Modern Japanese Tea Bowls

By Frances Brent

This Sekisoh (accumulated layers) tea bowl by Izumita Yukiya, displays his technique of creating layers by painting clay onto paper.

A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, when Marcel Proust famously wrote about a cup of tea, he was introducing a modern idea, the phenomenon of involuntary memory that can recapture the essence of the past because of the masterful design of recollection. If you read carefully you’ll see that his fictional teacup hardly had a material essence. What did it look like? Did it resemble the well-designed teacups in still lifes rendered by Henri Fantin-Latour, whom he writes about in The Guermantes Way? More
likely, if Proust was imagining a teacup from his past, it was less tasteful, wide brimmed, stretched low, painted with prim flowers like the plates on the wall in his aunt’s house in Illiers-Combray. Never described as an object, Proust’s teacup served his purposes only as a container for the perfume of warm tea and cake crumbs, the accidental and fragrant concoction that surprisingly called up lost memories. If it existed as a repository for an obliterated and long-forgotten past, the cup was also a holder of ideas of French Japonisme, experienced primarily through taste and smell, imagination and consciousness, rather than through the eyes.

“…the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea” — Marcel Proust

Tsujimura Shiro’s Big Ocean tea bowl is in the Oribe style, which is known for its shining black color (achieved with a dark green copper glaze), and a coating of white slip enlivened with drips and flows, and the radiant yellow of kintsugi, a material often used for repair work.

I thought about Proust’s teacup recently when I was visiting the Ippodo Gallery in New York, where there was an exhibition of contemporary Japanese chawan, modern tea bowls constructed in the traditional Japanese forms and associated with the ritualized tea ceremony. The tea bowl and tea utensils continue to be central to the Japanese pottery tradition, even to contemporary potters oriented within the avant-garde, who work to create a perfect tea bowl within their lifetime. Like Proust’s teacup, these bowls are holders of memory, or rather, historicized memory encoded by those who know the tea ceremony. And, like his teacup, they are meant to be experienced by all the senses: by the eye, which perceives them from every direction; by the hands, which pick them up, touch their clay walls, bear their weight, feel the heat con- ducted through their skin; even by the lips touched to the irregular surfaces of the rim. Within the tea ceremony, they also have a conceptual purpose, linking host to guest and human imagination to nature and spirituality.

There was a great variety among the bowls in the Ippodo exhibition, representing all the styles employed today: Raku, Ido Hagi, Karatsu, Oribe, and Shino. Some were in- tended for use and others were clearly non-functional. Some shimmered with metallic slip and others were rugged, scratched, or “clog-shaped.” As objects, they had atotemic quality, standing together like Cycladic figures, and I felt the temptation to think of them sculpturally. Like snuffboxes, antique pipes, or bells (and some of the bowls turned upside down would resemble monastery bells in shape and size), they can be appreciated for their beauty as art or craft, but within Japanese culture their value is more than the sum of their parts.

Tsujimura’s shallow tea bowl in the Oribe style. Here the decoration falls over the rim and into the bowl’s interior.

Among the sixteen artists represented in the show, two are outstanding representatives of the different directions taken by contemporary Japanese potters. Tsujimura Shiro is a master of traditional Japanese forms, and his tea bowls are owned today by major institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. The story of his life resembles a Japanese fairy tale: born in 1947, in the poverty of the postwar period, he moved as a teenager from the Nara Prefecture to Tokyo with the intention of becoming a painter. After seeing a famous Ido bowl he decided to dedicate his life to pottery. Tsujimura never trained with a master but started his career making one bowl at a time, which his young wife would sell on the street. A Buddhist monk known as a connoisseur of pottery bought one of Tsujimura’s bowls, and with that stroke of luck he began to build a reputation and moved back to Mima-cho, Nara, where he built his own house and several kilns. He lives there today, working in the wooded area by the mountain-side and continues to make up to five hundred pots in a morning, then selects two or three to be salvaged, fired, and glazed in the afternoon. After his pots are completed he sets them outside, along the path to his garden or in the woods so they will absorb the elements and achieve the weathered appearance, marks, and stains so highly prized in the famous bowls that have preceded his. Photographs of Tsujimura’s home show his pots covering the hills and grounds and trenches, strewn randomly and everywhere in heaps and stacks as if they were part of nature.

Tsujimura’s katsuwa (warped or clog-shaped) tea bowl gleams with a black enamel-like finish. The technique of Hikidashiguro, in which the iron-glazed pot was high-fired, then removed from the kiln and plunged into water, created subtle variations and shades of black to wash across the bowl’s skin.

Tsujimura’s bowls display profound technical mastery as well as the vitality and depth of character demonstrated by the great innovators of the tradition. He works in many of the classical styles and does not care about the region that his clay comes from. “I have never cared about a few scratches or marks on my pots if I could achieve the effects I want,” he has said. “My interest is in the less than perfect shape, in the less than perfect kiln.” You see this in the nicked matte of a black tea bowl with tiny dents in the rim or in the surface of the foot untouched by glaze. An Ido-style bowl is crackled all over in intricate spiderweb patterns and the remains of white slip cling in droplets surrounding the foot and base. I’ve been told that the test for a master’s bowl is that the weight matches how it feels—you never say, “Oh, it’s heavier than I thought.” When I pick up this bowl, it’s something like the weight of half a honeydew but fits absolutely naturally in my hands. Perhaps Tsujimura’s most beautiful series was done in 1993, a particularly inventive period when he lived in Devon, England, and created his Oribe-style Big Ocean bowl using a rich, lathered black glaze, white slip, and kintsugi, the gold repair material made from gold powder and lacquer. Rising to the challenge of capturing the wild sea on the surface of a pot, he splashed the surface in broad calligraphic strokes and puddles like an action painter.

Izumita Yukiya (b. 1966) represents a younger generation and demonstrates a virtuosity that mixes a deep knowledge of the traditional with many contemporary trends in earth art and sculpture. As a young potter, Izumita became fascinated with the many uses of pa- per—for writing letters, bearing sacred texts, or making paintings, wrapping, padding, preserving, shredding, even representing money—and he began to find ways to combine it with the clay he was working with. He developed a technique that uses paper as an armature that allows him to make fine ceramic strips, or accumulated layers, Sekisoh, that he can shape into waves and rolls and angles, sometimes reminiscent of origami. In his boxes, vases, and tea bowls he achieves something like the appearance of the folds of a fan or a series of waves or even reptilian zigzags. His style is both rugged and fragile, hard and soft; the surfaces sometimes achieve the abrasive texture of Giacometti’s bronzes.

The rough and pitted, razor-thin surface of Izumita’s Trench seems to pull the abstracted shape of a vase into a ceramic vortex.

