L.A.’s Inimitable Treasure Trove of Design


A visit to Joel Chen’s galleries is a bit like a trip to wonderland

By Patricia Lombard

Joel Chen leans on Mogens Voltelen’s 1930s Copenhagen chair in his cavernous Los Angeles gallery/showroom—a favorite haunt of prominent designers and architects.

Joel Chen’s newest space on Highland Avenue in Los Angeles doesn’t have a sign, a building number, or even a clear portal, yet there’s a steady stream of prominent designers, architects, and production designers inside, perusing the ever-changing and exquisite array of antiques and twentieth-century furniture carefully curated by Chen.

You can’t help being more than a little intimated by the sheer volume, not to mention the incredible coolness, of what’s on view. The huge space is organized into small vignettes designed by Chen to enhance your appreciation of each piece. An antique Chinese screen is placed near a stunning settee inspired by Armand Rateau intricately crafted of bronze fish and shells. An exquisite red leather and oak Frits Henningsen High Back easy chair invites you to sit and study the weirdly cool Spider table by Michael Wilson. But you can’t because there is so much more to see.

Chen’s daughter’s Chihuahuas Cashew and Chestnut share one of a set of Poul Kjaerholm PK 27 chairs around Kjaerholm’s PK 66 table.

Ever patient, Chen lets you ogle your way around his shrine to modernism and beyond; and, in my case, ask questions that you know he’s answered a thousand times over the span of his thirty-eight-year career. Chen has an encyclopedic visual vocabulary that, he explains, has been acquired by traveling, reading, and meeting hundreds of artists and designers all over the world. His background in cultural anthropology accounts for his intense interest in people and the objects they create for artistic expression as well as function.

When Chen was in his twenties, a Melrose Avenue antiques dealer refused to let him into the store (perhaps, he speculates, because the owner didn’t think a young Asian man could afford anything), so he decided he would open his own shop to show how business should be done. Now he is regarded as one of the most important tastemakers in the city and is actively engaged in the global design community. In all, he has 34,000 square feet— there are actually two showrooms along Highland, just where the Hancock Park neighborhood meets West Hollywood, and a warehouse in Culver City.

Last year Chen presented White in White: Angles and Curvatures, an exhibition of exquisitely intricate contemporary ceramics by ten Korean artists.

Chen chooses things that interest him, though he admits that he’s always finding things that interest him, even though he really ought to stop acquiring. “The next thing to do is not to do,” he says. Chen credits his pragmatic wife for keeping him from going bankrupt over the years. These days it takes a bit more to get him excited, but he continues to embrace new materials and new designs. Each item is chosen for its quality, fine craftsmanship, and, most importantly, great design.

Fortunately, designers representing Holly­­wood’s A-list happily purchase huge containers full of furnishings on a regular basis, allowing Chen space to edit and continually rearrange the showroom vignettes to provide interest and context for all the pieces on view. Chen doesn’t like to name-drop, but every now and then he’ll share an anecdote (but we won’t, since we promised to honor his discretion.

Chen also periodically assembles individual and group shows for the artists he represents. In 2013 he presented Rapt, featuring the work of Clare Graham, a Los Angeles artist who creates art from recycled items and who now has a solo exhibition that has attracted national attention at the city’s Craft and Folk Art Museum (through January 2015). Chen had first hired Graham, an art director at Disney for twenty-five years, and his partner, former television art director Bob Breen, to create the installation for Collecting Eames, Chen’s 450-piece show of Eames furniture for Pacific Standard Time, the series of thematically linked exhibitions examining Southern California’s pivotal role in the history of art and architecture that opened in 2011. More recently, Chen presented White in White: Angles and Curvatures, featuring exquisitely intricate contemporary ceramics by ten Korean artists, graduates of the Visual Art Institute at the College of Fine Arts, Seoul National University.

Chen met Wimberley, Texas, furniture maker Michael Wilson while visiting in Austin. He’s shown here with Wilson’s weirdly cool Spider table.

Pointing to one piece with perfect thin lines of color, Chen explains, “the color is not applied, it is created by painstakingly layering in.” Employing the technique of sanggam, which means “inlay work,” the artist Jung Hong Park inserts the color using a diamond blade coated with thick layers of pigment.

When he hosts dinners for the contemporary art and design crowd, both in his showrooms and in his nearby Hancock Park house, which is itself a compendium of his wide-ranging interests in art and design, Chen arranges and coordinates people as he does art. Recently he hosted a dinner for DA2, the acquisitions committee for the Los Angeles County Art Museum’s prestigious Decorative Arts Council and another for Jeffrey Deitch shortly after he announced his departure from LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Chen has hosted the past three DubLab fundraisers (he sits on the board of this nonprofit web radio collective devoted to positive music, arts, and culture).  He even curates the music at his events. 

At the moment Chen is developing an exhibition of Michael Boyd’s Plane and Plank furniture for March 2015.  A landscape, furniture, and architectural designer based in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Boyd is also a noted preservationist of modern architecture and lives in the late Oscar Niemeyer’s 1964 Strick House in Santa Monica. Boyd’s designs appeal to Chen’s aesthetic, like so much of what one sees in a tour of his showrooms. It is all elegant, functional, and a bit unexpected.

Photos by Nancy Baron

[From the archives] A house in Havana: A moment captured


As the opportunities to visit Cuba mount, MODERN returned to its archives to explore the island’s architectural treasures in this this story by Hermes Mallea from the Summer 2012 issue.

The glass wall of the stairwell providesa sense of merging inside and outside at the Pérez Farfante house in Havana.

The Pérez Farfante house speaks volumes about the sophisticated lifestyle in Havana on the eve of the 1959 Revolution, when the Cuban city was known as the Paris of the Americas in no small measure because of the excellence of its architecture. In the century between 1860 and 1960 Havana followed world architecture trends step-by-step to produce a prodigious body of beautiful residential buildings, including any number of unknown modernist gems, among them this house built for two sisters in the city’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood. Such houses represent the culmination of the Cuban quest not just to emulate European and American architectural styles but to create highly original interpretations of mid-century modernism that would express Cuba’s national identity.

A marble-top table and Scandinavian armchair anchor an intimate sitting space in the second floor living room. On the table are 1950s ceramics by Cuban artist Amelia Peláez.

Sixty years after its construction, the house remains a clear articulation of the personal style of the sisters who commissioned it— Olga and Isabel Pérez Farfante—members of Havana’s mid-century intelligentsia, a golden generation for whom building a contemporary house was an expression of progressive values. The daughters of a small-town grocer and his schoolteacher wife who emphasized the importance of education on their children, both sisters balanced academic careers with family lives at a time when doing so was unusual for a woman— Olga as a dentist and teacher, Isabel as a Havana University biology professor who had graduated summa cum laude from Harvard. They chose a site with dramatic views in Nuevo Vedado just as the neighborhood was being developed—joining other young professionals building houses that reflect- ed a mid-1950s climate of optimism fueled by America’s postwar prosperity that had reached Havana’s upper and middle classes. Although the house is unmistakably modern—and the exterior appearance is marred today by a chain-link fence at the street level—the front has the elegance of a classical temple. Columns support the roof, and at the roofline a projecting thin concrete slab protects the house from sun and rain. Asymmetries of massing, windows, and corner treatments dispel the idea that its design is traditional, however. Concrete floor slabs are expressed as continuous horizontal planes on the facades. The walls are infilled from slab to slab with concrete block, glass, or wood louvers, allowing the function of an interior space to be read on the exterior. The rear facade, too, reflects the interior, including strip windows at the bathrooms, and perforations in the block wall to ventilate the service areas.

The wooden louvers can be adjusted to maximize the breezes and views of the landscape.

Architect Frank Martinez designed the house to address the traditional Cuban concept of extended family living, creating a duplex where two households had complete privacy under the same roof, yet could live communally when desired. In it he aimed for an international modernism with a Cuban flavor, recognizing the value of time-tested elements like adjustable wood louvers and the spatial ambiguity of outdoor spaces that function as living rooms and open-air galleries that are more than circulation spaces. The house is raised on slim concrete columns (or pilotis) above an open ground floor with space for cars, service areas, the entry stair, and a shaded seating area. Breezes circulating the air through this level help cool the living spaces above.

