Friday, June 22, 2007

When Bad Objects Get Good

You sexy bitch, 2006

A number of contemporary artists are using old-fashioned figurines to express a very modern message. But none so effectively as Barnaby Barford, a London-based 2002 graduate of the Royal College of Art.

At only 20 years of age, Barford has developed an impressive list of international exhibitions and commissions, which include a whisky service for Brown-Forman, holiday windows for Saatchi & Saatchi and production pieces for retailer Thorsten Van Elten. Unlike most artists' CVs, Barford's also includes an employment history of visiting lectureships, a clear indication of the seriousness with which he takes his craft.

Barford's one-off ceramics come together from mass-produced, kitschy figures made over the last one-hundred years or so. The figurines are carefully broken and put back together, but not in their original way. An animal's head on a human figure, for example, results in a familiar-looking object but with an unusual twist. As the artist states, its "a reworking of tradition that leaves it recognisable but different, witty, edited." What's particularly remarkable about Barford's pieces - and what makes him so different from others doing this sort of thing - is the sheer skill with which the pieces are rejoined: nothing clumsy about them, these pieces are slick.

And slick with their message, too. Though some constructions are just plain funny, most tell a story, sometimes subtly and sometimes harshly, dealing with painful human issues of class, vanity, greed and jealousy. The non-threatening, cloyingly-sweet figurines speak with a razor-sharp clarity.

Plan for World Domination No.116, 2006 (detail)

Aaaaaaaaagggggghhhhhhh, 2006

Fancy a pint then?, 2005

Shit! Now I'm going to be really late, 2006

Well I think he's done a cracking job!, 2006

Nobody fucking move, 2006 (detail)

It's bullshit, he's lying, 2005

David Gill Galleries
60 Fulham Road
London, SW3 2HH

Thursday, June 21, 2007

When Good Objects Go Bad

André-Charles Boulle (1642 - 1732) Casemaker, 1677
Antoine Gaudron (c.1640 - c.1714) Movement Maker , 1677 (Attributed to)
Marquetry-Veneered Longcase Clock, c.1677
ebony and tortoiseshell on oak
88 in. x 15 13/16 in. x 7 7/8 in. (223.52 cm x 40.16 cm x 20.02 cm)
Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey, 1999.
Accession number: 1999.5.143

The Frick Collection Watch
This watch is an adaptation of the Marquetry-Veneered Longcase Clock (c. 1677) by Antoine Gaudron (c. 1640-1714); case attributed to André-Charles Boulle (c. 1642-1732). This clock was part of a collection of clocks and watches given by bequest to The Frick Collection in 1999 by Winthrop Edey.
Made of durable plastic; battery operated

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Heart Strings

Its late afternoon and you're strolling through the twisting streets of the medieval hilltop town of Castelmuzio in Tuscany. You meander out along one of the country roads, where rows of tall cypress trees cast a pattern of long shadows across the gravel. A warm breeze dances over the dry brush and across your cheek. You hear music. The lilting notes of a keyboard. You stop for a moment and think maybe you're dreaming. You try to recall the number of glasses you had at the winery. You think perhaps the Italian tourism commission has hidden speakers in the clouds. But wait, there aren't any. The music persists. The source of this magic? The harpsichord workshop of Bruce Kennedy, below.

Originally located within the Chateau d’Oex-Gstaad, in the Swiss Alps, Kennedy's workshop has been the leading maker of harpsichords since 1985. His instruments are lauded not only for their unique sound, but for their sheer beauty.

Within a few short years, demand for the harpsichords had increased dramatically and, in need of a more practical working space, Kennedy relocated the workshop to Amsterdam, where it remained for 12 years. During that time, he produced more than 140 harpsichords and clavichords - essentially one a month - which have all found homes throughout the world. Kennedy's work can be found at the Juilliard School of Music, New York, the Sweelinck Conservatory, Amsterdam, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Handel House Museum and the Guildhall School of Music in London, the Oslo Baroque Orchestra, the Centre de Musiques Anciennes in Geneva, Madrid's Royal Theater and music conservatories in Zurich, Prague and Vienna. They're the top choice for finalists performing in the Brugge International Harpsichord Competition and can be heard on hundreds of recordings.

