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Roxane Lahidji | Alchemist, Artist and Designer of Marble Salts

” In ancient times salt was rare and costly. Yet, since the industrial revolution, it has become so cheap and easily available that we longer recognise its value. Marbled salt questions the value of materials attached to a certain social status, and how they convey a certain social reproduction; but also the material value of things, if they are worth lasting or not, in an increasingly globalized and immaterial world.”
– Roxane Lahidji, February 2018

My initial introduction to the somewhat alchemy informed and sustainable design practice of Roxane Lahidji began with an encounter of her stunning salt stools at Dutch Design Week 2017 where they were showcased as part of the Design Academy Eindhoven graduate show.
Lahidji draws on the transmutational qualities of materials by turning common salt into something more precious. Historically, alchemists turned base metals into gold, toady she turns common salt into marble-like stools in a body of work titled ‘Marble Salts’. These stools are also a poetic gesture drawing on the history of the mineral’s rarity and costliness, and not widely available and inexpensive as it is today.

Using salt as a medium for design objects began when Lahidji partook in a workshop in Arles, France part of a Social Design Masters in collaboration with the LUMA Foundation. The Atelier LUMA Arles Design platform promotes using local resources and knowledge to trigger local economies and stimulate education. She began researching salt as a local and fundamental resource of Camargue since Roman Antiquity, and emphasised her research on the abundance of the mineral. Lahidji explores new possibilities of this most common mineral by reinventing it as a sustainable design material. By making use of its unique self-binding properties mixed with tree resin, and coal powder, the furniture mimics marble thus creating a ‘contradictory parallel between the flexible versatility of salt and the material language of heavy and solid rock.’ The project overall invites viewers into a discussion on the concept of value systems as a social construct − and the costs implied by products we consume.

Bio
Roxane Lahidji was born in Paris in 1992 and grew up in the French capital before studying illustration and product design in Strasbourg (HEAR). After her Bachelor (with distinction), she pursued her research for new design values in Design Academy Eindhoven and graduated from the Social Design Master department in June 2017.
https://www.roxanelahidji.com/marbled-salts
https://atelier-luma.org/en/projects/salt-crystals

Cultural Narratives

Date: 24 February – 10 March 2018
Location: Alserkal Avenue, warehouse 61

Drawing on centuries of tradition and know-how, artists from the Arab and Persian worlds have created works that reflect their rich culture and transcend regional boundaries. This new, extensive collection of artworks by established and emerging talents from the region provides a breathtaking visual map of the Arab and Persian art worlds, with 160 unique works from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Tunis, Egypt, Palestine, UAE and Sudan. As it travels around the globe, the show shines the spotlight on the great artistic contributions of the region, while transmitting the exceptional character of each country represented.

Remembering Fathallah Zamroud

This week we heard the tragic news that our dear friend Fathallah Zamroud passed away after a long battle with cancer. A Syrian-Lebanese painter, born in Lebanon in 1968, he was a talented artist and a wonderful man, always positive and happy. He died this week aged 49, leaving behind him a wealth of memories and a body of powerful paintings.

Zamroud studied interior architecture at the Lebanese American University, going on to spend seven years training with painter Louna Maalouf. Combining his knowledge of architecture with his skill as a painter, his artworks, which were often based on photographs, explored the destruction wreaked by war, focusing specifically on the conflict in Syria and its spillover in Lebanon. His powerful expressionist paintings conveyed the tragedy of war without resorting to images of human suffering. Instead, he captured abandoned and temporary structures in nuanced, muted colours that evoked raw emotion in the viewer, conjuring a world of silence, devoid of life.

Zamroud exhibited at Ayyam Gallery in 2014, showcasing a series called Material Remains in collaboration with Lebanese artist Ginane Makki Bacho. In 2017, he held a solo show at Ayyam Gallery, and was also invited to participate in the 13th edition of the Sharjah Biennial, organise by the Sharjah Art Foundation and curated by Christine Tohme.

His work will be exhibited at the 12th edition of Art Dubai in March, where Ayyam Gallery will present some of his haunting paintings of Syrian refugee camps from Material Remains, alongside newer works exploring the effects of war on the urban fabric. They will also present works from his latest series, which dwells on “dramatic nature, trees, silent forests,” as he told Selections last autumn.

We are also honoured to announce that Zamroud’s final work was a painting for Selections’ collective exhibition Cultural Narratives, which will be on show in Dubai from February 24 to March 10. His work is a worthy addition to the collection of 160 unique works by artists from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Palestine, the UAE and Sudan.

