaché of the Estonian Embassy, made a speech and presented Tõnis Käo with chocolate from his native country – “the best in the world”. Kai Lobjakas, Director of the Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design and curator of the exhibition, had travelled to Essen especially for the opening. She reported how fortunate coincidences advanced the project and led to an exhibition which presents German design with Estonian roots.

With his subsequent lecture, Prof. Dr. Peter Zec, founder and CEO of Red Dot, introduced the guests to the topic of the exhibition and traced the career of Tõnis Käo. He honoured him as one of the “hidden champions in design who has deeply changed our lives and influenced our modern lifestyle”. Between the poles of tradition and progress, innovation and identity, the industrial designer has always seen the future and helped to form it at Siemens. The designer thanked Prof. Dr. Peter Zec and his former student Prof. Anke Bernotat who had managed the exhibition project in Essen with huge commitment.

Afterwards, the guests explored the exhibition together with Tõnis Käo, guest of honour and centre of the evening. “Tõnis Käo: ‘Design as Experiment’, Retrospective” is on show in the Red Dot Design Museum until 3 April 2016. The Ministry of Economic Affairs, Energy and Industry of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Estonian Ministry of Culture and Estonian Cultural Endowment support the exhibition.

“Tõnis Käo: ‘Design as Experiment’, Retrospective”
Until 3 April 2016

Red Dot Design Museum Essen
Zollverein UNESCO World Heritage Site
Areal A [Schacht/Shaft XII], Kesselhaus [A7]
Gelsenkirchener Straße 181
45309 Essen

» Further information on the exhibition