German Harpsichord, 1702-1704, after M. Mietke (Berlin)
The Mietke is designed with a long brass scaling. With more than sixty made, its Kennedy’s most popular model. The square-baluster legs, serpentine stretchers and ball feet were typical of the period, but the black-and-gold Japanning would have been quite new and exciting. Japanning wouldn't reach its zenith for another few years.

Flemish Harpsichord, 1637, after A. Ruckers (Nuremburg)
The dark wood of this harpsichord's exterior, juxtaposed with the lightness and colorful scrollwork of the interior, was typical of the period. A similarly-decorated example was captured by Vermeer in the Music Lesson, circa 1662-64, below.

Royal Collection, St. James' Palace, London

After two decades of work, Kennedy decided to take a two-year sabbatical from instrument making and turned his artistic talents to the renovation of an old property in Tuscany, now home to the workshop.

Kennedy and his skilled artistans make a variety of models based on historic French, Flemish, German and Italian examples. Some are identical copies and some are loose interpretations, but their production is limited to just one at a time. Kennedy uses only those materials and methods that were used during the 17th and 18th centuries, including wooden jacks, string material reproduced based on original samples at Oxford University, and whenever possible (availability, not surprisingly, is limited), Swiss spruce soundboard wood from 1650-1775. Instruments are usually quilled in delrin, but may be bird quilled by request. Kennedy’s stable of artists, based in nearby Florence, can realize any decoration you dream up.

German Harpsichord, 1737, after C. Vater (Nurenburg)
Only a few copies of this harpsichord have been made. The one shown here replicates the original decorative design and barley-twist legs.

French Harpsichord, 1769, after P. Taskin (Edinburgh)
Kennedy’s Taskin is based on the famous original at St Cecilia’s Hall in Edinburgh, that was originally owned by the Taskin family until 1952. It is the epitome of Rococo style: cabriole legs and a scrolling apron, a soft blue and ivory palette, and lavishly decorated with romantic garlands of flowers.

Flemish Harpsichord, 1745, after J. Dulcken (Wingeshausen)
A strikingly modern example, with a geometric simplicity and turned legs on a narrow T-shaped base.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Specialty of the House

From a tiny home spring many wonders - the Lake District farmhouse of food historian Ivan Day.

Wreay Farm, a 17th-century farmhouse in Cumbria, is home to historian and foodie Ivan Day. From this small plot of land in the far north of England, he has developed a rather unique raison d’être. For more than forty years he has been a leading authority on the subject of English food history, and, for the last several years, has been organizing intimate, two-day cooking courses on period foods in his own kitchen, below.

For £260, plus a stay at a nearby bed and breakfast, enthusiasts can learn to roast meat on a 17th-century spit, make gum-paste baskets using 18th-century moulds, or learn to prepare flaumpens, chastletes and chewets, whatever those might be. Day's working museum isn't open to the public, so enrollment in a course is the only opportunity to see his collection of several centuries-worth of cookbooks and kitchen necessities, like sculpting tools and moulds.

What Day has also become widely known for, perhaps best known for, are the historic table settings he has created for numerous museums and country houses in England and America. How does period food suite a design blog? Quite logically, when one considers the elaborate designs, specialised tools and overwhelming creativity and artistic skill that were required to produce the lavish feasts created for the aristocracy.

At Hutton-in-the-Forest, the Cumbrian home of Lord and Lady Inglewood, the proud chef stands behind an 1880s ball supper dessert buffet made for last year's six-part television series Hungry for the Past.

Period illustrations, like those below, well express the sheer fantasy of the decorative confections that were displayed on tables to delight and enchant dinner guests.

An 1820s design for a pastillage pièce montée, from the collection of Prati, a Paris confectioner. The design is essentially a sugar paste mobile - the lanterns, birds and ballettes would have all moved as the guests touched the table.

A circa 1825 watercolor design for a pastillage pièce montée in the form of a putto driving a chariot drawn by a hunting poodle.

Earlier this year, day recreated an 1890s dessert table at Queen Victoria's Osborne House, above. Minton dessert stands, possibly chosen by the Queen while at the 1851 Great Exhibition, flank an epergne filled with confectionery and sweets like darioles of nougat filled with Chantilly cream, moulded Queen Cakes and miniature bavaroises.