As in traditional Havana houses, balconies connect the residents to the life of the street. The louver walls can be slid away to incorporate this outdoor space into the core of the house.

The house reveals itself as one moves around and through it, but nothing prepares the visitor for the dramatic views that are framed by the architecture, the focal points that keep the eye moving inside, or the sense of delight when a wall slides away to turn an interior space into an open air one. Public rooms and bedrooms are placed at opposite ends of the structure, separated by a vertical recess containing what family members have called their “pre-living rooms,” which form the core of the house. Sliding open the louvered doors to the front balcony doubles the width of this core. When the corresponding louvers on the rear elevation are then slid open the core seems to dematerialize altogether, as the whole center of the house opens to views of the Havana woods and the ocean beyond.

The tubular steel and wood staircase, continually changing in the light, is visible from the front door of each apartment. Set toward the center of the rear facade, the stair acts as a vertical accent rising in its glass box. Thanks to the dramatic site and the light-weight design of the stairs, the user has a sense of drifting high above the landscape.

A 1950s still life by Cuban painter Angel Acosta Leon hangs against the stained-wood paneling on one wall of the second floor living room.

In a nod to the modern American lifestyle that Cubans were always emulating, the kitchen connects directly to the public areas. But middle-class Cubans of the 1950s had cooks and housekeepers long after the same income group in the United States had given up their servants, and the kitchen forms part of a clever series of service spaces, including laundry and maid’s bath, that are provided with their own set of spiral stairs, allowing servants to move around the house with-out going through the family rooms.

The stained wood paneling of the living rooms (shown is the third floor) flows into the dining room, where one section cleverly drops down to form a bar and a pass-through into the kitchen. The barstools are original—Cuban-made interpretations of mid- century designs.

Construction materials used on the exterior were carried indoors: the weathered concrete-block walls that meet the white concrete floor slabs, the glass and wood louvers, the concrete columns that rise three stories. This continuity of materials blurs the distinction between interior and exterior—an achievement of the best of Havana’s mid-century modernist houses.

The sisters furnished the house with advice from the architect, and remarkably much remains—Scandinavian classics by Hans Wegner and Knoll’s iconic Harry Bertoia chair as well as Cuban-made pieces that perfectly complement the 1950s architecture. The sisters also shared a love of contemporary Cuban painting, and works by Victor Manuel, Mirta Serra, and Hipólito Hidalgo de Caviedes are likewise still found throughout the house.

At the entry to the second floor apartment are a pair of Hans Wegner Sawbuck armchairs and a Scandinavian table and dining chairs.

Along with other “Tropical Modernist” houses in Havana, the Pérez Farfante house reflects a climate of architectural experimentation in the 1950s that was energized by the construction of hotel towers designed by important New York architects, university lectures by visitors like Walter Gropius, the flow of international design publications, and the training in American colleges received by many of the island’s architects. In successfully synthesizing Cuba’s past and present the Pérez Farfante house demonstrated that it was possible for the island’s architects to be true to progressive ideals while being inspired by the core values of Cuba’s traditional architecture. In other words, it was possible to be of the modern world while remaining essentially Cuban—a concern that has been central to the island nation since its inception.

By Hermes Mallea
Photos by Adrian Fernandez
Hermes Mallea, a Cuban-American architect is the author of The Great Houses of Havana: A Century of Cuban Style, published earlier this year by Monacelli Press.

Honoring Vitra and its Decades of Good Design


By Beth Dunlop

© Vitra/Marc Eggimann photos

Rolf Fehlbaum was just sixteen years old and already a fan of American jazz and the works of Mark Twain when he accompanied his father on a trip to America in 1957. There he met George Nelson and Charles and Ray Eames because his father was sealing a deal to become the European manufacturer for Herman Miller, to wit: some of the most important furniture designs of a generation. Young Rolf had gone along in part as a translator, but the experience ended up transforming him, and eventually his family’s company, Vitra.  “I had never met a designer before, but I quickly learned that they were very special beings: cool and sovereign,” he says today, almost six decades later. “They designed products, but also a world.” 

Fehlbaum went on to get a doctorate in the social sciences, but eventually took over the helm at Vitra. And in his long tenure there (he came into the company in 1977 and is now chairman emeritus), he has made it possible for us all to experience some of the joy he’s found in design. At Vitra he has commissioned work from an astounding roster of designers, who have produced furniture, objects, and buildings that challenge, please, provoke, delight, and charm us.

The list of architects and designers (Fehlbaum often refers to them as “authors”) is long and star-studded—Frank Gehry, Herzog and de Meuron, Zaha Hadid, Hella Jongerius, Marc Newson, Ron Arad, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Maarten Van Severen, Jasper Morrison, Antonio Citterio, and Alberto Meda (to name just some), not to mention the Eameses, Miller, Verner Panton, and Jean Prouvé. The work ranges from objects you can hold in your hand up to factory-sized buildings. At Vitra’s core, says Fehlbaum, is “respect for the designer and the belief that good design can change the world—admittedly in some hard to describe way.”

© Vitra/Eggimann photo

This winter the Philadelphia Museum of Art is honoring both Fehlbaum and Vitra with a wide-ranging exhibition (it includes furniture and other objects, drawings, photographs, books, and more). Fehlbaum himself curated the show, aptly titled Vitra—Design, Architecture, Communication. In addition, in November Fehlbaum received the annual award given by the museum’s influential design support group, Collab. Collector and author Lisa Roberts says Collab sought to honor Vitra’s innovative approach to furniture design and Fehlbaum’s visionary leadership. “His creative collaborations with leading international architects and designers made Vitra one of the most design-forward furniture companies in the world,” Roberts says.

The company’s official home is in Switzerland, but the more widely visited Vitra Campus is just over the Swiss-German border in Weil am Rhein. In addition to structures by Gehry, Herzog and de Meuron, Ha-did, Nicholas Grimshaw, SANAA, Tadao Ando, and Álvaro Siza, the campus features two important (transplanted) small mid-century buildings, one by Prouvé, the other by Buckminster Fuller. Fehlbaum “is really a collector of buildings,” says Kathryn Hiesinger, the Philadelphia Museum’s senior curator of decorative arts. On the campus he also added a major sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen and, most recently, a large-scale participatory artwork from Belgian artist Carsten Höller in the form of a giant slide.

© Vitra/Thomas Dix photo

The Vitra Design Museum, one of Gehry’s buildings on the campus, mounts important exhibitions on both historic and contemporary designers; on view through December is Alvar Aalto: Second Nature, but previous notable shows have covered topics ranging from Czech cubism to Gerrit Rietveld. VitraHaus, where there are also a shop and a café, features a multistory installation that tells the story of the company’s long-enduring product lines.

“Every product sends messages, good or bad, confusing, boring or encouraging,” he says. “The designer is the creator of these messages and if she or he is a real author there is consistency between the different manifestations of the work. I guess that independently of a specific style preference we are attracted by objects that are both familiar and new. And the classics though we have seen so many times remain eternally new because they are still full of the experimental spirit of their beginnings.”

Fehlbaum himself is an avid collector, with a focus on (and an encyclopedic assemblage of) modern chairs and lighting devices; that collection, currently archived in a cavernous basement space at one corner of the campus, will eventually go on public view in an additional museum structure (designed, as was

VitraHaus, by Herzog and de Meuron). All this puts Vitra squarely into the books for those interested in the history of modern and contemporary design. And Fehlbaum has been quietly shepherding this, guiding Vitra with a philosophy that took root in 1957 when he first met the Eameses and Nelson.

philamuseum.org vitra.com

Rock Star


The Ai Weiwei exhibition at Alcatraz points up the architecture of a too-little-appreciated building
By Robert Atkins

The stabilized (partially restored) main floor of the New Industries Building on Alcatraz is the site of two installations by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. Trace, shown above, confronts the visitor with a field of colorful portraits of 176 people from around the world who have been imprisoned or exiled because of their beliefs or affiliations, with each likeness painstakingly constructed from LEGO bricks. The exhibition is organized by Foundation and on view until April 26, 2015. FOR-SITE foundation/Dan Stürmann photo.