Izumita’s Sekisoh tea bowl at the Ippodo Gallery was built from a clay mixed with grog to achieve an earthy, gritty, coarse texture, but the interior is finished with a contrasting copper-metallic glaze. Cutting away a portion of the clay wall, he transferred the piece to strips of paper that could be stretched and bent before being patched back in like the drooping folds of an old gown or withered skin. In a way the bowl looks like an ancient object, a relic, or the remains of petrified wood. The surfaces of Izumita’s objects sometimes have the organic quality of bark and sometimes the quality of marked and roughed concrete. The openings of his vases and boxes, pitted or rutted, once again reflect the classic Japanese aesthetic, valuing the markings of imperfection. More recently, his work, still virtuosic, has incorporated sculptural, abstract, and even heroic values. You can see this in the surfaces of the folded clay band titled Trench, as he breaks away from the functionality of a vase and dynamically folds and twists his shape into a ceramic vortex, all the while adhering to the principles of balance and sensuality intrinsic to the values he mastered in the tea bowl.

Izumita’s bold Sekisoh flower vase is built of accumulated layers of clay that has been shaped on paper.

Both Tsujimura and Izumita have made alterations while working in a tradition that has crossed centuries and geographic boundaries before plunging into our time. Proust saw his teacup as a memory vessel that could contain the debris of the past. The bruised and fractured surfaces of twenty-first-century tea bowls powerfully incorporate a modern sense of the erosion of time and the challenges of holding together nature and human history as they are constantly decomposing and being reconstituted within the small universes of these modest objects.

All photos courtesy of Ippodo Gallery, New York.

Claire Falkenstein: Small Sculpture/ Large Jewelry

By AL EIBER

Clare Falkenstein with her kinetic sculpture Big Apple of 1948 in aluminum and Hydrocal. Photo courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York.

IN HER LIFETIME AND AFTER, Claire Falkenstein (1908–1997) was known as a sculptor, painter, and teacher as well as a ceramist and glass designer. Less is known about her stunning and dramatic jewelry, which has been exhibited only rarely, and not in many years. I became interested in her work about fifteen years ago when I bought one of her small “fusion” sculptures from a Chicago auction house. As I learned more about Falkenstein, I was astounded by her talent and facility with a range of materials. Each piece was distinctive, from her large sculptures in metal to her stained-glass windows to her jewelry—which I found particularly intriguing.

I am always interested in artists and industrial designers who “push the envelope.” Falkenstein explored new territory in both her jewelry and her sculpture. Each piece was unique, made by her own hands, and each more beautiful than the last. Falkenstein’s most famous work, The New Gates of Paradise, is a set of doors commissioned in 1960 by Peggy Guggenheim for her private palazzo (now the Guggenheim Museum Venice) on the Grand Canal. Each measuring nine by three feet, the doors are made of metal webbing into which Falkenstein placed large chunks of colored Venetian glass.

Falkenstein’s model for the gates she designed for the Venetian palazzo of Peggy Guggenheim, 1961, is made of painted copper wire and glass. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Born in Coos Bay, Oregon, Falkenstein received her B.A. in fine arts in 1930 from the University of California, Berkeley. She had her first gallery exhibition prior to graduating from college. Over the summer of 1933 she was exposed to some of the most avant-garde theories of the day by meeting László Moholy-Nagy and Gyorgy Kepes and through her studies at Mills College with sculptor Alexander Archipenko. She taught at a variety of schools and universities, honing her skills and developing her unique style through interactions with fellow teachers, particularly at the innovative California School of Fine Arts, where she taught alongside abstract expressionists such as Clyfford Still, who would become a close friend and artistic influence, and Richard Diebenkorn. During this period, Falkenstein frequently worked with carved wood and molded clay.

In 1950, believing that she needed new avenues of stimulation, Falkenstein decided to move to Europe. (She asked her husband to accompany her and when he refused, she divorced him.) From 1950 through about 1963, she lived in Paris, maintaining a studio on the Left Bank, where she met such artists as Jean (Hans) Arp, Alberto Giacometti, Sam Francis, and Paul Jenkins, as well as the art connoisseur Michael Tapié, who acted as a sort of mentor and promoter for the American expatriate community. Falkenstein found that her experience in Paris greatly advanced her artistic vocabulary and strengthened her foundation as a sculptor. During this period her work was shown frequently at the Galleria Spazio in Rome and Galerie Stadler in Paris.

Brooch by Falkenstein in silver. Bill Hibbs photo.

The rings, brooches, bracelets, and extraordinary necklaces Falkenstein fashioned were not maquettes for her sculpture. Instead, they were intended to be small wearable works of art. Her jewelry was shown at various prestigious exhibitions during her lifetime, including the second annual Exhibition of Contemporary Jewelry at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1948 and the International Exhibition of Modern Jewelry in London in 1961. In 1962 the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris held a one-person exhibition of both her sculpture and jewelry.

From 1962 to 2004 her jewelry went relatively unrecognized. Not until 2004, seven years after her death, did the Long Beach Museum of Art in California have the insight and courage to mount The Modernist Jewelry of Claire Falkenstein, the most comprehensive exhibition of her jewelry to date. Maren Henderson, a co-curator of the exhibition, wrote in the accompanying catalogue: “Falkenstein cared very much about fit and comfort, and her works are a joy to wear. A piece of jewelry by Falkenstein however was never just an accessory. Falkenstein’s jewelry is not about costuming or fashion so much as formal ideas involving line, space, surface, materials, and color. Wearability and formal experiment become one and the same. The artist never pandered to the marketplace or fashion trends. Falkenstein looked more to the future, convinced that her work would find its time and place in history.”

Now, more than ten years since the Long Beach exhibition, I think it’s time that Claire Falkenstein’s jewelry be re-examined and enjoyed by a new generation. Her jewelry pieces are miniature sculptures, each unique and exciting, showcasing her talent and the numerous techniques she used.

In 1963 Falkenstein returned to Venice, California, where her work consisted primarily of large-scale commissions, such as the fifteen towering stained-glass windows that she created for Saint Basil Catholic Church in Los Angeles (1969), and Accelerating Point, a 1974 commission for the entrance of the San Diego Museum of Art.

A Venetian glass bead is incorporated into this gold-plated brass necklace of c. 1955.

Falkenstein started making jewelry in the mid- to late 1940s for numerous reasons, among them economy of scale and as a way to learn how to work with different metals. With jewelry, she was able to stretch her limited budget while taking risks and experimenting with different techniques. She practiced bending, welding, soldering, and casting metals—techniques she continued to use in her later sculpture and jewelry. In the 1950s, she used both glass and metal together, creating her “fusions.” At first she placed the glass chunks within her sculptures and jewelry, then later she melted the glass over the metal.

Note: After Falkenstein’s death in 1997, a group of her friends established the Falkenstein Foundation to expose and educate people about her work. Recently, the foundation became associated with the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York to further promote her oeuvre.

