Posts Tagged ‘Royal College of Art’

Books | Looking for Helsinki

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

House of Vuokko Nurmesniemi, designer
of the Wärtsilä coffee pot, produced by Arabia

Photo Osma Harvilahti

Out of the Blue
The Essence and Ambition of Finnish Design
By Nokia Design
Edited by Nokia + Laura Housely
Full color | hardcover | 416 pp
20 x 29 cm, portrait
Text in English
Published by Gestalten | May 2014

Back in 1980, in London, our upstairs neighbour – a friend from the Royal College of Art, where I also studied – had bought a set of Olofström saucepans at a knock-down price in a sale at a nearby store. Admiring them, my girlfriend and I dashed out and purchased our own. A little while later, we bought an Wärtsilä enamel coffee pot and two bowls, all with the same black sheen finish, all white inside, all made by Arabia. We had admired the Artek stackable stool 60 – that we had seen in the few design magazines that were around in the those days, so much that we had four copies made, but they were heavy and lacked the elegance of the original. By now we were married and when it opened in 1987, were amongst the first customers of the UK’s first Ikea store. My wife’s Fiskars dressmaking scissors were bought for their sharpness but also for their distinctively ergonomic orange handles, in about 1990. An undulating white vase from the series designed by Alvar Aalto in 1927 – filled with flowers or plain empty – has been a permanent fixture in the middle of our dining table for many years. Every day, we eat our breakfast from Iittala bowls using our everyday unfussy, stainless steel cutlery that sits well in the hand and has a tiny flag stamped into it – the symbol of the Scandinavian shipping company for whose luxury cruise liner, Vistafjord, it was originally specified in 1973. In the evening, we might dim the electric lights and put a few Iittala tea lights around the place. Matching Jacob Jensen very reliable alarm clocks have sat on both our bedside tables for around five years, while the duvet cover in our guest room is by Marimekko. I aspire to one day own a Poul Kjærholm PK 22 chair and perhaps another by Hans Wegner. Bought in the mid-90s, my first mobile phone, and the various updated versions I used until just two years ago were all made by Nokia – my wife recently bought one from their Lumia series (see below).

The Nokia Lumia family includes smart
devices such phones, tablets and hybrids.

Photo Marcus Ginns

Lollipop work by Oiva Toikka, from 1969.
The colour and playfulness were
a purposeful reference to pop art.

Photo courtesy Design Museum Helsinki

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, I – as I would imagine many other Brits and a fair number of mainland Europeans, until just a few years ago – had never given much thought as to exactly where in Scandinavia our cherished Scandinavian products had come from. Few of us had travelled to the region for work or holidays and we had little notion of what differentiates Swedishness from Norwegianess or Danishness, or, for that matter, Finnishness, from any of these others. The prime source for many of the items mentioned in the paragraph above, and lots more ‘Scandinavian’ products in London is the Skandium shop (or via their website where we are told, that they are: ‘Retailer and contract dealer of modern Scandinavian furniture, lighting and homeware’). So I suppose I might be excused for having thought up until now that Finland is a Scandinavian country.

Now, out of the blue, along comes German publisher Gestalten’s Out of the Blue, subtitled ‘The essence and ambition of Finnish design’. At the beginning of the book and called Finland Debrief, a single double-page spread of tightly-edited information provides an indispensable, albeit pleasantly random, guide to many things Finnish. Here I learn that Finland is one of the wider Nordic group of countries, which consists of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Greenland, The Faroe Islands and Aaland, and that it is not included in Scandinavia. While the shape of Denmark, bounded almost completely by water has long been fixed in my mind, along with that of Norway and Sweden which share the great Scandinavian peninsula, I had only a vague notion of where Finland is, or indeed where to find Helsinki. Here there’s a simple map of the country in relation to its neighbours on which one can also see that the interior is an impenetrable mass of lakes, and that the few cities are all on or near the Baltic coast. On these pages I discovered the interesting fact (the book is, after all Nokia-sponsored – confirmation, for those of us who were unsure, that the company, although now owned by Microsoft, and which sounds like it might be Japanese, is actually Finnish) that since 2007, due to the growth of mobile phone use, all public telephone booths in Finland have been removed, some turned into garden bars, others into saunas. I was unaware that Finland is a mecca for Tango Dancing, that it was the first country in Europe to grant women the right of suffrage, or that access to the internet has been declared ‘a fundamental right’ of all Finnish nationals.

