Posts Tagged ‘Modernism’

Design | Modernism and Stained Glass

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Important 20th Century Decorative Art & Design
Christie’s, New York,
Rockefeller Plaza,
New York City, USA
14th December 2012

The Avery Coonley Playhouse windows, circa 1912, with their buoyant circles and patriotic flags, that stand out for their distinctive, asymmetrical composition and vibrant color, are considered Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece in glass. The building, a small structure created by Lloyd Wright to serve as a school for Queenie Ferrie Coonley to educate local children, was a short distance from the Coonley’s home in Riverside, Illinois, that Wright had previously completed for the couple in 1908. Just one of the 40 original windows – sadly, all of them were removed in the 1950s to be replaced by replicas – that ringed the main school room and were designed to encourage a spontaneous, playful air, is included in Christie’s Important 20th Century Decorative Art & Design sale. His use of bright red, green, blue, orange and black glass was, by all accounts, inspired by a passing parade, complete with confetti, balloons and American flags. The European abstract art movement, including the paintings of Sonia and Robert Delaunay and Wassily Kandinsky, which Wright saw in Paris on his European sojourn in 1909-1910, that included a trip to Vienna, significantly influenced the designs.

A stained glass revival had been triggered in Holland in the 1850s, when William Morris’s ideas gained currency there, and a domestic demand emerged for non-figurative, decorative art that accorded with strict Calvinist principles. Via the De Stijl movement founded in the Netherlands in 1917, this late 19th century trend would evolve into abstract stained glass panels. That year, leading member, Theo van Doesburg, completed a set of five identical windows, strikingly geometrical in style, whose motif was abstracted from skating figures, for a house designed by fellow member, Jan Wils. In 1918, Van Doesburg began collaborating with another member, architect JJP Oud, on his first municipal housing blocks at Spangen, designing stained glass panels for each apartment – some are still in place, others, inevitably, as van Doesburg’s reputation as an artist grew and his work became much sought after, were sold off. Later, in 1934, another significant Dutch architect, Jan Kuyt, designed intricate stained glass skylights for his V&D Department Store building in Amersfoort.

From the same early period, Josef Albers’ Red and White, 1923, created for that year’s first Bauhaus Exhibition in Weimar – sadly, since destroyed – was a stained-glass window that was granted a title, in the style of an artwork.

Of course, stained glass had been around for many centuries before the early modernists, recognising its potential, took hold of it and adapted it to suit their buildings, in the process turning it into an art form. And, although its popularity during the 20th century swung in and out of fashion, it never really went away.

In a note on an early drawing of the Glass Pavilion – the pineapple-shaped temporary building that German expressionist architect, Bruno Taut, erected at the Cologne Deutscher Werkbund Exhibition in 1914 – a prismatic glass dome structure of concrete and glass, he said he made it in the spirit of a gothic cathedral. Inlaid coloured glass plates on the façade acted as mirrors. Inside, there were floor-to-celing, coloured glass walls and a glass-treaded metal staircases led to the upper projection room that showed a kaleidoscope of colors. But when, some 40 years later, Le Corbusier built Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut at Ronchamp in France, between 1950 and 1955 – in which daylight enters via a system of openings covered with glass, much of it coloured – the architect was keen to maintain that his glass had no connection to stained glass, which he considered a form of illumination too closely bound to archaic architectural notions, with particular reference to Romanesque and Gothic art.

At Fondation Maeght, Saint Paul de Vence, on the French Riviera, a small chapel, next to the main building, has stained glass windows designed by Braque in the 1960s. More contemporary examples include a stained-glass window installed at Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy restaurant in Notting Hill, London, during the 1990s.

Two other windows by Lloyd Wright are included in the Christie’s sale, alongside a skylight and panel made by Louis Sullivan in 1890 for the Auditorium building, Chicago. Meanwhile, a set of four square windows (26.9 x 26.9 cm) of graphic, abstract design, in opalescent, cathedral and slumped glass, produced in 1880 by American painter and muralist John la Farge, and estimated to sell at $8,000 – 12,000, are on offer at Sotheby’s, New York, in their Important 20th Century Design sale on 15th December.

