Gene Davis’ “Battle for Grown-Ups” inspired the Pitch Interactive design team to create an interactive piece in which the color and thickness of the stripes change based on the viewer’s clothing and distance from the screen.

In “The Big Lebowski,” the Dude obsesses about how his rug, which has gone missing, “really tied the room together.”

Similar thoughts about interior design have been at work at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s Design MMoCA exhibit. In 2008 and 2010, interior designers and architecture firms took a piece of artwork from the museum’s permanent collection and built a room inspired by that work.

But this year, for the semi-annual event, the museum expanded the number and breadth of participating designers to graphic design, industrial design, fashion design, furniture design and more, leading to an diverse array of conceptual art, not just individual rooms.

“(This year’s) projects are more sort of interesting and compelling and conceptual than ever before,” said Elizabeth Tucker, MMoCA director of external services. “In the past, the interior designers and architects designed very beautiful, very functional spaces. This time around, there’s less of those kind of functional spaces and more interesting installations.”

Opening Thursday, April 26, 18 projects are part of this year’s 11-day exhibit, ranging from two-dimensional designs to miniature towns, plus a display that interactively tailors to individual viewers.

“We love the idea that this exhibit provides a case study of how you might come to the museum and see an artwork and use it as a jumping off point for a big idea in whatever field you work in, or whatever hobby you have,” Tucker said.

Inspired art

In preparation for the exhibit, Tucker and MMoCA Director Steven Fleischman combed the museum’s permanent collection of more than 5,000 objects in search of a wide variety of media, colors and subjects. That resulted in 60 two-dimensional works designers could choose from. Designers’ final projects will be on display alongside the artworks that inspired them.

Christo and Jeanne Claude’s “Wrapped Automobile,” which looks much like it sounds — a Volvo wrapped in fabric and twine — inspired Chapa Design in a study of the car’s logo.

Interior designer Lauren Slattery chose two vibrantly colored, textured paper pieces by former UW-Madison professor William Weege to create a “rocker chic space.”

And in a nontraditional move for an exhibit at a museum mostly filled with nontraditional works, Design Concepts chose “Landscape With Woodgathers,” a 19th century painting by E. Roesler Franz.

“We very rarely — if ever — have an opportunity to show those (types of) works to the public,” Tucker said. “So it’s neat to bring something like that out of storage that probably hasn’t been seen ever.”

Exhibit standouts

Of the wide range of projects on display, two might be especially eye-catching — one will appear to float in the air, the other will change with each viewer.

A husband and wife team composed of architect Doug Pahl and graphic designer Kate Pahl chose a series of 1970s photos from Archie Lieberman with small-town themes — fairs, church potlucks and the like. For their design, they built a small-scale small town on a mix of quilted fabric and fibers that will be suspended from the ceiling in the Henry Street gallery. The floating town is held up by ropes that echo a component of one of the photographs, which depicts a game of tug of war.

“I come from a small town, and so I have a really soft spot for small towns. And I think for a lot of people in Wisconsin, small towns are connected with ideas like nostalgia, ideas, tradition, home and family,” Kate Pahl said. “I thought that the quilt represented those ideas pretty well.”

Pitch Interactive, a data visualization firm, took a more modern approach.

Their inspired artwork, Gene Davis’ “Battle for Grown-Ups,” is a print of brightly colored vertical stripes, ranging from candy-colored pink to aqua, yellow and green. The accompanying design is displayed on a high-definition TV monitor connected to a Kinect motion sensor. When a viewer approaches the monitor, the design will react — colors will change based on the shades of the viewer’s clothes; stripes will get thicker or thinner as she moves closer or further away.

“We’re taking something that’s an original painting from the ’60s and ’70s and saying, ‘How would this work in today’s world?’” said Pitch Interactive Founder Wesley Grubbs, adding that translating it into the digital age signals a need for interaction.

“There’s no mouse, there’s no keyboard … it’s sort of a self-reflection.”

The exhibit kicks off with a preview gala at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 25, but has also inspired a slew of special events, including workshops on choosing art for interior spaces, do-it-yourself projects, art and technology, interior design, designer meet and greets and more. Visit mmoca.org for a complete list of events and for more information.

[Editor's note: This story was changed to reflect a correction. Chapa Design was misspelled.]