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Jewish World Review June 22, 2004 / 3 Tamuz, 5764

Lenore Skenazy

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Perfection is possible... if you're a pin | If you have ever tried to pull a pill out of one of those blister packs without resorting to tweezers, toothpicks or murder, you appreciate good design.

Because that's not it! That's design that drives you so nuts you're ready to eat the package whole. And then you need another Pepto-Bismol. Great.

But good design - design that does exactly what it's supposed to do - has the opposite effect: Joy.

Problem is, how often do we stop to appreciate these perfect helpers? The stapler, doing its bit for our papers. The safety pin, doing its bit for our pants. The Frisbee, doing its bit for dogs with bandanas. It is high time we paid these items our respects, and the Museum of Modern Art thinks so, too. So it has opened the exhibit "Humble Masterpieces."

On display are 122 objects, from the hairpin to the Slinky. Okay, so the Slinky doesn't really do anything except slink. Get over it.

These objects are so basic, they seem almost out of place in a museum, especially since to reach them, you have to pass a Picasso. And yet, I could live without a Picasso if I had to. (And, in case you were wondering, I have to.) But could I live without Band-Aids? Not without a lot of scary scabs. Could I live without bubble wrap? Not without a lot of happy downstairs neighbors. Could I live without Q-Tips?

Whadja say? (That's a joke.)

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"By taking everyday objects out of context and making people see them [in a museum]," says the show's curator, Paola Antonelli, "there's this jolt that will hopefully create a new viewpoint." Just as we've come to appreciate fine art, maybe we will slowly come to appreciate the fine design of, say, the Bic pen. And, for that matter, the Bic lighter and Bic disposable razor.

Marcel Bich - their inventor - "spent his whole life perfecting just three objects," says Antonelli. Sure enough, all three have reached such purity of form that it's hard to imagine any improvements.

"Fantastic!" exclaimed my friend Anne, as we browsed the display and came upon a coffee cup lid. It's the Starbucks kind - sort of domed, with a tiny oval hole. "The ones that have that little flap," Anne explained by way of contrast, "flap into your nose." But this one - it's perfect. As is the egg carton. The clothes hanger. The Post-It. All here.

There's a book at the exhibit in which visitors can nominate other masterpieces, and so far they have suggested pantyhose, hammers, sponges and clothespins.

But I'd like a chance to nominate some design disasters, too, like the little seal on top of an unopened ketchup bottle. Has anyone ever yanked it off without using her teeth? And how about folding chairs? Impossible to open without a poke in the stomach. And grapefruit! So much work for such small portions of such sour fruit!

Maybe if we focused on these travesties, designers would dream up ways to fix 'em. And if they do, they can have my whole blister pack of Pepto-Bismol.

After all - it's still unopened.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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