Conran's resignation threat deepens woes at Design Museum

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The Independent Online

Sir Terence Conran yesterday threatened to resign from the Design Museum he founded, claiming it was putting on "tinsel exhibitions" at the expense of serious projects.

Sir Terence Conran yesterday threatened to resign from the Design Museum he founded, claiming it was putting on "tinsel exhibitions" at the expense of serious projects.

Sir Terence's scathing comments deepened the public rift over the London museum's exhibition programme, which led to the resignation of James Dyson as chairman this week. Mr Dyson, the vacuum cleaner entrepreneur who was appointed in 1999, resigned as he felt the museum's original concept to show functional, industrial design, was wrongly concentrating on visual style. He said the museum was "betraying the proper ideals of its founder".

Sir Terence, who sits on the board of 12 trustees, along with Lord Palumbo and John Hegarty, stopped funding the museum in the last financial year. He said: "I am passionate about the museum and its importance to designers and to education, but it presents an unbalanced collection. Neither James [Dyson] or I liked the lack of balance in exhibitions - there are far too many tinsel designs."

However, he said he was hopeful that the trustees and its director, Alice Rawsthorn, appointed in April 2001, could lure back Mr Dyson.

"I want a democratic dialogue between the trustees and the director. I would like a change of heart in the director in discussing her ideas," he told the Evening Standard .

Although Sir Terence is believed to have been at odds with Ms Rawsthorn for some time, a source close to him thought he would remain committed to the museum. "In my opinion, he is not putting a gun to anyone's head. He just doesn't like the direction the museum's going in."

The museum at Butler's Wharf is currently showing work by the 1950s flower arranger, Constance Spry, and movie posters by the graphic designer, Saul Bass.

Under Ms Rawsthorn's directorship, there has been a 20 per cent rise in the number of visitors and a 90 per cent rise in educational trips. Membership is up 56 per cent. Annual grant in aid from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has doubled to £340,000.

Stephen Bayley, who co-founded the museum, believed that a greater focus on industrial design would not deter visitors.

"Design is inseparable from commerce. In the 1980s, I organised exhibitions about Sony and the gestation period of a Ford Sierra, as well as shows about carrier bags, which were all intensely popular," said Mr Bayley.

"I think it's absolutely wrong for the Design Museum to be totally committed to the momentary whims of fashion. Alice Rawsthorn is very strong on fashion but I do not believe that she has the same passion for the industrial and technological side of design."

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