Thursday, July 31, 2008

Master at Play

And now, for the Grande Finale. 

Sitting over on my table here was one of the last things I had to go through.  It was an envelope saying "A Century of Chairs" and very simply "barcelona design" at the top.  I had no idea what it was.  Finally I popped the CD in and took a look.  At first, I was kind of like "eh, this is okay, but it's a little...weird."

But then I kept looking...and looking...and sinking deeper and deeper into this universe, and it suddenly dawned on me that I was looking at some of the most brilliant work I'd ever seen.  Not for a very, very long time have I been so overwhelmed with respect for a single designer.  I'm agog.  His name is Jaime Hayon.

What.  Shut up, he's dressed for dinner at Björk and Matthew Barney's house.

I should warn you, I tried to narrow this post down as much as I could, but it will still be a big one.  There's just too much to see and making matters worse, his publicity photographs are absolutely gorgeous, in and of themselves.

This will be another one of my goofy analogies, but it's almost like an alien from another planet with a bad memory was sent to study earth, but accidentally arrived in the 1930s, and then was asked when he got home to try and remember what earth people's houses looked like inside to recreate them for the Alien Planet Museum of Art.  And coming from me, that is a very high compliment.

I'll go into the individual pieces, but to understand why I say that, you really need to see all of them together.  Individually, each piece is remarkably distinctive, a little bit Baroque, vaguely familiar but a little somehow, and profoundly interesting.  But together, they just create the most bizarre universe, and this, ladies and germs, is the Future of Furniture Design.  Click these:

The line is called "Showtime" and Hayon was actually inspired by films from the 1930s.  So a lot of the cues are coming from that period.  But he's got every decade from the '40s though to the '80s in there as well--there's even a little Eames--so seamlessly fused together into one crazy new aesthetic.

Here are some closer shots of the sideboard and table in blue:

And by the way?  That deep, rich cobalt blue could make sweet love to my eyeballs all day and all night.

Here's the armchair with a canopy, which I'm fairly certain can be attached and detached at will:

And the loveseat:
I have to show you the glamour shot, too, because the photography is amazing:

And a close-up studio shot of the vases:
When you see a grouping like that it becomes obvious this guy has the most impeccable sense of color.  None of the colors are all that unusual, but the combination of them is extraordinarily suave.

But you see what he's doing here--he's so adeptly walking all these extremely fine lines like a tightrope.  It's just campy enough to be fun, but without ever being gimmicky.  It's so very rich in cues from the history of design, but without ever being clichéed.  And there are all these elements that seem strangely familiar, but he's combined them together in a way that becomes almost Surreal.  It's completely blowing my mind.

And there's more!

He did a small number of pieces for Bisazza, who I've written about before, truly at the very top of their game in the art of mosaics.  Here's the mirror, table, and vases--click this:

Moving on.  Here's Hayon's bath line, "Artquitect," click this:

I think some of this gets a little bit too delicate for my taste, but there's still some incredible things happening.  Namely the sink:

Don't ask me why the shocking yellow isn't bothering me; it  He also did this in shiny metallic gold, which is so rich and beautiful.  But what's really getting me is the integrated mirror, which is like this isolated Art Nouveau sort of detail, and evidently it can also be a lamp.  Here it is in black:

The legs have a vaguely Art Nouveau sensibility to them, also, but it's so subtle and anything but derivative.

Speaking of lamps, here's "Josephine" in silver:

That gun-metally grey is delicious.  It also comes in gold, which you can see here in the sconce version:

It's sort of like Sears Catalogue circa 1973 on crack.  Out of control.

And here's "Bubbles" in white:

I actually think that'd be great in a bathroom, like a bubble bath.  In copper it's just completely from another world:

And here's a glass candle holder shaped like an old oil lamp:

I'm fairly certain I don't have to tell you how unbelievably clever I think that is--especially since it's in the shape of an object that's supposed to give off light, but then it's black, which is the polar opposite of lightness?  No, didn't think so.

Here's the horse vase you may have noticed in the bathroom up above, in black:

And platinum:

Okay, so it's a vase...but it's a vase that hangs on the wall, which is already a little unusual.  And then it looks like something taxidermied, but it's a horse...people don't hunt horses and put them on their wall like a trophy, do they?  I think that would be weird.  And then the flowers come out of the center of the horse's head, like a unicorn's horn?  It's just fascinating and beautiful, anyway.