Siren, 1964 by Armi Ratia.
Gingko, 2008 by Kristina Isola

Images courtesy Marimekko Corporation

Visu Chair by Mika Tolvanen, for Muuto, 2012
Photo courtesy Muuto

Marko Ahtisaari, head of Nokia Design 2009-2013, in his foreword to Out of the Blue, tells us that Nokia made this book to better understand themselves, however it provides a fascinating insight into Finland for the rest of us. He asserts that Finns are not nostalgic, that their design world is vibrant and fast moving. In the opening essay, Designing Finnishness, British ‘designer and urbanist’ Dan Hill, who has spent time working in Finland, explains that the sparsely-populated country – made independent from Russia in 1917 – was, significantly, born and developed concurrently with modernism, and that it is one of few countries in the world whose national identity is a form of modernity. Finnish national culture, Hill tells us, is expressed via the industrially-designed, rather than by crafted objects. However, it is an inescapable fact that products produced by Finnish designers – and there is ample evidence further on in this book – very often look and feel like craftsman-made pieces, and it is this intrinsic humanist quality which makes them so attractive to contemporary homemakers, the world over. Moreover, it’s interesting to note that two of the major Finnish design companies Arabia, established 1873 and Iittala, founded 1881 – making them older than Finland itself – are nowadays to be found under the same roof of the parent company they share, Fiskars, formed in 1649, as well as under ours.

Tell us what you think
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

Share this post
Facebook Twitter Linkedin

Architecture | Future Spaces

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Merisiers School Group | Mantes-la-Ville | France
‘What identity should be given
to the
to reveal the identities that compose it?’
Architect: Vincent Parreira

Stories of Spaces for the Future
Villa Noailles | Montée Noailles | Hyères | France
16th February > 23rd March 2014

Architecture, design and education go hand in hand. My elder brother, who began his education in a single-sex, red brick Victorian building, took me to start mine in the adjacent, brand new, single-storey, detached, mixed-sex infants block, with brand new light-coloured wooden furniture and floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out on a playing field surrounded by tall trees. On sunny days, my class and I would enjoy lessons sitting outside on the grass in a semi-circle around the teacher. When my family re-located to another provincial, northern city, I was taught in a simple, pre-fabricated wooden hut, which wasn’t new but for me infinitely preferable, to the main – again – old red brick block my brother was put into, in which the windows were so high it was impossible to look out. While in winter the older children had to suffer clunking and rattling radiators that – when they were working – only heated the person sitting beside them, we had a large wood-burning stove that gave out heat so efficiently that none of us were ever cold. I looked forward to going to school there, I learned a lot and had a lot of fun. All the same, next door, down a grass-covered hill, set at an angle, with playing fields all around sat a completely new modern infants’ school that was affiliated to another religious denomination. I would climb up and hang on the metal grill fencing that surrounded it – meant to keep us out in my mind, rather than them in – watching the comings and goings with envy in my young boy eyes.

When I progressed to senior school, the school had just been built. It was modern, clean, warm in winter, cool in summer, with wide corridors, and large well-lit classrooms that had big windows, with unblemished beech wood desks, and large, innovative blackboards that, rather than standing on easels, like those I was used to, were on rollers and set into the wall. I liked the atmosphere. I felt comfortable there. Pupils of the school tended to do well.

My elder brother went to another senior school then into a trade. Like many of my peers, I elected to go into further education – this meant, however, spending a foundation year in a miserable, converted Victorian red brick school, every room of which the beery fumes from a nearby brewery permeated. Then I struck lucky once more, becoming one of the first year students in a brand new, purpose-built building on a new university campus. Afterwards, going to London to do a master’s degree at The Royal College of Art, I found myself in scruffy graphics department studios, alongside the equally, or perhaps more scruffy fine art and printmaking studios, housed in a rear red-brick annexe of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Luckily for me, however, the course was so loosely structured that I was able to spend much of my time in the inspiringly modern Darwin building on Kensington Gore, with its leafy quadrangle, light and airy library, open-plan refectory and the cool Art Bar, where students and staff from every department interacted and intermingled.