Three Museum Exhibitions to Study and Savor

By Cynthia Drayton and Beth Dunlop

A GLOBAL VIEW OF POP ART AT THE WALKER

WALKER ART CENTER/ERRÓ

Today Pop art is mostly associated with the work of early 1960s New York City-based artists such as Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, and Andy Warhol. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis broadens the viewpoint of this postwar art movement with the exhibition International Pop, which opens on April 9 and runs through September 9 before traveling to the Dallas Museum of Art and then to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

While Pop art is associated with Britain and the United States, artists from Japan, Latin America, and both Western and Eastern Europe seized images from mass media, advertising, and everyday objects to create their own art. International Pop features some 125 artworks by more than one hundred artists drawn from more than thirteen countries and four continents. The show is organized into broad thematic sections as well as contextual sections of specific places or institutions. Artists featured include Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Jim Dine, Marisol, Yayoi Kusama, Martial Raysse, Mimmo Rotella, Jean Tinguely, Cildo Meireles, David Hockney, Thomas Bayrle, Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake, and Yoko Ono. A key ambition of International Pop is to show artists in the specific contexts from which they emerged as well as to reveal relationships between works across time and place. walkerart.org

IN TOLEDO, WORKS ON OR ABOUT PAPER

WERNER PFEIFFER

Werner Pfeiffer has understood the power of books since he was a child in postwar Germany, where “there was no paper, there were no books. Censorship was everywhere.” In recognition of Pfeiffer’s sixty-plus years of commitment to paper, the Toledo Museum of Art has organized nearly two hundred of his one-of-a-kind and limited edition books, prints, collages, and experimental works on paper in the exhibition Drawn, Cut & Layered: The Art of Werner Pfeiffer through May 3.

Pfeiffer who is known worldwide as a creator of artist’s books and book-objects, uses paper as both a canvas and a structural material. His fascination with machines and machine-like construction coupled with his attraction to puzzles, metaphors, and word play has inspired works that are thought provoking in themselves. Among the works exhibited are Hocus Pocus, an homage to Dada; Zig Zag, a book created as a double accordion fold to show that “paper is not only a surface but has architectural structure”; The Banana Drawings, a series of drawings with seven basic images that reoccur in different configurations; and Liber Mobile, in which the alphabet becomes a visual element. In a touch of digital irony, the exhibition catalogue is a multimedia e-book. toledomuseum.org

THE KATONAH MUSEUM OF ART PAYS TRIBUTE TO ITS ARCHITECT, EDWARD LARRABEE BARNES

©KATONAH MUSEUM OF ART/PHOTO MARGARET FOX

The late Edward Larrabee Barnes designed spare and elegant museums that accommodated both art and museumgoers with grace and ease. In a fast-changing, ever-more-corporate, and increasingly cutthroat world, he remained a gentleman architect, running his practice with high standards and a small staff.

Barnes fervently believed that architecture should be about the building, and not the architect who designed it. The conviction of his beliefs can be seen in the diverse body of work he produced, ranging from cultural, educational, and commercial buildings to private houses. But ultimately his vision is best seen in museums across America—in Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Katonah, New York, where he designed a genteel, light-filled building that feels almost domestic in its landscaped suburban setting.

Barnes and his architect wife Mary lived in the neighboring Westchester County town of Mount Kisco for many years. He designed the Katonah Museum of Art’s building twenty-five years ago when he was seventy-four. Mary Barnes was a longtime
trustee and advisor to the museum.

A Home for Art: Edward Larrabee Barnes and the KMA, which opens March 29 and runs through June 28, will look at the architect’s career with a special focus not just on the KMA, but also on the elegant modernist houses he designed in neighboring Westchester communities. At the time he designed the KMA, Barnes was widely quoted as saying “within the museum, the architect must not upstage the art.” This time, however, turnabout might well be fair play. katonahmuseum.org

A Labyrinth of Lalanne

“Les Lalannes” Installation view, 2015. Courtesy of the gallery.

Artist duo Les Lalanne (Claude and the late François-Xavier) are well known in New York for having turned their sculptural menagerie loose in the city. Their flocks of sheep have grazed the median on Park Avenue and a lawn in Chelsea, and a large Lalanne monkey has intimidated passersby at 58th Street. A new exhibition at Paul Kasmin Gallery may contain their work, but it doesn’t try to tame it. For the exhibition Kasmin tapped renowned landscape architect Madison Cox to create a labyrinth whose winding pathways reveal Lalanne sculptures and designs, both historic and recent: an immense golden apple, an owl alighting on a Brancusi-like platform, a chandelier formed from a bramble of bronze twigs.

A book, Les Lalanne: Fifty Years of Work, 1964-2015, featuring previously unpublished material from the artists’ archive, complements the exhibition, which runs through May 2 at Paul Kasmin Gallery.

TWO NEW SHOWS EXAMINE A PRODIGIOUS PAST

By Jenny Florence

In October 1954 the Museum of Modern Art deployed a two-person team—architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock and photographer Rosalie Thorn McKenna—to document modernism in Latin America. The culmination of their six-week, eleven-country tour was Latin American Architecture since 1945, an exhibition that glossed over regional and cultural differences and promoted modern design as a cohesive international movement. Some sixty years later two exhibitions celebrate the diversity and ingenuity of modern design in Latin America by assembling a range of material, much of which has rarely or never been exhibited. Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955–1980 (March 29–July 19) at MoMA uses architectural models and drawings, vintage photographs and film clips, and a suite of photographs and models commissioned for the show, to consider the network of forces that stimulated an unprecedented period of creative and economic development in the region and led to the emergence of unique architectural expressions. moma.org

A few blocks uptown from MoMA, the Americas Society presents Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela, 1940–1978 (on view to May 16). Where Latin America in Construction concentrates on large-scale public works— hospitals, museums, housing projects, entire cities, even— Moderno focuses on the design objects—both hand-crafted and mass-produced—that furnished Latin America’s rapidly modernizing domestic interiors. “[D]esigners in the region were producing a modern interior that was at the same time local and global,” says the exhibition’s co-curator, Jorge Rivas Pérez. Pieces such as Sérgio Rodrigues’s Mole chair— its ample leather seat and protruding stiles giving it the aspect of a lolling bull—and Geraldo de Barros’s 1960s telephone bench—which pairs plywood and plastic—broadcast the ease and comfort familiar from American mid-century design, but reveal an unmistakably distinct approach. as-coa.org

(Photos: Museum of Modern Art/Clorindo Tiesta © Archivo Manual Gomez Piñero, Courtesy of Fabio Grementieri; R & Company/Sérgio Rogrigues)

For the Love of Plywood

A studied metamorphosis
By DOUG MEYER

Designed with plywood floors and walls the new director’s office at the Palos Verdes Art Center is a riff on California modernism. On the custom-designed plywood wall-hung cabinet is a collection of Shearwater pottery; above hangs Tower and Surf Boards, 1952, by Davis Miller (1917– 2012), PVAC’s 1952 “Purchase Prize” winner. (Clarke Henry photos)

TWO YEARS AGO I BEGAN A CALIFORNIA DESIGN ODYSSEY. What started out as a relatively small project (the design of administrative offices for an eighty-plus-year-old California art institution, Palos Verdes Art Center—PVAC) turned out to be an all-encompassing dream project that included not only the reconfiguration and design of the administrative offices, but also of the lobby, galleries, gift shop, logo, banners, and invitations; developing a cafe; researching and establishing a permanent collection; curating ten exhibitions; creating the scenography and design for fourteen exhibitions; creating three seventy-page catalogues; and developing pop-up shops, project space, and site-specific works within the center.