But that's nothing compared to this.  Hayon is also art director for Lladró.  Remember I posted about them?  I should have known they had some insane genius at the helm.  Here's his "Conversation Vase 1B" for Lladró, click this:


Did I just have an acid flashback?

On the vase part, it's maybe a clown with hearts on his face? wearing some kind of strange cartoon bunny costume.  Then on the top of the vase is a jester holding a staff with a heart at the top, wearing a Michelin Man shirt and a bunny helmet with a huge arrow through it and a bird on one of the ears.

Who comes up with something like this?  "Conversation" is right.  Your house-guests could probably spend the majority of the evening just trying to figure out what this is supposed to be.  And I have a sneaking suspicion that was the whole point.

Hayon Studio

And I'm still not done.  I've asked if Jaime would be willing to do an interview with me, also.  His representative said it wouldn't be possible until after August, but stay tuned.  I definitely need to get into this guy's head if he consents to answering some questions for me.

©2008, Ryan Witte

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mariners, Majesty, and Monsters

Next I went to see the retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), which was truly comprehensive at almost 150 works, and incredibly impressive.  Without doubt, Turner forms a talented link between early Romanticism and Impressionism, but I'll have to admit I was not as crazy about his later, impressionistic works.  Nonetheless, there were some amazing things to see.  

There was way too much visual information (I'd heard the show described as "exhausting"), so I didn't and won't concentrate as much on his watercolors and gouaches.  He had a real feel for them, though, and they really are some of the best watercolors I'd seen.  There's also a good number of sketches and studies that are interesting to get an impression of his process, but there's no reason to discuss those here.

The show is arranged chronologically, more or less, but the cool thing is that--since Turner switched focus somewhat markedly a few times during his career--it ends up being thematic, at the same time.

--Conway Castle (1800, pencil, watercolor, and gum Arabic on paper)
I will actually start with a watercolor, though.  This was where I started to get a feel for how so much of his work concerns this idea of the connection between built structures and their surrounding environment, and the personalities, the people who inhabit both.  He hadn't begun animating his scenes with people here yet, but he was obviously quite friendly with the aristocracy, because he painted a ton of the castles throughout the U.K.

Anyway, you may need to click this, and hopefully you can see it, but you have to follow those sharp horizontal lines formed by the choppy sea from right to left.  When your eye gets to shore, all those lines encounter curves, curves in the rock formation, and another on the hill with the small tree growing out of it.  They all lead your eye right back to the castle.  The darker clouds in the sky above that do the same thing.  It really makes the castle the star of this show, and forms a loving relationship between the building and the land it oversees.

--The Pass of Saint Gotthard (1804, oil on canvas)
The other thing he was interested in around this time is the confrontation between human achievements and the powerful forces of Nature.  There's another painting of Saint Gotthard, The Devil's Bridge, which much like this one, shows both our wondrous abilities to surmount daunting natural obstacles, but the delicate, almost spooky precariousness of it, as well.  The stone pathway shown here I'm sure is relatively safe, but I can't imagine what it must have taken to construct it, and it still appears like a route that would require some measure of courage.  It's at once beautiful and eery.  He's put figures in the foreground, too, it's an interesting place for them, since in these wide expanses, individuals could so easily get swallowed up; he allows them to be prominent.  What's interesting here, though--and I didn't say "people"--the figures are actually pack animals, their guides presumably behind them, out of frame.  How many of them are there?  Who are they?  Merchants?  Nomads?  We'll never know.

--Interior of Salisbury Cathedral, Looking towards the North Transept (1805, pencil and watercolor on paper)
I thought I'd add another watercolor, because he did do a few architectural studies.  They're astonishingly precise to the point of being almost mathematical.  I assume therefore these were done more for posterity or educational purposes than for pride or celebration like the castle scenes.