Maria Grazia Cutuli Primary School | Herat | Afghanistan
‘It came out of the blind cruelty of war but offers a vision of peace’
Architects: 2A+P/A, IaN+, maO/emmeazero

Fuji Preschool | Tokyo | Japan
‘A place for observation, experimentation, where they [the children]
acquire confidence in their abilities and manage their daily life
Architects: Tezuka Architects

Makoko Floating School | Lagos | Nigeria
‘A reflection on how to respond to the living conditions
in this territory of 100,000 inhabitants who live on the water’

Architects: Kunlé Adeyami Nlé Architects

Stories of Spaces for the Future, a new exhibition at the Villa Noailles, explores the concept that designing schools equates to ‘founding tomorrow’. It looks at how, by encouraging children to discover, experiment and imagine, each one can be offered the possibility of constructing themselves. Taking as its premise that education was first established as a uniform and carefully calibrated system that took place in standardised buildings, it describes how in recent decades it has changed to allow each child to be himself, to lead him into the outside world in order to encounter and interact with others.

The organisers have selected four teams of architects from France, Japan, Africa and Afghanistan, all of whom have been involved in creating innovative schools, and examines their work under the headings: Schools of desire, Schools of enchantment, Schools of openness, Schools of the possible, in terms of the benefits that can be gained from re-imagined educational environments.

Tell us what you think
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

Share this post
Facebook Twitter Linkedin

Art | Meret Oppenheim

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

Meret Oppenheim Retrospective
Berlin, Germany
16th August – 1st December, 2013

On a visit to Berlin this spring I went to the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum to see their tremendously well staged Kosmos Farbe exhibition, in which the two Swiss-born Bauhaus masters Johannes Itten and Paul Klee’s work was carefully arranged to allow for comparison and contrast. The same venue will host Meret Oppenheim: Retrospective, the first ever major retrospective of the Berlin-born (1913) artist, brought up in Switzerland.

Oppenheim studied in Basel, where she saw an exhibition of Bauhaus work that included some by Paul Klee that inspired her to produce a series of pen and ink drawings in a school notebook – her own first surrealist work – which proved to be the catalyst for her move to Paris in 1932 to attend the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Meeting André Breton gained her the entré she had sought to the surrealist circle, with whom she would exhibit her own work for the first time the following year; a year which would see Man Ray posing her nude with an etching press, in a famous series of photographs that includes Erotique voilée (1933, above).

Named after Meretlein, a wild child who lives in the woods in Gottfried Keller’s novel Der Grüne Heinrich (The Green Henry), Oppenheim was quickly adopted by the group whose members, including Alberto Giacometti, (Jean) Hans Arp, Max Ernst, Francis Picabia and Dora Maar, identified her as the perfect embodiment of the surrealist woman, the femme-enfant through whose youth, naivety and charm, they believed had direct access to the world of dreams and the unconscious. Produced decades later her self-portrait, Skull and Ornament (1964) – an x-ray image of her head in profile, complete with large, ringed earrings – might be interpreted as the artist allowing us a glimpse of this mythical inner persona.

Oppenheim returned to Basel in 1937, entering a period of personal and artistic crisis, during which she worked sporadically, destroyed much and even went back to art school. When she began working in earnest again in the 1950s, she produced works based mainly on earlier sketches. Her painting Schwarze Strich-Figur vor Gelb, (above), produced between 1960 and 1981, is a clear reference to her original inspiration, Paul Klee’s work.

Linking her firmly to her surrealist friends, her humorous treatments of everyday materials in odd combinations, often suggestive of metamorphosis, would become some of the distinctive features of her work. However, Oppenheim wasn’t in it just for laughs. She became well-known for her emancipatory, non-conformist attitude and her critical approach to gender stereotyping, making her a central role model for 20th century women artists. ‘Freedom isn’t given to you – you have to take it’, she said, summing up her stance in 1975. And, right up to her death in Basel in 1985, the artist’s work courted controversy. When the city of Bern, famous for its traditional fountains commissioned her to design her Tour-fontaine (in Waisenhausplatz), inaugurated in 1983, and produced when she was already entering her seventies, residents queued up to sign petitions demanding its removal.

Celebrated by the surrealists as ‘the fairy woman whom all men desire’, much of Meret Oppenheim’s better known pieces are loaded with latent erotic content, which might provide some explanation as to why, when I was at the tender age of 15, in 1970, perhaps unsure of whether he should be showing us it, our very bright and progressive art teacher, closed the door firmly and pulled down the window blinds – it was a winter evening and already dark outside – prior to projecting Oppenheim’s iconic Objet (1936), the fur cup, saucer and spoon, on to a wall, introducing our single sex class to surrealism. Art critic Robert Hughes called it ‘the most intense and abrupt image of lesbian sex in the history of art.’ Years later, when I was studying graphics at London’s Royal College of Art, in a clever and poignant reminder of Objet, my contemporary, the late John Hind – who began working at British Vogue before he’d even finished the course, and would within a few short years become the magazine’s art director – in homage to the artist, made a fur purse as a container for a lipstick, the bright red tip provocatively poking out.

