Posts Tagged ‘Design Museum’

Exhibition | Hella Jongerius: Lost in Colour

Friday, June 9th, 2017

Hella Jongerius prepares
for Breathing Colour
at the Jongeriuslab



Breathing Colour
by Hella Jongerius
Design Museum
London | UK
28 June > 24 September 2017



A grey ‘colour catcher’
destined for the Noon
section of the show



Although she claims to feel like an absolute beginner with it, Berlin-based, Dutch designer, Helen Jongerius lives and breathes (and probably eats and sleeps) colour. In March this year, she received the 2017 Sikkens Prize. One of the Netherlands’ oldest independent art prizes, it was established in 1960 – three years before the designer’s birth – and is awarded to individuals or institutions that are considered to have made a special contribution to the field of colour. Previous winners include Gerrit Rietveld (1960), Le Corbusier (1963), Donald Judd (1993) and Bridget Riley (2013). However, her Woven Movie that is a continuation of German textile designer Anni Albers’ pioneering work at the Bauhaus, which focussed on finding new, mass-production weaving techniques, will run the length of her forthcoming show at the Design Museum.

To label Jongerius, who founded the aptly-named Jongeriuslab design studio in 1993, where she has pursued independent, experimental projects with polyurethane, ceramics and textiles, while simultaneously creating products for clients such as Maharam, Danskina, IKEA and KLM, and has earned respect for her skill at fusing industrial and crafts methods, high- with low-tech, and traditional with contemporary, simply as an industrial designer, would be an injustice.

Jongerius has earned
respect for her skill
at fusing industrial and
crafts methods



Everyday life at the studio



Mixing quirky with classic, Jongerius has also designed furniture and household accessories for Vitra. At CasaVitra during Salone del Mobile Milano 2016, visitors were met with giant, twirling spinning tops and colour wheels, representing the past ten years of collaboration between Jongeriuslab and Vitra on the company’s colour and material library. Pitting the power of colour against that of form, the Breathing Colour exhibition will also be an installation – a natural extension of the free-flowing investigative work that is part of the everyday life of the studio – exploring the behaviour of colour and light. Like Plato, Jongerius says, she has become convinced that people can only observe a colour if they can observe the light, the reflection and absorption, and the shadow of it, ‘No wonder then, that people can get lost in colour.’ A series of three-dimensional objects she describes as colour catchers – the faceted surfaces of which are designed to absorb and reflect nearby colours – will be positioned throughout the exhibition space that will be divided into three areas, with simulated daylight conditions for morning, noon and evening.

Semi-translucent
beads mimic the
crisp colours of cold
morning light



The Morning section of the exhibition will explore the differences between lightness and brightness and the hazy feeling of waking up, via a series of illuminated hanging, translucent and semi-translucent beads, whose fragmented reflections mimic the intense and crisp colours created by cold morning light. In the Noon section, projected light will create an illusion of the transition of early morning haze to the intensity of midday, causing the facets of grey catchers displayed on bright surfaces show sharp, bright reflections. Evening will use examples of Eames, Jean Prouve and Verner Panton furniture, to explore the nature and colour of shadows.

Alongside other, existing works from the Jongeriuslab Breathing Colour by Hella Jongerius at the Design Museum will include a circular display of 100 of the designer’s Colour Vases (series 3), from 2010.

All photos Roel van Tour, courtesy the Design Museum


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The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us that we think might interest you

The Blog’s publishers insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees that may, under any circumstances whatsoever, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier


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Illustration | Drawing Fashion Forward

Friday, December 19th, 2014

At Home, 1967
Published in The New York Times Magazine

Mixed media
© Courtesy of Estate of Antonio Lopez and Juan Ramos
and Galerie Bartsch & Chariau



Drawing Fashion.
Masterpieces of a Century
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Hamburg | Germany
19th December 2014 > 3 May 2015



I own a copy of Paris Vogue’s ‘Homáge a Paris’ June / July 1985 issue, the cover illustrated with a painting of a bare-shouldered, three-quarter length female model against a minimal evening backdrop of the city, unmistakable because of the small, blurred, floodlit silhouette of the The Arc de Triomphe in the distance, placing her, unmistakably on the sophisticated and romantic Champs-Élysées. Hands, clenched below her chin, she wears long black gloves, with diamond earrings and a diamond necklace. Her black hair is piled high on top of her head. Her black-mascara’d eyes closed in ecstasy, her full red-lipped mouth with even white teeth smiles wide with sheer delight. The perfect picture of Parisian glamour – a huge gold ribbon cinches the waist of her spangled black dress, and, extending off both sides of the cover, binds her image to the magazine. The message is unmistakable. The artist who created it was René Gruau (1909 > 2004).