What started out as a relatively small project turned into an all-consuming redesign of the Palos Verdes Art Center

The director, Joe Baker, pulled me into this project bit by bit. I had previously worked with him in New Orleans where he was director of Longue Vue House and Garden; he had given the house over to my brother Gene and me for what he called an “intervention”—in which we designed and incorporated thirty years of our work into the house and its outbuildings. By the end of the run of the Longue Vue show, Joe announced that he was taking a new position in California as the director of PVAC. He flew me from New York, where I live and work, to Los Angeles (Palos Verdes is south of L.A. proper but within the metro area) in March 2013 to “have a look.” Initially, he asked me just to design the administrative offices, but I quickly realized that more things (many, many more things) were needed in order to make the spaces and center function properly. (I have a tendency to overload my plate—fortunately I love being too busy, it makes me more creative.)

A fiberglass Charles and Ray Eames low rod Shell armchair from Modernica in Los Angeles stands near an Eames Compact sofa that was rediscovered after decades in storage and reupholstered in a Knoll fabric. A suite of 3-D paper reliefs dated 1968 by Herman L. Renger hangs above the sofa.

Some of the treasures I found in the storage space set the tone for the entire project

My first trip was really a discovery mission: I got a great rush rummaging through storage spaces that had accumulated decades and decades worth of the life of an arts institution that was not, for the most part, intended to be a collecting institution. Some of the treasures I found influenced and set the tone for the entire project. The first was the forgotten set of Eugene Sturman doors—the original doors to the center’s current building, which dates to 1982. (Around the same time Sturman created a monumental hanging sculpture, White Dwarf/Cellular Vortex, that was installed at the Otis Art Institute’s main entrance, part of the MacArthur Park Public Art Program.) The next find was an Eames Compact sofa (purchased by PVAC in 1959), though its original black leather upholstery and foam filling had deteriorated. Another storage area began to reveal fifty years of “Purchase Prizes”—works by California artists that PVAC had acquired, one work every year, from a juried invitational beginning in 1942. Highlights included pieces by Sturman, John Altoon, Betty Gold, Davis Miller, Paul Darrow, Herman L. Renger, Peter Max, John Sloan, and Rufino Tamayo.

On each trip to Palos Verdes I ferreted out more and more gems. Although PVAC is still not a collecting institution, I felt it important to put these works on permanent view in the administrative offices with detailed wall labels explaining the history of the artist and the work. My early years in the art world (specifically at Holly Solomon and Metro Pictures) had taught me a love of exhibition presentations, from hanging to labeling—a whole art in itself. And because the core of the collection was California artists it seemed only natural to do a riff on California modernism and incorporate plywood as a key element in the design.

For the new staff office I designed a freestanding angled wall covered on four sides with teal mirrored plexiglass, which conceals a storage area for office supplies. The Coral Pendant hanging light by David Trubridge is made of bamboo plywood. H-base Eames side chairs from Modernica, each in a different color, surround the conference and work table by Restoration Hardware. On the table is a collection of pochoirs from Derriére le Miroir #221 by Alexander Calder, 1976. The oil painting above the desk is Southwest Mountains by Paul Gardner Darrow, the 1956 PVAC “Purchase Prize” winner.

The work of Ray and Charles Eames in the 1940s and the California Case Study houses—specifically numbers 1, 11, and 20—all used plywood in revolutionary ways. They became the starting point for the administrative and director’s offices. I had always wanted to create a space with plywood, but for whatever reasons it was never the right space/ place/time until now. I find plywood to be what I refer to as a comfort material: it is something my generation had grown up with and so was recognizable and accessible (and besides all that I love the organic patterns of the grain). Likewise, I’ve always liked spaces and objects to have a purpose; it’s not about pretty—it’s about a concept, and in this case design follows concept. I also love things that actually look utilitarian; I find in our current time that looking useful is actually the new way to adorn a space.

The PVAC staff had been working for several decades in cubicles that looked like the Eastern Airlines corporate offices in 1970. We moved the staff offices from the north building basement into what had been the printmaking studios, which were centrally located in the main building, and created new access into the galleries from them. Key staff was moved to a new front office and redesigned lobby. An oversized upper gallery was divided in half. An artists cooperative/gift shop that has been at PVAC for more than twenty-five years was relocated into the back half of the upper gallery, placed there not just because it flowed with the space but because it truly fulfills the phrase “exit through the gift shop.”

One of my favorite exhibitions was Floating Man: The Sketchbook Drawings of David Rinehart (July 25– September 7, 2014); the display of Rinehart’s architectural models was created out of two-by-fours and plywood.

As I was creating the new spaces at PVAC, I got drawn into the planning of exhibitions as well. Joe Baker confided that part of his strategy for reinventing the center was an aggressive exhibition schedule. Shows would be changed out every six to eight weeks, with a three-week installation period. I love working and creating in short time frames—and since I can wear many hats this idea intrigued me: the concept and development of an exhibition, the schematics and design development, final designs, construction documents, fabrication, and the installation. Tight budgets are the mother of invention. Further, I saw this as a way to craft a singular message, using utilitarian materials throughout the exhibitions (and echoing the “plywood palace” I was already creating). The head preparator Aaron Shepard, an artist himself, is a genius at installation and the fabricating of the designs.

One of my favorite exhibitions was Floating Man: The Sketchbook Drawings of David Rinehart. A student under the renowned Louis I. Kahn at the University of Pennsylvania, Rinehart worked for several years in Kahn’s office. His most notable building is the east wing of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California. Rinehart completed the sketchbooks exhibited during the first eleven months after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Having had both my parents and grandmother afflicted with Alzheimer’s I wanted to create a fitting tribute. I designed many layers into the exhibition—for the catalogue I walked a tightrope conveying his career, life, the effects of the disease, and his forty-plus-year relationship with his partner Tony Rasmussen. I created all the displays out of regular building materials—mainly two-by-fours and plywood—the largest and central element being a twenty-six-foot-long display case that housed the four sketchbooks that made up the bulk of the exhibition. The case appeared almost like a bridge and was angled from the center of the gallery into a corner. As you walked down each side to view the pages you ran into the corner wall—forcing you to take a few moments to get reoriented to walking back and around to see the rest—not unlike moments of Alzheimer’s.