Images from top
Man Ray photograph f
rom the series Erotique voilée  mit handschriftlich
markierten Ausschnitten des Künstlers
, 1933
Galerie 1900–2000, Paris
©Man Ray Trust, Paris / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2013

Meret Oppenheim, Pelzhandschuhe, 1936
Ursula Hauser Collection, Switzerland
Photo Stefan Altenburger Photography, Zürich
©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2013

Meret Oppenheim, Schwarze Strich-Figur vor Gelb, 1960–1981
Private collection, Bern
Photo Peter Lauri, Bern
©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2013

Margrit Baumann photograph,
M.O. mit Sechs Wolken auf einer Brücke, 1977, Bern 1982
©Photo Margrit Baumann
Archiv Christiane Meyer-Thoss, Frankfurt am Main

Meret Oppenheim, Eichhörnchen, 1969
Private collection, Montagnola
Photo Peter Lauri, Bern

©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2013

Meret Oppenheim. Retrospective
Hatje Cantz Verlag
Editors: Heike Eipeldauer, Ingried Brugger, Gereon Sievernich
312 pages, 364 images
Museum edition €25

Tell us what you think
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

Share this post
Facebook Twitter Linkedin

Design | Christopher Farr’s Rug Editions

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Christopher Farr’s Editions:
Contemporary Rugs for Collectors
Somerset House, London, UK
May 2nd – 30 June, 2013

Christopher Farr’s collaborators are many, and they are as varied as the rugs the eponymously-named company produces. The current and ever-growing list includes some of the most famous and highly-respected names around in modern and contemporary British and international design, architecture and fine art, among them: Gillian AyresIlse Crawford, Gary Hume, Rifat Ozbek, John Pawson and Andrée Putman.

Farr, having studied fine art at The Slade, set up shop with Matthew Bourne as a business partner in 1988. Early success came via a collaboration with the Royal College of Art in 1991, which led to a further collaboration with Romeo Gigli, whose collection was launched at the Milan Furniture Fair in 1993, earning the pair’s rugs international acclaim. ‘Up to that point, Farr says, ‘new rugs were a dirty word. People laughed at us.’ No one laughed in 1997, when Farr and Bourne, with Gunta Stöltzl’s family’s blessing, produced rugs that the Bauhaus designer had designed in the 1920s, nor when they opened their gallery in London’s Notting Hill the same year. The company has produced custom made rugs for The Wellcome Trust, and for Oxford and Cambridge universities. TheWall series was commissioned by architect Sir Michael Hopkins as part of a collection of handmade wall pieces for the UK’s parliamentary building, Portcullis House. Other custom wall pieces were made for the Bank of America building in London. Setting up a fabric division in 2000, the company took a natural step into cloth production, utilizing high quality fabrics, from combed Egyptian cottons and Belgian linens for upholstery, curtains and blinds, to acrylic dyed fabrics for outdoor use.

Following the success of their first show of rugs held in Somerset House last year, the Christopher Farr’s Editions: Contemporary Rugs for Collectors exhibition – previewed during the recent Milano Design Week 2013, where the company also showed a new collection of rugs by celebrated US designer David Weeks – marking the company’s 25th anniversary, unveils the first in a series of limited editions (50-200), in hand-tufted 100% wool, ranging in price from £650 to £1000. Designs by Sir Terry Frost RA (1915-2003), by Bauhaus master Josef Albers (1888-1976) and by his wife, Anni Albers (1899-1994) will be included. Penny Falls by Kate Blee, a London-based textile artist who has been collaborating with Farr since 1987, will also be shown. Renowned still-life artist, William Scott (1913-1989) – the centenary of whose birth is being celebrated in an exhibition running at Tate St Ives until 6th May, 2013 – will be represented by Permutation Brown, and Three Squares by leading British abstract colourist, Sandra Blow RA (1925-2006) – an adaptation from an etching printed in 2003 – will be exhibited. Jeweller, Lara Bohinc’s circular rug, Solar, will appear, alongside Sulspice, a flamboyant op-art design created by Farr, himself.