Images from top
Window from the Avery Cooonley Playhouse, Frank Lloyd Wright, circa 1912
(Detail, the complete framed panel is also shown above)
Leaded glass, with original oak window frame, 61 x 97 cm
Estimate $200,000 – $300,000

Photo © Christie’s Images Limited, 2012

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Art | Andrew Wyeth in China

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Andrew Wyeth in Beijing & Hong Kong
Yuan Space, Beijing, China
14th April – 12th May, 2012
Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center
24th – 30th May, 2012
Christie’s, New York, USA
Date to be announced, September, 2012

When Snoopy’s dog house burned down in November 1966, sadly his Van Gogh was destroyed along with it, but the strip’s cartoonist, Charles M Schulz, saw to it that the painting was quickly replaced with one by the artist Andrew Wyeth, of whose work he was a great admirer. In 1977 Wyeth was the first American artist since John Singer Sargent to be elected to the French Académie des Beaux-Arts. A Wyeth retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2006, running over 15 weeks, drew more than 175,000 visitors, the museum’s highest-ever attendance for a living artist. In 2007 he received the National Medal of Arts from George W Bush and in the same year, in the Springfield Up episode of The Simpsons, Mr Burns has a painting of Wyeth’s iconic Christina’s World, 1948 – MoMA Collection, bought in 1948 for $1800 – in his den, except that in his version Burns lanky body replaces the more shapely female figure. The entire neighbourhood of Thunder Hill in the village of Oakland Mills, Columbia in Maryland has street names derived from his paintings. But although Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) was one of the most popular and revered artists in the history of American art, perhaps it was for this very popularity that he was also one of its most criticised, especially within the art world. According to Michael Kimmelman, who wrote Wyeth’s obituary in The New York Times: ‘Because of his popularity – a bad sign to many art world insiders – Wyeth came to represent middle-class values and ideals that modernism claimed to reject. ‘Kimmelman went on to say that art critics mostly heaped abuse on Wyeth’s work, saying he gave realism a bad name. Hopper’s realism was okay, apparently, but Wyeth’s wasn’t. Some experts regarded him as a facile realist, not an artist but merely an illustrator. Lashing out in all directions and perhaps further isolating himself, Wyeth expressed general disdain for the abstract expressionists. And so the antagonistic situation festered and boiled throughout the latter part of his life.

Andrew Wyeth was born into an artistic family in Chadds Ford, a small town in Pennsylania, about 30 miles from Philadelphia. His father NC Wyeth was a well-known illustrator, whose fame and talent in the 1920s attracted the attention of celebrities such as F Scott Fitzgerald who would come to visit him. NC drove his frail and ailing son – too feeble to attend school – hard, pushing him to develop drawing skills at an early age with the obsessive goal of making him follow in his father’s footsteps and become an illustrator. But Andrew resisted, preferring to paint the deserted landscapes he discovered on his wanderings. He liked the idea that figures could be implicit in his paintings but nevertheless went on to include in them his friends, a black handyman (A Crow Flew By 1949-50), and neighbours Karl and Anna Kuerner. Although he adapted portraits of others to include details of his father, who died in 1945, Wyatt never painted him. His ‘Helga‘ series of more than 200 paintings and sketches came with a whiff of scandal – he didn’t tell his wife about them until they were finished in 1985 – and received national publicity, travelling to major cities throughout the USA. These intimate studies – many of them full figure nudes – of neighbour Helga Testorf, made him very rich.

In Wyeth’s style of painting, that became known as ‘Magic’ Realism, everyday scenes are imbued with a dream-like air of mystery, coupled with barely concealed melancholy. He recorded the arid Pennsylvania and Maine landscapes, rural houses, and rickety shacks with great detail, painting in each tiny blade of grass, individual strands of hair, and every subtle nuance of light and shadow. The Brandywine River Museum, in Chadds Ford houses much of the Wyeth collection.

Wyeth’s work was as rural as Warhol’s was urban, his nudes as earthy as Warhol’s girls (and boys) were dirty, but while the rural can easily look picturesque to the city dweller, and might appear to pander even unintentionally to wide appeal, urban art is by nature of its situation radical and intended for a strictly limited, edgier audience. Ubiquity and the passage of time can render almost any image passé – The Mona Lisa, The Hay Wain, Van Gogh’s SunflowersThe Scream – and perhaps Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World has fallen victim to the same fate. But Warhol’s once iconoclastic Marilyn Diptych has, too – so far to a somewhat lesser extent – and The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone LivingDamien Hirst’s shark – will not be immune.