The idea of a permanent drip painting became the motif for the Stripe Cafe

My Drip #124 painting in the Stripe Cafe measures forty-two feet long in total (this view shows a fourteen-foot section). The fiberglass Eames Shell chairs with Eiffel bases are from Modernica.

My final tribute was to create a site-specific dining room for the opening night dinner. I spent five days building the silver sheathed room— then three days painting one of my “drip paintings” (my largest to date at eighty-nine feet long). I used twenty gallons of paint, 6,850 Legos, twenty-five four-by-eight foot sheets of insulation, and 815 feet of silver insulation tape to complete the space. (I began doing what I refer to as “drip paintings” my junior year as a fine arts major at Parsons School of Design. I am fascinated with the spontaneity and lyrical gestures created when I pour/drip paint—strips of color that sometimes bleed into one another or flow down the surface to create complex and beautiful details.)

Construction on the cafe began in August. The Rinehart dining space was the inspiration for the final design. I have always loved museum restaurants (my favorite being Terrace 5 at New York’s MoMA— I try and have lunch there twice a week); for me there is an energy level and a quiet respect that surrounds museum cafes. I had originally named the PVAC cafe Stripe based on an early design concept, but even though I abandoned that idea, I thought the space still had to visually say “stripe” somehow. So the idea of a permanent drip painting on the main wall (forty-two feet long) became the new motif. However, I wanted to do something new so I created three layers of drips—the first was the entire wall, which I covered in opaque white plexi and then dripped; next I dripped ten four-by-eight-foot sheets of one-quarter-inch plexi panels on both sides. Using floaters, the panels were then attached one and a half inches off the white plexi wall. The three levels of drips created a beautiful veiled effect. The main dining room was all white: walls (all sheathed in white plexi and attached with screws and washers and trimmed out in metal millwork—Tommi Parzinger’s iconic silver stud–adorned cabinets of the 1950s were the inspiration); floors (1960s-style speckled Armstrong tiles); ceiling; and tables and chairs (once again pulling in the California modernist theme with white Eames fiberglass chairs custom ordered from Modernica in Los Angeles). The front and back entrances and service areas (which sandwich the white space) are sheathed in particleboard with a matching speckled floor. The space has three large skylights, which, with the California light, actually made it too bright: it needed to be diffused. I designed hanging light sculptures created out of hundreds and hundreds of sheets of clear heavy-gauge vinyl in five different colors. For the bar area I once again used mirrored plexi. I found an old “Bar” sign at the Chelsea Flea Market one Sunday in New York, and the odd colors against the blue mirror were kind of perfect—a Jack Pierson moment. Plus, I have a fascination with constellations, so all twelve zodiacal constellations are subtly created with screws and washers of various sizes screwed into the mirror (I love to make a simple and edited element and create an odd imperfection within it). I titled the bar “Twinkle Twinkle Little Bar.”

This photo shows me in the site-specific dining room I created for the David Rinehart dinner.

The completion of the Stripe Cafe was the final piece in my two-year design odyssey in California. Maybe now I can get some sleep— my biggest regret after more than sixteen round-trip flights from New York to Los Angeles (approximately seventy-six thousand miles) is that I have still not earned Mosaic status on JetBlue.

Design’s Incubator

MILAN’S ANNUAL SHOWCASE OF YOUNG DESIGNERS SPOTLIGHTS EMERGING TALENT FROM AROUND THE GLOBE

By Beth Dunlop

Three chairs from Patrick Jouin’s 2013 Ester series in leather or fabric with bronze or black nickel legs. (Courtesy Patrick Jouin)

IN MANY WAYS, Marva Griffin Wilshire is the patron saint of young designers. Over the course of her many years in Milan—first as a journalist and later as part of the vast operation of Salone del Mobile— she observed that it was almost impossible for up- and-coming designers to connect with the producers of furniture, even (perhaps especially) during the furniture fair (this year’s runs from April 14 to 19). She wanted to “make a difference,” she says. The result was SaloneSatellite, a showcase for young designers now in its eighteenth year that has turned out to be the incubator of some amazing talent. To look at the list of names of Satellite discoveries is to see a who’s who not just of emerging talent, but of designers who are by now quite renowned.

Among them is the wildly successful Parisian designer Patrick Jouin. When Satellite was launched in 1998, he was working for Philippe Starck along with Matali Crasset, who “gave me the tip about this new show taking place in Milan.” Jouin jumped at the opportunity. “I did not have second thoughts,” he says. “In a minute I invested in the last booth available, and stacked into my little FIAT my FACTO Chair [now produced by Fermob], a rug, two lamps, and a coffee table. There was barely space enough for me in the car. I designed a huge sign with my name printed on it, and there I was.”

The seats of Herkner’s Banjooli chairs (2013/2014) for Moroso are hand-woven from the same thread used for fishing nets. (Courtesy Sebastian Herkner)

Likewise, it is almost legendary in design circles that Nendo was discovered at Satellite in 2003, just a year after the Canadian-born but Japanese- educated Oki Sato founded the firm. Oki Sato got a special mention at Satellite that year for the wildly innovative (yet always subtle and beautiful, if creatively named) work he showed—projects such as Streeterior, and Manhole-mat. That recognition led to further recognition, and almost immediately to other awards. Soon he had his first contract with such powerhouses as Giulio Cappellini and Maddelena De Padova. Since then, Nendo has enjoyed extraordinary recognition, including some three hundred commissions from some of the world’s top manufacturers. His limited edition work is sought after by collectors and enjoys success at auction, as well.

For the Indian-born, Dutch-based designer Satyendra Pakhalé, Satellite was not so much a beginning as an affirmation. “I think it was a continuation of the work that I was doing, making prototypes after prototypes and testing and trying ideas. Satellite has developed as an important international reference point, and Marva Griffin’s conception of giving a platform to young talents became an amazing success,” he says.

Satyendra Pakhalé’s lustrous green ceramic Flower Offering chair (2001), issued by BOSA in 2009. (Courtesy Satyendra Pakhalé/Amman Gallery)

Griffin Wilshire says she had “no dream, no ambition, just a desire to help young designers” when she launched Satellite. “In my almost eighteen years I have been in touch with almost ten thousand young designers and graduates-to-be from all over the world—more than forty countries. Quite a lot of them have made it, they are well known and pretty successful in the industry. For me it has been more than rewarding.”