Rugs from top
Christopher Farr
1.22 x 1.83m
Edition of 15

Sir Terry Frost RA
Variations (Black on White)
Adapted from a 1973 print
2 x 2.13m
Produced in association with the Stoneman Gallery and the Terry Frost Estate

William Scott
Permutation Brown
Adapted from a 1977 Scott painting
1.4 x 2.3m
Produced in association with the Royal Academy of Arts and the William Scott Foundation
©Estate of William Scott 2013 supporting Alzheimer’s

Josef Albers
Homage to the Square, 1951
1.65 x 1.65m
Produced in association with the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
©2013 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn and ARS, New York

All of those illustrated are in editions of 150

Tell us what you think
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

Share this post
Facebook Twitter Linkedin

Art | Alex Katz: Immediate, Present

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Alex Katz
Timothy Taylor Gallery
London, UK
5th September – 5th October, 2012

American painter Alex Katz, admires David Hockney’s public graciousness and sense of self. Qualities that Katz in an interview with Martin Clark, artistic director of Tate St Ives for Tate Etc. magazine, the text reproduced in the Timothy Taylor Gallery’s elegantly-designed catalogue, reveals himself to possess by the bucketload. (See the Tate Shots live interview here)

What struck me in September 2010, when I first saw his work – yes, I know: how could I not have been aware of it before, when 2012 marks his 85th birthday, his paintings are in at least 98 public collections throughout the world, he has had countless solo exhibitions, globally, and been included in an endless series of mixed shows – stumbling across his National Portrait Gallery show, was its supreme stylishness. After all, here was an artists who had painted a huge close-up portrait of Anna Wintour – incidentally, the first portrait she has ever consented to sit for – without her, up until about then, omnipresent dark sunglasses. Although Katz admits to being interested in style and fashion I felt a sense of this portrait having being produced by a painter obsessed with neither: someone who knows all about style but is not of the style cogniscenti. During the interview, Katz tells Clark that to him ‘the surface is the whole thing’, however, as I’ve learned, there is nothing superficial about the processes he goes through and the history of the development of his approach to his paintings and subjects that could, in any way, be interpreted as shallow.

In my ignorance of who Katz was, my first impressions had been that here was someone who had seen Hockney, whose work at various stages has a similar, primitive feel about it – and had applied techniques possibly borrowed from illustration for his own purposes. I thought he might be British and perhaps one of the generation of the illustrator/artists who emerged, post-Hockney, from London’s Royal College of Art that included figurative draughtsnman Adrian George, brilliant colourist Glynn Boyd Hart (1948-2003) and maybe even Paul Leith. Instantly drawn to Katz’s work, I couldn’t have been more mistaken about its provenance.

In fact, Katz, whose parents were of Russian origin, and who grew up in Queen’s, emerged in 1950 from art school where he had produced detailed drawings of classical sculpture and painted from life, into a hysterical New York where the new heroes of abstract expression, Jackson Pollock and Barnet Newman, were throwing everything up in the air and riding a wave of popularity. Enjoying the parties and the jazz, Katz nevertheless had no inclination to err from the figurative direction he was set on that earned him an early popularity with the pop artists, who were just starting to appear. Instead Katz, who had nevertheless begun exploring the properties of flatness in representational painting turned to Mark Rothko and Yves Klein for inspiration and through the consequent reduction processes he applied to his own work, discovered a profound depth comparable to Pollock’s seemingly endless, multi-layered distance.

Alex Katz: Give Me Tomorrow is running until 23rd September at Tate St Ives, before transferring to Turner Contemporary in Margate in October, and shows a cross section of work spanning the artist’s six-decade career. Katz’s most recent, large-scale intimate portraits of family, friends and still lifes of flowers purchased from street vendors near his New York studio, are self-evident of the artist’s mastery of his medium. Seventeen of these have been selected for London’s Timothy Taylor Gallery show. In them can be detected traces of Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keefe and perhaps Andrew Wyeth, but Katz’s influences have often been strongly European: Picasso, Miro, Matisse – some of the same artists Hockney looked and may still look at – as well as earlier painters such as Watteau and Rembrandt, for gesture and composition. The big painting was an American idea, asserts Katz – perhaps unconsciously ignoring Monet’s great Waterliles triptych, measuring 2.1m x 13m (7ft x 42ft) in total, which had so inspired the New York abstract expressionists. Physically demanding for one so advanced in age, Katz’s works, though often huge in proportions – he was at the time of the Tate Etc. interview preparing to produce a 6.1m (20ft) wide, white on white, painting – are all done in a single day, all preparatory drawings and paint mixes having been finalised beforehand. His paintings could never be called impressionist but he likes to capture the immediate present, which this series of UK exhibitions are certainly doing for him.