Georges Lepape
Untitled, 1915
Published on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar

Watercolour and gouache
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014



Mats Gustafson
Kopfbedeckung, 2005
Fashion from Comme des Garçons

Watercolour
© Mats Gustafson / Art + Commerce



Réne Gruau
Untitled, 1955
Fashion from Dior
Published in International Textiles

Brushed ink and gouache
© Nachlass Réne Gruau



Gruau, whose heyday was in the 1940s and 50s was one of the main attractions in the enormously successful, Drawing Fashion: 100 years of fashion illustrated exhibition in 2010 at London’s Design Museum. From today, and deservedly so, re-jigged and rearranged to suit the new venue, the same material is getting a fresh outing under the title Drawing Fashion. Masterpieces of a Century at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg. The new exhibition celebrates the genre as represented in 165 images, covering the whole of the 20th century period, with a few examples from the 21st, from the unique collection of original artworks of renowned Munich art dealer Joelle Chariau.

Split into seven sections – the first two representing a particular style or epoch – the extravagant art deco of the 1910s and twenties is followed by the more dignified fashions of the thirties and forties. Each subsequent decade is represented by its outstanding illustrators – the fifties by René Gruau (1909 > 2004), the sixties to eighties by the remarkable, prolific and highly-influential New Yorker, and close associate of Karl Lagerfeld, Antonio (Antonio Lopez, 1943 > 1987), who worked in Paris from 1969 to the mid 70s. Then come those who are still working today like, sensitive master of the watercolour wash, the Swede, Mats Gustafson (b 1951), the Swiss, François Berthoud (b 1961), of whom Anna Piaggi Vogue Italia fashion contributor and style icon – wrote: ‘While François illustrates fashion in an apparently formal and decorative way, in reality he analyses his subject in depth and with an elegant sense of detachment before recreating it in his atelier-laboratory…. with a sharp sense of irony and a visual culture rooted in conceptual art!’ This section also includes Parisian Aurore de La Morinerie (b 1962), who spent two years studying the Chinese calligraphy that was to become a formative influence on her style.

François Berthoud
Girl in a room
, 1996
Fashion from Jil Sander, published in Interview Review

Monotype and oil
© François Berthoud



The Fashion Illustration Gallery (Paris) website has examples of work by most, but not all of the big names from the 20th and 21st centuries. Their list is dived into two alphabetically-ordered groups – the younger illustrators, followed by the more mature or no longer living, or so it appears – which puts flavour of the moment, David Downton, whose slick, nostalgic style pays tribute to those who went before him – such as Gruau – right at the top. It’s interesting to see, however, some young people like Daisy De Villeneuve, with her own inimitable, primitive style, pushing the genre in a very personal and alternative direction. Former fashion designer, Richard Haines‘ matter-of-fact, laid-back watercolour sketches come close to caricature. Award-winning, Japanese fashion illustrator Hiroshi Tanabe, who quickly became established after leaving college in 1990, has an assured graphic hand that produces reduced, often minimal images with a whiff of the 1970s about them, which are at the same time bang up to date.



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The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us which we think might interest you.

The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier



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All Categories | Past Forward

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Christian Marclay – The Clock
MoMA
New York City, USA
Until 21st January, 2013

David Bowie Is
Victoria & Albert Museum
London, UK
23rd March – 28th July, 2013

As we look forward to the David Bowie Is retrospective at London’s V&A in 2013, Christian Marclay’s film, The Clock, ticks away the remainder of 2012 at MoMA in New York, where it opened last week.

Completed in 2010 – already three years old – a monumental icon of contemporary art, The Clock, for which Marclay won a Golden Lion for best artist at the Venice Film Festival in 2011, is cleverly constructed from 24 hours-worth of clips from the past 100 years of cinema, almost all including a clock or a watch. Perhaps the film and the Bowie show can be taken as signs of the times. Certainly, referencing and re-assessing the past was a theme during 2012 and indications are that the trend is set to continue.

If we pause to consider, true innovation is a pretty rare thing and, while there’s no current lack of it, the flow remains uneven by nature. In comparison, art and design history – recent and ancient – is vast and has left an enormous, carefully refined legacy, much of it eminently worthy of our attention, reconsideration and reinterpretation, some of it recyclable.

Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum reopens its doors in April 2013 following an ambitious 10-year renovation programme. Already launched, the very forward-thinking Rijks Studio initiative, makes a digital collection of 125,000 items from the museum’s historical collection accessible to all for free. Members of the public are invited to create their own works of art by downloading high-resolution images and using them in a creative fashion, copyright free.

