Ceramics and West Coast Design Flourish at FOG Design+Art

Entering FOG Design+Art is like walking into a swanky cocktail party that you’re not sure if you should be at; it’s classy, without the typical overcrowded feeling of many other art fairs. 

  • Installation images by Joseph Driste, courtesy FOG Design+Art

On the official opening day, I found gallerists slowly perking up after their first cup of coffee. “Last night was fun,” was the first thing many people said to me (most of the dealers had spent the evening at the fair’s annual preview gala, which benefits SFMOMA). The event sounded like a ritzy, social evening filled with jubilant pleasantries—most of the dealers I spoke with were optimistic about sales, though only a modest number of pieces had sold during the first hours of the fair (perhaps the tamer SF equivalent of the New York fairs where work flies off the wall in the first ten minutes). I caught the tail end of a panel discussion—whose speakers included Yves Béhar and Jonathan Olivares—about the relationship between art and design, a conversation about function, form, process, and inspiration. During the Q&A, a granddaughter of Charles and Ray Eames raised her hand to comment that her inimitable grandparents had hoped that one day there would be no need to divide the word for “art”—a strong and fitting sentiment that foreshadowed this year’s fair.

Digesting this concept, I wandered to Colpa Press’s booth, where I found fun and affordable risograph prints designed by Nathalie du Pasquier. Her association with the Memphis Group—which, despite being a design and architecture collective, was strongly influenced by visual art movements—inspired the publishing company to collaborate with her. At Edward Cella’s booth, I chatted with the L.A.-based gallerist about Lawrence Halprin’s drawings, created while he was in the planning phases of developing the Northern Californian unincorporated community of Sea Ranch, a popular coastal vacation destination where the architecture blends into the lush, rocky topography. Three of these drawings had just been purchased by SFMOMA. Here is where design permeates the deepest: in using nature as its tools, planning community, creating place. Designers and architects create environments conceptually and structurally, while artists tend to represent or respond to places and produce social spaces. Yes, there is interrelation, but there also seems to be a stark difference in practice.

Overall, I was struck by the presence of ceramics at FOG, which is not all that surprising given the west-coast-heavy roster. Ceramics drive a delicate balance between form and function, craft and fine art, and possess quite the history in California. From an understated display of works from an exhibition at Los Angeles Valley College featuring historical female icons Ruth Asawa, Ynez Johnston, and Betye Saar, to Rosha Yaghmai’s enameled rendering of things found in a ladies boudoir at newcomer Tyler Wood’s booth, to Artsy’s impressive presentation of work by Los Angeles-based artist Matthias Merkel Hess, these artists transform the ordinary into works of art, inciting a conversation around our personal relationship to everyday objects. 

At Salon 94’s booth, Takuro Kuwata’s experimentation with ceramics results in incredibly fragile-looking and unique surfaces that, while titled “bowl” or “vase” (read: functional object), have a certain recherché quality that put them in a category all their own. Ben Peterson’s ceramic forms at Ratio 3 are rendered such that they appear as if they were made of concrete. The small architectural pieces appear weighty and brute, a material feat on its own. Another gem is Sara VanDerBeek’s Chorrera (2014), tucked away in Altman Siegel’s booth. Her blue-tinted, digital C-print portrays a geometric vessel created and used by an indigenous Ecuadorian community that flourished between 1300 and 300 B.C. VanDerBeek captures a rare cubist-looking shape possessing a modern sensibility—a prescient design invoking a sense of wonder about its origin. 

  • Installation image of Friedman Bendas booth by Joseph Driste, courtesy FOG Design+Art

There are several booths-at-large that stand out. Jessica Silverman curates her space like an exhibition; its title, “The Medium is the Message,” is emblazoned in vinyl on the center wall of her booth, which features works by Amikam Toren, Ian Wallace, Tammy Rae Carland, and Dashiell Manley, among others. United under one thesis, the works are strengthened in relation to the oft-disparate and plucked-from-storage feeling that is frequently found at fairs. Misha Kahn takes over every detail of Friedman Benda—from wallpaper and tile flooring to ceiling fans and functional stools, the booth is packed high and low with Kahn’s creations, which are available at a range of prices. This immersive environment of art and design objects is akin to an oasis, or perhaps a mirage, in the middle of the pavilion. 

Lauren Kalman’s series “But if the Crime is Beautiful… Composition with Ornament and Object” pulled me into Sienna Patti Contemporary immediately. At first blush the pieces parallel—in form and color—the golden lamps and ornamentation accompanying beautiful wood furniture filling many of the booths at FOG. Looking closer, the golden form in Kalman’s composition is a human body; the corporeal is rendered like a precious object, abstracted through pose and positioning. Kalman offers an elegant and striking critical perspective on the cultural and psychological relationship design has played in shaping society by creating beautiful objects herself. Across the booth is Lucy Sarneel’s Daily Offer #6, Necklace (2013), a necklace hung on the wall like a painting with a white frame around it. A wooden-looking tray, a dull steel basin-like form, and an abstruse formation of tiny tile-like squares “dangle” from their rope-like cord. This necklace seems more symbolic than high-fashion, though I can picture it on a runway. The domesticity and bulk of its charms creates a tension with notions of elegance and delicateness so often associated with jewelry. Oh, the layers of symbolism! I didn’t enter the fair expecting to be surprised, but this booth shifted my expectations and presented work that is still piquing my intellectual curiosity. 

Overall FOG exemplified that weaving art and design together can create a fabric worthy of embracing, but showed, too, the beauty found in calling attention to the frays and fringes. I have to say, I’m looking forward to next year.

Kara Q. Smith

Explore FOG Design+Art on Artsy.

Installation images by Joseph Driste, courtesy FOG Design+Art.

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