It’s not so surprising, then, that Wyeth’s work as opposed to Warhol’s and Pollock’s was deemed acceptable to the powers that be in 1980s China, where it became immensley popular. The press release for the forthcoming Andrew Wyeth in China exhibitions contains the following quote from Li Xian Ting – often called the godfather of Chinese contemporary avant-garde – academic consultant to the exhibition, who on this occasion may well be toeing the party line: ‘When Wyeth’s work first caught the eyes of artists of this generation, we were mainly under the influence of Socialist Realism from the 40s and (Russian) Peredvizhniki art in which the relation [sic] between the narrative and ideology featured heavily. Historically, young Chinese artists’ classical training was figurative and representational. At the time, the only way to rebel against Social Realism was to embrace Modernism, entailing a complete abandon [sic] of representation. This would have implied, starting from zero to reincarnate a new self under the banners of Cubism and Abstract Expressionism. And just as artists found themselves at this impasse, Wyeth’s works appeared. They were melancholic, poetic, but at the same time they developed on the skills and possibilities of representation. This deeply moved the burgeoning Chinese artists and inspired many to ask themselves the question: is it possible for us to hold on to the artistic training we grow up with, and still create something new that is different from Modernist art? And obviously, Wyeth provided them with such a possibility.’ Perhaps Chinese conservatism isn’t so far removed from Middle America’s. Meanwhile, Chinese conceptual artist, architect, designer and activist Ai Weiwei’s first solo exhibition in Italy wow’s the West at the Lisson gallery in Milan until 25th May, 2012.

Paintings from top
Study for ‘Lovers’, 1981
Drybrush and watercolor on paper
© Andrew Wyeth

Citizen Clark, 1957
Drybrush and watercolor on paper laid down on board
©Andrew Wyeth, Private Collection

Faraway, 1952
(Portrait of the artist’s son, Jamie)
Drybrush on paper
© Andrew Wyeth

The Works of Andrew Wyeth is organized by Yuan Space in cooperation with Christie’s and Adelson Galleries

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Architecture | 9 X 9 | Villa Noailles

Friday, February 10th, 2012

9 Architects / 9 Proposals for Living
Villa Noailles, Hyères, France
19th February – 25th March, 2012

The slick photography and artistic impressions – like those above – that appears in architectural magazines or online, commissioned by the architects with a view to amazing us all  – often with due cause – is as close as the public are ever usually allowed to get to architect-designed, one-off homes. The idea behind this Villa Noailles show is to try to provide visitors with a revealing peep behind the scenes. And the exhibition setting is perfect; designed in 1923 and inhabited from 1925, the Villa Noailles was one of the very first modernist homes constructed in France. Now a cultural centre, the original villa, built for Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles by the architect Robert Mallet-Stevens, who first came to prominence as a film set designer, exhibits the founding tenets of the rationalist movement: practicality, absence of decorative features, flat roofs, terraces, light, hygiene, while also managing to resemble an ocean liner perched on top of Montée Noailles, a steep-sided rocky outcrop above Hyères, not far from Toulón in the south of France.

Museum director Jean-Pierre Blanc and associate curator, architect and writer Florence Sarano, the duo responsible for last year’s Iwan Baan: 2010 Around the World – The Diary of a Year of Architecture at Villa Noailles, chose 9 buildings in Europe designed by 9 different architects, or architectural practices, and minutely examined each. Their aim was to explore the universe of the architect, to look closely at, in each case, the trains of thought, the processes of creativity and the architect/client relationships that led to the realisation of the unique final building, then to put it all on show. Visitors will see sketches, plans, photographs, models, texts and 9 films, through which they can weave and navigate their own way, comparing and contrasting each case scenario.

See also Dada’s Cubist Garden featuring photographs taken at the Villa Noailles

Typography and montage above by Pedro Silmon

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Design | 21st Century Boys

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Barber Osgerby
Industrial design studio

I obviously haven’t been paying attention. Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby’s eponymously-named design company has been around for quite a while but I must admit to not having heard of it until I shot some portraits – as a predominantly garden and plant photographer, a departure for me – of architects, Adam and Irenie Cossey and their children to go with those I’d already done of the interiors – another new departure – of their beautiful home in London’s Islington. Two of the Cossey kids, love the Barber Osgerby-designed Home dining table almost as much as their parents, see below.

Irenie Cossey, who trained as an architect had been involved – via the specialist retail interior design practice Universal Design Studio on aspects of the new Mulberry flagship store in London’s Bond Street – with Barber Osgerby and had several items of their furniture, including the elegant, Corian-topped dining table for Isokon Plus. I came across the duo again quite recently when I discovered that their polypropylene Tip Ton chair for Vitra, above, was a big hit at this year’s Milan Furniture Fair.