Editor of the British edition of Harper’s Bazaar, Justine Picardie is the author of several acclaimed books including Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life (HarperCollins, 2010). Talking about her first proper issue (January, 2013), she explains her preoccupations with Chanel, Vreeland, Dior, et al, as an exploration of how understanding the past is a way to move forwards. And it’s important to get it right. Opinions differed on the October launch of Hedi Slimane’s debut collection for Saint Laurent – the label’s original inspirational concepts still present, but updated and made inimitably Slimane’s own, were seen by some as underwhelming.

The (London) Royal Academy’s Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935 ran over into January, 2012. Reviewing it, The Guardian reminded us that the Russian avant garde which emerged out of the futurist cafés and cabarets of the mid-1910s was probably the most intensive and creative art and architectural movement of the past century. Sergei Tchoban (with partner Sergei Kuznetsov) of SPEECH Techoban/Kuznetsov, designed the astonishingly futuristic and much-praised Russian Pavilion that caused such a stir at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale in August. The entirely QR-coded environment – an homage, conscious or otherwise, to the square: architectural cornerstone of a few thousand years standing, but currently out of favour in a world of curvilinear structures – addressed the country’s future while referencing early 20th century influences. Italian Futurism, 1909-44, will run at The Guggenheim in New York from in 2014. When it appeared, in 1909, the original Futurist Manifesto, that had inspired the Russians, called for the demolition of museums and libraries; Foster + Partners recently mooted $300 million renovation of the New York Public Library in Manhattan, intended to begin with the eviction of 1.2 million books, provoked more adverse reaction than it bargained for. Similarly, London’s uncompromising tall and dynamic Shard, inaugurated in July, caused an immediate sensation, but earned a chilly reception from some quarters for its apparent lack of sensitivity towards the existing cityscape.

Steeped in ancient tradition, the Olympic Games has brought the modern world some its most daring, groundbreaking and well-considered architecture, product design and graphics. The London 2012 Games – modest in terms of scale by comparison to recent predecessors – didn’t fail to deliver more of the same. Among other items, the event’s Olympic torch designed by Barber Osgerby, was buried in a time capsule as part of the ground breaking ceremony for the new Design Museum that will be installed in the former 1962-built Commonwealth Institute, after its rigorous but nevertheless sympathetic redevelopment by John Pawson. Elsewhere, Herzog & de Meuron, architects of the Beijing 2008 Olympics‘ astonishing ‘Bird’s Nest’ stadium, and designers of the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2012 (with Ai Weiwei), recently completed the Parrish Art Museum at Southampton on Long Island. ‘Our design for the Parrish is a reinterpretation… of the traditional house form,’  said Jacques Herzog, ‘…something very specific, precise and also fresh.’

This month at Christie’s in New York a lacquered and painted wooden screen made by Eileen Gray in the 1920s, sold for over $1.8 million. Paris, where Gray spent most of her life, hosts a retrospective of her unique work at the Pompidou Centre, starting in February. American photographer, Man Ray, also spent the greater part of his life in Paris. Man Ray’s Portraits is at London’s National Portrait Gallery in February, while Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light will run from March to August at MoMA. It takes Inspired curating with a new and interesting perspective, combined with creative presentation to make exhibitions and events based solely on archival content current and vital.

Frieze Masters was launched in October by Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, co-founders of Frieze. The new fair, coinciding with, and within walking distance of Frieze London, in Regent’s Park, was based on the idea of applying a contemporary approach to selling pre-21st-century art, from ancient to modern. The inaugural six-day event, in which 90 galleries from 18 countries took part, was attended by around 28,000 international visitors and was a massive hit. Sales were brisk; one of the most significant reports was of widespread contemporary collectors’ interest in historical work and vice versa. Not surprisingly, Frieze Masters will happen again in 2013 and is set to become a regular fixture.

The apposite title of the V&A’s forthcoming show, David Bowie Is, recognises that the David Bowie phenomenon, so influential over the past 40 yearts, is important historically but also as a source of inspiration for today’s and tomorrow’s innovative thinking. Set in motion, sequences from it cast out on to the internet, it’s unlikely that The Clock will ever stop.

