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Danese perpetual calendars

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[ Danese wall calendar in MoMA design exhibit ]

The picture above shows a Danese perpetual wall calendar, as it was on exhibit in The Museum of Modern Art (New York) Design gallery (4th floor), on Sunday, 19 July 1998. (The poor image quality is due to museum restrictions on how close I could get to the object to photograph it, but the picture is at least good enough to serve as evidence for the point I am about to make....)

The calendar consists of a metal "plate", which hangs on the wall, and some plastic "cards", which hang on the plate. The plate has four "hooks" (hangers), on which the "cards" are hung. On the "cards" are numbers, or names of days or months. One flips and shuffles the cards each day, to change the date. There are two different size cards (see below): (1) large cards which only have big numbers on them, which are used for the days of the month and are to be hung on the two hooks (hangers) at the top of the plate, and (2) small cards, with the names either of days of the week, or months, on them; these are to be hung on the two lower hooks.

As should be obvious, the calendar, as exhibited (above), has no days, but only weekday and month cards -- a weekday and month pair on the bottom (where they should be), and another pair on the top (where big, day number cards should be). There was no notation that the calendar was missing its large day number cards (although they obviously were missing). If the large cards are in fact lost, it seems the art-historically sensible thing to do would have been to leave the top hangers empty, and show only a single pair of weekday and month cards, at the bottom. The question arises: Didn't the people who hung the little calendar care? Or didn't they know -- either about how this calendar works, or, perhaps, about calendrical time in general?

[ Danese wall calendar owned by BMcC ]

The picture above is of the Danese wall calendar I have owned since 1969. (The card set is still complete, although one of the cards now has a "chip" out of one corner, and the Sunday card is badly warped. Also, it should be noted that there were several different "color combinations" for the calendars: mine has red lettering, whereas the MoMA example has black.)

There is a story about how I got my calendar: One day, I saw it on display at The Store, Ltd., in the Cross Keys shopping center, Baltimore Maryland (USA). It was perhaps as much being used by the store as a calendar, as being on display as an object for sale. I asked the clerk for one, and I was told they were out of stock, but that more were on order. I left my name, and, several weeks later, I got a call that order had come in. Eagerly, I went to the store. But I was immediately disappointed to see that the new calendars were imitations, not real Danese calendars (the lettering was "klutzier", etc.). I said that was not what I had asked for. The clerk looked at me, and, somewhat accusingly, told me that she could sell me the display sample off the wall. I knew I would have a hard time finding another one elsewhere. I think I had been looking for one for a while, and I was even concerned they might no longer be being made. So I considered my options, and quickly said I'd take the sample (hoping that, in the interim, the clerk wouldn't change her mind and say it wasn't for sale). --That's how I got my Danese wall calendar. I still like it (it reminds me of the "world" of La Dolce Vita, L'Avventura, etc.).

You, my reader, may ask: "So what's the big deal?" Good question. I believe I paid between US$15 and $30 for my calendar, back in 1969. Obviously, it's not a Sotheby's blockbuster. And I'd have no objection if The Museum of Modern Art didn't exhibit it at all -- if MoMA only exhibited objects with insurance valuations over US$1,000,000 (that would thin out the gallery space a bit, even in 1998!). But they do exhibit the little calendar (it had at least six linear feet of wall space all to itself). And I do believe the little calendar is a fine example of modern design.

An experimentum crucis. The little calendar is actually one of the few objects a museum displays where the museum gets to show whether it does its work conscientiously. Most paintings and drawings consist of only one piece, and the conservators have generally protected them in plexiglassed frames. So all the museum can do to mess up is to hang the item upside down (but the hanging wire is usually so placed as to make this difficult), or to not drive the hanging nail securely into the wall (as a consequence of which the painting or drawing would fall to the floor). They seem generally competent to do these things. But the little calendar consists of 18 separate pieces: 17 "cards" which have to be hung in a horologically meaningful arrangement on the four hooks on the front side of the back plate. This requires much more attention to detail: the kind of attention every owner of one of these calendars has to make each day to rearrange the cards to update the date. The Museum of Modern Art proved either incapable or such an accomplishment, or else that they just don't care.

If you're going to do something, especially if it's not something that has to be done, and, a fortiori, if it is explicitly being presented as an example of things that should be done ("good design"), Why not do it right? --especially if you are not just one of the greatest cultural institutions in the world, but also every person's Alma MoMA?

For the spirit alone lives; all else dies.
(--Jean de Coras, The Return of Martin Guerre, 1564)
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