Alex Katz paintings from top
White Roses 8 (large), 2012
Vivien, 2012
Gavin, 2012
All paintings © Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY, USA.
Courtesy, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London

Alex Katz photographed in 2004 by Vivien Bittencourt
©Vivien Bittencourt

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

Share this post
Facebook Twitter Linkedin

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

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

Share this post
Facebook Twitter Linkedin

Photography | Freud by Cecil Beaton & David Dawson

Friday, July 13th, 2012

An Artist’s Life: Photographs of Lucian Freud by Cecil Beaton and David Dawson
Sotheby’s London, UK
Selling Exhibition: until 11th August, 2012

It’s probably fair to say that David Dawson’s photographing daily life at Lucian Freud’s studio, and beyond, had its genesis in Bruce Bernard’s photographs of the great British painter. Freud (1922-2011) and Bernard (1928-2000) had been friends since their teens. Curator  and author of fine art and photography books, including his great Phaidon tome Century, Bernard (to whom, incidentally, I owe a debt with regard to my picture editing education – he was picture editor at The Sunday Times Magazine for the first couple of years I was there) sat – or more accurately, stood, in 1992 and sat in 1996 for Freud, having previously had his unusually large head immortalised by the artist in Head of Bruce Bernard, 1985. In the 1990s, Freud, famed for shunning the limelight, uncharacteristically, allowed Bernard, who had been taking photographic portraits of fellow Soho drinkers, artists and luminaries including Francis Bacon and Euan Uglow, to begin photographing him at work in his studio.

Having studied painting at the Royal College of Art – where he was a contemporary of Tracey Emin and Jake and Dinos Chapman – Dawson (b.1960) became Freud’s studio assistant in 1991. It wasn’t until some years later that Dawson – Freud by now used to have a photographer in his studio – picked up his own camera and began to record the day-to-day comings and goings and the work processes happening in front of and around him. After Bruce Bernard’s death in 2000, with unprecedented and now, exclusive, access – Bernard, in any case, having only been a visitor – Dawson was able to capture intimate moments: Freud in deep concentration, Freud applying shaving cream to his face with one of his large brushes (which, although we used it across a double-page spread in Tatler – where I was creative director – I suspect was set up, possibly at the behest of my editor-in-chief, Geordie Greig, himself a regular visitor at Freud’s studio) and to produce images that allow us to see the development of some of Freud’s later paintings.

Freud at Work, Photographs by Bruce Bernard and David Dawson was shown at Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert in 2006. Earlier this year, the same gallery showed Lucian Freud: Studio Life, Photographs by David Dawson. More recently Dawson’s image of Freud painting the Queen was selected for the Whitechapel’s exhibition of works from the Government Art Collection. A selection of Dawson’s pictures of Freud were also shown at the National Portrait Gallery in 2004. Twenty six of these, including those showing the artist painting Hockney and Queen Elizabeth II, and Frank Auerbach visiting the studio, were acquired for the gallery’s collection.

The unlikely juxtaposition of Dawson and Beaton’s photographs in this summer’s selling exhibition of limited edition prints at Sotheby’s, as much as it is revealing about Freud, provides an insight into the characters, aspirations and appetites of both photographers. Dawson comes across as a little shy and somewhat reticent, whereas, by all accounts, Beaton, who produced a prodigious number of self-portraits, was just the opposite.

Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) has a staggering 1,050 portraits in the NPG collection. His career as a portrait photographer took off after meeting the Sitwells in 1926. He signed his first contract with Vogue in 1927 and was associated with the magazine throughout his life. Beaton had been in Hollywood in the 1930s, where he became obsessed with Garbo, whom he continued to photograph throughout her life. He photographed Katherine Hepburn and later Marylin Monroe, of whom he wrote: ‘She romps, she squeals with delight, she leaps on the sofa. She puts a flower stem in her mouth, puffing on a daisy as though it were a cigarette. It is an artless, impromptu, high-spirited, infectiously gay performance. It will probably end in tears.’ During WWII he worked for the Ministry of Information and afterwards took on the additional role of stage designer for film, ballet and opera. In 1965 he was awarded two oscars for his stage production of My Fair Lady. His work has appeared in countless exhibitions and books, the first of which, Beaton by James Danziger – another former Sunday Times Magazine picture editor, now running the eponymous Danziger Projects in New York – was published in 1977, the same year that Sotheby’s acquired the photographer’s estate.

