Are These Really the Top 20 Designs of the Century?

Daily Mail (London), March 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Are These Really the Top 20 Designs of the Century?


Byline: JEEVAN VASAGAR

A LIST produced by the BBC of the 20th century's best art and design masterpieces has caused an argument which could last into the next millennium.

The choice, by a panel including a former pop singer and a literary critic, finds little room for fashion or advertising and names few women.

The top 20 includes Antony Gormley's 200-ton colossus Angel of the North, which was derided as 'bad taste on a vast scale', and a concrete cast of the inside of a house.

Sir Gilbert Scott's red phone box made the top 100 but not the top 20, and there is little sign of the influence of television or film - though the old BBC test card of a girl with balloons has been included.

Mary Quant's mini skirt is in the top 100, but Jean Muir's 'little black dress' has not made the list at all. Only four women are among the top 20 artists or designers on the list, which will appear on the BBC's website and form the basis for a series on the cable and satellite arts channel UK Arena.

The first 20 were listed in order by the panel of cultural commentators which included Pat Kane, former singer with the pop group Hue and Cry, and literary critic Professor Lisa Jardine of the University of London. The BBC has added a further 80 with the aim of encouraging debate.

The choices have been scathingly described by Stephen Bayley, former cre- ative director of the Millennium Dome, as a 'combination of the sterile chill of Cool Britannia and foetid waft from the Central Office of Information, circa 1959'.

Art critic Brian Sewell joined the fray to condemn what he called 'the gospel according to the political correctitude of art history'.

The designer in the Number One slot, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, made 'shoddy' furniture which was 'bloody uncomfortable' to sit on, Mr Sewell declared, while the Mini, though it was a 'very good design which still looks exceptional 40 years on' is also 'shoddily made'.

He said: 'Good design is a Coke bottle.

Design is the application of common sense to the use of something without abandoning all ideas of proportion and elegance and line and form.'

1.Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Glasgow School of Art. Best-known building by the Scottish architect.

2. Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion.

The horror of its imagery established him as the most controversial painter in Britain.

3. Henry Moore, Madonna and Child. The sculptor was also particularly renowned for his wartime drawings of Londoners taking shelter. …

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