Architecture is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Alcatraz. The notorious reputation of the craggy, twenty-two-acre island in San Francisco Bay dates back to 1933 when the “Rock” became the site of a federal penitentiary and a keystone of our collective imagination. Dozens of books and movies translated the lives of such prisoners as Al Capone and Robert “Birdman” Stroud into thrilling, if usually inaccurate, accounts of vile misdeeds and attempted escapes. (Stroud, for example, was not allowed to handle birds while imprisoned on the island.)

Today, the prisoners are long gone and Alcatraz is now a national park that hosts 1.3 million visitors annually and—occasionally—helps produce exhibitions, such as @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz, on view until April 26, 2015. Featuring seven site-specific installations created by the Chinese dissident artist, the widely publicized show also marks the regular opening of the newly stabilized (that is, partly restored) main floor of the New Industries Building. It is the rediscovery of this architectural treasure for which Ai’s exhibition may ultimately be best remembered.

Just four years after California was granted statehood in 1850, the federal government constructed the first West Coast lighthouse on Alcatraz and quickly moved to protect strategic positions around San Francisco Bay with impressive ramparts such as the Civil War-era fortifications at Fort Point on the Golden Gate and a garrison and stockade on Alcatraz. A decade later the stockade was used to hold Confederate prisoners and slowly grew into a federal prison whose security needs were mostly met by its remote location and the bay’s chilly waters. In 1933 the prison became a federal penitentiary to house the “worst of the worst.” So many facilities to accommodate prison administrators and guards went up that most of the structures weren’t named, just numbered. Among the exceptions was the large so-called New Industries Building, designed by the little-known architect Lewis C. Dunn, and built in 1939 and 1940 for $186,000.

The New Industries Building is the long, low, two-story building at the lower left in this view of Alcatraz. Ben Fash photo.

Constructed in the all-purpose, deco-inflected WPA style of the 1930s, the stucco exterior is nondescript, succumbing to both budgetary limitations and the difficulties of its hillside location. But the New Industries Building’s luminous interior is one of the largest single spaces constructed in California between the World Wars—and one of the most beautiful. Few public buildings of that era and size in the U.S. (it is 306 feet long) remain intact, save for former factories turned museums, such as Mass MOCA in western Massachusetts and the DIA Foundation’s branch in Beacon, New York. Like them, the New Industries Building’s shabby chic industrial aesthetic has enabled its conversion into a space amenable to the vast scale of so much contemporary art.

Divided lengthwise by two rows of columns, the building’s grandeur also evokes European cathedrals or millennia-old Egyptian temples supported by columns modeled on bundled reeds. And perhaps it is the sublime bay views that bring to mind the New Industries Building’s kinship with the subaqueous effect of the interiors of Frank Lloyd Wright’s S.C. Johnson Building in Racine, Wisconsin.

Both buildings embody at least a vestige of the Victorian belief in the beneficial—even redemptive—nature of work. Yet, while Wright’s dreamy office building optimistically evoked the desirability of white-collar office work, the value of labor in prison was regarded differently. At Alcatraz, work was mandatory and only privileged prisoners were entitled to earn a pittance from performing tasks that ranged from fabricating furniture and army uniforms to manning huge dry cleaning and laundry operations. The Alcatraz enterprises were also intended to help defray the high cost of incarcerating prisoners on an island where everything—even fresh water—had to be shipped in. This makes it doubly ironic that the New Industries Building was also home to the largest laundry facility in the Bay Area, servicing nearly the entire military population of Northern California. It was the expense of operating this American Devil’s Island that ultimately led Attorney General Robert Kennedy to oversee its closure and the transfer of its prisoners to a newly constructed, high security prison facility in Marion, Illinois, in 1963.

Why has this gem slipped through the cracks of time, especially in San Francisco, which pioneered the reuse of outmoded industrial buildings such as the Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory? Reasonable explanations abound: the building’s characterless exterior, its longtime inaccessibility, and the seventy-five years it spent marinating in salt water, ensuring its dilapidation. And then there’s the matter of Dunn, its non-celebrity architect who made little impression on the historical record.

Ai’s other installation in the New Industries Building, With Wind, is a contemporary version of the age-old dragon kite, its body made up of individual kites that carry quotations from activists who have been imprisoned or exiled, such as Nelson Mandela, Edward Snowden, and Ai himself. For Ai the dragon represents not imperial authority, but personal freedom. Scattered around the room are other kites decorated with stylized renderings of birds and flowers, which allude to a stark human reality: many are symbols of nations with records of restricting their citizens’ human rights and civil liberties. FOR-SITE foundation/Stürmann photo.

But I think this myopia goes deeper. In 1972, following the Native American occupation of Alcatraz and prior to its rebirth as a National Park, the National Park Service published a 650-page inventory of the island. It devoted scant attention to the New Industries Building, proclaiming that it possessed “no historical significance.” Surely our understanding of the intertwined architectural and human records has expanded beyond such one-dimensional judgments. The penitentiary’s stark dehumanization is embodied in both the crumbling setting of Ai’s chronicle of human-rights violations and by the restoration of a building whose soaring beauty was intended only to house something as mundane as a laundry. Such architectural artifacts are emblems of a highly charged and complex past that requires our remembering, but perhaps not always our reverence.

Magic Realism


Contemporary Latin-American Design Acquires a Global Perspective

MAD’s New Territories exhibition examines several trends in contemporary Latin-American art including artists who work in traditional handcrafts, among them Venezuela’s Mária Antonia Godigna and Ana­bella Georgi of MáximaDuda, whose woven Moriche palm Miss Delta Amacuro chair dates from 2006.

In his essay “Against Latin American Art,” Cuban critic Gerardo Mosquera discusses the risk of categorizing Latin American artists with absolute labels and superficial stereotypes such as indigenous or colorful. In an enormous and heterogeneous ter­ritory, art has often been dismis­sed with little regard for the historical and cultural distinctions between countries with hugely dissimilar cultures—Cuba and Argentina, for example—that can­not be put into the same mold.

Over the last decade, however, this limited viewpoint—one constructed by the Anglo-American world—has evolved dramatically. And two new exhibitions—New Territories: Laboratories for Design, Craft and Art in Latin America, presented by the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, and Grandes Maestros: Great Masters of Iberoamérican Folk Art, Collection of Fomento Cultural Banamex, at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles—constitute an important effort in the exploration of the complex nature of contemporary art and design in Latin America.

Recent political and economic improvements in Colombia, Mex­ico, and Brazil, especially, have witnessed the rise of a new generation of creators, curators, and collectors who are transforming the ways in which art and design are produced in Latin America, and how they are perceived and transacted— the evolution from a domestic practice to a global perspective. Demographic shifts, social improvements, and political stability have fostered the rise of a new middle class (with higher education and purchasing standards) whose members are entering their local markets as collectors for the first time.

At the same time a wide range of emerging artists is embracing new ways of expression, going beyond the modernist focus on conceptualism and political commentary. Artists and designers are repurposing traditional craft and design techniques and reinterpreting the work of native communities through a contemporary lens. That is why ceramics, jewelry, wood, natural fibers, and metal merge together to create a particular aesthetic that reflects the reality of a region larger than a continent that is expanding and connecting with the global society, but at the same time is struggling to keep some of its most valuable traditions alive.

Brothers Silvano Aguirre Tejeda and Francisco Aguirre Tejada of Jalisco, Mexico, create carved and inlaid wooden objects, such as the chest-on-cabinet, 2000.

As a consequence of this internationalization, contemporary Latin American art is attracting a broader audience, which has encouraged American museums to expand their collections and exhibitions of this material. In the summer of 2014 in New York City alone, for instance, we saw Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948 to 1988 at the Museum of Modern Art; Waterweavers: The River in Contemporary Colombian Visual and Material Culture at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery; and Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Grandes Maestros: Great Masters of Iberoamérican Folk Art, Collection of Fomento Cultural Banamex at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles includes Feline, 2001, by Manuel Jiménez Ramirez, who was a Mexican wood carver, painter, and sculptor credited as the originator of the wooden Oaxacan version of alebrijes, or animal creatures.