I’m writing this and have done some retrospective research as much for my own education as that of any of The Blog’s followers so, if you already know all of this stuff, just skip the next paragraph….

Looking at the list of their achievements on their simple but well-designed website, I can’t believe Barber Osgerby escaped my attention for so long. They founded their partnership as long ago as 1996 after studying architecture at the Royal College of Art, London, of which I’m also an Alumni. Isokon Plus produced their Loop chair the following year and their Flight stool in 1998. Features on them and their work began appearing in 2002 in The Observer and Telegraph magazines and in the FT. They were awarded a major arts prize in 2004 that led to a commission to design new pieces for the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea and more magazine appearances: Sunday Times Style, Arena, Blueprint. Maybe I missed those issues. Over the next few years, features on them appeared in a diverse number of UK and international magazines, including: GQ Style, I.D., The New York Times, Abitare, House & Garden, Vogue, but I somehow still didn’t get wind of them. These were followed by more coverage in the stylish Numéro and Wallpaper* magazines, Esquire and The World of Interiors. The list goes on…as does the list of clients they have produced collections for: Cappellini, Magis, Vitra, Venini, Swarovski, Flos and Established & Sons, among others; they have also collaborated with Sony. Examples of Barber Osgerby’s work form part of the permanent collections of the V&A Museum, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Design Museum, London; the Art Institute of Chicago and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. What’s weird is that many times, on my way to the RIBA bookshop in London to flick through the latest magazines, I’ve walked past and admired the bespoke, futuristic reception desk that they designed in 2008.

The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful – Dieter Rams

When Marcel Breur put the curves into Bauhaus furniture, whether he admitted it or not, he wasn’t sticking entirely to the accepted wisdom handed down via Adolph Loos, who got it and adapted it from its original source the American architect, Louis Sullivan, responsible for establishing the shape of the tall steel-framed skyscraper in Chicago, that ‘form follows function’. Breur was aware that beauty, albeit a 20th Century, stripped-down version of the notion was also an essential ingredient of design. What instantly appeals to me about Barber Osgerby’s work is that, just as great designers like Dieter Rams, Achille Castiglione and Vico Magistretti followed this same modernist ‘tradition’, each interpreting it to their very personal aesthetic, similarly the design duo are doing the same in our 21st Century. Their bold use of black and white juxtaposed against primary and secondary colours probably derives – perhaps subconsciously – from the Bauhaus via Richard Rodgers hi-tech architecture. On a more extreme level, in terms of colour, parallels can be drawn between its use in their product and the way that Donald Judd’s brightly coloured box sculptures set against his own bare sheet metal works and the severity of Carl Andre’s ‘no compromise’ minimalism made the genre approachable, opening the door for Jonathan Ive’s groundbreaking, minimalism minus the chill factor, approach at Apple.

Tip Ton, pictured above, durable, stackable, requires zero maintenance and can be used in any environment. The chair is light and made from low cost recyclable plastic; inexpensive to produce it should be available at an economical price. As well as the resting position of a normal chair, it tilts forward 9 degrees on the sledge-like ‘floor skid’ bases that connect the front legs to those at the rear. This type of position adjustment was previously only available on the more expensive office chairs with mechanical systems that allow the seat to move forward. The action is designed to straighten the pelvis and spine and improve the body’s blood flow. It looks pretty good, too.

Needless to say, I’ve only just discovered that Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby are designing the Olympic Torch for the London 2012 Games. What’s more, a monograph of the studio’s work will be published by Rizzoli and launched next month in New York at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair.

You can view my images of the Cossey house interiors at Arcaid Images

What do you think of Barber Osgerby’s design work?

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Dada’s Cubist Garden

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Hyères 2011. 26th International Festival of Fashion & Photography
Festival ends today. Exhibitions continue to 29th May,
(NB Villa Noailles closed from Tuesday 3rd to Thursday May 5th included)
Villa Noailles, Hyères, Var, France.