We will miss his warmth and happiness and his memory will live on through his work and the cherished memories of those who knew him. His final series, he said, marked “a resurrection, a return to hope.” And so, even at the end, he leaves us with his characteristic positivity and generosity of spirit.

Curated By at India Art Fair 2018

Selection being something we specialise in here at Selections, we like to ask those who are best-placed to make choices on our behalf. In this special feature, we ask gallerists at the India Art Fair 2018 to choose a single artwork from their booths and share the story behind it.

IAF will be held from 9 to 12 February 2018 at NSIC Exhibition Grounds, Okhla, New Delhi.


Aicon Gallery

A highlight of Aicon’s presentation at this year’s India Art Fair is a selection of new works by Western Sydney based Pakistani artist Abdullah M. I. Syed, who is showing for the first time at IAF in four years. In this new body of works, Syed examines the (re)presentation of religious, political, and economic systems through his characteristic use of uncirculated printed currency, a perfect medium which embodies elements from all three systems under investigation. The transactional materiality of the note further reveals how these systems mutually construct and inform one another. The artist just won the 2017 Carstairs Prize from the National Association for the Visual Arts, Australia.


Anant Art

Digbijayee Khatua primarily works with Watercolour on paper and sun board. He has always been interested in cityscapes and urbanization as a subject matter. He sees the city in detail – its architecture, view, history, design, culture, and the essence of day to day life in a city. For IAF 2018 his work titled ‘Land of Apparatus’ is a kaleidoscope of bright, vibrant and joyous colours with miniature like-detailing. What is unique about his artwork is the three-dimensional effect which is ‘constructed’ with paper and a repetition of form and colour that is consciously executed to convey a sense of familiar monotony reminiscent of architectural drawings. He likes to maintain a balance between simplicity and complexity so that the viewer’s interest in the work is prolonged and they are able to easily associate with it.


Archer Art

Husain’s encounter with horses began in his childhood in Indore, and later these encounters came in several forms with different associations, triggering various different emotions. Being a prolific painter that he was, Husain explored all these, ranging from his dominant emotion of horse being a friendly and affectionate animal that helped poor men earn their living by working as Tonga carriers, to the iconic Duldul and the Bankura horse of West Bengal, to horses also exuding an aura of dignity, power, speed and vitality and aristocratic elegance working for royal fancy carriages for the British officers.
Having worked closely with Husain for many years, we are proud to present this serigraph of his showcasing the various different forms in which he liked his horses, needless to say that they were his constant till the end.


Archer Art

Where women are respected, Gods make their home.
Looking at Raza’s large body of works, one may realize that bindu is not the only recurring element in his works. Raza has largely celebrated female fertility and female entities of nature, is his works, with a variety of shapes, symbols and colours. Here, he has stacked inverted triangles one on top of other, all pushing downwards that evokes budding of life. Many cultures consider female womb as the ultimate bearer of life or seed, one of them being the tantric philosophy. Bija/seed is considered as the nucleus of all the creation of cosmos, so is Brahma. As discussed earlier, the female yoni or womb bears the bija, nourishes it, and further evokes germination.


Art & Soul Gallery 

“See, here I hold one grain in my hand –
A multitude for those who are to come
To clothe the fertile deserts
With transforming pelts of gold
To be harvested by new peoples
Wading through their unplanted harvests
Singing songs in languages unborn.”
Martin Underwood


Art Centrix Space

The work ‘Pieces to Pieces’ displayed at our booth F 9 represents the displacement and destruction of constructed houses carried through a skeleton of deliberately shattered ceramic pieces that symbolise ‘homelessness’. Each piece of the installation is a beautifully painted blue white ceramic vase typical of ancient rural cultures, still seen in the earthenware of the Indian state of UP. The shards pf pottery are carefully and painstakingly modelled and fired to appear broken and yet each piece is carefully finished and smoothened. This work is a deconstruction against constructed space. It visually represents of the displacement over time of not only people but also cultures over millenia as civilizations get wiped out ansd new ones emerge over them. The installtion also reminds one of the excavations of ancient civilisations and the scene at a discovered site as old artefacts lie revealed on a freshly dug pit. It is a collective memory f a wiping out and moving on of cultures and yet has the element of hope as with each fading away comes a new later of culture.


Art Indus

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Rajendar Tiku’s ‘Black Bag White Bag’ is a positive image, it presents hope, as the time between the then and the now, that could be held still, carried in two bags, even as the sense of ‘placeness’ grows forever irresolute.