--The Shipwreck (1805, oil on canvas)
Here is that battle again between humans and Nature.  Nature was the victor this time, and it's the personalities of the survivors that become the focus.  Looking up close, his brushstrokes are somewhat loose.  He didn't go in with a tiny brush and render every individual eyelash.  But that's one of the things that I found impressive, because despite these broad strokes of color, he was still able to get a sense of expression and gesture.  You can really feel the fear and agony of this experience, and you go in closer, you get nothing more and yet, it's somehow still there.

--Sheerness as Seen from the Nore (1808, oil on canvas)
A little bit more calm, this one, but there's still a great tension.  First of all, the huge ship in the background is tied very intimately to the little sloop in the foreground.  The cloud formation forms this direct line from the sail of the sloop right down to the deck of the ship.  The ship's rigging is a rhythm of diagonal lines almost exactly parallel to the pitch of the smaller boat.  In contrast to all these sharp lines are the sweeping, swirling textures of the sea and sky, i.e. the elements, Nature again.  So small and large, we get a camaraderie amongst the seafaring and the precariousness of that life.  This story is nice enough, but then he adds the dinghy in the foreground, which allows for visible characters to give the whole thing personality.

--The Temple of Jupiter Panellenius, Restored (1816, oil on canvas)
I'm glad I was able to finally find such a large .jpg of this, so you can really see it, because I liked this one a lot.  He's started bringing in these sort of classical themes, which seems entirely different from the hard gritty realities of life on the sea, almost like he felt he needed a little fantasy in his life.  There's this fantastic relationship between the temple in the background and the revelers in the foreground, by way of that grouping of trees in the center.  So check this out:

And specifically this:

But my favorite is this one:

I'm not making this stuff up.  So there's a connection between the people and this glorious temple they've constructed (as it may have looked when it was first built), the majesty of human creativity.  There's a connection between the temple and the beauty of nature itself, and another between the revelers frolicking in nature being a part of their land.

--The Field of Waterloo (1818, oil on canvas)
I wish I could've found a larger file for this, because it really is a stunning work.  There was a gallery guide discussing this piece for a huge group of visitors.  I didn't listen to all that much of what she was saying because I was following my own pace.  But she said that victory has been achieved, you can see the fire blazing over to the right, and it should be a cause for celebration.  Perhaps the folks in the foreground are glad it's all over, but what she was drawing attention to is that sharp, ominous moonlight making the whole scene very eery.  She went on to point out that light, itself, becomes a major character in Turner's work, and was used very purposefully.

--Raby Castle, The Seat of the Earl of Darlington (1818, oil on canvas)
What a majestic expanse of the world this earl had at his disposal.  This is also unfortunately small, so clicking it probably won't help much.  But I loved the vantage Turner chose for this one.  Aside from the sheer impressiveness of that lush, wide open field, it's all about how the clearing in the trees at center so rhythmically punctuates the towers of the castle.  Again, there's a very strong connection between the Earl's residence and the land it oversees.  The castle becomes a smoothly integrated part of the landscape, and at one with it.

--The Bay of the Baiae, With Apollo and the Sibyl (1823, oil on canvas)
I wanted to show you this one because there's a little bunny in it!

Heehee.  Oh yes, I know, it's a very, very seeerious museum exhibition, so I'm not allowed to have any fun.

--The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 (1824, oil on canvas)
This was my favorite piece in the whole show.  It's absolutely unbelievable.  The placement of it on the wall is really superb.  The horizon line of the ocean is just about at eye level, so you're looking out over the water.  But this painting is eight and a half feet tall, so there's literally another seven feet of painting towering up over your head.  No jpg or reproduction could ever possibly do this any justice.  The scene goes back out over miles and miles of Cape Trafalgar. 

And that battleship.  That battleship has four stories of gundecks, 104 cannons in all.  It towers up over the water like a colossal floating fortress.  It's the HMS Victory launched in 1765, and it still exists as a museum in Portsmouth.  It's almost 230 feet long, displaces 3500 tons of water, and its tallest mast soars 205 feet into the air.  Its oak hull is two feet thick.  Just look at the stern of it:

It looks like a freaking office building.  Those captain's quarters are bigger than my whole apartment, and I mean a LOT bigger.  Can you tell I'm impressed?

