Triple Threat: Rolf Sachs on Being an Artist, Designer, and Collector
“In French you just say créateur,” Rolf Sachs says of creatives like himself, equal parts artist and designer and with no need for distinction. In his own practice, the investment banker-turned multi-discipline creative Sachs works with both functional and sculptural objects; at the precipice of art and design, he’s adamant that there’s far too much separation between the two. At Gabrielle Ammann Gallery’s booth at Design Miami/ Basel, Sachs presents a new interpretation of a traditional Alpine rake in a version made of stone, and while chatting with Artsy’s editorial director Marina Cashdan, speaks about his past projects, his personal collection, the unnecessary distinction between artists and designers, and why all collectors should first and foremost, choose with their hearts.
Marina Cashdan: I want to ask you first about your practice overall. It seems like you have a very conceptual but also playful aspect to your work.
Rolf Sachs: Absolutely. I see my studio as an idea lab. [My ideas] evolve. I pick them up in all kinds of ways, though mostly in the arts, and not so much in the design world because my goal, certainly it’s not a decorative one; I try to bring emotion to the object. My work always overlaps between design and the arts, so very often it’s sculpture, very often it has a function, but it is always done with functional objects. I occasionally also make conceptual photographic objects, sets for opera, and other things.
MC: That brings me perfectly to the next question. Looking at the Gargantua series (pictured at right), it isn’t necessarily a functional piece, because you have this little community living on what normally functions as a chair—or is it a functional object?
RS: Yes, I love to create objects with the little people, because basically it reflects and shows how little we are. It shows how alone we are, that we all live in this system, but [are] very much alone. And the Gargantua, of course, is to contrast the big world with our passage in time. The Gargantua chair was really more of a sculptural piece, and the other table I did with the same theme is a total functional piece, not a sculpture. So you know, it really depends.
MC: I see in many of your incorporating found and repurposed objects, like the Chemie lights. Can you talk a little bit about them?
RS: Yes. I love objects which are sort of non-design-y, objects that are purely shaped out of their function, and with whom we have a familiarity with since our childhood. This is the same with tastes. We love things we ate as a child, so these objects have a sort of timelessness. I like to experiment, in the true sense of the word, with these more industrial shapes.
MC: Are there artists or designers that you take particular inspiration from?
RS: Oh, sure. There are artists, whose work I love, like Peter Fischli & David Weiss and Joseph Beuys. In the design world, I love a lot of the early modernists like Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, and some of the more rational designers of the early times, like Maarten Baas [whose work] always has some some humor to it. But I really get most of my inspiration from the arts, like I think a lot of designers do, and I really see myself as even more of an artist than a designer. In French you just say créateur, and that’s how it should be. In our world it has been a little bit too strong of a distinction.MC: Can you tell me about your work in Gabrielle Ammann Gallery’s booth, titled rastè?
RS: This piece was done for a show with a theme. It had that had to do with a particular valley in the Alps. In these villages in the mountains, the rake was a highly important tool; just before the rain, they had to bring in the hay, because that’s how the cattle would survive in the winter. So I took that object because of its significance [to the area], and for its incredible simplicity and beauty. I made it out of stone so that it has a stronger sculptural presence, and also a little surprise aspect, because most people see it and they don’t really know what it is. You have to get closer, to touch. [Laughs.]
MC: [Laughs.] Well, it says, “Do not touch.” But you suggest we touch it?
RS: Yes, the gallery’s really gotten mad with me [for suggesting that].
MC: I know that you do have a collection of your own. Are there any pieces in particular you’d like to mention?
RS: I have a collection of a lot of pieces from the last twenty years; I have also have an early collection... I actually have a lot of Reitveld pieces, and I have lot of things from friends of mine. Ron Arad, Dupré-[Lafon], Tom Dixon, Marc Newson, The Campana Brothers, Aalto... And of course [many are] good friends.
MC: Your father Gunter Sachs was an artist, too, as well as a collector of art, amassing a very large and impressive collection. Is there something you learned about collecting from growing up with such beautiful objects?
RS: Of course. I had the luck to be brought up in a household where we had a lot of art. I started collecting when suddenly there was this huge movement in design where you really went into this art-design world, which was a movement which probably started in London. And it was all these people working with the harsh materials, and all this stuff coming out of the rough studios.
MC: Do you have advice you can offer to people who are building a collection of design?
RS: Basically, the first thing is you always have to buy with your heart. And, I don’t want to say not at all with the mind, but obviously the heart is more important than the mind. I think for everybody, especially in the arts, it is highly important to educate yourself in your field. It is always good to find a good gallerist who can basically guide you in the right direction.
MC. You’re based in London now. What kind of design scene do you see happening there?
RS: I am traveling so much, and I’m so busy, that I don’t even have enough of a feeling of what is happening. My studio should arrive here sometime—my whole studio is here for the next two days—and they will have a much better feeling, because they did some art in the RCA so they have lots of friends and they go to the parties at the East end of town.
MC: Last, having grown up in Switzerland and with the presence of Art Basel and Design Miami/ Basel, have you seen a change or shift in the way people are looking at design and art?
RS: I think that it’s not only in Switzerland. I think that it’s everywhere that this shift is happening. [Design and art] is still sort of separated, perhaps more than it should be, which already shows here [at Design Miami/ Basel]. You know, there are two different halls and so on, but I think it could also fit quite well together. It used to be much closer. If you think [about] in the 20s, the Bauhaus, basically the professors were switching between design, architecture, and arts. And I think we’re getting closer, but we’re still not there.
On view at Gabrielle Ammann Gallery, Design Miami/ Basel 2013 - Design Galleries, Booth G33, June 11th – 16th.