The artist an émigré’ from Kashmir, reconciles with the incertitude of displacement in this monumental work, as he reflects upon the perpetual nearness to bags that transformed the idea of home as being a physical space. These bags are profound reflections of saudade, of a feminine space in the mind, one that eternally represents the idea of a home.


baudoin lebon

Albert Besnard (1849 – 1934) was a french painter and printmaker who travelled to India in 1910. The scene of Un Howdah apparently took place in Hyderabad and depicts an elephant with an howdah, a carriage positioned on the back of the animal.

The baudoin lebon gallery wanted to exhibit this fantastic artwork to reinforce France’s interest of India. The galery itself also maintains some precious relationships with India and of course India Art Fair, and wanted, by showing this artwork, to prove that India has been a source of inspiration for many years even on the other side of the world.


DAG

As part of its 25 year celebrations, DAG – India’s largest and best known repository of Indian modern art – has announced its participation at India Art Fair 2018 with an immersive tribute to India’s National Treasure Artists: Raja Ravi Varma, Amrita Sher-Gil, Rabindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy, Nicholas Roerich, Sailoz Mukherjee. Titled ‘NAVRATNA | NINE GEMS, India’s National Treasure Artists’ the exhibition will highlight each artist’s distinct practice and style and their varied choice of mediums, while exploring the common thread of ‘nationalism’ in their works, and be open for viewing from 9 – 12 February 2018.


Delhi Crafts Council

Delhi Crafts Council presents a specially curated collection – Sanjhi Revisited – in which the art works have been handcrafted in paper by traditional Sanjhi artisans from Mathura. The two works shown here are based on actual architectural drawings of the ghats at Mathura.

The Delhi Crafts Council team has collaborated in a year long dialogue with the artisan, Mohan Kumar Verma , on creating this collection. Mohan is a fourth generation artisan and says that he feels happy that in his own lifetime he has witnessed the transformation of sanjhi from a little known craft to a recognised art form.


Exhibit 320

Kumaresan Selvaraj’s sculptures in wood, cement, paint and paper gently erupt and wait to overflow from within its surface as a poignant calling to our inner existential conundrums. In the objects gentle unraveling of itself we are left with questions; the break isn’t one of violence, rather it is a reveal. The cold grey block reminds us of familiar geographies. Selvaraj however, defamiliarises it for the viewer. The works don’t merely facilitate a discussion about the fraught relationship of man and city. In the ‘Here’, to ‘see’ is to come undone. No conclusion is incorrect or inadequate.

I came to know Kumaresan Selvaraj’s work early 2013, during a spree of studio visits across the country. Immediately inspired by his form and command of material, it was wonderful to meet an artist whose breadth of work and vision continues to grow as he explores familiar geographies. At India Art Fair 2018 we will be showing 3 new works by Selvaraj and it gives me great pleasure to continually work with him and represent his works.


Threshold Art Gallery

From early times there was always a co-existence of text and image and both were often intrinsically intertwined in works of art .Examples are the early Christian illuminated manuscripts in the west, while in our own country many manuscripts for instance the Bhagvad Puran where the painting or illustration was supplemented by text or sometimes even the other way around.

In recent times artists have used text in their works either as independent imagery in itself or as an additional supplement to their images to reiterate and reinforce their conceptual arguments. Text is sometimes introduced in a work as a decorative motif or part of a composition.

This body of work explores how these different artists have endeavored to introduce and use text in their works to articulate and explore different facets of their reality and perception.


Kalakriti Art Gallery

Kalakriti Art Gallery is delighted to exhibit ‘Life is a deck of cards’ by artist, Avijit Dutta. This iconic piece represent cards as a symbolic quotient reflecting the ups and downs of life, and reflecting the various aspects of human life rooted in the figurative-narrative manner. Rendering in his signature palette with tempera technique and vintage themed frames one can’t resist the opportunity to revisit the bygone era.

His work bequeaths a personal and syncretic look of the aesthetic sense, which give the deeper meaning that artist collects from the ancestry of objects and that he transforms through experimentation and technique reinvention of the creative processes.


Mo J Gallery

J Young’s moment series was first presented in 2014. J Young has used bonnet of automobile as materials for his artworks since 90’s and his moment series captured the moment of bonnet being crumpled which is his own unique idea to include the moment into his artwork. Among his moment series, this artwork was produced at the zenith of his creativity and it expresses Korean beauty of restraint in a unique space J Young created.