Never before had I been so struck by the incredible power and size and fortitude of the Royal Navy.  It's no wonder they were so very proud of it, and no wonder they ruled the seas for so long.  And I owe that to Turner.  The statistics are astounding, but it's really the artist's ability to capture the awe-inspiring scale of this battle that allows me to feel its immediacy.  The painting is virtually in motion; you can practically smell the saltwater and burning wood, hear those giant canvas sails flapping in the breeze, the cheers of the British sailors.  I might even be able to recommend seeing the show for this piece, alone.

--Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus (1829, oil on canvas)
As Ulysses sails away from the island of Cyclopes, he finally admits to Polyphemus that it was he who had gotten him drunk and blinded him.  Polyphemus is furious, and prays to his father, Poseidon, to produce dangerous seas for Ulysses' journey.

--Sunrise with Sea Monsters (1845, oil on canvas)
Turner had begun exploring not just classical themes, but mythological ones, as well, late in his career, but this one was really very strange.  All of his other work was so rooted down in hard reality, to the point of being a quite accurate record of historical events, as with his series on the burning of the houses of Parliament.  Even Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus, hinting perhaps at Poseidon's supernatural powers, is still more or less a realistic reconstruction of a described event.  And then...sea monsters?  It's such an abstract piece as well, but the monster looks almost goofy.  It makes me wonder if Turner wasn't losing his mind in his old age.

Since it is so very large, one critic recommended going through the show quickly one time and then going back for a longer look at the pieces that really grabbed you.  My strategy was to concentrate on his oils and not spend an awfully long time on the watercolors, as I mentioned above.  It worked out well for me, and certainly you could do the opposite if you're a huge fan of watercolor.  In any case, this is another highly recommended show.

©2008, Ryan Witte

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Bittersweet End

To finish up my coverage of the ICFF, I'd like to combine a few smaller companies together, each of which had a couple of very cool items.  In the interests of being impartial, I'll go in alphabetical order.

So first up is Gaia & Gino, from Istanbul.  They do a lot of extremely wonderful housewares and art and design objects, so I highly recommend a trip around their website, which they just recently redesigned and relaunched.  I'd discussed them elsewhere before, however, so the new items I really liked were their "Mistic" candelabra/ vase, which is beautifully laboratorial in clear glass, but completely different in this new gold:

The metal is applied very lightly, so from certain angles, it gives off this mysterious, smokey bluish hue.  It makes it a timelessly fascinating and lovely piece, in my opinion.

G&G also have a line called Gino The Dog, which is all this amazing stuff for our pets.  New this year was their "Loop" doggie bed:

For kitties too, I suppose.  It also comes in silver, which is fairly glitzy.  But it can be unsnapped, unfolded, and laid flat for storage or transport.

Gaia & Gino
(Turkey) 90-212-234-4472

Next we have Denmark's Hay, which I actually discovered via their distributor, MOD Objects, who were running the booth (MOD's website is kind of cool, by the way, because the color theme of the homepage images is different each time you go to it).  MOD is mostly doing contract furniture, and Hay's pieces, like most of MOD's offerings, are seriously hypermodern, but there were a couple of striking pieces that I quite liked.  This is their "Mormor" sofa:

I think it's that the vibe is vaguely the interior of a 1970s muscle-car--very groovy--but the combination of the lines, colors, and volumes end up being very 21st Century, somehow.

And one of a number of differently-named lines that all appear to develop a similar idea (and would actually look quite graphically interesting together): "One," "Round One," and this, perhaps the latest in the evolution, "Other One":

There's an ottoman for this, and they can be lined up as a sectional, as well, in different complementary colors and so on.  It's a little bit on the sharp side for me, but I think it's still stunning and I love that deep blue.  It's one of the very vivid primaries that doesn't shock my system.

(Denmark) 459-942-3870

Obviously, a company as huge and established as Kohler doesn't really need my press, but nevertheless I was pretty inspired by their new Karbon faucet:

You should go play around with the animated webpage and watch the videos, they're pretty cool and very well-done.  But while a little bit more industrial than some of their fancier, more voluptuous hardware, it's just about the most flexible, functional, adaptable, useful kitchen faucet imaginable, and for someone who really loves to cook and entertain, I'd think indispensable, as well.


