Apparently at this year's Christmas Calendar, a theme is failing or late blooming. There were already Franz West and Massimo Vitali, who found their vocation in their fields comparatively late. In furniture and interior design a highly interesting example is the French designer Jean Royère.
He was born in 1902 in Paris into a cultivated family. He finished his studies in Cambridge, which he started in various Parisian colleges without great success. He worked at an import-export business for five years and without any training started to show an interest in decoration.
At the age of 29, he quit his job and started a two year apprenticeship at a furniture factory in Faubourg Saint-Antoine. After creating a set of garden furniture for his uncle in 1931, he made a name for himself decorating the brasserie Le Carlton in the namesake hotel in 1933. This also drew the interest of manufacturer Pierre Gouffé who hired him in 1934 to create a line for his company.
A polar-bear suite at Emmanuel de Bayser’s Berlin home. © Manolo Yllera
In 1942 he opened his own agency in Paris and among his long career opened shops in the Middle East and South America. What made him stand out among his peers, was his use of materials and his endless quest for techniques, which he applied to his designs. His lack of formal training initially helped him, as he did not see any limits and always saw it as a big adventure.
In 1972 he stopped working as a designer and divided his time between France and the United States of America, where he died in 1981 in Pennsylvania. Today his designs are among the most-sought after by collectors, especially his Polar Bear chair and sofa reach immense prices at auctions.
Inspirations for artists can be found literally anywhere, very often at the most obvious places. For the Italian photographer Massimo Vitali such a place of inspiration is now for nearly 30 years the beach and its visitors.
Marina Di Pietrasanta, 1994, © Massimo Vitali
Vitali was born in Como in 1944. He studied photography at the London College of Printing. At the beginning of the 1960s he worked as a photojournalist for magazines and agencies all over Europe. In the 1980s he worked as a cinematographer for television and cinema, which helped deepening his technical knowledge of cameras.
In the early 1990s, he returned to photography as an artist, focusing on stills via large-format photography. He began taking his famous Beach Series in 1995, for which is most known for. He set up large scaffolding and photographed towards the beach, where people would be. He says, that watching people helps him understand people in general, but also society and how it changes over the years.
Sacred Russian Pool, Turkey, 2009, © Massimo Vitali and Ronchini Gallery
In recent years he shifted from a large-format film camera to a medium-format digital one, but his focus is still on human behavior, mostly in public spaces. He describes himself as an observer of human behavior.
Number 2 of our Christmas Specials is a T-Shirt. It features a digital print on the front stating Untitled Monday. The T-Shirt is based on Airbag Craftworks basic shirt, which is made in Europe. It has a regular fit and a round comfortable neckline.
Our T-Shirt inspired a gift selection, which includes the beautiful nautic sweater Seaman in grey from Andersen-Andersen, a black wool hat by Séfr, the amazing perfume from Matthew Miller by Verdúu and A Kind Of Guise's Pleated Wide Trousers in anthracite.
It is fascinating when crossovers within the arts happen, especially when an artist moves successfully from art to popular culture. A famous example from the 1980's is the artist Laurie Anderson. In her footsteps follows the Belgian musician, video and performance artist Céline Gillain.
She grew up on the countryside in a little town between Liège and Maastricht called Aubin-Neufchâteau. There she had little contact with pop culture and no television around, so she was completely fascinated by it. Nevertheless, it was suffocating for her, so in her teens she moved to Brussels to study art and stayed here for work, where she still lives and works.
Musically she stepped onto the scene with her debut 7-inch record What Happens If I Open My Mouth?, released on Brussels based imprint Lexi Disques in 2017. A year later she released her first album entitled Bad Woman on Antinote's Zaltan's and PAM's, from the Okonkole-Y-Trompa blog, drama label.
Through her work she comments on relationships, late capitalism, fame and power using popular schemes and completely flipping them. Additionally, she hosts a monthly radio show entitled Relief on the Belgian online radio The Word, where she presents an hour long music and spoken word, that inspire her, but also regularly invites guests.