Mondo Galeria

Accurate and relevant to our time, when crypto currency is much in vogue and cash disappearance seems imminent. Highly appreciated by bankers and economists, but surprisingly also by left-wingers. It shoots to a symbol of power that transcends all cultures and countries. We take it to India, where money was originally invented. The One Million Dollar Sphere marks a step in evolution of currencies. The Controlled minting of notes tremble in front of the menace of a new world order (without conspiracy theories). It goes further than a simple artwork, it’s more of a symbol from a changing social paradigm.
Diego Alonso – Madrid. January 2017


Nepal Art Council


The triptyc ‘Three Generations’ by artist Sujan Dangol is a social commentary on the contemporary situation of Nepali Society. I personally like this work because it primarily draws the attention of the viewer with the skillful use of colour and composition and slowly imparts its very grave message with a tinge of humour.

The artist takes inspirations for the happenings around him to form creative expressions on canvas. He seeks to engage with the community, and delves into the mind of ordinary Nepalese and explores through a visual composition, the wants and needs of three generations in contemporary Nepali society. This interesting composition with symbolic objects of generational consumption and skillful use of colours and shapes, the triptych, creates a jovial mood, yet compels us to contemplate the harsh realities of life.


Richard Koh Fine Arts


When I first saw this work, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It has a decorated crown and almost robe like features that reminded me of the people I met on my trips all over.

For me it held a very universal language, the colors and weaves was just amazing, almost like I was standing in front of everyone on earth and peering into the other end of the world. I could see parts of everyone in it, through the patterns, the shapes, the objects and colors… it was just spellbinding.


Rukshaan Art

This particular work is a perfect representation of the interplay of man and his moments, architectural forms and objects from his beloved hometown in Kapadvanj and socio-political incidents in the city in which he now lives in that have had a bearing on the artist.
The chaos on the canvas is patterned by bold lines that have been layered almost a hundred times along with passages that provide space for the playing out of truths that are personal to the artist. And some, we as viewers may empathize with.


Shrine Empire

“We’ve chosen globally acclaimed artist Tayeba Begum lipi’s works as it’s deeply rooted in her context in her home city Dhaka and the ideas that emerge from them address universal experiences. She reimagines everyday objects around the home, the domain of the feminine to discuss narratives of structural oppression and domestic violence against women. The nature of everyday objects that she uses such as razor blades and safety pins, and household appliances occupy the liminal space between familiar and danger. “ says Anahita Taneja & Shefali Somani, Directors, Shrine Empire.


TARQ

For our second-time participation at the India Art Fair, we have chosen to showcase this untitled work by Saubiya Chasmawala because it encapsulates this young artist’s thought provoking and process-driven practice. Chasmawala’s body of work is distinctive in its experimental approach towards material, particularly paper, and its frank exploration of questions of institutionalized religion, particularly scriptures. In this artwork, the artist has sutured the textured surface of handmade paper, which she made from cotton pulp, using a surgical needle. The needle lies embedded in the piece, its sickle-shaped tip echoing the lines of Chasmawala’s gibberish script. The power of this artwork lies in the brevity which with the artist communicates complex issues and the pure textural delight of the surface.


Vadehra Art Gallery

Atul Dodiya continues his long-time thematic occupation with Gandhi in his work where the historical figure is depicted in his public avatar in a hyperrealist painting. Based on historical photographs from the 1930s and 1940s where India’s freedom struggle was gaining significant traction, the surface of the work is interrupted by chromatic patterns that hark back to Rabindranath Tagore’s characteristic doodles. The title of the work is ‘At the public meeting, Sirsi, Karnataka, February 28, 1934’ and it is an Oil on Canvas.


Wonderwall

Magritte’s surreal painting is a comment on the distorted reality of encounters between self and the other while reflecting upon the viewer’s gaze by paradoxically revealing what is hidden behind the mirror (the woman’s naked body) into the reflection.

I have appropriated this painting while adding further signifiers from my reality. Being a moderate Muslim woman from Southeast Asia, attire holds a disconcerting part of my everyday life. What is appropriate clothing in uncharted social territories, is an unsettled dispute.

While covering the naked body with a semi covered swimsuit and a towel, this work is a comment on the confusion of attire in the socio-cultural milieu of contemporary moderate Muslim women.

Bright ideas

Michael Anastassiades’ minimalist, utilitarian lighting creations have become major talking points for the way in which they hand creativity back to their user. Recently in Dubai to present the prototypes for Arrangements, his new collection for the Italian brand Flos, the London-based designer took time out to talk inspiration, intimidation and satisfaction with our team.