For the event, Day recreated a meringue timbale in the form of a beehive, based on a design by Jules Gouffé's, Queen Victoria's chief pastry cook. This type of table ornament provided a sense of whimsy but also doubled up as a cover for an ice cream or other sweet entremet. The bees are made from a pistachio nuts, currents and almonds.

Below, Gouffé's original illustration of the croquembouche from his Royal Confectionery and Pastry Book translated in 1874 from the French by his brother Alphonse.

In 1998, Day and porcelain specialist Selma Schwartz recreated a French aristocratic dessert course in dining room at Waddesdon Manor, above. The image below shows a small bouquet of Day's sugar flowers, surrounded by equally-fragile Sèvres biscuit figures.

Few confectionery texts give detailed directions for making the delicate decorations, but baskets were meant to resemble contemporary Vincennes or Sèvres examples and great attention was paid to making the blossoms as realistic as possible. Stamens were often made of strands of saffron and tiny feathers and anemones, used in this bouquet, were often made with dried strawberries, stained with indigo.

An 18th-century illustration from Diderot's Encyclopédie shows a young girl making artificial flowers from pastillage.

An ornament maker's stand, used for drying pastillage flowers, from G.A. Jarrin's The Italian Confectioner, 1820.

In 1997, Day participated in the exhibition, The Pleasures of the Table, at Fairfax House, above, where he recreated of a Rococo desert course. The centerpiece of the table was a large sugar plateau designed by Day and sculptor Tony Barton. Many descriptions of English dessert plateaus exist, but few provide detailed illustrations, so Day consulted a French publication, Menon's La science de maître d’hôtel confiseur (Paris, 1749), for a model. He chose the palace of Circe, the sorceress from Homer's Odyssey, as well as Menon's sugar parterre designs. The parterres are made with chenille-wrapped-paper and filled with dyed sugar: cochineal for pink, spinach for green and gum gamboge for yellow.

Day's other specialty? Faux food! The group of replica Victorian pies, below, was made for display in the kitchens of Harewood House.

In order to create the fake pies, Day starts with real pies. He bakes the raised pie pastry using original moulds, then, working with sculptor Tony Brown, casts replicas in resin. The highly convincing finished products last an incredibly long time and, to the delight of docents, they're even child-proof.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Natural Progression

Blown-glass pepper

Known primarily for her freeform, gold jewelry designs, Italian-born artist, Ippolita, has recently begun a new line of naturalist accessories, this time for the home.

Born and raised in Florence, where she was deeply affected by the rich, cultural history and surrounding Tuscan landscape, Ippolita went on to study sculpture at the city's Instituto D'Arte before winning a full scholarship to Occidental College in Los Angeles to study dance. Now based in Manhattan, life's travels and experiences have defined her "socially and intellectually driven aesthetic" and for renewal and inspiration she frequently returns to her family's 16th-century farmhouse in Tuscany, which she has recently renovated.

Her sidestep from gold to other natural materials like glass, wood and ceramic, is all part of a larger exploration of craft. She continually tries new media as "each informs the other" and is currently at work on a modern-day reliquary series using blown-glass human figures as the vessel. Her jewelry, studio work and production pieces are all available on her website, housewares can also be found at Neiman Marcus.

Wood table

Goddess vase

Petrified-wood trivet

Pick a Color, They're All Green

Studio JSPR, an interior design and product development group based in the Netherlands, is continuing to update its Plastic-Fantastic series with new designs for club chairs and tables. Their unique furniture and lighting pieces are all based on historical forms (primarily Victorian Rococo Revival), but covered in a special Soft Skin® rubber coating that exaggerates their unusual silhouette and makes them safe for indoor (think pets, kids,) and outdoor use. The studio offers a wide range of color choices, as well as metallics, and can even rubber-coat a client's existing pieces. (Note: put the rubber on your plastic and rack up some air miles - chairs start at about $1200 and sofas at $5000)

The four-person design team, founded by Design Academy Eindhoven-graduate Jasper van Grootel in 2005, has also begun dressing up the Voltaire chairs with Swarovski crystals - a collaboration with human BeDazzler, Marieu van den Broek.