Erwin Blumenfeld, Powder box,
study for an advertisement, circa 1944
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

Daniel Sannwald, 032c, 2010

The journey had taken almost two hours. I had driven there on a whim from Nice, where I was staying, but the Villa Noailles was closed to visitors that day. Despite all my best efforts, I was unable to blag my way in. I would have liked to have seen the shows. It was totally my fault and, let’s be honest, unprofessional of me not to have contacted the Villa’s press people beforehand. I should at least have checked the opening times. I had gone there, however – it was outside the area of my itenerary – not specifically to see the exhibitions. Having arrived I had wanted to look around the early modernist house, built by architect Robert Mallet-Stevens for art patrons Arthur Anne Marie Charles, Vicomte de Noailles and his wife, Marie-Laure Bischoffsheim, between 1923 and 1925. But the real reason behind my visit was to see the triangular cubist garden designed by Turkish-born Gabriel Guevrekian, its Turkish designer who had worked with Joseph Hoffman in Vienna and was later to work with Le Corbusier

A selection of images by pioneer of creative photography between the wars, Erwin Blumenfeld’s work forms part of the this year’s festival exhibitions at the villa. Born in Berlin, Blumenfeld was a participator in the Dadaist movement and was to become an ardent denouncer of the Nazis. After having begun working for French Vogue in 1940, he was imprisoned in several concentration camps before escaping to the US in 1941, where his collaboration with Harper’s Bazaar – where Alexei Brodovitch was art director – which had started in 1939, continued until 1944. He subsequently worked for US Vogue and was, at the time, reputed to be the most highly-paid photographer in the world. Fashion Photography: Erwin Blumenfeld was published in January 2011 by Phaidon.

A more contemporary contributer, also born in Germany – in 1979 – and producing experimental fashion and beauty photography, Daniel Sannwald’s work is sometimes hauntingly surrealistic and at other times, vividly expressionistic. Sannwald works with numerous numerous magazines, amongst them: Dazed & Confused, i-D, L’Officiel Paris,Vogue Hommes Japan, and V magazine. He has photographed projects for Louis Vuitton, Nike, Loewe, Adidas, Replay, and Shiseido. His book, Pluto and Charon was published in February 2011 by LuDIoN Editions.

… I had struggled to get the car to climb the steep hill to the villa, perched high above medieval Hyères, and was pleased that my journey had not been wasted. Neither the garden – though a little scruffy – nor the exterior of the villa – rather unsympathetically extended – disappoint. My pictures, below, appeared in Germany’s prestigious architecture and living magazine Architektur & Wohnen; some of these also formed part of a major feature, illustrated exclusively with my photographs of the gardens of the Cote d’Azure, which appeared in the UK edition of Condé Nast Traveller.

Have you visited the Villa Noailles?
What did you think of it?

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Comme ci, comme ça

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life
Justine Picardie, HarperCollins 2010, 352 pp hardback

In the middle of a deep recession, one must cut one’s cloth accordingly, and, despite the noise and general acclaim surrounding the publication of Justine Picardie’s biography of Coco Chanel, I didn’t feel like laying out £25 to buy a copy last September, when it was published. I was very pleased (after having dropped a few hints) to receive one as a Christmas present. Picardie, who took 8 years to research and write this very stylish book is not merely a fashion writer – she was once Features Director at British Vogue – but a proper journalist, for the book involved a tremendous amount of research. With hindsight, I should have been glad to pay £25 of my own money for it.

As is made clear, Chanel consorted with the Moderns: Picasso, Cocteau, Dali, and financed Diaghilev’s, avant-garde, Ballet Russes. She was influenced by what she saw them doing but, ever the hard-nosed businesswoman, extracted only the elements which she considered might have commercial value and could be applied to her design work at that particular point in time. ‘Fashion,’ she said, ’should die and die quickly, in order that commerce may survive…’. For the beautiful villa she began building in 1929, La Pausa – incidentally, currently up for sale at €11,200,000, I discovered during my own research for this review – at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, high up in the Alpes Maritimes, with views towards the Mediterranean and Monaco and overlooking the rocky coastline below, in amongst which Eileen Gray’s (1924) radical and uncompromisingly modern villa, E-1207, perches, Chanel chose the Belle Epoque style. Perhaps she regarded Modernism as just another fad.

Mademoiselle Chanel’s reputation for contradiction is well-documented in the book – she altered not only her date of birth in her passport but her early biographical details, too, giving whatever version best suited her purpose at any given moment – and bearing this in mind, Patrick Budge’s smart and elegant design for the HarperCollins book package can be construed as consistent. Incidentally, the book’s cover font is in sans serif on Justine Picardie’s blogspot page, as opposed to the serif font version on the cover above.

Did you read it? What did you think? Please leave a comment

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