Each year a distinguished jury looks at the participating designers’ work (last year there were almost seven hundred entrants, all under the age of thirty-five) to select winners in several categories, including what has become the prestigious Design Report Award. The first year the jury included Ross Lovegrove, Konstantin Grcic, and Crasset as well as Nasir Kassamali, founder of the Miami-based design showroom Luminaire. Kassamali says Satellite is “a great communications vehicle to transfer knowledge, collaborate and promote good design.” He points to such designers as Jan Plechác, who exhibited at SalonSatellite in 2011 and since then has “catapulted to great heights,” designing for Cappellini and other great manufacturers.”

Nao Tamura’s graceful Tiki desk lamp (2014) for Established & Sons is available in plexiglass, ceramic, or metal. (Courtesy Nao Tamura)

The Design Report honor has gone to such rising stars as the Brooklyn-based Nao Tamura (whose 2010 submission, called the Seasons plate, was subsequently produced by Covo, presaging her growing reputation) and Daniel Rybakken, a Norwegian lighting designer. Rybakken first showed at Satellite as a recent graduate and then returned three more times, the last of these—in 2011—with a special commission in honor of Salone’s fiftieth anniversary. The design team of Hanshi Chen and Shikai Tseng from Poetic Lab won the Design Report Award in 2013 for their Glass Ripple lamp, now produced by J. and L. Lobmeyr. “Their work continues to surprise me with its elegant simplicity and practicality,” says Kassamali.

Sebastian Herkner’s Bell coffee table features a brass top resting on a hand-blown glass base, upending notions of materiality. (Courtesy Herkner)

The German industrial designer Sebastian Herkner participated in Satellite in 2009, 2010, and 2011, each time offering a sampling of his work in furniture and lighting. Herkner typically melds tradition- al craft with new technology. From the start his work attracted the eye of major producers including ClassiCon, Gervasoni, and more recently, Moroso, which carries his Basks series. “On the last day of SaloneSatellite 2011, I met Patrizia Moroso,” he says, noting that she was attracted to a group of paper yarn baskets he had present- ed. “This was the starting point of our collaborations.”

The Brazilian designer Pedro Paulo Franco also showed at Satellite three times—in 2010 with his collection Artesania, in 2011 with a collection called Carnevale, and again in 2012 with two new chairs. Though, like others, his designs were acquired for production, after participating in Satellite he says that he “chose to develop my own brand with the collaboration of the most important designers in the world, such as Alessandro Mendini, Fabio Novembre, Nika Zupanc, Pininfarina, Campana Brothers. And my products also, of course.” As a result, his company, A Lot of Brasil, in now part of the main Salone.

Jouin also speaks of the contacts he made: “In a day I met Achille Castiglioni, Alessandro Mendini, Vico Magistretti, and Enzo Mari: all the greatest Italian designers,” he says. “It’s the first time I felt I was part of a community. It all began there.”

Jerri Hobdy’s gold-leafed iron and glass Elegant Etagere for Wisteria will be released this spring. (Courtesy Jerri Hobdy/Wisteria)

And for many aspiring designers, it is still a beginning. “It was truly a humbling and glorious experience,” says Jerri Hobdy, who last year was the youngest American represented at SaloneSatellite as part of a team from the Savannah College of Art and Design. “SaloneSatellite is the best thing that has happened to me as a young designer. Not only has a majority of my press come from my attendance and participation in the show, but I grew my network exponentially in the week I was there,” she says. “I still keep in touch with some of the most brilliant young designers that I met at that show that live all over the world. As a young, emerging designer, what is lovelier than connecting and building meaningful relationships with people that share a passion for fresh, original design?”

The Soul of Nakashima

A new look at the master woodworker in advance of a major exhibition this fall at the Modernism Museum Mount Dora in Florida

By Robert Aibel
Principal photography by Jeff Phillips

Conoid benchThe Nakashima compound in New Hope, Pennsylvania, is now a National Historic Landmark. The Conoid Studio, built there in the late 1950s, was named for its curved and cantilevered shape that created an organic yet modern statement. The building process led Nakashima into a series of furniture designs that employed architectonic bases, including a strong reference to cantilevering. The Conoid bench, originally designed in 1960, has turned and carved spindles attached to a highly figured, freeform seat with a significant overhang on the left or right. While not produced in large quantities, the design is so striking and unusual that it has become one of Nakashima’s best known.

GEORGE NAKASHIMA was one of the great innovators of twentieth-century design, offering an approach that was like nothing that had gone before. He brought together at least two incongruous styles, traditional Japanese and American vernacular, and merged them with a modern sensibility. And in so doing, he articulated a design vocabulary that was based on the use of free edges, sapwood, knots, crotch figuring, natural flaws in wood, revealed joinery, and butterfly joints.

The tree was where everything began. Nakashima’s inventory of wood was legendary and was the wellspring of all his designs. He “saw” wood in a way that no one before him had been able to. Indeed, many thought he was crazy buying “junk” wood that they would have rejected due to its imperfections. Despite an intense and comprehensive design process, Nakashima would explain his reluctance to sign his work with the statement, “The work is not about me, it’s about the tree, it’s about nature.”

Kent Hall lamps In the same way that Wharton Esherick used light as a sculptural and artistic element in his Walnut floor lamp, Nakashima provided more atmosphere than illumination with his Kent Hall floor and table lamps, in which light is filtered through fiberglass-­impregnated paper shades. The juxtaposition of a highly structured shade with a naturalistic base epitomizes the approach he took in much of his work.

Because his own words emphasize the tree, its second life as a functional object, and the concept that each board has one ideal use, it is tempting and sometimes easy to overlook the design aspect of Nakashima’s work. Rather than focus exclusively on the drama and beauty of the wood, we must also consider the heart, mind, and hand of the maker. No board cut itself, jumped on a base and made a beautiful table. Nakashima and those who worked with him toiled hard to make that happen. There was a careful design process, one that grew and developed during his lifetime. To make a piece of furniture that has a sense of simplicity and purity is not the same as making a simple one.

Minguren II table While there was always a demand for monumental dining tables, Nakashima rarely had boards that were long and wide enough to make them. At sixteen and a half feet long and almost five feet wide, this table made for a close associate of Andy Warhol is possibly the largest Nakashima ever made. Typically, for the top he cut across the crotch to reveal and intensify the figuring the tree held at its core. The table encompasses all the innovative design features in Nakashima’s “tool box”—book­matched boards, free sap edges, crotch figuring, naturally occurring openings,and butterfly joints in a contrasting wood. Flanking the table are Conoid chairs, designed 1960.

Each piece was carefully shaped throughout: first as a mental image, then on paper, then on the boards themselves in chalk or pencil, and finally as a three-dimensional form. Even the very first decisions about how to cut the tree were design decisions that had to take into account how the grain of the tree would be most interesting and how the piece of wood might be used. “Each cut requires judgments and decisions on what the log should become,” Nakashima wrote in his book The Soul of a Tree. “As in cutting a diamond, the judgments must be precise and exact concerning thickness and direction of cut, especially through ‘figures,’ the complicated designs resulting from the tree’s grain.”

