Tag Archives: miguel mila

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.

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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.

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La Vanguardia offers open online access to its archives

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Instances of the word 'diseño' in La Vanguardia, 1881-2008

Barcelona’s major broadsheet newspaper, La Vanguardia, has opened up its archives (Hemeroteca) and now offers free online access. The full content ranges from 1881 onwards, can be searched by keyword, topic or date and downloaded as .pdf files.

As an interesting feature to note, the results interface offers a detailed interactive visual timeline of the number of occurences of the search word throughout La Vanguardia’s archives. A search for ‘diseño’ (design), for instance, reveals a striking development in the use of the word.

Its first noticeable appearances coincide with the 1920s / 1930s and the rise of Spanish modernism, and diseappear by 1936, at the start of the Civil War. The 1950s see a very slow, small but steady return of the word, whit its use growing noticeably from the mid 1960s. Between 1976, the start of the Spanish political transition, and 1989, the surge in the appearance of ‘design’ in the newspaper is extraordinary, from 1,194 instances in 1976, to 4,670 in 1989. After a short trough, usage peaks by the late 1990s, with 5,597 appearances in 1999.  Perhaps most surprisingly, there is a very sharp drop from 2000, and current levels of usage in 2008 are only equivalent to those of 1986, the height of the Barcelona design boom.

As I’ve suggested in La Barcelona del diseño, design and the city had a special relationship between the late 1970s and the late 1990s, which seems to have now lost some of its historical relevance.

And here is some eye candy from the archives:

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Advertisement for clothes and underwear manufactured with synthetic fibers. May 1952.

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Advertisement for Muebles Malda, one of Barcelona's furniture retailers. June 1966.

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'We can't all use the same furniture'. Advertisement for Muebles La Favorita, one of Barcelona's furniture retailers. October 1973.

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The FAD Industrial Design Delta Prizes of 1976. Images of designs by Miguel Mila, Jose Bonet and Studio Per.

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January 1977. Barcelona Design Centre (BCD) moves to larger premises.

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Colour supplement, July 1992: ‘The Games of the imagination. The Olympic project becomes the inspiration for the design of hundreds of objects’. In the main picture, Andre Ricard, designer of the olympic torch.