Tag Archives: lighting

Past and Future of the Barcelona Model

The new web of Parc de Belloch has been launched, with a whole set of great video interviews about design, Barcelona, urban landscaping and the city. Each interview comes with a downloadable pdf transcript in both the original Spanish and a translated English version.

I’ve posted a link to my own contribution above, and you can access further words of wisdom by the likes of Miguel Mila, Antoni Arola, Beth Gali, Nina Maso or Javier Nieto on Belloch’s site.


Summertime… vintage design auctions are in season

LUIS BARRAGAN (1902-1988) A Sabino and Leather Barcelona Chair, 1959.

LUIS BARRAGAN (1902-1988) A Sabino and Leather 'Barcelona' Chair, 1959. Estimate $20,000 - $30,000. Christie's Important 20th Century Decorative Art & Design, 2 June 2009 New York, Rockefeller Plaza.

With the month of June comes the yearly round of summer 20th Century design auctions at all the major auction houses. Sotheby’s ‘Important 20th Century Design’ of June 12 is offering lots for a total lower estimate value of $3.7 million – $5.4 at the highest estimate. This kind of money won’t save GM from bankruptcy, but it still is a hell of a lot of cash. Despite the recession, the relatively young 20C and contemporary design market has been holding its own remarkably well, even if its meteoric rise through to 2007 has been somewhat dampened in the current climate.

Christie’s and Phillips de Pury are also holding June auctions, as are Wright and  Quittenbaum, both specialist 20C Design auction houses. The latter holds a treat for all of you who are interested in Spanish 20th Century design: Andre Ricard’s rare 1973 lamp for Metalarte (pictured below), which I mentioned in an earlier post, is up for grabs at an estimate of €1200. Catch it if you can!

And if you happen to come across other pieces of Spanish design in the auction catalogues, let me know!

Where is Spanish vintage design?

Lamp by Andre Ricard for Metalarte. Spain, 1973.

Lamp by Andre Ricard for Metalarte. Spain, 1973.

I find browsing through the catalogues of 20th century design auctions pleasantly addictive. I particularly enjoy the idea of many of those objects having the possibility of an extended real life out there in someone’s home, eventually. Of tables supporting piles of half-read magazines and traces of fresh coffee stains, consoles being scratched by bunches of keys every evening, lamps being turned on and chairs creaking as people sit at the dinner table. When I come across a piece of vintage furniture I really like,  a whole room seems to grow around it in my mind. A very expensive room, as many of these objects have been going for pretty steep prices – at least until fairly recently. The 20th Century Design antiques market hasn’t been immune to the global economic meltdown, although it has held up surprisingly well, especially at the higher end of the market.

The vintage design scene is dominated by five main players, in terms of where the pieces come from and the most valued historical periods. Germany (Bauhaus designers), Italy (pretty much everything), France (Prouve of course, Royère, Mategot), Scandinavia (Aalto, Jacobsen, Panton) and US Mid-Century Modern (Eames, Nelson, Nakashima). Just to name a few. Then there’s everybody else, from the Czech Republic to Brazil. And, on rare occasions, Spain.

Fase 520c lamp in TV series House M.D., episode 4x11, "Frozen".

Fase 520c lamp in TV series House M.D., episode 4x11, "Frozen".

Late 1960s lamp by Fase, Madrid.

Late 1960s lamp by Fase, Madrid.

Until very recently, Spain was as entirely absent from the vintage design scene as the vintage design scene was absent in Spain. Now both are starting to rear their heads. So far, the occasional Spanish mid-century presence in the auction catalogues is limited to a couple of recurring typologies, but they are slowly becoming established. One of them is  – to the horror of Spaniards who see nothing in them but the reminder of Francoist officialdom – the pieces by lighting company FASE, manufacturer during the 1960s and 1970s of wonderfully solid and excitingly modern-looking lamps for the desks of Spanish civil servants. Ironically, designer-anonymous Fase lamps are probably the best-known items of Spanish design in the vintage world. Not surprisingly, as some of them are truly gorgeous. They have recently found their way into the latest Indiana Jones film (on Indy’s desk, no less!) and an episode of the TV series House M.D. – Hollywood production designers know a good thing when they see it.

Sunburst gilt ceiling fixture. Spain, late 1950s.

Sunburst gilt ceiling fixture. Spain, late 1950s.

Spain, 1950s gilt sunburst mirror with scrollwork frame

Spain, 1950s gilt sunburst mirror with scrollwork frame

Another category of Spanish mid-century design that has become extremely successful abroad is the sunburst, both as mirror and as lamp. Again, to the dismay of modernity-seeking Spaniards who see them as the epitome of kitsch and the bane of dreary middle-class late 1950s entry halls. And again, I think they’re gorgeous.

But what about ‘real’ Spanish design, designer design, the kind of stuff that was getting ADI-FAD Delta prizes in the 1960s and 1970s? The stuff by Miguel Mila and Andre Ricard and Barba Corsini? Or even earlier 1930s stuff by the GATCPAC crew? There seems to be precious little of it out there.