There are multitude of approaches towards making art. Some are of the opinion, one has to work for one's inspiration, others think that it will come on its own. An example of the second group is the Austrian artist Franz West, who described himself as lazy. In his own words, he said: "I've always thought the ideal is to do nothing and still be able to make a living out of it".
He was born in 1947 in Vienna, where he also lived his entire life, to a coal dealer father and a dentist mother. His "laziness" showed as he did not start to start to study art seriously until his late twenties and then studied at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna from 1977 until 1982.
As he was exposed to the Actionist and Performance Art of the 1960s and 70s, his initial work developed as a reaction to it. From the 70s he worked with simple materials like papiermache, old flip-flops, cardboard tubes, a pile of hats, his own childhood bed and his mother’s old washing machine. Later on he started to also work with large-scale aluminum pieces.
Otto Kobalek with Adaptive by Franz West, 1974. Photography © Friedl Kubelka
His Passstücke, initially translated as fitting pieces, but West preferred the word adaptives, were papier-mâché pieces made to be picked up and moved. As they were his first pieces that demanded visitors participation, they signify an important turning point in the relationship between art and its audience, but also West's career.
Courtesy of Franz West Privatstiftung © Archiv Franz West.
At the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s international interest in West's work increased and he showed at the Austrian pavilion in 1991 but won the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale in 2011. Also his installation of his typical sofas at documenta IX in 1992 helped cementing his international reputation.
Next to his regular demand for visitor's participation he frequently collaborated with other artists like Douglas Gordon, Sarah Lucas, Herbert Brandl, Bernhard Cella and Tamuna Sirbiladze. The latter became his wife in 2002 and they had two children together. Despite calling himself lazy, he had a vast output covering various fieldds of art. His work can be described as ironic, irreverent, but still profoundly philosophical.
It seems sometimes that artists have a prophetical gift, describing the future so accurate that it is frightening. A well known example is Paul Klee's Angelus Novus who got famous through Walter Benjamin's essay. A more recent example, even though it was written more than thirty years ago, is the documentary I Am Not Your Negro.
The said documentary was released in 2016 to much acclaim. The movie is directed by Raoul Peck, who besides a short period as Haiti's Minister of Culture is an awarded director, mostly of documentary feature films. Additionally the movie is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson.
Those alone are standout facts, but it is James Baldwin's unfinished script Remember This House, on which the documentary is, that makes it so compelling. The story follows the lives and deaths of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., which he all knew personally well, that makes the subject of the movie so contemporary.
As the writer and poet Baldwin was an outspoken and eloquent observer of his time, his words, which are compared to recent developments like Ferguson and Black Lives Matter ring truer today than ever. In a little above 90 minutes the movie captures more depth than a lot of series, it is of course not an easy watch, but definitely worth it.
It is interesting to see how often forgotten designers become the interest of collectors and decorators and how those change. This was the case for a lot of French mid-century designers, which are the key interest at the moment. Another long forgotten pioneer, an unsung hero, is the furniture and interior designer and architect Greta Magnusson-Grossman.
Born in 1906 in Helsingborg, she did a one-year woodworking apprenticeship in her hometown, before studying Furniture design at the Högre Konstindustriella Skolan. In 1933 she opened up Studio with her classmate Erik Ullrich and she received a second place for furniture design from the Stockholm Craft Association, making her the first woman to ever being awarded. The same year she also married the British jazz musician and band leader Billy Grossman.
Hurley Residence, Wonder View Plaza, Hollywood, 1958
In 1940, in the middle of the Second World War, she and her husband moved to California, where they opened Magnussen-Grossman Studio on Rodeo Drive. Focussing on furniture and lightning design, she stylistically blended European modernism with Californian lifestyle. Among her clients were stars like Greta Garbo, Joan Fontaine and Gracie Allen.
Technical drawing for a table lamp, for the Ralph O. Smith Company, 1948
Led to collaborations with well-known manufacturers like Barker Brothers or Ralph O. Smith for her lamps or Glenn of California for her furniture. Her unique mix of materials, such as colorful textiles, California walnut, black plastic laminate and wrought iron, and her slender proportions made her stand out. It also make her designs recognizable to this day.
