Monday, March 31, 2008

Time and Space

An installation photograph from (In)discrete Objects, the 2005 exhibition of works by Timothy Horn organized by the Knoxville Museum of Art, Tennessee.

When I started this blog several years ago now, I suppose I already had a pretty clear sense of the kind of objects and artwork I respond to... clever appropriation of historical designs (like Jo Meester's vases in the previous post), or contemporary interpretations of long-forgotten fads (like Barbara Uderzo's succulent rings).

In that same vein is Timothy Horn, an Australian-born artist working in the United States. Horn's remarkably strange and curious pieces are based on antique jewelry designs, but blown up to such an enormous scale that they create a unnerving distortion, as if one has looked through someone else's glasses. Horn's fascination lies at the intersection of the intimacy of ornament and the vulgarity of beauty. There, the subtle decoration of an 18th century hair comb becomes a glittering, indulgent and discotheque-like wall sculpture.

I Want Candy, 2001
Nickel plated bronze, cast lead crystal, easter egg foil, 35.5 x 25.5 x 4 inches

I Want Candy, detail

More recently, Horn has turned to antique furniture, particularly the designs of Thomas Chippendale, for inspiration in the appropriation game. By digitally distorting Chippendale patterns, Horn created "new" designs that he then carved in wax. The wax designs were then used to make molds, from which he could cast replicas in rubber. The wobbly pieces, seeming all the more surreal for their honey color, can then be mounted on the wall... and wiggled or manipulated by curious viewers. In the words of the Albany University Art Museum, who organized an exhibition of his work in 2006, Horn's furniture sculptures turn "tasteful sources [into] objects that creep, ooze, and dangle down the walls with a libidinal force all their own." The intersection of intimacy and vulgarity has proven a fruitful place.

Silk Purse (Sow's Ear), 2005
translucent polyurethane rubber, 47 x 34 x 6 inches

Silk Purse (Sow's Ear), detail

Mutton Dressed as Lamb, 2005
transparent rubber, 40 x 30 x 9 inches - edition of 3

Mutton Dressed as Lamb, detail

Horn's work will be featured in three US exhibitions opening this summer: solo shows at the ICA in San Jose and the de Young Museum in San Francisco, and a group exhibition at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe. He's represented by Hosfelt Gallery, which at the moment has more information than his own developing website,

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Erasing to Reveal

Look closer... what at first appears to be a 19th-century still life is actually a photo-studio shot of Dutch artist Jo Meester's manipulated vessels.

Meester, who graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2001 and established his own studio last year, recently began exploring ways to create objects that blend historic design and historic techniques with modern aesthetics and technology. He works in all media, but I'm most intrigued by the Ornamental Inheritance series that uses old (but not antique) delftware vessels. The pieces are carfeully sand-blasted in such way that a horizon develops around the body of the form. What Meester leaves, in these relief-like carvings, are "silhouettes" familiar in contemporary life: modern architecture, smoke stacks, windmills (turbine, as well as the old-fashioned kind) and fast-food signs like the Golden Arches of McDonald's. Birds and airplanes fly overhead.

Pieces from the series will be included in Object Factory: The Art of Industrial Ceramics, on view May 15 – September 7 at the Gardiner Museum in Ontario, Canada. The exhibition is curated by ceramist Marek Cecula.

Meester's work is difficult to find outside the Netherlands, but his website includes a list of retailers, primarily design museum shops in the major Dutch cities.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A drink precedes a story

White-brass alloy and aluminum Guinness cuff by Oregon-based designer Renée Christopher

Friday, March 14, 2008

Betting on Bidding

Next week Christie's South Kensington will hold one of its Interiors sales - a terrific opportunity to snap up interesting antiques. They're not museum quality - they're not meant to be. They're simply good old pieces that have been lived with and used as they were intended. Its wonderful 'fear-not' furniture... pieces that will stand up to the dog, the over-indulgent guest, etc. Already a few hundred years old, furnishings like these will continue to outlive their contemporary, mass-produced counterparts. They're proven.

I decided to do some comparison shopping, just to get a sense of what similar items bought new would cost. And its no surprise, really -- they're either comparable or infinitely more. They do offer the convenience of point-and-click purchasing, but buying at auction (if you can't get to the location) is equally simple if done by phone bid. Or by absentee... you need not even be there.

A late-19th century giltwood pier glass, with classical urn foliage and wheat ear cresting
£400-600 ($800-1,200)

Williamsburg phoenix mirror, Carvers' Guild, price upon request

A late-17th century oak chest, with triple-panel front carved with foliate motifs and roundel decoration
£500-800 ($1,000-1,600)

Nassau Long Dresser, Williams & Sonoma Home, $4,950

A Louis XV beech fauteuil by maître Antoine Bonnemain, circa 1775
Together with a similar Louis XV beech fauteuil, mid-18th century
£600-1,000 ($1,200-2,000)

The Brissac Bergere. Pierre Deux, $1,295.00

A Regency mahogany bowfront chest with brushing slide
£500-800 (about $1,000-1,600)

Atwood 5-Drawer Dresser, Restoration Hardware, $1600

Monday, March 10, 2008

Night blooms

The Pamela pendant lamp - like a tiny glass beehive of 24kt gold-dusted Venetian glass, with gold and topaz-colored glass leaves and flowers
14” x 6.5”

About ten years ago New Yorker Dorian Webb went to Italy to study architecture, but passing a shop window in Venice one day, spotted a bowl-full of tiny, colorful Murano glass beads... she was hooked.