The Butterfly chair (known as BKF in Spain) by Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan and Jorge Ferrari Hardoy, is virtually the only well-known piece by a Spanish designer that has a solid, enduring presence in the vintage design auction world. And that is probably because it was designed in Argentina in 1938 (Bonet, a Catalan architect, had fled Spain during the Civil War and founded the Austral group with Kurchan and Ferrari) and later manufactured by Knoll in the US, becoming an iconic piece of mid-century modern furniture design.

Another Spanish piece that has appeared recently in auction catalogues is a splendid reading lamp by Andre Ricard, one of Barcelona’s best known designers and part of the generation that helped establish the profession in the 1960s. The lamp was commissioned for the library of the Philosophy Faculty of Barcelona University in the early 1970s. The Faculty relocated to new premises a couple of years ago and the Library is no more, so I’m glad this lamp made it into the auctions circuit, because it certainly didn’t make it into the local design museum collections. It’a a beautiful, elegant piece, which combines a 70s sensibility with a certain Art Deco flair (see picture at top of post). It was manufactured by Metalarte, and I have found another version of it in their historical catalogue, which was probably the inspiration for the site-specific Library lamp.


Low table lamp by Andre Ricard for Metalarte, 1973.

So – where is Spanish vintage design? A lot of it probably ended up in the rubbish bin a long time ago. The preservation of mid-century everyday objects in Spain has been hindered by the fact that they represented a material culture of dictatorship, national isolation and anonymous design, and by an institutional infrastructure (read Museums) that lacked the means and the will to look after the design heritage efficiently. But there are some truly great pieces out there, both anonymous and signed, and I’m sure we will be seeing more of them as the interest in 20th century vintage takes root in Spain. And that will be a good thing, because we can’t always rely on museum collections to take care of the past.

The Ballad of the Styrofoam Cup

Recycling and re-using ordinary everyday things to turn them into exquisite glamour-infused objects of art and design is a practice that has become increasingly mainstream, ever since it was showcased almost a decade ago now at the ICA’s Stealing Beauty exhibition in London, curated by Claire Catteral. I have been following the trend with great interest as it has seeped into the recesses of contemporary culture, as an easy conceptual shortcut to comment on the evils of our throwaway society, the excesses of consumerism, the beauty of anonymous objects and the need for sustainable practices.

This now hegemonic trend is about to be enshrined for good in the inaugural exhibition of New York’s new Museum of Arts and Design, Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary.  (Sept 27, 2008 – Feb 15, 2009). Here’s the blurb:

The exhibition features work by 50 international established and emerging artists from all five continents who create objects and installations comprised of ordinary and everyday manufactured articles, most originally made for another functional purpose. The exhibition includes works by well known designers, Ingo Maurer, Tejo Remy, and the Campana Brothers as well as internationally acclaimed artists, such as Tara Donovan, Xu Bing, El Anatsui, and Do Ho Suh.

Highlights from the show include American artist Tara Donovan’s Bluffs, a group stalagmite shaped structures made of clear plastic buttons delicately placed one on top of the other. Do Ho Suh, a Korean artist creates a jacket made of military dog tags, portraying the way a solider is part of a larger troop.

Paul Villinski, an American, creates beautiful butterflies out of his old record collection, producing a “soundtrack” of his life. English artist Susie MacMurray used yellow rubber washing gloves, turned them inside out and stitched onto a calico form to create an imposing out-sized dress.

Other featured works are made from buttons, spools of thread, artificial hair, used high-heeled shoes, plastic spoons and forks, shopping bags, and 25-cent coins to mention only a few.

The exhibition surveys the rich artistic landscape of much contemporary art, in which hierarchies among art, craft, and design are disregarded. In addition, the exhibition examines the ways in which artists transform our world, respond to contemporary cultural paradigms, and comment on global consumerism.

I offer today for your entertainment, a few snapshots of the humble styrofoam cup on its journey of reincarnation as a lamp, which of course hasn’t made it any more sustainable, but is nevertheless turning it into an A-list celebrity of the creative re-use gang.

If you have come across other interesting examples of this, please send me a picture! bcnd [at] narotzky.com

Styrene Lamp. Paul Cocksedge, 2003

"Styrene Lamp". Paul Cocksedge, 2003

“Untitled (Styrofoam Cups)” Tara Donovan, 2008.

“Untitled (Styrofoam Cups)” Tara Donovan, 2008.

Styrolight from Readymade.com (Issue 4)

"Styrolight" from Readymade.com (Issue 4)

Self-made Styrofoam cups chandelier posted on Apartment Therapy, 2005.

Self-made Styrofoam cups chandelier posted on Apartment Therapy, 2005.

Garbage Lamp, Peter Castellucci, 2008.

"Garbage Lamp", Peter Castellucci, 2008.