Norway's Mokasser appears to be a young company also doing some very sleek pieces.  Boy, those northern countries sure do know how to do some Modernism, huh?  This is their "Eshu" line.  There's an armchair, ottoman, and loveseat, but I thought the sofa, "250," showed the elegance of its lines best:

Not unexpectedly, I'm having color issues again.  But they show this also in a pale, soft beige which is just exquisite.

Here's their "Whole in One" chair:

Ow, my retinal cones!  I sat in this one for a couple moments toward the end of my exhausting time at the show, and it's totally cradling and comfortable and offered the relaxation I needed.  A sharp square profile with a hyperbola carved out of it, the whole thing canted slightly: very simple, pure geometric relationships, but the entire thing comes together perfectly.

(Norway) 472-260-1944

Doing some remarkably clever work is another very young company from Cincinatti called Refined Sugar Studio, headed by sculptor Matt Kotlarczyk.  First are these small tables called "Albee Remains" tables:

The light fixtures were rescued from Cincinatti's Albee Theater, when it was being demolished in 1977.

--Photo origin unknown.  The arch was moved to Cincinatti's Convention Center, and a flyer from '77 seems to indicate everything in the entire theater was put up for sale.
Kotlarczyk repaired and restored them and enclosed them in a protective acrylic casing to preserve them for all eternity.  The bulbs are very similar to the Edison ones originally used in 1927.  There's even silent exhaust fans in the base to keep the table top from getting too hot.  I think this is so smart.  It talks about our historical, interior architectural legacy, issues of preservation and destruction, display, presentation, and the artistry of old-school ornamentation, the nature of recycling and reclamation, and at the end of it all, it's just an aesthetically beautiful piece.  These are in a limited edition, not surprisingly.  Being remnants of a grand old theater, and giving off such a soft ambient glow, I think these would be delightful in an entertainment room or home theater.

I think his "Eat Me" table was one of the cleverest things at the show:

The glass tabletop sits on 1800 tiny light bulbs.  At each of the six place-settings, a sequencer keeps changing the lights to read in red a number of different words made up of the letters in the word "MEAT" and all having to do with eating.  

The words rotate on a time-delay, or can be hooked up to a microphone to respond to the sounds of your dinner guests.  I got the impression other text could easily be entered in, as well.  This one has silent exhaust fans, as well, to prevent it from getting too hot.  Certainly this would require just the right--even Punk Rock--interior, but the only problem with this one would be getting your dinner party guests to eventually talk about something other than how incredibly awesome and fun your table is.  The table is a sensory experience before the meal even begins.

Refined Sugar Studio

Finally, this is a piece from Stua in Spain.  They're being distributed in the U.S. by Design Within Reach, which is another outfit that doesn't really need my press.  But I thought this deserved mentioning for a couple reasons.  I spoke to the guy at the booth, who said he was the designer--although the chair is credited to Josep Mora, who doesn't look familiar to me.  Anyway, the guy I spoke with was extremely nice and cordial.  I grabbed the opportunity to ask him the question I've mentioned before: "'Within Reach' of whom?" since their prices aren't all that low.  He explained that it's not about price at all, but rather that a lot of this work by smaller European design houses is very difficult to get in the U.S. so DWR makes this stuff more accessible to the North American market.  Oooooohhhhhhh!

Also, the chair is a really great piece of design work.  It's called "Egoa" and "Egoa on Castors":

The wood is somewhat warm here, but it looks somewhat unfriendly to a butt.  I sat in one to speak with the rep, though, and I was really impressed.  The contours of it, and also the fact that it flexes under your weight when you lean back, make it remarkably comfortable.  The hardware, itself, is very sleek and tight, as well:

They also have an upholstered version, which I'm sure would be more practical at a desk over the long term:
Myself, from purely an aesthetic standpoint, I thought the wood was more elegant and dynamic.


There were a few additional companies with designs that were mildly interesting, but who couldn't be bothered to respond to a simple email, even after several attempts on my part.  I suspect they'd be just as unhelpful with potential customers, so I'm not going to waste my time or yours discussing them.

I have one more post from the ICFF on the way that I'm extremely excited about.  Otherwise, that wraps up my coverage for 2008!  Hope you enjoyed it, I know I certainly have.

©2008, Ryan Witte