Drawing the first line or taking the first step when faced with a blank canvas or new challenge can be a daunting prospect for a creative talent. Is it one you’re familiar with and would you put your entry into the Dubai market in this category?
That’s an interesting parallel to draw since bringing designs to a new location is certainly a challenge. I think all creators have experienced that uncomfortable feeling of being handed a tool and needing to decide which direction to take. It produces a conflict of emotions, that feeling of anything’s possible against the fear of making a wrong move. My personal experience is that drawing the first line is hugely satisfying, even if you’re not quite sure what you’re going to do with it. I think this is the reference that I was using with the Dubai project.

So a blank canvas or first line can sometimes be intimidating for a designer?
Yes, and also for customers! I realised this when I first designed String Lights. Customers could decide how to configure and hang the lights. However, I think in the early stages, some were perhaps concerned about what to do with the lights once they got them home and opted instead for a ready-made, configurated product. Potential freedom can be overwhelming.

Talking of String Lights, I think you’ve said it was one of the projects that you showed Piero Gandini, the CEO of Italian manufacturer Flos, during that ‘famous’ taxi journey…
Yes, the one that replaced our planned lunch in London after his plane was delayed and I couldn’t get to the station in time to meet him for coffee! In the end our ‘meeting’ was a 20-minute taxi ride, during which we walked through several of my ideas. It was unconventional, but by the end of it, we’d decided we were going to work together. I’m pretty sure that the first project I showed him was String Lights. He saw it as revolutionary and immediately wanted to be part of it.

Your latest collection for Flos, titled Arrangements, is a modular system of geometric light elements that can be combined in different ways, so the two projects share common ground. Do you regard it as a natural progression?
I like to think of Arrangements in some ways as the second step in the story, but there are differences. The creativity is there, but it’s more controlled. Customers can put together their own combinations from the various elements available. The options are vast, but will always work. Giving people something to explore, react to and engage with, rather than something they simply plug in, really interests me.

As a first-time visitor, how have you found Dubai?
Since arriving, I’ve been particularly interested in the coexistence of the native Emiratis and the people who have decided to make Dubai their home. Despite the contrasting cultures, I’ve noticed that there seems to be a coordination rather than a conflict between the two, which is great. I’ve found people here to be receptive, open-minded and willing to try new things. The concept of allowing new things to exist is important to me too.

by Anastasia Nysten


Featured image: Michael Anastassiades, photo credits SGP.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Letters From The Past #43 pages 122-125.

Constructing from the Ruins

A new monograph of Marwan Rechmaoui charts the artist’s obsessive mapping of the destruction and reconstruction of Beirut over a period of 20 years

Part landscape, part sculpture, part cartography and part documentary, the work of Marwan Rechmaoui blurs many lines, even as it returns again and again to the same subject — the urban, social, political and historical fabric of Beirut.

In Metropolis, a new monograph published by Beirut-based Kaph Books, texts by Catherine David, Kaelen Wilson-Goldie, Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Waddah Charara help to contextualise 20 years of Rechmaoui’s work. Covering work produced between 1996 and 2016, the book sheds light on the innovations and obsessions of an unassuming artist who has played a key role on Beirut’s art scene — even helping to found Ashkal Alwan (the Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts) — and yet chooses to remain on its peripheries.

The book’s introduction by David defines Rechmaoui’s work as “an ultra-contemporary hyper-cartography project”, a phrase she expounds on by exploring how his works are all rooted in the complexities of urban space. The monograph focuses on various projects including: Monument for the Living (2002), a small concrete replica of Burj al-Murr, an unfinished skyscraper occupied by militiamen during the Lebanese Civil War; Beirut Caoutchouc (2004), a sectional rubber floor mat, mapping Beirut’s neighbourhoods; Spectre (2006), a model of the Yacoubian Building, a smart housing development that housed refugees during the war; and Blazon, Rechmaoui’s most recent project. This latest piece is an exhaustive mapping of Beirut through metal shields and embroidered flags, which explores the landmarks and names that define its neighbourhoods.

A comprehensive essay by Wilson-Goldie situates Rechmaoui’s work within a context of Western and Levantine modernist abstraction. She notes that in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine, many abstract artists often choose to capture landscapes, perhaps because those landscapes “have been vulnerable, unstable, threatened, falling apart, because they have been lost, because they are gone”. Although from a younger, more contemporary generation, Rechmaoui, she suggests, can be considered a landscape painter too, one who works with the physical materials of the city itself and who often spends up to a decade on a single project. Over more than two decades, he has charted the destruction and reconstruction of the city he has made home, shedding light on its complex politics, fractured society and violent history in the process.

