Lileks: Yes, architect is leaving Target, but don't be blue

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 9, 2012 - 7:30 PM

Steel yourself: Target will stop carrying the Michael Graves line.

Some say: You mean those blue plastic things that cost more? Sigh.

No, we're talking about the elegantly designed implements of daily life that infused the most mundane chores with a sense of art and whimsy.

Right, those blue plastic things that cost more.

No reason for the split was given, but it's possible Mr. Graves was tired of going to a party, introducing himself, and being told, "Oh, I have your toilet plunger."

At some point a man just has to snap: "I'm more than a device for unstopping privy pipes, Madam. I am an architect whose Portland Building was a landmark in the postmodern movement, reworking classical motifs to the point of abstraction without diluting their semiotic essence! Jeez already!" Pause for breath. "Do you have the old one with the T-shaped handle, or the new one with the rounded handle? I rather think the first was more elegant."

It's a sad end to a great line. They made us feel good about buying a toilet plunger.

They were sturdy: I just tossed a dust pan that served us for seven years, and the plunger, unlike its ruddy-hued wood-handled kin, never split. You could fill your house with items that belonged together, and if someone said, Wow, you really drank the Kool-Aid, didn't you? you could whip out a translucent white plastic pitcher and fill it with Michael Graves Kool-Aid and get out the Michael Graves ice cube tray.

It would be pretty darn obvious from the rounded, tasteful edges of the ice cubes that you don't do Wal-Mart.

That was part of the appeal: reminding yourself that you're the sort of person who appreciates an artful plunger.

In the end, however, the line taught us something else: eventually we all got sick of that flat shade of blue.

It was a distinctive hue, a trademark look, yes. But the other day at Target I was looking for a broom, and I just wanted a broom. It didn't have to enhance my life. If my life can be enhanced by a blue broom, it's not going so well.

On the other hand, the Graves broom was pretty cool. It was blue! (With a white translucent dust pan.) When I looked around the cleaning-supply aisle, I realized that the Graves line had been winnowed down to mops and scrubbing supplies, which was sad. It's like finding nothing but Frank Lloyd Wright mousetraps and caulking guns.

Went looking for more; found nothing.

Remember when every aisle had something Gravified? A few of my favorites:

The Michael Graves Leaf Blower. It was rather underpowered, so it could only arrange leaves into small, tasteful clumps. Came with a Michael Graves rake, which had a blue pole and translucent plastic tines.

Michael Graves Multi-Surface Antibacterial Cleanser. This was ingenious -- blue fluid in a white, translucent plastic bottle -- but its bulbous, top-heavy shape and peculiar handle made it difficult to use without dropping it. You'd feel bad cleaning up the fluid with anything but a Michael Graves Mop.

Michael Graves Graves. A matching tombstone-and-coffin set, done in tasteful blue. The lower part of the coffin was done in translucent plastic. Not a big seller.

Michael Graves Tube Socks. Looked like any other white athletic socks, but they had a thin thread of trademark blue running around the top. To emphasize their non-traditional quality, they were sold singly.

Michael Graves Bread. Tasty, but its blue hue made people think it had gone moldy.

Michael Graves Blue Comparison Stick. This was simply a piece of blue plastic you could hold up to something to see if it was the same blue as a Michael Graves product. Sold only 650,000 units.

Michael Graves Frosted Post-Modern Os. This breakfast cereal consisted of blue O-shaped rings of compressed oat dust. But something has to be a translucent white, you say. Marshmallows? No, that's what the milk was for. It came with the tremendously unpopular Michael Graves Spoon. It looked great, but it was shallow.

If you know what I mean.

Well, when the Graves line is done, they might have to look around for another architect to fill the void. We can only hope they don't get the firm that did the Walker Art Center. Look at this plunger! See how it breaks with tradition!

Yeah. It's square. And it doesn't have a handle.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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