Photograph © Sherry Griffin/R 20th Century.
But not only did she design furniture and lightning, she also worked as an architect. Her own split level house in Beverly Hills was her breakthrough, where she did the architecture and the interior design. The house was featured in the magazine Arts & Architecture and admired by its editor John Entenza, as it was in the vein of Case Study House project, they supported. Approximately ten of her designed houses still exist.
In 1966 she retired from the Design world and moved with her husband to Encinitas to a house she designed. In this time she mainly painted landscapes and died in 1999 in quite obscurity. In the last ten years, an interest in her designs arose and now reach high prices at auctions.
Door number 5, time for our first Christmas special this season. It is a modern twist on a classic wardrobe piece, blending two styles of scarfs and thereby breathing new life in a standard accessory. The scarf is made from a high quality 50% cashmere and 50% Virgin wool fabric.
Recently the interest in Brutalist architecture skyrocketed and found a new, younger fanbase. Associated with are normally large eponymous, most of the time public buildings, but that it also works subtly on smaller scales and private properties is often forgotten.
House Van Wassenhove
A pioneer in this sense was the Belgian architect Juliaan Lampens, who died this year aged 93. He was born in 1926 to a carpenter father in De Pinte. Before opening his own studio in 1950 in Enke, he studied architecture at the Higher Institute for Art and Vocational Training of the Sint-Lucas School in Gent.
A huge impact on his architectural practice had the World Fair 1958 in Brussels, where he was exposed to Modern architects like Le Corbusier, who showed his Philipps pavilion there. This inspired him to build his own house in 1960, where for the first time he applied his avant-garde style of living without barriers.
House Vandenhaute-Kiebooms 1967 Zingem, Belgium © Jan KempenaersFrom this turning point on, he focused on three main materials, concrete, wood and glass, which became his signature. His houses were built to be in harmony with the environment, often closed off from the public on the one side, and completely open towards nature on the other side. He is famous for private residencies, next to his own, like the Vandenhaute-Kiebooms House (1967), the Van Wassenhove House (1974) and public buildings like the Kerselare Chapel (1966) in Edelare or Eke's Library (1970).
Kerselare Chapel, Edelare, Belgium © Jessy van der Werff
Next to Le Corbusier, he was also inspired by Mies Van der Rohe, Oscar Niemayer and the bunkers along the Atlantic coast. As so often, it took decades for him to be appreciated and only got his international recognition in recent years, but throughout all of his career he stayed true to his architectural style and vision.
Artists, who force you to look twice and work on multiple levels, are the most compelling ones. A perfect example is the German artist Rosemarie Trockel and her success proves her right. At first it is very often her humor that grabs your attention, but in the end it challenges your point of view.
She was born in 1952 in Schwerte and initially started to study anthropology, mathematics, sociology and theology in 1971 before changing to art at the Werkkunstschule (Cologne University of Applied Sciences). She studied there from 1974 until 1978 under Werner Schriefers.
The upcoming scene in Cologne at the beginning of the 80s proved to be a fertile ground for her, especially her work with the artist group Müllheimer Freiheit and the gallerist Monika Sprüth. During that time she also traveled to the United States of America and was in contact with Cindy Sherman and Jenny Holzer.
She got international attention for her knitted drawings, taking a material seen as female and challenged the Male dominated art world. Similar was her use of hot-plates, which she put on large canvases, similar to the dots seen in the pop art movement. But her art can not only be described as Feminist, as her approach is broader, dealing with societal themes, which makes her art quite political. As she does not want to be categorized subject-wise, she also does not limit her to a few materials. She works with film, photography, wool, and found objects, among others.
Her position in the art world got fastened through her participation at documenta in 1997, where she together with Carsten Höller showed the Haus für Schweine und Menschen. Also she was the first female solo artist to so show at the German Pavillon at the Venice Biennale in 1999. Since 1998 she teaches at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Despite her success she is rather elusive, rarely gives interviews and lets her art do the talking.
Rosemarie Trockel, Cluster – One Eye Too Many, 2018. Installation view, Moderna Museet Malmö, 2018. Photo: Helene Toresdotter/Moderna Museet.