Although the artist often spends years reading and researching for each of his projects, he chooses not to share his documentation with audiences, instead allowing the final physical manifestations of his work to speak for themselves. “From those forms,” writes Wilson-Goldie, “a landscape emerges, familiar but reconfigured, riven in ways that are hard to see and difficult, even painful, to understand.” These landscapes are communicated through the visual portion of the book. Hundreds of colour images of Rechmaoui’s work help to shed light on his working process and the final forms his projects take, providing readers with a comprehensive overview of his oeuvre.

Metropolis is an insightful and beautifully realised monograph that illuminates the early career of an artist who doubtless has much more left to say.


A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Letters From The Past #43, pages 110-113.

What to see at Arte Fiera 2018

2nd – 5th February 2018, Bologna
VIP Preview 1st February 12.00 pm (invitation only)
Vernissage 1st February 5.00 pm – 9.00 pm (invitation only)

Arte Fiera, Italy’s longest running art fair and the leading national event in terms of sales, has been the fulcrum of the national art market for the last 42 years. The coming edition will be taking place from the 2nd to 5th February with a preview on the 1st February.

With a focus specifically on the Italian scene and on the substance of the content, Arte Fiera 2018 is set to underline its role as the Italian art fair par excellence. Bologna in this context, continues in its tradition as a learned and cultured city as capable of critical focus as it is of moments of experimentation and one that is not, however, inclined towards the globalized sensationalising of art and its market.

www.artefiera.it


Featured image: Francesco Jodice, Atlante #001, 2017. Stampa ink jet su carta cotone, plexiglas, cornice in legno, 113 x 202,5 x 5 cm., Courtesy the artist and Galleria Michela Rizzo

Fine Lines

A counter to the ornamentation of Art Nouveau, the Art Deco style of architecture, design and visual arts might have managed only a brief lifespan, but its impact and influence continue to resonate a century on

Emerging in the 1910s and flourishing through the 1920s, Art Deco marked the first architecture-cum-design movement of a global nature.

The movement takes its name from the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts which was held in Paris in 1925.

An abbreviation of Decorative Arts, Art Deco relates largely to interior architecture, with its tapestries, stained glass, paintings, furniture and ornamental sculptures, cabinet-making, the use of ceramics and silversmithing. The designs appearing on pieces for the home and office are also associated with the style, alongside fashion and the typography of advertisements and other creations.

The Art Deco style took off before World War I as a counter to the volutes and organic forms of Art Nouveau. It marked a return to classical rigour: symmetry; classical orders, which were often highly stylised; and cut stone, though without the emphasis on the picturesque. The décor, generally still very present, no longer possessed the freedom evident in the 1900s, rather it conveyed strict control, with the drawings inspired by cubist geometry.

Order, colour and geometry
These three components form the essence of Art Deco vocabulary.

However, the vocabulary took different forms, depending on the region, and according to the architects and their clients. Its stylistic unity was the use of geometry, which served an essentially decorative purpose, and was non-structural, unlike the movement of the international avant-garde, also called modernism or international style, which established architectural principles of volumes in bays and harmonic circulations. This rich decoration, alongside the purity and simplicity of the design, was used and applied by architects to varying degrees, depending on where they were based and their individual style.

Art Deco is also the first style to have extended its reach worldwide, arriving first in France, then moving on to Belgium, Portugal, Spain, North Africa and the UK. Its influence was also felt farther afield in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, the Philippines and elsewhere.

 

Origins prior to 1914
Art Deco’s sources are rooted in the years 1900-1910. The reactionary movement against Art Nouveau appears at the beginning of the century in France, and even earlier in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, where some were already describing Art Nouveau as “soft” or “noodle style”. The move was now already veering towards simple lines, classical compositions and a sparse use of décor. This desire to return to order, symmetry and sobriety was expressed in a variety of ways, depending on the country.

In Austria, for example, the undulating line of early Art Nouveau was quickly replaced by a network of orthogonal lines and simple volumes, under the influence of Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The iconic artists participating in this trend were Josef Hoffmann, Koloman Moser, Otto Wagner and the Wiener Werkstätte group.

This order then found its way to Brussels, a great Art Nouveau city, from 1905-1911, best represented in the Stoclet Palace. The interiors, as seen in photographs, showcase the Wiener Werkstätte group and the painter Gustav Klimt.

In France, the first signs of this desire for change were perceptible as early as the 1900s. Analysing the work of Henri Bellery-Desfontaines makes it possible to measure the passage from 1902-1904 between Art Nouveau and Art Deco. However, he was not alone in operating at a junction point between styles to reduce the boundaries between the decorative, the artisanal and the artistic; in 1907, Eugène Grasset published a method of ornamental composition that gave pride of place to geometric forms and its variations.

