A Rolling Stone…

Design legend Murray Moss discusses the future of "anti-disciplinarity"

Murray Moss delivering the lecture "In Search of a Narrative" at RISD this past fall. (Jo Sittenfeld/Courtesy of Rhode Island School of Design.)

As the semester closes out, select Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) students are likely reflecting on one of the fall’s more atypical visiting teachers. Murray Moss, the figure behind the eponymous Moss, one of the 21st century’s most iconic design galleries and stores, has been taking his knowledge of art and design to RISD, where he delivered two lectures that were followed by graduate workshops at the RISD Museum.

When I met with Moss in the lobby of his hotel, he was in a genial mood, sort of unabashedly prepared in his self-professed unpreparedness (a fib; he had quite a bit of material to riff on) for his lecture later that night, titled “Interdisciplinary Design Becomes the Norm.” “I’m not a lecturer,” he admitted, “but I thought, well, at this point I could try anything. What do I have to lose?”

Murray Moss leading a graduate-level workshop at the RISD Museum. (Courtesy Rhode Island School of Design.)

The first lecture, delivered this past October, was titled “In Search of a Narrative.” In it, Moss asked design students to consider the narratives and histories objects embody and tell. Sort of. “An object can’t tell you anything,” Moss told me in the lobby of his hotel, speaking of his own approach as a curator of design and about what he enjoys about working with students, “but a person can. They can share the way they see what they’ve done…If what they start to say to me is interesting, then I start to like the thing.” He has, he claims, “never in [his] life seen a trend.”

I asked Moss about the increasingly blurry boundary between art, architecture, and design—something that has come to define young gallerists like Jay Ezra Nayssan of Annex LA or Benoît Wolfrom and Javier Peres of Functional Art. “My question would be, why do you ask?” Moss responded. “It’s like, what is interdisciplinarity? Why do you care? Who told you that’s something you were supposed to waste five minutes on.” I pointed out he was about to “waste” an hour on it. “I know. But I didn’t know what it was. I always get in this mess. I pick a topic, because I think it’s going to be good, and then five minutes after I agree to do it, it turns out, I read something and I’m like, ‘This is a horrible subject.’ And I’m stuck with it.”

Murray Moss leading a graduate-level workshop at the RISD Museum. (Courtesy Rhode Island School of Design.)

His talk, which opened with winking self-deprecation, was, however, decidedly not horrible. He used his subject and its title, which he admitted he picked before he wrote the lecture, as a launching pad to undo the expectations built into the title. If interdisciplinarity is already the norm, then what’s next? “What’s emerging,” Moss told students “is much more radical.” He suggests that “we must pass through, it seems, interdisciplinarity in order to attain anti-disciplinarity.” He suggests that instead of being siloed into fields and disciplines and their correspondent singular methodologies, or even working together with other disciplines, thus still acknowledging those disciplines, we must work in the spaces between disciplines or after them all together that is, anti-disciplinarity—increasingly relevant today.

Speaking to students he told them to “check [their] opinion bags at the door,” before exploring the possibilities of learning and creating beyond disciplines and without the confines of taken-for-granted foreknowledge. He then showed off the work of designers, artists, and mathematicians who he says work in the spaces between disciplines, including Ingo Maurer, Maarten Baas, Cathy McClure, and Haresh Lalvani.

Although Moss professed disgust at the idea he might have any legacy as a “motivational speaker,” he still has a deep belief in learning and in encouraging new generations to think widely and chase new ideas, part of his motivation for teaching with a radical ethos that looks at the personal and looks for thoughts that exceed and even destroy traditionally held boundaries. “I think that we owe it to the younger people to encourage them to soar.”

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