R.J. Cutler’s captivating film, The September Issue, which chronicles Vogue editor Anna Wintour overseeing the publication of the fashion bible’s famous 840-page number in 2007, is a must, must see. That is, for anyone curious about Wintour’s highly sophisticated visual eye, the $300-billion global fashion industry, magazineland and, well, the cultural history of our time and yes, the decorative arts.
The shots of Wintour’s office give a view of her collecting sensibility. Uptown interior designer Jesse Carrier did her working space as well as the Vogue reception rooms. His look favors beige, topiary plants and a generally restful feeling, but Wintour injects her own style. So to Carrier’s Swedish painted furniture, Wintour added, clustered on her desk, pots by the British ceramist Clarice Cliff (1899-1972), and elsewhere introduced French galvanized metal stacking garden chairs. Design-wise, it’s a kind of individualistic cozy chic that’s a bit of a rarity in this city.
Who was Clarice Cliff? One of seven children born to an ironworker and laundress, she began working at Staffordshire potteries at age 13 and quickly blazed a trail with her idiosyncratic "Bizarre" patterns of stylized forms and colors like rust, melon and a sharp green. By 1929, she had 70 painters working under her capable hands. Fans call her the most prolific Art Deco ceramics designer.
With Cliff’s work heavily marketed in Britain and the States, she came to symbolize the aspirations of early feminists.
Today, collecting Cliff remains a bit of cult scene and "Cliffies" fight over her work. In May last year at Christie’s South Kensington, an early Cliff tea service, with the teapot a mere five-and-a-half inches high and some pieces slightly damaged, shot past its presale estimate of £4,000-£6,000 to sell for a hefty £11,875 ($23,417).
But back to The September Issue, where another highlight is the sheer wizardry of Vogue creative director Grace Coddington. She is seen mining icons of art photography (like Brassaï) for her design of 1920s fashion spreads that have an authenticity right in sync with that period. Photographer Steven Meisel did the Brasaï shoot.
Other inspired work by Coddington in the movie, which was published in the October rather than the September issue of Vogue in 2007, is a feature called "Alighting," shot by Brit photographer David Sims. It’s practically a paean to French 18th-century boisèrie (paneling and, in this case, celadon and gilded).
One thing is certain: The September Issue movie will spark still morecollecting of fashion photography and emblazon photographer Mario Testino’s name in megawatts on the household radar screens of millions.
Fall design shows
With fall openings just days away, design exhibitions are at the forefront. Here’s a rundown of not-to-miss shows, although many dealers have not yet firmed up exhibition dates.
Chelsea style master Barry Friedman has conjured up a bevy of intoxicating presentations devoted to ceramics and glass. First up is "Akio Takamori: Alice/Venus," which debuts Sept. 17-Oct. 17, 2009, and it’s a stunner. To many minds, Takamori has been sequestered for too long in the craft world. In this show, the Japanese artist is introducing a group of female creatures that look as if they were plucked from a Velasquez canvas.
Then Friedman mounts "Venice, Three Visions in Glass," Oct. 29, 2009-Jan. 16, 2010, his most ambitious show of Venetian glass to date. If you think Venetian glass is only reserved for little old ladies, think again. Featuring works by Cristiano Bianchin, Yoichi Ohira and Laura Santillana, this ten-year retrospective of the three artists, all of whom live in Venice but work in Murano, is scheduled to travel to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and end up at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
The Japanese-born Ohira takes clear glass to new artistic heights in conception and production. He displays an uncanny ability to carve the glass. His chunky vessels within vessels are bound to hit the luxury must-have circuit, while Santillana’s "Meteors," some of which look like giant microwaved Louis Comfort Tiffany Christmas balls, are brilliant. Already, this promises to be a sold-out show.
For Mad Men-style design with a Gallic twist, check out Demisch Danant in Chelsea. On view this fall are works by French designers and architects Pierre Guariche, Joseph-Andre Motte, Pierre Paulin and the partnership Antoine Philippon and Jacqueline Lecoq, dating from the 1950s and early 1960s. "They were seeking to establish an international, modernist style accessible to everyone by fabricating modern furniture in series through the collaboration of the industrial sector," says Suzanne Demisch.
