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Beauty in the Obsolete

SFMOMA curator Joseph Becker shares his finds from Vietnam, Cuba, and the Mission. 

Joseph Becker

Joseph Becker

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Joseph Becker

"We did an exhibit of posters for the Munich Olympics by Otl Aicher, one of the great graphic designers. I sail a 1974 Coronado, and in my research I found this Aicher print from a sailing event in Kiel."

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Joseph Becker

“I have two Eames LTR side tables: One is original and one is a current production that I won in a raffle when Charles Eames’s late daughter, Lucia, pulled my name out of a fishbowl.”

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Joseph Becker

“I bought this 1956 Rolleiflex camera a decade ago in new York and have been shooting with it for years.”

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Joseph Becker

”Isamu Noguchi referred to the lamps he made, like this Akari lamp, as ‘light sculptures.’ He recognized the importance of showing both restraint and whimsy.”

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Joseph Becker

”I’m really interested in the legacy of utilitarian objects: how practical, analog things get overwritten by technology. I came across these Japanese glass fishing net floats at a flea market in Brooklyn.”

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Joseph Becker

"This Florence Knoll stacking letter tray makes the mundane in-box/out-box exchange more fun somehow—though it’s usually completely buried."

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Joseph Becker

”Charlie Chaplin is an icon of early Cuban film—he’s seen as the ‘everyman.’ I found this 1961 film poster on a trip to Cuba.”

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Joseph Becker

”I keep this handwoven textile by the Ta Oi hill tribe in Vietnam on top of my dresser. These days, it’s rare to find design that has the same level of craftsmanship.”

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Joseph Becker

“My mom wove this basket out of pine needles from the El Dorado national Forest, where my family has a cabin.”

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For most, “What would you save in a fire?” is a harmless icebreaker. But to Joseph Becker, the 31-year-old assistant curator of architecture and design at SFMOMA, the question is trauma inducing.

The design buff ’s home—a rent-controlled 2,400-foot Mission warehouse with 12-foot ceilings and 100-year-old redwood beams—burned down last year, destroying a haven that Becker had spent a decade furnishing. (The blaze reportedly started in a neighbor’s retrofitted garage.) Though he ultimately lost furniture, rugs, and his enviable tenancy, luckily his most valued collectibles, like ceramics by his grandmother and flat files full of art, were saved.

“Out of necessity, now I’m in the process of trying to get rid of things,” he says. No easy feat: As one might expect from an architect and graphic designer turned curator, Becker has accumulated a storied stash of knickknacks. This spring, he’s settling into his new Bernal Heights apartment and preparing an exhibition on the trajectory of graphic design from the ’50s to the present for SFMOMA’s 2016 reopening.

In the slideshove above, Becker reveals the flea market gems, iconic furniture, and mom- made crafts behind his design philosophy.


Originally published in the March issue of San Francisco

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