Images from top
Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997,
Frank W Ockenfels 3

Union Jack coat designed by Alexander McQueen in collaboration with
David Bowie
© Frank W Ockenfels 3, 1997

Video still from The Clock, 2010, Christian Marclay
Single-channel video with sound, 24 hours
©Christian Marclay. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

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The Blog is about art, architecture, gardens, books, design and anything else that currently interests us which we think might interest you

The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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mouth2mouth | Mark Thomson

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

mouth2mouth | exclusive interview
mark thomson | book designer extraordinaire

Mark Thomson is based in London and is responsible for the design of the catalogue for the Mel Bochner: If the Colour Changes exhibition, currently showing at the Whitechapel Gallery. Trained in fine art at Chelsea School of Art, for a period in the 90s Mark was art director of Taschen, based in Cologne, Germany, where he produced, among many other books, the definitive tome Starck (1996). Back in the UK, he began working on books directly with artists. More recently he has produced artist monographs, exhibition catalogues and text-based books with publishers Ridinghouse, as well as with the British Council and British Museum. Among other projects, Mark is currently involved in producing a monograph on the British artist and 2003 Turner Prize nominee Anya Gallaccio. Thomson, an authority on typography, occasionally writes on design-related subjects.

In a 2005 issue of Eye magazine, referring to an exhibition of Swiss books at the Design Museum, Thomson said: ‘An inescapable fact about exhibiting books is that the essential ingredient of a book – its engagement with time – is impossible to show. Sculpture you can walk around, a painting can be seen from left and right.’ The real experience of a book, he tells us, has more in common with music or architecture. Significantly, in the same article he talks about the exhibition and its catalogue, designed by Laurent Benner and Jonathan Hares, as being co-dependent and that, in this instance, ‘the catalogue itself is the star.’

When did you study at Chelsea?
1980 to 1985, studying fine art. Anthony Hill was my main tutor there. He’d corresponded with Marcel Duchamp and was a central figure in postwar British and European constructivism. He had an anarchic alter ego called Redo (as in play-doh). These things made him extremely interesting to me. His 1983 mid-career retrospective at the Hayward is still one of the best exhibitions I’ve ever seen: work that was totally uncompromising, industrial, practically colourless and apparently devoid of angst or expression of any kind. I loved it, and still do.

Why the crossover from fine art to design?
After Chelsea I started writing about art, mostly reviewing exhibitions and interviewing artists I was interested in, such as Hans Haacke and Dan Graham. I did a bit of lecturing, usually on these subjects. Meanwhile the work I was making had something to do with structure and language; it was really no step at all from that to design. I started doing flyers for concerts, and gradually realised that design held a deeper mystery for me. It was not clear at all how design worked – the language was far more subtle than the idea of problem-solving that was being put about. Typography in particular became my obsession, as well as the overall language of design. The first exhibition catalogue and print material I did was for New Contemporaries in 1993. For the first time I felt that all my interests came together in a meaningful way.

How did the Taschen job come about?
At about the same time I had been working on a book about chairs for Taschen, and went to Cologne to show them what I had done. While there I worked on another book with them for a day or two, returning a couple of weeks later to do some more. Then it snowballed – we got on well and after a few months I was given the job of art director. I had my studio in London and the studio in Cologne. I went between the two for a few years.

The main task was to introduce a more international design language – although the company sold books all over the world it was still quite German-looking. I gave the typography a new direction: Scala Sans had just been released and it was readable as well as fresh, it was both new and somehow traditional, and it was perfect for the coated papers that art books are mostly printed on. Scala and Quadraat became the baseline typefaces for the company.

You’re currently based in London but do you still do work for overseas clients?
When I stopped working with Taschen I wanted to focus on working with artists and working internationally – over the last few years I’ve worked in something like 20 languages. My clients are all over – we Skype a lot.

Could you explain something about some of the other things you’ve worked on?
The work has fallen into natural categories: monographs, exhibition catalogues, writings and other text-based books. I have made monographs on artists like Simon Patterson and Chris Burden, and catalogues for recent exhibitions by John Stezaker and Josiah McElheny at the Whitechapel, on German Romantic prints and drawings at the British Museum, Nick Danziger and Yuri Gagarin for the British Council (where I also designed the exhibition, with Nick Coombe Architecture).

I work a lot with Ridinghouse, who are doing some great publishing on and around art. Recently we’ve done a series of collected writings of Michael Bracewell, Georg Baselitz and Fred Wilson, as well as a book called Unconcealed – a brilliant, incredibly detailed study of the artist, dealer and museum network around conceptual art in Europe between 1967 and 1977. The most recent catalogue is for Mel Bochner at the Whitechapel Gallery (and in 2013 at Haus der Kunst, Munich, and Fundação de Serralves, Porto, Portugal).

Was it very different working with an artist’s work that is often strongly typographical, as opposed to say figurative or purely abstract? How did it affect your approach?
I am only trying to find a form through which the work can speak. In my view the designer’s role here is to place the work in space, as well as it can be done, and then to get out of the picture. This applies to every aspect of the design – the editorial structure, the structure of the page, the typography and the production. The moment of interaction between eye, paper and ink is the critical one where the work can be found or lost completely. I still believe that having some kind of understanding of the work makes all the difference to the final outcome. Mel Bochner’s father was a signwriter, so his understanding of typography and lettering is very grounded.