Now comes MAD’s New Territories: Laboratories for Design, Craft and Art in Latin America, which explores the complexities of contemporary visual expressions in Central and South America. The curatorial program divides the region into urban hubs designated as highly relevant contemporary laboratories for design, craft, and art—Mexico City and Oaxaca in Mexico; Caracas in Venezuela; São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil; Santiago in Chile; Buenos Aires in Argentina; San Salvador in El Salvador; San Juan in Puerto Rico; and Havana in Cuba. “The intersection of design, craft and art that can be observed in these hubs represents what the Italian designer Gaetano Pesce has described as a “‘new territory’ in contemporary creativity,” writes MAD’s chief curator Lowery Stokes Sims in the exhibition catalogue.

Caracas, Venezuela, artist Rolando Peña’s chosen theme is oil, represented in his Double Seat Barrel made from an oil drum, 2013–2014. “As an artist, I’m committed to creating awareness, denouncing the ecological disasters caused by oil’s misuse,” he says.

Each hub is analyzed in terms of a particular topic, from urban space to repurposing materials to political displacement. More than seventy-five contemporary artists and designers who transcend traditional barriers and have demonstrated how local practices can be incorporated into a global sphere are represented. The show also looks at how collaborations among small manufacturing operations and craftspeople, artists, and designers have addressed issues not only of commodification and production, but also of urbanization, displacement, and sustainability. Among its key themes, says Sims, are the “dialogue between contemporary trends and artistic legacies in Latin American art; the use of repurposed materials in strategies of upcycling; the blending of digital and traditional skills; and the reclamation of personal and public space.”

Mexican artist Edgar Orlaineta focuses on the minutiae of daily life and transforms existing objects into sculpture, as in Totem after Ettore Sottsass, 2013. “I reconfigure modernist design, architecture, and historical and cultural symbolism into hybrid forms, in which modernist ideals and cultural perspectives collide.

In Los Angeles, Grandes Maestros: Great Masters of Iberoamérican Folk Art, Collection of Fomento Cultural Banamex, signifies an enormous effort to display the intricate reality of contemporary art and design in Latin America, showcasing more than eight hundred works made by six hundred artists from twenty-two countries. “These contemporary artworks stem from long and rich traditions reaching back to the pre-Columbian era and also illustrate European influences,” says Jane Pisano, president and director of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. “The creativity of regional contemporary artisans is highlighted in their reinterpretation of longstanding traditions, as well as in creating new ones.”

The exhibition comprises works made by living artists; some are well known, while others are getting their first recognition. Artworks included represent a broad range of mediums, such as clay, wood, plant fibers, paper, leather, textiles, silver, shell, glass, and stones. “What’s exciting about Grandes Maestros is twofold,” Pisano says. “These are contemporary objects that paradoxically represent complex cultural traditions hand-crafted by leading artists from countries that are important to L.A.—countries we visit, do business with, and to which, in many cases, we trace our ancestry.”

Los Angeles-based Chilean Guillermo Bert says, “I first no­ticed that QR codes, like those used to tag airport luggage, share remarkable similarities to the textiles of the Mapuche peoples of my home country in Chile.” Redemption, 2012, woven by Anita Paillamil, is part of his current series, Encoded Textiles.

In her 2001 book Twentieth-Century Art of Latin America, Jacqueline Barnitz discussed some of the conceptual contradictions in the practice of art in Latin America. For instance, “identity” and “appropriation” are both embraced and sometimes used simultaneously by artists throughout the continent, for example Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, a pioneer of the “identity” theory who worked with his wife Frida Kahlo, an enthusiastic promoter of European expressionism and surrealism. It is this level of complexity and contradiction that characterizes the art produced in Latin America. And that is why exhibitions such as New Territories and Grandes Maestros represent an important contribution to understanding the ways in which artists there are expressing the beauty and reality of a heterogeneous region inhabited by more than 600 million people.

Carlos Rosario Aranguren Rodríguez of Venezuela carves and polishes ebony to form his 2011 Frog.

Grid Iron

The Architectural Photographs of Vivian Maier


SINCE SHE DIDN’T DRIVE A CAR, the bicycle wheel signified independence for Vivian Maier during the years she lived in the suburbs of Chicago as a nanny and got around town on her bike. It also represented structural grace. You see this in what might be considered a self-portrait, Vivian’s Shadow on Bicycle Tire, where her lens studies the design of spokes threading out from the axle and attaching onto a metal hoop. The pattern of the spokes plays above their shadow (as well as above Maier’s own shadow) like an image from the constructivists Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner. Similarly, when she came upon a barrier fence battered down by a storm at the beach, she focused her camera on the splintered wood slats radiating around a hanger-like loop. From Maier’s viewpoint, the accidental structure looked like the air-filled configuration of a miniature architectural model.

Shot from outside an unidentified building, this photograph taken on June 27, 1964, is a double self- portrait of Vivian Maier (1926– 2009), revealing her image reflected in a mirror inside and her shadow cast on the plate glass store front outside. The image demonstrates her fascination with the way new construction, also reflected on the glass, was grafted onto the old city.

The framework of things interested Maier deeply, and she seemed particularly inquisitive about the mass-less mass of modern architecture. This is evident in the many photographs of Chicago’s downtown she shot in the 1960s and early 1970s, when she would take the train into the city on her days off. The dynamic complexity must have relieved some of the restlessness she felt in the suburbs, where life was constricted and her observing eye was limited by the practical responsibilities of domestic work. Maier was new to he city; she had come from New York in 1956 when she was thirty years old. Like her mother and her grandmother before her, she did household work to earn a living. As she put it, she was sometimes a difficult person, private, closed off to strangers. When she went downtown, she suddenly merged into the powerful and constantly moving vitality of the city with its architecture in transition. The force of traffic, el trains, backhoes, jackhammers, and wrecking balls could be unbalancing, but shielded by the Rolleiflex strapped around her neck—actually looking down into its viewfinder—Maier was able to slow things down so the chaos was tolerable. She instinctively used the grid of the physical city, the angles of the streets, sidewalks, and massive buildings, old and new, to affix her compositions in space.

In this c. 1967–1968 photo Maier focused her camera on the splintered wood slats of a battered beach barrier fence radiating around a hanger-like loop of wire.

In the same way that some artists have a genius for rendering figures in the off-kilter but truthful midway of movement, Maier repeatedly documented the transitory quality of the city as she found it. The Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower, the original Stone Container Building, the Old Water Tower, the Michigan Avenue Bridge, the sidewalks between Marshall Field’s and the elaborately ornamented curved entrance to the Car- son’s Building, the Art Institute and Grant Park behind it, the movie palaces—State-Lake, Chicago, Woods, United Artists, Clark—these were her touchstones, and they delineated a province she shared with sailors on leave, women with scarves tied under their chins or wearing corsages on fur coats, men in straw hats, men in trench coats, many of them impassive faces that had survived the years of depression and war.

Maier documented the architectural transitions of Chicago, including the Wrigley Building (photographed late 1960s)

From her contact sheets, one can infer a method of working as she moved photographically through sometimes large and random blocks of space, documenting Chicagoans in their architectural domain. Shooting what she saw as she roamed, she often caught the way the design and mass of Chicago’s eclectic buildings were echoed by the shapes and configurations of the city’s inhabitants. An elderly woman’s egg- or dome- shaped hat, for instance, lines up humorously against the backdrop of the similarly shaped Tribune Tower and Wrigley’s clock tower.

A signature composition is Maier’s 1960 view of the intersection of Washington and South Wells Streets, anchored by the el station..