This vision contrasts with the vast freedom that Hector Guimard, so popular in Paris a few years earlier, displayed. The following year, the illustrator Paul Iribe drew a fashion album for designer Paul Poiret, whose innovative aesthetics were noted by the Parisian milieu.

A third important event, the Autumn Salon of 1910, saw invitations extended to the artists of Munich who, for several years, had adopted strict forms. Around 1910, the French decorators André Mare, Louis Süe and Paul Auscher were also showing a shift in style towards rigour and more restraint. In sculpture, meanwhile, François Pompon created his famous bear.

From the architectural side, the Champs-Élysées theatre site opened between 1910 and 1913, another sign of the radical aesthetic change under way among the Parisian milieu. First entrusted to Henry Van de Velde, the design and construction was quickly returned to Auguste Perret. The rigorous composition of the of the façade and measured space allotted to décor impacted the spirit of the inauguration in 1913. Finally, Henri Sauvage renewed formal architectural landmarks with technical references on buildings from the beginning of the century.

New simplicity
These evolutions are summed up in 1912 by André Vera, a designer. His article, The New Style, published in the journal Decorative Art, expresses a rejection of Art Nouveau forms that are asymmetrical, polychrome, picturesque, and that excite feelings more than reason. He calls for a “voluntary simplicity”, a “single matter” and a “manifest symmetry”. At the end of the article, he urges artists to draw inspiration from the classicism of the 17th century marked by “clarity, order and harmony”. He also calls for the thread of the history of French styles from the Louis-Philippe period, marked by a lack of pasticher, to be resumed. Vera’s final words note two themes that will be ubiquitous in the future Art Deco style, “the basket and the garland of flowers and fruits”.

The influence of the painting of the 1910s can be seen in trends such as the popularisation of Fauvism and still more of cubism. Works by the painters of the Golden Section often proved to be more accessible to the public than those of Picasso and Georges Braque. The themes, such as sport and the working world, alongside the shimmering colours, contrasted with the fragmented and avant-garde still lifes of the pioneers of the movement. Cubist vocabulary, meanwhile, seduced the designers of fashion, furniture and interior design.

In a further development, 1910s’ Paris discovered Serge Diaghilev’s Russian ballets, mixing dance, music and painting that was inspired by the 1001 Nights. Marking an invitation to luxury and exoticism, the costumes were created by Léon Bakst, alongside others, hence the characteristic fans, feathers, jets of water and bright colours. The unusual hues also found their way into furniture, with boudoirs showcasing orange walls and lounges in black.

The roaring twenties
While 1920s’ Germany was caught up in a major economic crisis, France’s situation had improved, with the country weathering the monetary crises of both 1924 and 1926. Other nations also began to move on, although stark reminders of the impact of war were all too evident and cities destroyed needed to be rebuilt. Reims and Saint-Quentin, both of which suffered huge damage, were reconstructed largely in the Art Deco architectural style of the time.

There was also a shift in mindset towards the significance of museums and their contents, with more focus given to ethnography. In addition, the post-war years saw a change in the way elements previously viewed as exotic in English architecture found their way into designs.

While modernism linked several key cities, such as Bordeaux and New York, the financial instability felt across Europe meant house prices continued to rise in France until 1927, resulting in a severe housing crisis for the country’s middle and lower classes. However, the early 1920s also saw manifestations of financial wealth among the richest classes in France.

In Paris, as in many large provincial cities, commentators of the time observed the construction of ornate buildings, villas and mansions, which were prolific projects for designer-artists and Art Deco architects.

The trend included a simplification of the work involved to gain speed in execution, something that bound together all architecture using modern principles, ahead of the use of reinforced concrete and metal profiles. The trend for taller models, a sign of wealth and modernity, was taken from the US, which was seen as the economic champion of the time. This desire for height came to feature in the town planning policies, which deviated from the rules only if there was architectural justification. The trend contributed to key aspects in structural progress, such as the construction of integrated garages, and aesthetics, including the preservation of heritage and character in a building.

Art deco and architecture
The 1920s were also an era for evolution across a variety of domains. There was a strong interest in the richness of decoration and less interest in the constructive structure, something closely aligned with the so-called modernist structural architecture.

Modernism advocates a strong interest in the constructive structure, as evidenced in bays and circulations of the time. Architects and owners of buildings showed less interest in the apparent richness symbolised by the decoration, although their real motivation could also have been the economy and desire to represent the problems incurred within the area. This so-called ‘gesture of living’ was theorised at the time and evidenced in the structured component kitchen and dining room habitat studied by the Austrian architect, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky in 1926. Once again, the extent to which elements were adopted across different countries varied and was also influenced by each protagonist’s individual way of working.