The exhibition title, If the Colour Changes, doesn’t appear on the cover of the catalogue: what was the thinking behind this?
Only that the catalogue is almost a monograph. There is much less out there on Mel Bochner than I thought, and the scope of the exhibition is basically the scope of his career, even if a guiding theme of the show is apparently colour. This particular catalogue includes five critical texts as well as a selection of Mel Bochner’s own texts, a very detailed biography and bibliography, and of course all the works from the exhibition. That’s a lot of content.

Images from the catalogue
Mel Bochner: If the Colour Changes

Published in 2012 on the occasion of the exhibition of the same title by Whitechapel Gallery and Ridinghouse in association with Haus der Kunst, Munich, and Fundação de Serralves, Porto; edited by Achim Borchardt-Hume and Doro Globus, with texts by Achim Borchardt-Hume, Briony Fer, João Fernandes, Mark Godfrey and Ulrich Wilmes

Front cover, showing:
Blah, Blah, Blah, 2011 (Detail)
Oil on velvet (ten panels)

Double page spread, showing:
Actual Size (Hand and Face), 1968/2002
Two gelatin silver prints

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Design | Swarovski Goes Digital at Design Museum

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Digital Crystal: Swarovski at the Design Museum
The Design Museum, London, UK
5th September – 13th January, 2013

When, in 1989, Terence Conran whose concept it was to create ‘the first museum of modern design’, in London, and whose company converted a 1940s banana warehouse into the Design Museum, his involvement may have had a little to do with personal vanity but probably wasn’t an exercise in brand awareness for his then-burgeoning string of high-quality retail outlets and smart restaurants. Along with Conran, the project was funded by many companies, designers and benefactors whose aim was to raise design awareness and the general standard of British design.

Its founding principles being to make works of art available to all, to educate working people and to inspire British designers and manufacturers, it was royal patronage that provided the driving force behind the Victoria & Albert Museum, set up in 1852 in the wake of the enormous success of the Great Exhibition the previous year. In a boom time for British industry, generous Victorian benefactors and a less competitive art market than today’s meant that the young museum was able to make many very important acquisitions and quickly build up the most astonishing collections. Although it set out to acquire the best examples of metalwork, furniture, textiles and all other forms of decorative art from all periods, it also acquired fine art – paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture – in order to tell a more complete history of art and design but recognising, and this is key, that there was a significant difference between the two. Commercial sponsorship of design would follow in the 1890s when Arthur Lasenby Liberty built strong relationships with many leading English designers who were prominent figures in the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements. Liberty himself, through his commissions, became instrumental in the development of Art Nouveau and in consequence his shop, Liberty, became one of the most prestigious in London.

Everyone is getting in on the relationship/benefactor/sponsor/collaborator act these days, and in particular there’s an ever growing crossover between luxury goods brands, architecture, design and the arts. It’s difficult to see where it will all end up. On the one hand, if fashion companies flirt with fine artists, inviting them to collaborate – as, notably, Marc Jacobs did at Louis Vuitton in 2002 with one Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami (who had already worked with Issey Miyake) and more recently with another, Yayoi Kusama – they blur the line between fine art and commerce. On the other hand, it can be said that in modern times the practice has been going on since the 1960s, when Pop art turned commercialism on its head, Op art visual illusions were applied to fabrics that were turned into dresses and Yves St Laurent designed his 1965 Mondrian dress. Taking hold of the baton in 2003, milliner Philip Treacy put Andy Warhol images on to his hats.

Selfridges and Primark owner the Canadian, Weston family claimed the top fashion spot in The Sunday Times Rich List, 2012. No strangers to art sponsorship, through the Garfield Weston Foundation, they are among the most generous supporters of the arts in Britain. Selfridges’ creative director Alannah Weston is quoted as having said: ‘My goal is to make Selfridges a destination where people can have an extraordinary experience. I have to surprise, amaze and amuse them.’ And by transforming and opening up the store’s interiors, establishing a gallery in the basement and by inviting well-known artists and young hopefuls to create cutting edge window displays, since she took on the role in 2003, she has certainly done that. And, if that wasn’t enough, she’s appointed The Shard’s architect Renzo Piano to redesign the entire store.