Greenrock ottomans In 1973 Nakashima received his largest and most important commission, from New York’s Governor and Mrs. Nelson Rockefeller—more than two hundred pieces for Greenrock, their Hudson River valley estate designed by Nakashima’s friend Junzo Yoshimura. The furniture included a series of small stools or ottomans that were later added to the Nakashima catalogue. The joinery reflects the traditional through­tenon method, a beautifully designed and durable joint. Nakashima saw “good joinery” as “an investment ... an unseen morality.” The stools are covered with indigo dyed cotton, each stenciled with a unique batik design, that Nakashima brought back from Japan.

Nakashima developed his own oil-based finishes that enhanced the grain of the wood and brought out the qualities that made each board special. He would take customers into his wood storage area and together they would select a board. With the board in his mind’s eye, Nakashima would go back to his studio, and in five or ten minutes, draw the final piece including the sapwood, the knotholes, the cracks, the butterfly joints, the placement of the legs—all in precise detail. This drawing would then be converted to shop drawings, and the process of construction could begin.

The entire effect was so balanced that the myriad decisions made to achieve it are easy to overlook. Creating furniture that seemed natural was complex and demanded all of Nakashima’s design skills; in turn, in-depth study is required to recognize the meticulousness of the design and execution. Nakashima was very detail-oriented and closely supervised every stage of the construction process. Everything was planned, designed, drawn, and reworked before it was made. As he noted in The Soul of a Tree, “The error of a fraction of an inch can make the design fail absolutely.”

Long chair Nakashima’s designs are typically given descriptive names, as is the case with the Long chair. An exact translation of the French “chaise longue,” it is a form that is thought to have emerged in ancient Egypt. Surprisingly modern and innovative when he designed it in 1947, this 1951 version is distinguished by the horizontal bands of sea grass that are woven through the cotton webbing. Shortly thereafter, he eliminated the sea grass and began to offer the chair with a long freeform arm.

Nakashima’s devotion to design is perhaps best illustrated by using the chair as a case study. “What a personality a chair has! Chairs rest and restore the body, and should evolve from the material selected and the predetermined personal requirements which impose their restrictions on form, rather than the other way around,” Nakashima wrote, adding: “Some parts, such as spindles, are used primarily for strength, and aesthetics becomes a secondary consideration. These can be beautiful, however, and the error of just a sixteenth of an inch in the thickness of a spindle can mean the difference between an artistically pleasing chair and a failure. Function, beauty and simplicity of line are the main goals in the construction of a chair.”

International Paper room divider screen n 1980 Nakashima was commissioned to provide furniture for the president’s office and conference room of the headquarters of the International Paper Corporation, giving him a rare chance to design on a grand scale. The two screens were works of art that also served a purpose, namely to separate the large space into multiple areas. In each screen, four large American black walnut book­matched boards are joined with contrasting rosewood butterflies that are further foregrounded by being raised above the surface. Nakashima drew the eye to natural flaws in the boards by filling them with small mirrors that he had brought back from India in the early 1970s.

When we look at Nakashima’s chairs, it is immediately apparent that most of them are influenced by American vernacular designs, most obviously the Windsor chair and the so-called captain’s chair. The Windsor influence is most notable in the Straight Back chair, the New chair, the Mira chair, the Four-Legged chair, and to a lesser extent the Conoid chair. The armchairs are a streamlined form of what we usually refer to as a captain’s chair. These traditional American designs were basic building blocks that Nakashima combined with elements of Asian vernacular design and a modernist aesthetic. For example, the New and Conoid chairs have a modernized Asian yoke back crest rail, while they still maintain a close affinity to the Windsor. The Conoid chair, now a modernist icon, also owes a debt to the 1924 and 1927 cantilevered chair designs by Heinz and Bodo Rasch. This unusual and complex combination of Eastern, Western, and modernist influences led each chair to evolve into a unique George Nakashima design.

Tea cart The use of fragile burl wood for furniture is a part of the legacy and genius of Nakashima. Burls are diseased parts of the tree, thus their growth history makes them flamboyant, yet potentially unusable: until the burl is in the process of being cut, there is no way to know whether the resulting boards will crumble or reveal a unique and spectacular figuring, as in this English oak burl tea cart and Carpathian elm burl headboard. Nakashima’s uncanny ability to “see” the wood made it possible for him to supervise the cutting of the burls so that, unimaginable to most people, they could become functional pieces of furniture.

What is especially impressive about Nakashima’s work is this quality that each piece is unique. While there are some structural and design similarities between his work and that of others working at the same time in the United States and Europe, what is overwhelmingly clear is that Nakashima’s furniture in no way depended on or was derivative of what was going on around him. In fact, while he spent two years (1928 and 1931) in Paris at the height of the art deco period and then worked under Antonin Raymond in Japan and India from 1934 to 1939, his furniture has little to do with art deco or the majority of Raymond’s modernist furniture designs. If he took anything from Raymond, he extracted what he wanted and let the rest go. This is not to say that he lived in a vacuum, but with all that was happening around him in France, India, and Japan, he found his own way —and his way was about the tree.

Odakyu cabinet Nakashima’s first show in Japan was held in 1968 at the Odakyu HALC Department Store in Tokyo, which held seven more shows of his work through 1990 and a memorial exhibition in 1991. This cabinet and floor lamp were originally designed for the 1970 Odakyu show, though the unique double­-sided version of the cabinet shown here is from 1974. It is made of American black walnut and Hinoki cypress with pandanus cloth (traditionally made from the leaves of a Southeast Asian palm). The pattern—an abstraction of the hemp leaf—on the doors and on the fiberglass­ impregnated paper lamp shade is a mid­nineteenth century Japanese design called Asa­No­Ha. The panels were made in Japan, according to Nakashima’s directions. It is a very complex pattern in which twelve pieces of wood must intersect at particular points, and requires complicated and unusual lap joints.

A comprehensive exhibition to open in the fall at the Modernism Museum Mount Dora, presented by Main Street Leasing, will provide a wonderful opportunity to look at a large body of Nakashima designs publicly shown together for the first time. The exhibition will place Nakashima in further context by comparing and contrasting his furniture to selected pieces by Wharton Esherick and Wendell Castle. Here I discuss a number of pieces to be included, each of which reveals important elements of Nakashima’s body of work.

GEORGE NAKASHIMA was born in Spokane, Washington, in 1905 to Japanese parents who had immigrated to the United States. Educated and trained as an architect at the University of Washington, Nakashima received a master’s degree in architecture from M.I.T. in 1930. After working briefly in the United States he left for Paris, seeking the creative energy of one of the great art centers of the day. From there he traveled extensively, ending up at the home of his grandmother on a farm on the outskirts of Tokyo. In 1934 Nakashima went to work in Tokyo for the architect Antonin Raymond. He volunteered to go to Pondicherry, India, to design and direct the construction of an ashram for the spiritual leader Sri Aurobindo, whose teachings were to shape his philosophy for the rest of his career.