Some of the sites that interested her, such as the city’s dark viaducts and building canyons, presented technical challenges for her Rolleiflex, but given the right lighting, a bright morning sky or just after sunset when streetlamps add a glow of illumination, she was able to manage. In one of her signature compositions, she chose an intersection at Washington and South Wells Street anchored by the el station. From her vantage point, facing a corner parking garage—a boxy, brick, birdcage building typical of the pragmatic New Bauhaus—she structured her composition with the eye of an engineer. Zeroing in on the physics of overlap- ping architectural structures, she showed how the stairs to the el, the fretwork of the railing, and the metal bracing of the platform formed a series of vectors, while the right angle of the garage, the sidewalk, and the street lines of the crosswalk formed an alternative group of radiating lines. Maier analyzed the intricate solid geometry, the design of a city corner, and then pounced at the moment when four pedestrians reinforced the structure, lining up imperfectly in the luminescent slush on the street.

Taken in 1971, this view down State Street shows the Chicago Theater on the right and Marina City in the distance.

Over the years, Maier seemed to take a proprietary interest in the development of downtown spaces and she made it a habit to photograph the new skyscrapers, sometimes surrounded by cranes and sidewalk sheds, as they went up. Her images of the Chase Tower, the Brunswick Building, the Sears Tower, and the John Han- cock Center look something like personal souvenirs and demonstrate the difficulties of finding a vantage point and dealing with the physical limitations of her camera and its fixed lens plane and parallel plane. Unless the film plane can be kept parallel with the face of the building the sides of the building (any vertical lines) will converge as the building rises above the cam- era. The cereal-box shaped Prudential Building, forty-one stories high and representing the most modern technologies of its time, was new when Maier arrived in Chicago. In a playful photograph, several years later, she caught its limestone and glass facade low of center in her viewfinder while shooting from behind the tail of one of the the Art Institute’s lions.

During the 1960s the clean lines of new construction contrasted starkly with those of the old neoclassical and Beaux Arts buildings. After years of neglect, many of the landmark structures were covered with soot and had damaged masonry. Just as Maier documented the stoic and walled-off faces she noticed on the streets, she captured the architectural decay, destruction, and dismantling, an essential component of a modern city. Her photograph of the old Federal Building in the early stages of demolition is a study of a building’s anatomy. With Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s new Dirksen Federal Building in the background, she took a long steady look where the edifice was skinned away, exposing opened up chambers that looked like a honeycomb.

Shot on June 27, 1964, this compelling composition shows the then Stone Container (now London Guarantee) Building, Marina City, and the Sun-Times Building (demolished in 2005).

Maier took many photographs at two of Chicago’s most important 1960s building projects— the Daley Center and Marina City. The design of the Daley Center (originally the Civic Center) was intended as an architectural homage to Mies van der Rohe and his International style that had so deeply influenced his adopted city. Simultaneously, city planners hoped to configure a European-style square by creating a large and open space north of the building site. The concept caught Maier’s fancy and she shot a whole roll of film, sometime around 1970, looking at a matrix of city experience charted on coordinates of the plaza. In one corner she caught two hard-nosed attorneys exchanging views about a dispute spilling over from the courtroom; in another, pedestrians approaching a sidewalk shed in an urban parade. Maier then angled her camera back to photograph the monumental Picasso sculpture and the unfinished construction of an adjacent building. When she stepped even farther away, she caught a group of office workers and tourists playing a game with coins, rolling them across the granite tiles, bracketed by the heroic glass base of the Daley Center. Her photograph highlights the prismatic quality of the building, transparent enough to see right through to the long, low Greyhound sign on the other side.

The construction of Marina City with its two sixty-story apartment towers—corncob towers, as Chicagoans refer to them—signaled an audacious breakthrough in architectural imagination. Solid but spatially fluid, the cylindrical towers were a corporeal reminder of the laws and language of three-dimensional geometry. Like the bicycle wheel, the structure was perfect, kinetic, and complex. When you look at the photographs Maier took during different stages of construction and from various vantage points, you can sense the impatience she must have felt, navigating the multiple levels of the city with its unwieldy bridges and buildings. The towers were pure anomaly: built from concrete but organically shaped, vertically masculine but cerebral, wind resistant but serrated like leaves, mysterious as primeval standing stones while displaying brightly painted automobiles on cantilevering garage floors. One particularly compelling composition shows what was then the Stone Container Building, the Marina City towers, and the Sun-Times Building standing in a row like stepping stones. The image gets at the growing pains of proportionality, an awkwardly beautiful moment in Chicago’s metamorphosis. While there was a sense of loneliness and isolation settling on the surface of the buildings that day—something the photographer could contemplate knowingly—the photographic lens showed Marina City bathed in a kind of smoky light that enhanced its abstract qualities. On the street, pedestrians, cars, a trailer, a trashcan, and a mailbox appeared becalmed and miniature in a space that they shared with a cluster of the city’s monumental and sculptural structures.

[From the archives] Mettle Work

With six years under its belt, MODERN Magazine delves into its archives to take another look at the people, places and things that have kept us inspired. This interview with Silas Seandel was originally published in our Fall 2009 issue.

A visit with Silas Seandel: artisan, sculptor, furniture-maker, and master of metal

Seandel's “Terra” table has a formstone top incised with channels filled with bronze. The base is cast bronze. Photos courtesy of Silas Seandel Studio except where noted.

These days—when design is taught via computer programs, and art students seem as calculating as finance majors—hands-on, largely self-taught studio artist-craftsmen are a vanishing breed. Silas Seandel, born in Brooklyn in 1937, has been keeping the fires of the tradition alive since the early ‘60s. In recent seasons, his singular pieces have won him a wide following among collectors. Seandel’s metal-based tables—his preferred form for what he calls “sculptural furniture”—generally fetch between $5,000 and $7,000 from design dealers. “Clients come in and say, ‘That table is fantastic—who did it?’” says Kurt Ducovna, co-owner of Modern Galere, a West Palm Beach design 44 dealership. “I think Seandel is still an under-known talent. His work falls between art and furniture. He is daring, and there is a kind of sensuousness in his use of metal.” MODERN spoke with Seandel, still hard at work on sculpture and furniture commissions, in his workspace and showroom in Manhattan’s Chelsea district.

It must be nice, being in the center of the New York art world.
Yes, but it’s a coincidence.This is my fifth studio in New York—and my last. I’ve been here since 1978. Back then these places were all auto-body shops and warehouses.

You earned an economics degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Kind of an odd choice for someone with an artistic bent.
I didn’t know I had an artistic bent. After I left the service, I had no idea what to do. A family friend suggested that a business major was a safe path. I did the homework and got good grades. But I didn’t learn anything.

The “Jools” cocktail table has a glass top inset into a solid cast-metal base—bronze in this example, though it can be made of copper, steel, or almost any metal.

So how did you discover your path?
Well, I was always a tinkerer. I liked to work with my hands, and took clay-modeling classes in college. I was intrigued by Calder. I made little mobiles and models but it was just a hobby. One week in 1963, I went to Cape Cod. I had a couple of hours to kill in Provincetown, waiting for a friend to meet me, so I went to [the Walter P. Chrysler] museum, where they had a show about sculptures of the ‘50s. I saw metal sculptures by John Chamberlain, Jason Seley, and Richard Stankiewicz, and thought, “Wow! That’s what I want to do!”

What was it about metal that inspired you?
It goes back to Calder— that perfect joinery of parts. Metal is wonderful: it’s strong, durable, impervious, but at the same time it can be flexible and formable. I loved to see molten metal flow.

And then? I went back to New York, bought a book on welding, and set up a studio in the kitchen of my walk-up apartment in the Village. I started experimenting and learning technique Modern using tin cans. It was illegal, of course. I 46 had to smuggle in welding torches and fuel tanks. But I learned—mostly from the mistakes I made.

A brass variant on Seandel’s welded sheet metal “Convoluted Tree Truck” table. Photo courtesy of Galere, West Palm Beach.

Were you showing your work to art galleries?
Oh, no. I still had so much technique to learn. I was dirt poor. I bagged groceries in the neighborhood, and worked as a stockboy at [the now-defunct department store] B. Altman. But I spent every free minute working on metal.