We’re in the middle of a confusing time when architects – Rem Koolhaas, 2009, United Nude – launch fashion footwear collections and design the stores they are sold in; when designers of the Olympic Torch, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby have shown non-functional designed objects at the Haunch of Venison gallery and Farrow & Ball are the official paint sponsor of Manchester City Galleries. Last year Swarovski, collaborators with the Museum of the forthcoming exhibition Digital Crystal: Swarovski at the Design Museum, worked with the Hello Kitty brand and Manhattan-based, Taiwanese Canadian Jason Wu’s Resort 2013 fashion collection, will contain hundreds of Swarovski crystals. Shared core values: artfulness, simplicity, creativity and beauty, apparently make it a safe bet to presume that Hello Kitty and Jason Wu customers will appreciate Swarovski’s creations and vice versa. Maybe, in the post-analogue era ‘when our relationship with objects and even with time is changing’ these same reasons are behind Swarovski and the Design Museum’s joint project, because  with these sorts of temporary partnerships it’s always a quid pro quo situation – nobody’s in it for nothing.

Swarovski, the world’s leading manufacturer of cut crystal was established in Austria in 1895 and has a long tradition of links with the fashion and jewellery industry, collaborating in the 1950s with Christian Dior and Coco Chanel to create avant-garde crystal jewellery. 42-year-old Nadja Swarovski, vice-president of international communications at the company began her career at the Gagosian Gallery, which probably explains a lot about her interests and the areas she’s taken the company into.

Now in its tenth year, the Swarovski Crystal Palace project – one of Nadia’s initiatives – has commissioned some of the world’s foremost  designers including Zaha Hadid, Yvés Behar, Studio Job, Ross Lovegrove, Tom Dixon and more. Initially, the idea was to reinterpret crystal chandeliers but the project has evolved into an experimental design platform allowing designers to conceptualise, develop and share their most radical works. In 2009 Nigel Coates, Professor of Architecture at the Royal College of Art designed 43 Swarovski ‘Cloudeliers’ for the restaurant at Glyndebourne and in 2011, St Paul’s Perspectives, was created by architect John Pawson, who used a precision-made Swarovski Optik lens and a suspended spherical steel mirror to reflect a new vision of the Geometric Staircase of St Paul’s Cathedral. As well as others, Ron Arad, Yves Béhar, Paul Cocksedge, Troika and Fredrikson Stallard – who actually include a section called Sculpture on their website – have been asked to take part in the Design Museum exhibition, reworking existing pieces commissioned from them by Swarovski, in response to the exhibition brief.

At the end of the analogue era Digital Crystal is intended as a catalyst for debate about the changing nature of memory in the digital world but may also force us to reassess our ideas about the role of designers and architects, and especially the role of fine artists in relation to the commercial world. And certainly there are questions to be asked. There’s something uneasy about design masquerading as art, but is that what it’s doing? Are designers and architects capable of producing great art? Is it all just business as usual? The sponsorship of design and architecture can certainly be said to usefully contribute to innovation when it provides the necessary funds to accomplish experimental projects, large and small, that otherwise might only be dreamt of, and while it can be seen to have democratised art – which must be a good thing – if it also leads to art’s total commoditisation, it remains to be seen whether it will be to art’s long term benefit.

Images from top
Ron Arad, Lolita, originally commissioned in 2004
Redesigned to receive tweets and text messages that can be displayed
on its spiral form

Paul Cocksedge, Crystallize, originally commissioned in 2005
Via single crystals mounted onto a tubular glass frame, trajectory
beams fill the room as light cascades from each crystal

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Design & Architecture | George Nakashima

Friday, June 8th, 2012

Important 20th Century Design
Sotheby’s, New York, USA. 13th June, 2012
Important 20th Century Decorative Art & Design
Christie’s, New York, USA. 14th June, 2012
20th/21st Century Design Auction
Rago, New Jersey, USA. June 16th & 17th, 2012

Previews for all the above start 9th June

Rather oddly, because designers and architects in the UK are pretty well-informed about modernism and modernists in general, the name George Nakashima, rarely comes up. Indeed, London’s Design Museum design library has no listing for him. A search on the website of the Royal Institute of British Architects, which is far from the parochial organisation its name might suggest, bore no fruit, however, the Victoria & Albert Museum has a single, fine, though rather modest, 1956 Nakashima chair in its collection.

A rare aluminium chair – one of only four ever produced – is the centre-piece of an historic collection of seven items of furniture designed by Gerrit Rietveld, going under the hammer at Sotheby’s, New York. Also in this relatively small sale, comprising just 68 lots, is an equally rare Tiffany Studios Dragonfly table lamp, along with interior stained glass windows by Frank Lloyd Wright, a Josef Hoffman bentwood Sitzmaschine, an Archibald Knox ‘Tudric’ pewter champagne bucket, a Fish lamp designed by Frank Gehry in 1983, and 13 separate lots – some comprising single pieces – all by George Nakashima.

Four Nakashima items appear amongst a total of 134 lots on the listing for Christie’s Important 20th Century Decorative Art & Design sale, the next day.