Nakashima returned to Japan where he met Marion Okajima, who was also born in the United States. They married and settled in Seattle, where Nakashima opened his first furniture business in 1941. His first important furniture commission, for Andre? Ligne?, brought him recognition when the Ligne? interior was published in California Arts and Architecture in 1941.

However, after the Pearl Harbor bombing, Nakashima and his family, like many other Americans of Japanese descent, were placed in an internment camp in Idaho. Here he met a Nisei woodworker, Gentauro Hikogawa, and learned the art of Japanese woodworking. Thanks to the sponsorship in 1943 of Antonin Raymond, Nakashima and his family were able to leave the camp and move to Raymond’s farm in Pennsylvania. The next year, he set up a workshop on what became the Nakashima home- stead in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He maintained and expanded his facilities in New Hope until his death in 1990, at which point he had a staff of about twelve and had produced what is estimated to be thirty-five thousand pieces.

Nakashima’s earliest designs were all custom-made to suit the particular needs of the client. In 1945 he produced a small catalogue with three chair and five table designs—so that not everything had to be custom work— followed by a larger catalogue of fourteen pieces and then another with twenty-three. In 1955 he issued his first major catalogue, presenting a standardized set of designs that could be customized, when necessary.

While innovative, this early work was relatively straightforward, for the most part lacking the free edges and other details for which he became famous. In the late 1950s, when he began to build the Conoid Studio on his property, he developed the Conoid line, adding a significant architectural component to his furniture. This series was a major leap in that the modernist structures of his furniture designs became of much greater significance. In the 1960s, while building the Minguren Museum on his property, he developed another architecturally inspired line—the Minguren series— that again shifted the basic approach of the studio. The hiring of his daughter Mira in 1970, commissions from the Nelson Rockefellers in 1973 and the International Paper Company in 1980, and his ability to source better and better woods led to some of Nakashima’s most mature and exciting work in this period.

A Grand Bezar

Bradford Shellhammer, the wildly inventive co-founder of Fab.com, picked the right time to launch his new venture, Bezar.com. With a graphic, colorful, and decidedly sunny presentation, the online market for art and design is almost a harbinger for warmer days.

Through a series of short-term pop-up shops in four categories – art, house, jewelry and accessories – Bezar will feature work by emerging and iconic designers and artists alike. Among its first offerings is bold jewelry by Brooklyn-based mimimimosa, clever desk accessories by Hatch Hub, and limited-run posters featuring art by Josef and Anni Albers, created in collaboration with the Albers Foundation.

Paul Rand: Graphic Impact

By Steven Heller

Direction magazine cover, March 1939.

When Paul Rand died on November 26, 1996, at eighty-two, his career had spanned six decades, three generations, and numerous chapters of design history. In the late 1930s he began to transform commercial art from craft to profession. By the early 1940s he had influenced the look of advertising, books, and magazine cover design. By the late 1940s he was proffering a graphic design vocabulary based on pure form where once only style and technique prevailed. By the mid-1950s he was altering the ways that major corporations used graphic identity. And by the mid-1960s he had created some of the world’s most enduring corporate logos, including IBM, UPS, ABC, and Westinghouse. He was the channel through which European modern art and design—Russian constructivism, Dutch De Stijl, and the German Bauhaus—were introduced to American commercial art. His first of four books, Thoughts on Design, published in 1947 when he was thirty-two, was a bible of modernism. In his later years he was a teacher, theorist, and philosopher of design.

It is in symbolic, visual terms that the designer ultimately realizes his perceptions and experiences; and it is in a world of symbols that man lives.” –Paul Rand

2014 marked Rand’s one hundredth birthday, and on February 25, 2015, the Museum of the City of New York opened the first major museum exhibition of his contributions to New York design. Curated by Donald Albrecht (I am a co-chair of the show), the exhibition takes off from an earlier solo retrospective at the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA) organized by Daniel Lewandowski, who runs the Paul Rand website (paul-rand.com).

Trained in the commercial art bullpens of New York’s publishing and advertising industries, Paul Rand (born Peretz Rosenbaum but Paul Rand was more balanced) was critical of the poor aesthetic standards that prevailed. He modeled himself on such avant-garde artists as painter Paul Klee, designer El Lissitzky, and architect Le Corbusier, each of whom advocated a timeless spirit in design. Adhering to Le Corbusier’s dictum that “to be modern is not a fashion, it is a state,” Rand devoted his life to making what he modestly called “good work.”

Graphic design—which fulfills aesthetic needs, complies with the laws of form and the exigencies of two-dimensional space; which speaks in semiotics, sans-serifs, and geometrics; which abstracts, transforms, translates, rotates, dilates, repeats, mirrors, groups, and regroups—is not good design if it is irrelevant. –P. R.

Westinghouse magazine advertisement, 1961.

Looking to the European moderns for inspiration, he developed a fresh and individual approach to visual communications. His magazine and advertising layouts wed functional simplicity to abstract complexity. Void of ornament, each detail was planned to attract the eye and convey a message. Yet nothing was formulaic.

The page was a stage on which Rand performed feats of artistic virtuosity. His work was so distinct from that of both his traditional and faddish contemporaries—so radically counter to the accepted norms yet progressive in ways that tested the limits of print design—that his admirers called him the “Picasso of Graphic Design.”

I Know a Lot of Things, book designed by Paul Rand and written by Ann and Paul Rand, 1956. Jazzways magazine, 1946. Courtesy of MCNY.

“The Coronet Brandy advertisements are based on a common object­­—the brandy snifter—in animated form. The dot pattern of the soda bottle was designed to suggest effervescence; the dotted background, in turn, is a visual extension of the bottle; the waiter is a variation of the snifter glass; the oval tray individualizes for Coronet the silver tray we used to see in liquor advertisements.” –P. R.

Coronet Brandy magazine advertisement, 1943.

For the rest of his career, he lived up to that distinction. His work covered a broad range from advertising to book covers, from children’s books to corporate identity. He was not the first designer to create modern logos, but he was the most invested in making the logo more than a mere trademark. Much of his work, and especially his logos and marks, are as fresh now as they were then. Most of them are still used (IBM, Westinghouse, ABC, Morningstar)—UPS has altered theirs for the worse.

Even more significant are the words that Rand lived by—the writing he did in later life in books and articles—that defined modern design and the modernist designer. Paul Rand the writer, however, is another story. Here we look at the enduring designs that first made him famous.

Steven Heller has taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York for more than twenty-five years and is co-founder of two of the school’s MFA programs, Design Criticism and Designer as Author. He is the author/co-author of 170 books, including Paul Rand (Phaidon Press).
Except as noted, all images courtesy of DANIEL Lewandowski / paul-rand.com