What was your “big break”?
There were two, really. One was almost an accident. Altman got the contract to renovate a country club in Westchester County, and the guy in charge of the project knew I was an aspiring sculptor. He asked me to make a wall sculpture for the dining room— it showed golfers in different phases of a swing. A lot of decorators saw it, and started to call me with commissions. Also, about that time they were opening the D&D Building [the Decoration & Design Building in midtown Manhattan, which houses dozens of showrooms]. Friends said I should put my work on display in one place, so I borrowed $30,000, rented a space, and got so much business from decorators, and department stores like Neiman Marcus and Gump’s, that I was able to pay back the loan in three months.

Seandel often alters his designs—a “Volcano” form reworked as coffee table is shown—to accommodate new aesthetic ideas, or new uses.

How did you come to take up furniture?
Because of fakes. I learned that people were making copies of the pieces in my catalogue, and doing a sloppy job of it. So I decided to make furniture.You can’t fake furniture—the craftsmanship is much more demanding. You have to get the balance and proportions just right.

What techniques do you use?

Two, mainly. Some pieces are made of rolled sheet metal that is cut into forms that are welded together, then ground and polished.The other method is metal- casting, usually using bronze or copper.

Most of your pieces have a similar format: a glass top with …
That’s so you can see the sculptural metal base, which I think is the most important part, naturally.

Of course. So your pieces with stone-and-metal tops are a departure.
The idea is actually old. But it took a long time to realize, because I had to do a lot of experimenting to create a form-stone in which I could create fissures to fill with veins of metal. It’s called the “Terra” table. It’s meant to resemble a vertical slice of rock, with creases of ore running through it.

The two-foot tall “Volcano” and “Twigs”end tables executed in cast bronze.

Looking around at all these examples of your work, it’s easy to tell that they were all made by the same hand. Yet you don’t have a signature style, really.
Part of that is the beauty of metal—you can do anything with it.Mostly, I follow my instincts.That has always stood me in good stead. I get an image in my head, and I just go with it. I don’t dwell on a particular form. Because of that, I have a fairly large body of work in which each piece is distinctive. Some works are similar, but no two are identical.

What’s going on for you now?
Well, I recently finished a pretty large public sculpture commission—a fifteen-foot- tall stainless-steel-and-bronze 9/11 memorial for the grounds of Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut. Other than that, I have a good roster of clients, so it’s just the usual: day-to-day hard work. I have two assistants who have each been with me for more than thirty years. But working with this stuff, especially at my age, is tough.

Ever thought about taking up a new, perhaps lighter, material? Nah. I’m too in love with my welding torch.

4 in 3-D

By Sarah Archer

Just a few years ago, terms such as “digital fabrication,” “3-D printing,” and “CAD” began appearing in the news, piquing readers’ interest with visions of Jetsons-style consumer gadgets. Auto enthusiasts began fabricating obscure discontinued car parts with the help of the MakerBot, while Americans concerned about gun control sounded the alarm about the advent of something the writers of the second amendment could never have predicted: 3-D-printed firearms. If computer-aided design (CAD) and 3-D printing haven’t quite transformed the average household into a hotbed of automated convenience, they certainly have altered the studio landscape for artists and designers all over the world. We are witnessing the emergence of a new set of aesthetics and new ways of working for makers engaged with nearly every material. Because these technologies allow designers to scan and manipulate objects, to “copy, paste, and edit” in three dimensions, two major categories have emerged as the source material of choice: historical decorative arts and the human body.

The four designers presented here are creating new works that draw inspiration from the curves and contours of vases, chairs, and the human form.

The Wedgwoodn’t tureen was made by Michael Eden in 2008 using a plaster and gypsum material with a unique non-fired ceramic coating. Photo courtesy Adrian Sassoon Gallery.

MICHAEL EDEN is an English ceramist who was inspired to undertake an MPhil at the Royal College of Art in 2008, and became intrigued with the possibilities of rapid prototyping. While a student at the RCA, he delved into a sustained exploration of the qualities of the container, using drawing, 3-D software, and traditional forming techniques, resulting in the witty Wedgwoodn’t tureen. “A different part of my brain came alive,” Eden says, reflecting on the parallel tracks of working physically, throwing clay on the potter’s wheel, and working digitally in a realm unaffected by gravity or centrifugal force.

His recent works, part of his new Voxel series—a “voxel” is a single data point on a regularly spaced 3-D grid—consider the three-dimensional context of objects in their natural surroundings. Eden took a virtual tour of the Château de Fontainebleau via the Google Art Project. He then digitally “wrapped” the voxel cube structure around eighteenth-century porcelain vase shapes, resulting in entirely new objects with silhouettes that are at once distinctly rococo and twenty-first century. The vessels are printed over many hours using the latest selective laser sintering technology. Each Voxel vessel is unique, that is, printed once, made by additive layer manufacturing, in high quality nylon with a mineral soft coating. The interiors are finished in gold or silver leaf, Eden’s nod to the aesthetics of beauty and skilled craftsmanship of the original objects from which he drew inspiration for this project. Eden is represented by Adrian Sassoon Gallery in London.

Layers of CNC-cut plywood are clamped together to form Julian Mayor’s 2005 Clone chair. Photo courtesy Julian Mayor/21st century limited edition furniture.

JULIAN MAYOR shares Eden’s love of historical decorative arts and design. His limited edition Clone chair from 2005, inspired by a Queen Anne chair in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was recently featured in the exhibition Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. Like Eden, Mayor is intrigued by the sculptural potential of combining digital and handcrafting methods. He graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2000 and worked for a time in California as a designer for IDEO, a design consulting firm. On returning to London in 2002, he had stints at Pentagram and other design studios before starting to teach 3-D modeling at the London College of Communication.

Mayor/21st century limited edition furniture.

The Clone chair, which was first shown in the Telling Tales: Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design exhibition at the Victoria and Albert in 2009, is the product of Mayor’s idiosyncratic woodworking method. He began by scanning an eighteenth-century side chair in the Met, manipulated the data digitally, and modeled the form using CAD software. The resulting design was then fabricated from sheets of plywood that Mayor cut using a numerical, or CNC, router, which enables woodworkers to make ultra-precise cuts. The layers of plywood correspond to the curves and carving of the “source” chair, but the finished piece is constructed in a way that is totally different from the hand-carved original. Its overall shape may be eighteenth century, but the Clone chair is very much a digital descendant. “Although the piece keeps an appreciation of the form and formality of the original,” Mayor says, “it has been transformed into something that is more about the idea of possibility. It requires some kind of relationship with the viewer to make it work, and seems to create a question mark rather than a full stop.”  

One of the ways in which new technologies have revolutionized design is that makers can now easily scan the human body—a notion that may horrify those who dread bathing-suit season—yielding a three-dimensional, real-life model that previously would have required a full body cast. This means that for fashion and jewelry in particular, the curves and contours of the flesh are meeting their high tech matches like never before.

Emily Cobb’s Become Undone: The Dove neckpiece was created with glass-filled nylon and sterling silver in 2013. Photo courtesy of the artist.

is captivated by the shapes and motion of animals. Her work often takes the forms of various creatures, ranging from snakes to stallions, and she finds beauty, energy, and at times pathos in animals’ life cycles. Her recent series of neckpieces, Become Undone, includes doves that drape elegantly around the neck and shoulder. The dove’s tail and wings appear to “unravel,” an effect Philadelphia-based Cobb says would be impossible without the aid of new technologies. “CAD enables me to create the animal first as accurately as possible, and then to crack/unravel/tear it apart.” She can also explore the ways a piece will sit on the body using a 3-D scan, and make design decisions before she prints a finished piece. Cobb prefers working with some of the more unusual materials available to jewelers today, such as Nylon 12, which is a flexible, white synthetic that can be painted and dyed. It’s affordable and very wearable, making it possible for her to produce works for a range of price points. Cobb’s work has been shown at the Philadelphia Art Alliance and the Tyler School of Art, where she is currently teaching in the jewelry program, as well as at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts and the Racine Museum of Art in Wisconsin.

Extreme Serpent shoes designed by Michaella Janse van Vuuren, 2014, for her Garden of Eden collection. The shoes were customized for the model wearing them by Uformia 3D in Norway and printed by Stratasys Connex3 in Israel. Merwelene van der Merwe studio photo.