Just a few days later, across the Hudson River and dwarfing the Sotheby’s and Christie’s sales, New Jersey auction house Rago, in a 2 -day, weekend sale, is offering a total of 1,100 lots. Sunday, the second day is all about modern furniture and lighting with items from a long list of iconic names, among many others: Arne Jacobsen, Charles & Ray Eames, Florence Knoll, Frank Gehry, George Nelson, Gio Ponti, Hans Wegner, Isamu Noguchi, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, Poul Kjaerholm, Shiro Kuramata, Wendell Castle and once again, George Nakashima, who is represented by 31 separate lots.

Assuming you are in funds – these would have to be plentiful, average lot prices range from around $6,000 to around $200,000 – with the possibility of acquiring a total of 48 lots of Nakashima items, should you be thinking about starting your own collection of his furniture, now’s your chance!

On the other hand you might ask: who is George Nakashima (1905-1990)? He is simply a very interesting and important figure in 20th design. On a farmlike compound near New Hope, Pennsylvania, Nakashima, his family, and fellow wood-workers created exquisite furniture from richly grained, rare timber: tables, desks, chairs, and cabinets to grace the homes and executive boardrooms of the likes of the late Nelson Rockefeller, Columbia University and the International Paper Corporation.

Born in the shadow of the USA’s Mount Olympus, in Spokane, Washington State, across the Puget Sound from Seattle, Japanese-American Nakashima grew up in the forests of the remote Olympic Peninsula – largely unmapped until 1900. After studying first forestry then architecture in Washington, in 1930 he received a Master’s from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, in 1928, he had won the Prix Fontainebleau from L’Ecole Americaine des Beaux Arts in France and, after a brief time working as a mural painter on Long Island, decided to spend time in Paris before launching himself on a journey that took him to Japan. In Tokyo he found work with Czech-born Antonin Raymond, who had set up an office there. Raymond had emigrated to the United States in 1916, where he had assisted Frank Lloyd-Wright. His buildings in Japan reveal that his understanding of and respect for Japanese tradition informed his modernist sensibility. Raymond, was to prove a strong influence on his young assistant, Nakashima, as was Sri Aurobindo, the philosopher, yogi, guru, and poet, who he would encounter in Pondicherry, India, where George was the onsite architect for the first reinforced concrete building in the country. When war broke out Nakashima returned to the States, where he and his family were incarcerated at Minidoka, Idaho. He was released in 1943 with the help of his former employer Raymond and for a period worked on his ranch.

In India Nakashima had begun to find ways of working with wood and with his new-found philosophy developed ‘…a devotion to discovering the inherent beauty of wood so that noble trees might have a second life as furniture’. While in the internment camp he learned woodworking from a Japanese carpenter and left with the firm intention of establishing a woodworking studio, which he soon after accomplished at New Hope, Pennsylvania. The studio went on to become a huge success, employing some of the world’s finest craftsmen and producing unique and outstanding, highly-collectable, modern furniture. Among many awards from prestigious institutions, Nakashima received the Third Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Emperor and Government of Japan in 1983 in recognition of the cultural exchange generated by the shows he produced in Japan from 1968-1988. His work was widely exhibited, however, the late 1980s retrospective Full Circle, which opened at the American Craft Museum in New York, was to be his last.

Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, George’s daughter, has been creative director of the Nakashima studio since 1990, which continues to produce her father’s classic furniture designs and to produce her own work as well. She lives with her family at the studio compound in New Hope.

I wonder what’s going on though, because even more oddly, George Nakashima, who designed furniture for Knoll, isn’t listed on the MoMA on-line index, either.

Images from top
George Nakashima bending wood, 1940s

Conoid Bench, circa 1974
From the Japanese House, The Mr. and Mrs. Nelson A. Rockefeller Residence, Pocantico Hills, New York, circa 1974. American black walnut and hickory with one East Indian rosewood key
Sotheby’s estimate $150/200,000

Interior of the Conoid Studio at New Hope, circa 1960

Fine turned-leg dining table, 1958
English walnut, black walnut, rosewood, brass label
From a private collection
Rago estimate $35,000 – $45,000

The Minguren Museum
(Arts Building) from the Cloister at New Hope, which
was originally dedicated to showing artist, Ben Shahn’s work. Unfortunately he died in 1969, shortly after his inaugural exhibition here. Cloister guest rooms were a manifestation of Nakashima’s devotion to the monastic tradition, however, they also house the heating unit, bathroom, kitchen, and storage space, which were not included in the larger building. A large rock at the far edge of the pond is said to have inspired Nakashima to erect this building here.