Beaton’s photographs of Freud from the 1950s capture him alone, with friends, with family and with his second wife Caroline Blackwood at Coombe Priory, their Dorset retreat. Although Beaton claimed to be drawn to Freud, whom he described as ‘a true artist and a true Bohemian’ – in some of Beaton’s pictures his subject wears no tie, or if he does it’s ratty and his shirt appears somewhat creased – the painter is portrayed as a clean-shaven, well-quaffed, heroic and brooding figure with movie-star good looks. While Dawson’s photographs are not about Dawson – he often lurks in the background, content to simply tag along behind his elderly master – Beaton had other ideas. While some of his images affect reportage, each one of them is a carefully-controlled portrait. One of these in particular, makes Freud look particularly stiff and awkward as he struggles to look at the camera, in front of the lens of which, Beaton, in one of his surrealist moments, seems to have flung a cyclamen flower and a few leaves – almost definitely montaged in later – that in the final image float above the sitter’s head. At first sight, what appears to be Beaton’s least set up, least theatrical picture of Lucien Freud’s daughter, Annie, 3rd October, 195o, in which she sits on another animal’s back while stroking the nose of a zebra, comes as a refreshing surprise; then one realises that the photographer is playing his usual, for me disappointingly tiresome, games; the zebra is obviously stuffed. Not everyone is as lively as Monroe was but oh, if only Beaton could have allowed a little of the extemporaneous excitement he had captured in his shoot with her to seep into his photographing Freud – as Dawson did so successfully with Kate Moss in Having a cuddle with Kate, 2010… Mind you, some of Dawson’s pictures are more record shot than fine photography: Breakfast at Clarke’s with Stella McCartney, 2008, is just a snap, as is his picture of Bono and Freud breakfasting together. His Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach at the V&A, 2006, however, has the ease and spontaneity of a Lartigue.

Images from top
David Dawson, Having a cuddle with Kate, 2010
Cecil Beaton, Coombe Priory, Dorset, 1956

Please leave a comment
Look out for The Blog’s regular Friday posts on art, architecture, gardens, books, design and anything else that interests me and I think might interest you

Share this post
Facebook Twitter Linkedin

mouth2mouth | grundini

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

mouth2mouth | exclusive interview
grundini | graphic information supremo

Peter Grundy was a founding partner, with Tilly Northedge, of successful UK-based informational graphics design practice, Grundy & Northedge (1980-2006). Soon after he set up on his own. Releasing himself from the thankless task of producing beautiful informational booklets that no-one saw, and making a miraculous transformation into his alter-ego, Grundini, his work has gone global. As Taschen publish their latest design tome: Information Graphics, The Blog posts the first of an occasional series of interviews with prominent figures in the worlds of art, architecture, design, gardens, photography, etc.

Referencing Mies van der Rohe’s famous – and so very often repeated – remark, in terms of information graphics: is it enough for form to follow function?
Much of information design teaching follows the notion that designers should not infect the message with their own ideas. When Tilly Northedge and I started working together in 1980 we went against this theory, believing instead that the designer should function as a journalist and have an opinion on the messages they are asked to convey.

If the subject matter isn’t particularly interesting, is it enough to make your visual interpretation of whatever it is, attractive?
The most important part of any of my solutions is a good idea; that’s the bit most [information graphic] designers miss because they see things in terms of their own style. A good idea can bring uninteresting data to life, style probably not.

Is your preference for creating informational diagrams or poster images?
No preference. The Shell billboard posters I did are, as far as I’m concerned, information pieces, whereas Bodyparts – originally a diagram for Esquire – worked well as a poster.

How much input from an art director is comfortable for you?
They can contribute as little or as much as they like, but ultimately I’ll give them my take. I did a job recently for someone who was very prescriptive; I gave them my idea, they came back saying you didn’t put in what I asked for; you left off this and that, etc. I told them to find someone else.

How difficult is it to get the information you need from clients?
It varies. Mostly I get too much and have to edit it which, after 30 years, I’m quite good at.

In what form do you prefer to receive data from clients?
Simple, short messages. The Guardian’s G2 section were very good; they just provided the info they wanted to be included in the 30 spreads they asked me to produce – just as well, since one spread was required every week.

Albert Einstein said; ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.’ Agree? Disagree?
Simple messages are sometimes communicated by complicated visuals.

What method do you use to extrapolate the information given to you by a client?
What I seek is an overview idea, instantly communicating the message that will take the audience into the piece and invite them to explore. The two main tools I use for this are humour and entertainment.