MICHALLA JANSE VAN VUUREN is a kindred spirit: like Cobb, she draws inspiration from animals, but she is producing pieces of clothing and shoes in addition to jewelry. Working with colleagues from Israel and Norway, she has created the first multi-material multicolor fashion ensemble in the world. With a PhD in electrical engineering, she comes to clothing design with a problem-solver’s point of view. Her Garden of Eden fashion collection was created using the Objet500 Connex3 3-D printer from the Israeli firm Stratasys, a technology that allows designers to print with more than one material simultaneously and in different colors, yielding the closest thing to a finished product currently available that is printed entirely in one shot. Van Vuuren’s interpretation of the biblical creation story has a feminist twist: instead of bringing about the fall of paradise and suffering to all of her descendants, this version has Eve as the master of the serpent. Her Extreme Serpent shoes feature a stylized snake’s head as part of the stacked high heel, and a reptile-inspired surface design. The wearer literally “walks” on the serpent with each step. The collection is customizable in shape and size, not merely sized up in the way ready-to-wear clothing is usually scaled for the mass market.

Based just outside of Pretoria, South Africa, van Vuuren is represented by the Southern Guild, which after operating for six years as a collective, has opened a permanent gallery space in Cape Town. Van Vuuren’s dual identity as an artist and engineer has led her to exhibit internationally in venues ranging from the London Science Museum to Design Miami/Basel. For the Garden of Eden series, she worked closely for nearly six months with Daniel Dikovsky and Tal Ely of Stratasys’s materials research and development team to develop the printed prototypes, and she collaborated with the Norwegian firm Uformia to customize the finished garments using body-scan data. Her hope is that this way of creating clothing can accommodate a multitude of body types.

Van Vuuren’s Stained Glass corset from the Garden of Eden line debuted in February 2014. 3-D printed on the Stratasys Connex3 multi-material multicolor printer, it is customizable using body scans. Yoram Reshef photo.

Like Eden, Mayor, and Cobb, van Vuuren is charting new territory in the digital realm, where forms are unaffected by the physical world. This world has its own aesthetics, quite distinct from the traditional fields of jewelry design, furniture, ceramics, and fashion. Their pixelated splendor is a fresh way of thinking about form. It is a new industrial revolution that puts the individual consumer back at the center of the picture, body-scan data and all.

A Winter’s Worth of Reading


Hand-in-Hand: Ceramics, Mosaics, Tapestries, and Woodcarvings by the California Mid-Century Designers Evelyn and Jerome Ackerman By Dan Chavkin and Lisa Thackaberry, Pointed Leaf Press, 240 pages, $55

HAND-IN HAND is the first monograph about the Cal- ifornia mid-century design team of Evelyn and Jerome Ackerman. In his preface designer Jonathan Adler describes the couple’s work as the “perfect marriage of gorgeous design, impeccable craftsmanship, emotional sincerity, and unfiltered childlike wonder.”

Jerome (Jerry) Ackerman met his future wife in the winter of 1948 in his hometown of Detroit. On the advice of a friend, the twenty-eight-year-old World War II vet decided to pay a visit to the girl he’d met once and walked into the interior design studio where she worked, armed with only his charm and two candy bars in his pocket. They were married that fall. As children of the Great Depression they knew the value of frugality, self-reliance, and education; newlyweds, they both earned degrees in the arts from Wayne State University with GI supplements, and they built the furniture and decor for their first apartment.

In 1952 they moved to Los Angeles seeking new opportunities and sunshine. They believed in the intersection of art, design, and mass production espoused by the Bauhaus movement, and “hand-in-hand” mastered ceramics, mosaics, textiles, woodcarving, and metalwork. Their inventive and whimsical style set them apart, as did their commitment to the idea that great design should be affordable and accessible. Though their oeuvre is now seen as the epitome of California mid-century modernism, when Jerry (who retired four years ago) was asked which project gave him the most pride in his long career, he responded, “marrying my wife.” Hand-In-Hand features many never-before-seen preparatory drawings and color guides, and tells the heartwarming story of a partnership in design and life.

Midcentury Houses Today By Jeffrey Matz, Lorenzo Ottaviani, and Cristina A. Ross, Photography by Michael Biondo, Monacelli Press, 240 pages, $65

A GRAPHIC DESIGNER, two architects, and a photographer present an in-depth look at sixteen of the more than one hundred modern houses built by the so-called Harvard Five in New Canaan, Connecticut, between 1950 and 1978. A suburb just forty-five miles from Grand Central—and more New England than New York—New Canaan became an affordable reprieve in the 1940s and 1950s for executives working in the city. There—following the teachings of their Harvard professor, Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius— John Johansen, Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, Philip Johnson, and Eliot Noyes built houses for themselves and their clients that expressed the simplicity, openness, sensitivity to site and nature, and use of natural materials that formed the core principles of modern- ism as the ideal of twentieth-century domesticity.

Every year design enthusiasts make the pilgrim- age to this longstanding shrine of mid-century architecture, where ninety-one of the 118 modernist houses originally built still survive. This book looks at sixteen of them in detail to study the range of approaches that have led to their preservation and adaption to contemporary life; each house has a chapter of its own, with floor plans, archival shots of initial construction, and new photography of additions made by significant contemporary architects, such as Toshiko Mori, Roger Ferris, and Joeb Moore. Included, too, is a comprehensive timeline of the most famous projects, not only by the Harvard Five but also by Victor Christ-Janer, Edward Durell Stone, and Alan Goldberg. The book took five years to complete, with commentary from the architects and builders, the original owners and current occupants, that reveals how these houses are enjoyed and lived in today, and how the modernist residence is more than a philosophy of design and construction, but also a philosophy of living.

Sottsass By Philippe Thome? Phaidon, 500 pages, $150

ETTORE SOTTSASS is best known as the founder of the 1980s Italian design collective Memphis, which produced colorful, symbolic, and playful office equip- ment, furniture, glass, lighting, and jewelry. He was also a non-conformist architect and writer as well as an avid photographer who shot portraits of Hemingway, Picasso, Ernst, and Chet Baker. Divided chronologically, with multicolored tabs separating sections, this massive and beautiful volume traces Sottsass’s prolific career and explores his methodology. The reader literally unfolds eight hundred illustrations that have been cleverly tucked inside, including drawings and sketches and never-before-published photographs from the Sottsass archive. In addition, there are five short essays by experts that explore Sottsass’s work in architecture, graphic design, photography, industrial design, and collector’s editions.

A prisoner of war during World War II, Sottsass set out to create design that would help people become aware of their existence, the spaces they live in, and their own presence in them. He cared little about functionality and was more intent on creating design with meaning and addressing the hopes and dreams of his generation. The author reserves three full pages for images of one of Sottsass’s most famous pieces, the bright red plastic Valentine portable typewriter for Olivetti that hit stores on February 14, 1968. Sottsass deemed it the “anti-machine machine,” meaning that it functioned as a typewriter but also had a human quality lacking in most office equipment at the time. “Red is the color of the Communist flag, the color that makes a surgeon move faster and the color of passion,” he proclaimed. This book is itself a piece of art, with a Tiffany-blue bifold cover and a dapper black-and-white striped lining worthy of Sottsass.

Monsieur Dior: Once Upon A Time By Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni, Pointed Leaf Press, 252 pages, $70

MONSIEUR DIOR: ONCE UPON A TIME by the Paris-based fashion journalist Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni, offers an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the ten years during which Christian Dior ran his esteemed house. The book begins with his February 1947 show that took the fashion world by storm with his “New Look.” At a time when women were craving beauty and glamour following the war. Dior’s New Look brought femininity back to fashion with a bold use of fabric, silhouetted lines, and shorter hemlines. In the short time that Dior ran his house he expanded his empire to include perfumes, jewelry, and hosiery while opening boutiques all over the world. Fraser-Cavassoni inter- views dozens of people who knew Dior personally, including fellow designer Pierre Cardin, who worked in the Dior ateliers at the time of the 1947 show, as well as Lauren Bacall just months before her death. “When Dior made the change of how women should look, you couldn’t ignore it,” Bacall said, “because his New Look made everything else look old-fashioned.” Marlene Dietrich’s daughter recounts how her mother famously proclaimed in a telegram to Alfred Hitchcock regarding her role in his upcoming Stage Fright, “no Dior, and no Dietrich.”