Long chair, circa 1974
Executed specifically for the Japanese House of Governor and Mrs. Nelson A. Rockefeller, designed by Junzo Yoshimura. Walnut with cotton webbing.
Christie’s estimate 30,000 – 50,000 U.S. dollars

Walnut dresser, 1962
From a private collection
Rago estimate $6,000 – $9,000

All furniture images, courtesy of the respective auction houses. All other images, courtesy of George Nakashima, SA, or George Nakashima Archive. Special thanks to Soomi Hahn Amagasu for her help with this blog post

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Look out for The Blog’s posts on art, architecture, gardens, books, design and anything else that interests me and I think might interest you
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Architecture | Greyed Out

Friday, June 3rd, 2011


David Chipperfield Architects’ The Hepworth Wakefield

Wakefield, North Yorkshire

For so many years overshadowed by her contemporary, friend and fellow sculptor, Henry Moore – also from this neck of the wood – it is only just and fitting that Barbara Hepworth has at last been honoured with an eponymously-named gallery in her home town of Wakefield, West Yorkshire. Previously, to see a decent-sized body of her oevre, it was necessary to trek all the way down to the little stone house in St Ives, Cornwall, where for much of her life she lived and worked, building a workshop at the rear and arranging favourite pieces in the modest walled garden. (See The Blog, Edges Rounded, Sharp Points Blunted, Friday, April 9th, 2010).

I had seen versions of 2011 RIBA prizewinners Chipperfield Architects’ proposals for the gallery building in maquette form at his formidable David Chipperfield Form Matters exhibition at London’s Design Museum in 2009. What resembled a modest settlement that might have grown organically over a period of time – built as dwellings or for related functional reasons – of blocky buildings with slanted rooves on the bank of a fast-flowing river that lapped against its foundations, the design of which had been rendered in thin, pale cream card and in pale wood. I was impressed and could not wait to see the finished thing.

Wakefield is trying hard to attract visitors. The new gallery is part of the same initiative as the newly-pedestrianised shopping areas and the once grey tower blocks now capped with ridged rooves and painted in jolly colours. I had not been before and found it a busy, optimistic and bustling town.

Even though, having done my homework, I knew already what to expect, it was quite a shock to be confronted by the flat, mid-grey gallery building, its blocky appearance broken only by the blurry joints of the concrete blocks used inits construction and the insertion of what at first sight appear as randomly-sized and randomly-positioned, black-framed, rectangular windows. The lightness, freshness and optimism of the maquettes is replaced by a brooding, uncompromisingly angular mass of tinted concrete which nods more than a little to the great Japanese minimalist architect, Tadao Ando. The weeping willows along the river bank might well weep. The saving grace, however, is Chipperfield’s elegant pedestrian bridge – which, presumably, because the gallery’s parking space is extremely limited, most visitors are expected to use as access – that stretches from the north side of the river over a gaggle of gaily painted boats to the gallery’s main entrance. Only from this aspect, despite its dour hue, the building beckons and looks approachable.

Inside it is almost a completely different story. The tall walls and ceilings of the gallery spaces are painted white. They flow easily into one another. Hepworth’s sculptures and the city’s collection of paintings are carefully sited to make good use of the natural light that enters via cleverly-designed slits at the edges of the ceilings. As well as bringing light inside the floor deep windows justify their positions by drawing visitors toward them – there is even a bench built into a grey felt-covered niche facing one of them that visitors queue to use.

The majority of Barbara Hepworth’s work can be described as curvy, organic and sensual. On leaving, I found myself wondering what she might have thought about David Chipperfield’s choice of colour and materials for the exterior of this building.

All photographs © Pedro Silmon, 2011. You can see more of my architecture, interior and garden photography at Arcaid Images

Have you been to see The Hepworth Wakefield?
What do you think of it?

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A Little P’zaz

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Less and More – The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams
Design Museum, London, 18 November – 07 March 2010

Good design is innovative.
Good design makes a product useful.
Good design is aesthetic.
Good design makes a product understandable.
Good design is unobtrusive.
Good design is honest.
Good design is long-lasting.
Good design is thorough down to the last detail.
Good design is environmentally friendly.
Good design is as little design as possible.

On their way up the stairs to the exhibition, visitors cannot avoid coming face to face with Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles of Good Design – they are pasted up in perfect alignment across the wall of the landing. I struggled to get through the group of exotically-clad, extravagently-quaffed, British art students diligently copying them down.

I’m a fan of Rams’ work and believe him to be one of the best and and most influential designers of the last 50 years. I have owned several of his beautifully-designed products and enjoyed looking around the show.

Maybe it was the cold weather outside, or some emotional reaction to the harsh economic climate but, on leaving, I found myself yearning for brash colours, spontaneity and a little p’zaz.

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