This show is targeted for October, and is sure to draw in fans of the TV series and more. Guariche is hardly a household name, but this exhibition should ratchet up his appeal. His 1962 President’s Desk in palisander, Formica and stainless steel is incredibly lean, and would be perfect for Don Draper’s office -- when he opens a Pairs outpost of Sterling Cooper.
Moving along to Tribeca, R20th Century stages "Sergio Rodrigues," Oct. 6-Nov. 20, 2009, a show of the Brazilian designer who is a master of tropical woods like jacaranda and imbuia. In addition to Rodrigues’ most recent productions, vintage examples are to be on view. Back in the ‘50s, no less than Gio Ponti singled out Rodrigues as a rare talent in his influential Domus magazine.
Up on Madison Avenue, Mallett launches new designs by the highly inventive Willy Rizzo, now in his 80s and best known for his snaps of Brigitte Bardot and such other starlets and rockers. "Dance & Design: New Works by Willy Rizzo"opens Nov. 2-14, 2009. On hand are ten designs from the ‘70s that were never previously produced, along with 1950s Paris Ballet photos. Rizzo works predominantly in stainless steel and, in his show two years ago, his work sold out.
In December, Liz O’Brien will feature new work in porcelain by Gregory Kuharic at her new location at 306 East 61st Street. Sotheby’s devotees may recall Kuharic from an earlier life, during which he served as the auction firm’s 20th-century design specialist. Since then has built a considerable following for his quirky pots with their appealing textures and glazes. Clients include architect Robert Stern, designer Albert Hadley and fashion designer Vera Wang. The exhibition goes on view Dec. 1, 2009-Jan. 8, 2010.
Also headlining in that holiday month at the SoHo design emporium of Cristina Grajales Inc. is the first exhibition in this country of stylish Paris furniture and lighting designer Christophe Côme. Trained as a sculptor, Côme also has a jeweler’s eye when it comes to creating lighting design. His lamps of wrought iron topped by glass are really bling pumped up with chic. Last year, Grajales sold out his work at the Haughton International Design Fair and racked up a number of commissions as well.
And over in London, the multitalented Marcus Tremonto, who serves in the Phillips, de Pury & Company design department, happens to have a history of turning out rather surreal lighting. His work is front and center at several London venues during the fall. Patrick Brillet Fine Arts present Tremonto’s new light works Sept. 5-Oct. 5, 2009, and the FUMI Gallery in Shoreditch also has some new examples. Both exhibitions are part of the sprawling, city-wide London Design Festival 2009. Last but not least, during the Frieze Art Fair (Oct. 15-18, 2009), two of Tremonto’s monumental Carbon Fiber Lights are be spot lit at the Apartment Gallery as part of "Super Design." Prices are in the £20,000-£40,000 range.
Design forecast: gold, gold, gold
With the Guggenheim Museum hosting "Paired, Gold: Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Roni Horn," Oct. 2, 2009–Jan. 6, 2010, those artists’ work reveals the potency of gold. Suspended from the ceiling, Gonzalez-Torres’ 1995 "Untitled" (Golden), a shimmering curtain of golden beads, complements Horn’s 1980 gold floor piece, Gold Field.
To catch a glimpse of the way that the late Zen artist James Lee Byars raised the stakes on that glittering precious metal, catch East 77th Street dealer Michael Werner’s show "Golddust Is My Ex-Libris." On hand is Byars’ suite of golden tondos, black ink drawings on gold paper. For the ultimate creation in gleaming gold, Byars took on a repro Louis Quinze style chaise and had it upholstered in a dazzling gold fabric. It’s drop dead magical, although the gallery claims it is "philosophical." Priced at $300,000, the chaise has yet to sell though the drawings have already secured interest.
At Upper East Side dealer R. Louis Bofferding is the perfect objet d’art for those favoring an 18th century Venetian memento, one laced with a serious Warholian provenance. It’s a circa 1720 gilt wood Presentatorio for displaying art. No less than Fred Hughes, who managed Andy’s Factory and Interview magazine as well, snagged this item back in the 1960s. Later it was acquired by Paris cartoonist, watercolorist and author Pierre Le-Tan. While this Presentatario was later outfitted with a mirror, that addition glams it up. It’s perfect for a Baroque dressing table or a minimalist loft drenched in beige. The price is $15,000.
BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.