She's now designing a range of beautifully detailed and feminine lighting fixtures for Viaggio. All of the designs incorporate blown or lampworked glass, sterling silver and white or yellow gold, and often semi-precious stones. Her passion for Italian culture and design is a reflection of the country's own pride and spirit. They have an "appreciation of things that make life pleasurable," she says. The right lighting always helps.

The Spring pendant reminds me of a raindrop, of a bird's nest, even of a dainty Easter basket, with its prism-embellished frame, light and dark green glass leaves and freshwater pearls
9” x 9”

Vita, a trailing, vine-like sconce disguises five light bulbs within its topaz and 24k gold-dusted glass flowers and leaves. White freshwater pearls dance like tiny blossoms when brushed by the slightest breeze
62” x 34”

"The Spring is here"

The William Cullen Bryant Homestead, the boyhood home and later summer residence of the American poet, sits on a hillside overlooking the Westfield River as it flows through Cummington, Massachusetts. The house was built in 1785 and purchased in 1789 by Bryant's grandfather, Ebenezer Snell. Now a museum, its collections include original family furnishings. The country setting is believed to have inspired many of Bryant's poems.

by William Cullen Bryant, 1864

Already, close by our summer dwelling,
The Easter sparrow repeats her song;
A merry warbler, she chides the blossoms-
The idle blossoms that sleep so long.

The bluebird chants, from the elm's long branches,
A hymn to welcome the budding year.
The south wind wanders from field to forest,
And softly whispers, "The Spring is here."

Come, daughter mine, from the gloomy city,
Before those lays from the elm have ceased;
The violet breathes, by our door, as sweetly
As in the air of her native East.

Though many a flower in the wood is waking,
The daffodil is our doorside queen;
She pushes upward the sward already,
To spot with sunshine the early green.

No lays so joyous as these are warbled
From wiry prison in maiden's bower;
No pampered bloom of the green-house chamber
Has half the charm of the lawn's first flower.

Yet these sweet sounds of the early season,
And these fair sights of its sunny days,
Are only sweet when we fondly listen,
And only fair when we fondly gaze.

There is no glory in star or blossom
Till looked upon by a loving eye;
There is no fragrance in April breezes
Till breathed with joy as they wander by.

Come, Julia dear, for the sprouting willows,
The opening flowers, and the gleaming brooks,
And hollows, green in the sun, are waiting
Their dower of beauty from thy glad looks.


Bryant was an American romantic poet, journalist, and long-time editor of the New York Evening Post. He was born in Massachusetts in November 3, 1794, and died New York, June 12, 1878. Julia, referenced in the last stanza of the poem above, was Bryant's second daughter. Born in 1831, she was her well into her 30s at the time he wrote the poem, but clearly still at the fore of her father's thoughts.

Cedarmere, the Long Island home of American poet William Cullen Bryant, was originally built in 1787 by Richard Kirk, a Quaker farmer. Between 1843 and his death in 1878, Bryant renovated the farmhouse and planted the 7-acre property overlooking Roslyn Harbor with many exotic trees and flowering plants. The house remained in the family until 1969, when it was left to Nassau County by Bryant's great-granddaughter, Elizabeth.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Imagining Human Rights

Turi Aksdal, Article 16, 2007
(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Human rights are difficult enough for us as a people to realize through our actions, let alone for an artist to try and visualize through the lens of a camera. But Norwegian photographer Turi Aksdal (b. 1962) found a solution and created a body of work based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948. “I’ve been struggling for a long time to find the right expression for the diverse content in these articles,” she says. “But its been an exiting process and I'm very happy with the result.”

That end result is a photograph for each of the articles in the declaration, their words trickling poem-like down the sides of the images, which often feature human shadows cast across rough city surfaces. Anonymous figures in unidentified places. Yet they exude a familiarity and elicit a compassionate response from the viewer. Aksdal's images level and unite us. The shadow could be you. It could be me.

Article 5. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 26. (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

The 30 articles that constitute the UN's declaration define the rights to which we are all born and came about largely as a response to the horrors of World War I and World War II because, as stated in its preamble, the "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."

The declaration, which Eleanor Roosevelt called "the international Magna Carta," was intended to be taught in classrooms around the world, though despite a higher education, I must admit I only recognize the most famous phrases and I certainly didn't realize there were 30 defined articles, spelled out in such a clear and precise language. Aksdal's vision has broadened my own.

Article 30. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

Article 25. (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

In a fitting tribute to the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the declaraton, Aksdal's work is on view at Manhattan's Trygve Lie Gallery, a venue is devoted to the promotion of Scandinavian - and particularly Norwegian - artists.

Human Rights Pictures
Photographs by Turi Aksdal
March 13 through April 6, 2008
The exhibition will be opened by Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Ms. Hilde Frafjord Johnson
Trygve Lie Gallery, 317 East 52nd Street

Article 24. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 13. (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

The artist's website:

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

To Have and Have Not

I bought a set of these Rikke Hagen stemless snifters for my parents while working in Denmark in 2002. They never use them.

They may be in a box, in the cabinet, but while sitting there for the last six years, they've become Hagen's most recognizable design, even getting a nod by über-design manufacturer Normann Copenhagen, who put them into production in 2004.

Thought I'd been seeing more of them, even not if at home.

Want them for yours?

Rikke in her Hillerød studio, just outside of Copenhagen

By the inking of my thumbs... something clever this way comes

Potholder, 2007

Danish designer Jakob Wagner's pot holder was inspired by his very own fingerprint. Looking at the ovoid mark and thinking about the purpose of all those tread-like wavy lines, Wagner thought to apply - quite literally - what helps humans grip items with their hands to what they use to grip hot dishes from the oven.

The heat-resistant silicone's raised pattern, taken directly from Wagner's print, provides traction as well as protection. At its center is a tiny magnet, for handy clipping to the fridge.