Milton Glaser has said that computers are to design as microwaves are to cooking – the inference being that aside from using one for defrosting frozen ingredients, the best cooks wouldn’t touch a microwave with a barge-pole. Is this an outmoded remark?
I don’t think MG or anyone else for that matter could have seen in the 1980s, or even the 90s, how new technology would change the world of communication. He was talking about early, crude computer tools failing the requirement of those designers who had made things by hand. Today the internet has created new media environments and design challenges that need to be addressed by evolving design technologies. Having said that creative intelligence prevails now as it did 50 years ago.

When did you start using a computer for design?
Late 80s

How did the change effect your way of working?
Not at all, other than Adobe Illustrator replaced my set of Kern drawing instruments. The way my work looked didn’t change at all. What did change was the way I communicated with clients. When I started business was done by talking to people either in meetings or on the phone – today it’s by email or Skype. Sometimes that’s a shame, but the advantage is that one has a global rather than a local market.

How do you start to develop a visual idea – pencil scribbles or do you go direct to your computer?
I think and scribble in a small book then I do a finished piece on a computer that I show to the client. I don’t show the client a rough anymore – they don’t get it. This is something that surprises people who say to me: ‘That’s a lot of work to have rejected if they don’t like it’. My answer is that the idea is the difficult bit – building the image is often quite quick, and if I’m confident in the solution I can often convince.

Do you ever produce work without the aid of a computer?

What computer programmes do you use?
Adobe Illustrator is my tool box.

For an RCA project you produced an alphabet based on sections of the London Underground map, originally designed by Harry Beck in 1931. How important was the tube map to the development of your ideas about graphic communication?
Well, it is one of the seminal influences on any designer. It’s a good idea, it’s a simple expression of a complicated thing and it’s elegant.

At art college, were you any good at life drawing?
Rubbish at drawing! And because of this, I had to develop an achievable way of communicating visually – and fast. So I turned to a set of drawing instruments and developed a way of representing things simply using simple shapes. If anything my drawing borrows more from typography than the life drawing class.

I sometimes think I detect influences from the great art deco poster designer, Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, in your simplistic style of drawing and the graduation techniques you use, say, in the image for the international section on your website. Is he an influence and from who else do you draw inspiration?
We all benefited greatly from the art history education we received in the 70s.

Some of your bold, simplistic stuff – I’m thinking of the hand image on your 2004 Action Aid International poster and the 2007 Men’s Health magazine, as well as the figure in your Price on your head double-spread diagram for Esquire, is reminiscent of the primitive art of modern-day Central America. Is this accidental or have you studied the art from that region?
Yes, that’s true, my attraction to these ancient ways of drawing is its achievability. But this is the style thing, style is not enough to communicate and, as previously mentioned, the main ingredient is the idea.

You’ve been enormously prolific since the Grundy & Northedge company closed up shop and you became Grundini. Do you miss working within a company or do you prefer to work alone?
When Tilly Northedge retired I had two choices: carry on the company or do something different. I choose the latter. My aim was to get away from projects which were 25% creative and 75% management and to concentrate on work that was all about the creative. I achieved that, the problem was I was working on my own which can get boring. So now I work on my own but within a creative studio, in Holborn, London, where I’m amongst the creative cut and thrust every designer and illustrator need.s

Is the work you do now more, or less, lucrative than that which you did at Grundy & Northedge?
More lucrative. In the days of G&N we used to spend weeks and months producing beautiful informational books that no one saw, with next to no budget. Nowadays I concentrate on just the imagery and I sell these not only to information clients, but to a whole spectrum [of clients], though I doubt I could have achieved this position without my previous experience of working with Tilly Northedge as Grundy & Northedge.

Images from top
Death spread, Men’s Health magazine, 2007
Tree of skills diagram, The Guardian Educational Supplement, 2007
Price on your head diagram, Esquire magazine, 2006
The Age of energy illustration, The Telegraph newspaper, 2011
The Transform Awards imagery, The art of the impossible, 2012
All images ©Grundini

Information Graphics by Sandra Rendgen & Julius Wiedemann with 200 projects and over 400 examples of contemporary information graphics from all over the world – ranging from journalism to art, government, education and business, includes four essays about the development of information graphics since its beginnings, an exclusive poster by Nigel Holmes – who during his 20 years as graphics director for Time revolutionized the way the magazine used information graphics – is published by Taschen

Please leave a comment
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

Share this post
Facebook Twitter Linkedin