The Art of Useful Things

Oct. 13, 2018 – Jan. 20, 2019 This exhibition has ended
The exhibition “Objectivity. The Art of Useful Things” in the Kunsthal, Rotterdam, presents the result of the collecting mania of British design teacher and architect David Usborne (1939, London). He has a fascination for the form and aesthetics of objects that have been rendered functionless over time. Industry is constantly designing and developing new products, a process whereby others lose their purpose. As a collector, Usborne visits many second-hand markets, casting a predatory eye over thousands of objects, searching for interesting combinations of form, material, elegance, and mysterious uselessness. The circa 140 objects selected for the exhibition form a real modern-day cabinet of curiosities. Some products exhibit a similarity to animal or human appearances, while others seem to be art objects. Most symbolize to a useful function from a foregone era, whereby we ask ourselves what their purpose could have been?

Cabinet of Curiosities

The 20 meters long wall is full of curiosities, constantly presenting new things. Equipped with a hand-out of possible answers, the visitor can begin guessing and discovering. There’s a large, 24 centimetres high, aluminum motorbike cylinder head, which looks like it could be a grey sea-urchin. Next to this, a fruit-bowl made of wire, a chisel that resembles an abstract miniature, and a long ‘walking’ pair of concertina scissors form part of the collection.

David Usborne

David Usborne began his Objectivity collection as a child by collecting all sorts of things, a passion that would resurface during various stages of his life. After his architecture studies at the Architectural Association School, London, he became in 1969 a part-time Design teacher at the Central School of Art, and Kingston University. He continued collecting in the meantime. In 2015, aged 78, he bequeathed his collection to the University of the Arts London.

See also

Buy your surcharge online!


Rubber Ice tray, 20th Century, photo © Celine Marchbank
Cast aluminium rotivator,20th Century, photo © Celine Marchbank
Orange chute, 20th Century. Photo © Celine Marchbank