There have been numerous scholarly books written about the genius of Dior, but Monsieur Dior: Once Upon A Time is a refreshing departure, humanizing this design icon, and told in the words of his friends, favorite models, and employees. Photography by legends such as Cecil Beaton, Henri Cartier-Bres- son, Lord Snowdon, and Willy Maywald, as well as never-before-seen materials from the Dior Archives, contribute to this delightful look into the House of Dior’s brilliant founder.

The Best of Flair Edited by Fleur Cowles, Foreword by Dominick Dunne, Rizzoli, $125

FLEUR COWLES was an American expatriate painter, philanthropist, and founding editor of the short-lived Flair, launched in 1950, one of the most outrageously beautiful and inventive magazines ever created. The Best of Flair is packaged in an elegant scarlet box that match- es the color of the inaugural issue’s die-cut cover with its single golden wing. Based on a brooch Cowles had discovered in a Paris flea market, the design was intended to symbolize “flight, excitement, and beauty” and embody the content to be found in each issue of the magazine. Cowles handwrote every editor’s letter in gold ink, painstakingly selected the best images, used only the finest papers, and of course ensured that each cover was absolute perfection with a spectacular cutout. “I decided on a two-part cover with a hole,” she wrote, “because I like the mystery of not being able to know what’s inside. Of course, people started calling it ‘Fleur’s hole in the head.’” The eleven issues Cowles produced were lauded for their fashion coverage, literature, art, travel, theater, and humor. Flair was not just a magazine but an art form, with features about and interviews with some of the world’s most legendary artists and celebrities—Lucian Freud, Jean Cocteau, Tallulah Bankhead, Salvador Dali?, Simone de Beauvoir, Walker Evans, James Michener, Ogden Nash, Gypsy Rose Lee, Clare Boothe Luce, George Bernard Shaw, Margaret Mead, and Tennessee Williams, among others. Now more than fifty years after the magazine ceased publication, this ingenious compilation by Rizzoli includes multiple gatefolds incorporating die-cuts, pop-ups, booklets, and accordion folder leaflets.

Frank Lloyd Wright: The Rooms: Interiors and Decorative Arts By Margo Stipe, Photography by Alan Weintraub, Foreword by David Hanks, Rizzoli, 336 pages, $75

THE EVOCATIVE INTERIOR SPACES created by Frank Lloyd Wright, starting with his own Oak Park home and studio built in 1890 and concluding with his last additions to Taliesin III, are explored in this lavishly illustrated book. The author describes Wright as an idealistic iconoclast who believed in creating democratic architecture and thought individuals deserved spaces that would encourage them to develop their full potential. Thus, he broke up boxlike Victorian rooms to create free- flowing interior spaces. A proponent of the Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) in architecture, he also designed the furniture for his houses—tables, bookcases, easy chairs, sofas, cabinets, rugs, murals, and stained glass. One chapter is dedicated to Wright’s great- est inspiration and muse, nature. “He believed nature was the materialization of spirit,” Stipe writes, and designed “structures that belonged to the site, that did not destroy the life of the site, but improved on it.” Wright’s career changed and evolved with each decade, and he was still building actively when he died at ninety in 1959. This volume provides a clear view of his organic blend of architecture and ornament and highlights a number of his masterpieces—from the Prairie period to the 1950s—including the Frederick C. Rob- ie House, the Susan Lawrence Dana House, and, of course, Fallingwater, designed for Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann.

Beautiful Users: Designing for People Edited and designed by Ellen Lupton, Princeton Architectural Press, 144 pages, $21.95

THE COOPER HEWITT, Smithsonian Design Museum reopens this month after a three-year renovation (see p. 78). One of the inaugural exhibitions is Beautiful Users, curated by Ellen Lupton, the first in a series of shows to be held in the new Design Process Galleries and in- tended to showcase the people and methods that define design as an essential human activity. This accompanying book explores the ethos of “designing for people” a phrase coined by Henry Dreyfuss, the father of industrial design, after World War II. The book opens with a brief history of Dreyfuss’s telephone designs, his user-centered approach that focused on studying behavior to develop successful products.

Designs featured range from Yves Behar’s pill dispenser to the Nest Learning Thermostat, and include Smart Design’s Good Grips for OXO, 3-D-printed prosthetic Robohands, and Eva Zeisel’s flat- ware, to name a few. But this is more than a companion guide for the exhibition. It is a valuable resource that explores a range of design practices, from user research to hacking, and also contains a critical glossary of terms.

Outdoor Sculpture

Four new sculptures by the Vermont sculptor Richard Erdman were recently installed by the landscape architect Enzo Enea at his Tree Museum in Zurich. Erdman’s works join a group of sculptures by other contemporary artists that are permanently installed amidst the more than two thousand trees collected by Enea in the bucolic, eighteen-acre site near Lake Zurich.

A copse of lush green frames Erdman’s Brazilian blue granite Sentinel, which spills out and upward from its pedestal, its fluid energy providing a perfect complement to the scene. Rising up from the museum’s pond is Spira, two-and-a-half tons of Italian Bardiglio marble that form the largest Erdman sculpture ever placed on water (see above). Elsewhere on the grounds, Fiora in Italian Siena travertine opens its petals to the air, while Volante in Italian Bardiglio marble occupies a more intimate space on the museum grounds, its asymmetrical arcs evoking a dolphin at play or curled asleep.

“Passion creates wishes out of dreams and wishes motivate us to strive to make those dreams reality,” says Enea. Together Erdman’s sculptures and Enea’s Tree Museum form a perfect blending of landscape, design, and dreams. After a brief winter closure, the Tree Museum with Erdman’s sculptures reopens in February. enea.ch

The Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center is on the move after spending a quarter century at the state fairgrounds in Oklahoma City. The architectural firm of Elliott and Associates has been tapped to design a new campus on four-and-a-half acres in Automobile Alley just north of OKC’s downtown. Even before that, however, Oklahoma Contemporary is making a colorful statement in its new neighbor- hood with artist, weaver, and “rope wrangler” Orly Genger’s latest massive, brightly hued sculpture, Terra, unveiled this past fall and on view through October 2015.

Incorporating 1.4 million feet of recycled lobster-fishing rope (her preferred medium) and 350 gallons of deep orange paint, Genger’s neat stacks of crocheted ropes snake across the ground, curving around trees, and creating undulating hills in the flat park. The work encourages visitors to experience the park differently as they move through and around the sculpture. “When visiting Oklahoma I was tak- en by the vastness of the open landscape and envisioned a line that would travel in continual motion winding through the patch of land,” Genger says. She goes on to explain that the term “red dirt” inspired her color choice, which, she says, “relates both to the clay-like na- ture of the earth, and to the bricks with which we build walls.” Indeed an appropriate motif to presage the creation of the new arts center. oklahomacontemporary.org

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida, is home to some three thousand horticultural species—palms, cycads, tropical fruits, and many other rare and unusual plants and trees. In recent years the eighty-three-acre garden has also hosted major outdoor exhibitions of both art and design—works that play off the extraordinary array of plants and trees.

This year, designer Satyendra Pakhalé was named for the job; a self-proclaimed “cultural nomad” who was born and educated in India, studied in Switzerland, and then moved to Holland to work and teach, Pakhalé is represented by Gabrielle Ammann in Cologne, Germany, and was selected for this project by the New York–based design gallerist Cristina Grajales.

Pakhalé says that he was particularly inspired by the “vividly colorful” butterflies he saw in the garden’s Wings of the Tropics exhibition. Thus, he reconfigured his molded thermoplastic Fish Chair, first produced by Cappellini in 2005, in a new vivid color that Pakhalé terms “viola.” He regards the Fish Chair as both seat and sculpture and says that it “is an object that suggests something instead of representing anything.” Though the limited edition of this chair will total ninety-nine, some forty of them will dot the Fairchild grounds through May. fairchildgarden.org