Transatlantic and Art Deco cruise ships
In the 1920s and 1930s, before the advent of long-distance commercial aviation, the main means of intercontinental transportation was the ocean liner. Fierce competition between companies such as the UK’s Cunard-White Star, HAPAG (Germany), Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (France) and Compagnie Flote Italiane (Italy), was coupled with a fight between nations for the prestige of bringing increasingly quicker, more elegant and comfortable liners into operation. From the 1920s onwards, shipyards began to move towards modernism as their preferred choice for liners’ interior design. While the English ships Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth remained characterised by a classic look, in similar style to their predecessors, the Mauretania, Lusitania and Titanic, the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique took a daring modernist approach with the Ile de France (1927) and even more so with the Normandy (1935), a true sea-cathedral of Art Deco that showcased the work of designers Louis Süe, André Mare, Jean Dunand, Patout and Pacon, Raymond Subes, Jacques Carlu and Carlhian alongside others. The Germans followed the movement, with Bremen and Europa entrusting their interior spaces to the great architect Paul Troost. Not to be outdone, Italy’s two ships Rex and Conte di Savoia were emblematic of the Mussolini era, with designs that combined modernism and a reinterpretation of Roman antiquity.

So suitably symbolic were luxury transatlantic liners of progress, opulence and aspiration that architects were keen to take them as inspiration for designing buildings. Examples include Georges-Henri Pingusson’s Latitude hotel, overlooking Saint-Tropez, and the Normandy hotel in Puerto Rico which, like many other buildings from the 1930s, reflect the stylistic features of the Transat flagship, such as rounded volumes, terraces and windows in horizontal curtains. This variant of Art Deco is often referred to as a liner style in France and a modern streamline in the US.

Art Deco furniture was the work of designers destined for a well-heeled clientele, hungry for novelty, but who remained relatively conformist; unique furniture made by cabinetmakers offering luxury and perfection.

The Art Deco or modern style formula was characterised by a decorative style that spread internationally, an amalgam of art and craft belonging to a world of luxury and opulence, championed by masters of the new design, Jean-Michel Frank, Andre Arbus, Paul Dupre-Lafon and Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann.

This short, but intense period of aesthetic and technical renewal ended with the arrival of the modernists, who opposed in an almost ideological way the ornamental wealth of Art Deco and championed alternatives, led by functional minimalism.


Featured image: Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann, argentier, 1921, detail.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, Letters From The Past #43 pages 126-129.

Exhibition 2 | Huguette Caland

This January, New York city’s Institute of Arab and Islamic Art presents artist Huguette Caland’s first institutional survey. This retrospective entitled Exhibition 2 highlights four decades of her paintings, drawings, caftans, smocks as well as never before seen works.

Born in Beirut in 1931 Caland’s eventful life stems from a highly political family background. She started painting at the age of 16 under the tutelage of Italian artist Fernando Manetti. Her artistic vocation takes her to Paris in the 1970’s where she explores her ability to engage in different disciplines such as fashion design. Her signature line work transcends the paper and pen. The collection of caftans Caland produced under Pierre Cardin’s brand, delineating her unique minimalist vision integral in her life’s work, hangs prominently in the space. This rather haunting installation of suspended garments and the framed pieces along the walls compliment each other quite perfectly.

One can observe the artists gracious evolution from depictions of erotically charged figures to her later abstract pieces which still seem to hold an aesthetic inclination towards the intimate. Caland often used herself as subject to bring forth topics which she deemed worthy of observation such as the way female sexuality is gauged in society. The exhibition sees her transformation from her 17 years in Paris to her move to Venice California in 1987, back to Beirut in 2013. Delightful and unsettling, her work hints at a well of forbidden gems one is only permitted to access through ones own imagination.

On View until March 18th, 2018

Art Los Angeles Contemporary 2018

Join Art Los Angeles Contemporary 2018 (ALAC) at the opening night of their ninth edition on January 25–28 for drinks and a first look the presentations of their 70+ local and international exhibitors at the Barker Hangar.

Art Los Angeles Contemporary is also pleased to present a comprehensive programming series that underscores the fair’s relationship to Los Angeles and its diverse cultural community through concerts, performances, talks and unique outreach activities throughout the ninth edition.

Home to internationally-renown museums, art schools, galleries and a prodigious number of practicing artists, Los Angeles serves as the ideal landscape for a progressive, international contemporary art fair.


Featured image: ONE AND J. Gallery, Jung Lee, This is the End, 2016, C Type Print, 152x191cm.