Ten Objects that Inspire me from Design Miami/ Basel 2013

Michael Boyd
Jun 3, 2013 1:29AM

Eileen Gray, Pair of chairs, ca. 1930 - Galerie Anne-Sophie Duval

Eileen Gray is such a fringe and central character simultaneously. Because she was a woman and did not subscribe to group activities for the most part, or any kind of dogma for that matter, she worked in a relatively isolated way. Although architects worldwide raved about any of her architecture that was published, her low output made her enigmatic and a rare talent. Yet her influence is far-reaching and omnipresent. There is such a poetry and delicacy to anything she invented or reinvented. Although there is nothing pioneering or revolutionary about the design of these particular chairs, they refine and extend the line and concept of the modernist idea. They are both fancy and unfussy—a sublime combination. Her work is so scarce in any kind of authentic state that these chairs have an aura that taps the universe of Eileen Gray.

Gio PontiLow table, 1950’s - Nilufar Gallery

Low table, 1950’s
Nilufar Gallery

Ponti had his hands in so many artistic activities, ranging from architecture, furniture design, ceramics, and glass, to publishing and writing, promoting his own vision as well as the work of others. It is great to see an isolated and singular manifestation of his efforts. The table is the work of an innate engineer as well as a decorative arts master.  Its revealed structure belies its opulent presence. It is both an object of structural intelligence and sensitive artistry. Not all of Ponti’s body of work is transcendent. There were forays into pseudo-kitsch, but some of the designs survive the prolific creator and become forms that cannot be further perfected.

Jean ProuvéSwing jib lamp, ca. 1950 - Galerie Patrick Seguin

Prouvé was an absolute genius. Even Le Corbusier said so—not even begrudgingly! His boiling down to the essence of artful form was housed in the body and mind of a true engineer. As an innovator and fabricator, nothing escaped his keen eye. Sheet steel was his true medium and in going backwards from the sensible way to make things, his art had a kind of “inevitability” about it in its final state. The modesty of his ambitions is palpable yet there is such a regal quality to the pieces. The jib light could not be simpler. Nothing is added or subtracted from the exercise—to extend light out into space. It is fortunate to have a reliable gallery when considering this work. Patrick Seguin is one of the few reliable sources for his material. The number of forgeries, replicas, fakes, and so on, have rocked the market and made the chase more than slightly sickening. But if one is careful, and wisely advised, one can find the real thing.

Jean ProuvéCité armchair, ca. 1933 - Galerie Patrick Seguin

This Prouvé form is arguably his most powerful. His philosophy was to constantly reduce and simplify—to inherit the findings regarding an object’s making. Divine art content followed as a result. It is only after the fact that we have applied such terms to his works. He would certainly not approve of the commodification and treasure-like handling of his pieces. Nevertheless, history has shown that when an idea is born of the right “intentionality” it cuts through all other hype, media, and hearsay of the time and place. The Cité chair is the most direct form a chair can be. The fact that it is also beautiful is something that Prouvé was not overly concerned with. It is because of his detachment and pristine philosophy that his work continues to soar—in all ways—cultural and monetary.

1050, 1951
Galleria O. Rome

Sarfatti was an excellent practitioner of “Italian Style”—which is crucially important—as well as gorgeous. Again the idea of extending light into space is intriguing as well as elemental. The styling of the reflector shade echoes the post-war concept of asymmetrical composition. It recalls the monumental yet organic “free” forms of the best non-constructivist modern architects—those of Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto, Oscar Niemeyer, and Erich Mendelsohn. The Hans Hoffmann espoused theory of asymmetry, or “push-pull” dynamics—where you create mass or void in relation to other elements in the work—was adhered to by innovators ranging from Ray Eames to Serge Mouille to Arne Jacobsen. With this example of the Sarfatti light, the fetishistic quality of the vintage lacquers is also alluring. The spirit of the thing dies when its originality has literally been stripped. It’s not just about being a stickler for originality for its own sake, it is about getting the real deal—the essence of the idea as it was and as it will be in the future.

Bookcase, 1957
Galerie Downtown - François Laffanour

This cabinet is a masterwork of micro-architecture. Few pieces of furniture can meaningfully convey a sense of a building or the presence of architecture. It’s not in its superficial resemblance to a modernist housing block; it is its own self contained piece of architecture and space. The polychrome treatment creates a rhythm within the structure.  As I mentioned, French modernist furniture is so widely copied, altered, and has suspicious origins, that it is crucial to deal with a reputable source. Knowing that a particular piece is authentic involves more than a feeling or a picking up on a “look.” The scholarship, vetting, and experience that sets the course for work like this coming to the market, is necessary in this day and age.

Alexandre Nollsculpture, ca. 1960 - Galerie Chastel-Maréchal

Alexandre Noll was such a gifted sculptor and form giver. The visceral quality of his hand chipping and carving reveals an inevitable form that seems like it had always been trapped inside the raw material. Instead of giving form, it almost seems more descriptive to say that he reveals or uncovers form. The idiosyncratic artistic decisions within each of Noll’s works are guided by an overall balance that feels architectonic—not sentimental. The roughness and rusticity of the surfaces can play off of the sophistication of the idea. There is always such an obdurate yet elegant presence to his work.

Alvar AaltoPaimio Hand Basin, 1930 - Jacksons

Paimio Hand Basin, 1930

Aalto was undeniably a founding father of modernism and true pioneer. His infusion of warmth into the potentially cold and distant language of modernism was a great contribution. This basin has a Duchampian dimension, yet unlike Duchamp’s sculpture, it is entirely functional. Its softly curved form is minimal and is driven by function and service. Yet final form can also be beautiful—it is not to be avoided; it is simply inherited. Aalto’s interiors, gardens, and small-scale works in wood and glass put forth an honesty and humility. It is in this restraint and editing that the true poetics and humanity are revealed.

Table, 1929
Hostler Burrows

I like surprises. If one only limits oneself to what one already knows, or suspects, one is in trouble. To only reinforce an existing point-of-view is meaningless. This monolithic table proves what I have always sensed—that “starchitects” and famous designers are one thing, but that lesser-known (and anonymous for that matter) artists and designers are being reassessed and rediscovered all the time. Though not a household name, Hjorth brings forward all of modernity in his craftsmanship. The massing of the pine suggests the tree, yet the negative space shows us man’s mark on nature, the artist’s prerogative to create. The liquidity of the form is in contrast to its very solidity.

Pierre GuaricheLamp G50 Edition, Pierre Disderot 1959 - Galerie Pascal Cuisinier

I love the way this light hovers. Hovering is extremely important in design. To elevate and lighten, to abbreviate, and distill is the ultimate aim of modernist design. Freedom and enlightenment can come from reinterpreting commonly used forms. The “French Style” is the most important of all of the “styles” to me. I love “Italian Style” and Scandinavian (almost lack of style), but the French way of seeing decorative arts integrated into daily life is, to me, the most moving and sublime. I shy away from style in general, and am a known and committed functionalist and constructivist. I do not generally trust “style” to retain its meaning into the future. Trendy approaches where each season is thought of as a fashion that necessarily blows away with the wind, is not for me. I try to take the longer view. However, having said that, all of my theories about decoration melt away in the presence of truly great examples of “French Style.”

Michael Boyd