Fashion has had its day in film, what with the Valentino and Yves St. Laurent flicks snaring major-league attention. Now design is ready for its close-up with the Colorado couple Jill A. Wiltse and H. Kirk Brown, III, who are pioneering a raft of design films.
They head up Design Onscreen, a foundation funding, producing and promoting films dedicated to design and architecture. In the past two years alone, they have produced five films focusing on a range of design subjects, from Palm Springs mid-century architecture to contemporary Dutch designer Hella Jongerius.
Only last week their Contemporary Days: Robin and Lucienne Day Design the UK premiered at the National Geographic Society in Washington, DC. For clips, click here.
That film premiere coincides with the opening of "Art by the Yard: Women Design Mid-Century Britain" at the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., May 15-Sept. 12, 2010. The exhibition features Lucienne Day’s work as well as furniture designed by her husband, Robin, and textiles by two of her design contemporaries, Jacqueline Groag and Marian Mahler. The exhibition includes an excerpt from the film and textiles together with preliminary drawings and collages, ceramics and period furniture, all drawn from the Wiltse and Brown collection.
I caught up with the film-producing and art-collecting couple during a visit to Manhattan.
Q: What jump-started your interest in design films?
HKB: We began going to the Palm Springs Modernism show and seeing the midcentury buildings of William Krisel, Donald Wexler and other architects there, we realized no one was trying to capture those architects on film. Film is a way to memorialize their work.
Q: What is the cost of the films?
HKB: They range from $75,000 to $250,000 and we have funded them all
Q: What films are in the works?
HKB: Our fifth film, Desert Utopia, is on Palm Springs architects and architecture from 1940 through the 1960s, and is currently in post-production.
Q: How extensive is your personal collection of design?
HKB: We have close to 300 examples of British design from the postwar period. Designers Robin and Lucienne Day are truly the stars leading Britain "out of the gray." They’re comparable in breadth and impact to Charles and Ray Eames.
Lucienne Day designs were for Heal’s and British Celanese while she also did ceramics for Rosenthal and wallpaper as well. Sixty of our textiles are in the Washington Textile Museum show.
Q: Is there a particular dealer or auction house your work with?
HKB: We began purchasing work through London’s Target Gallery, where dealers Geoff Rayner and Richard Chamberlain specialize postwar Britain decorative arts.
The postwar oeuvre of the Paris family-design firm Leleu, best known for Art Deco rarities, has always been an insider secret: coveted by the cognoscenti yet rarely in the public spotlight. But now the Manhattan gallery Maison Gerard is featuring the designer’s pivotal later furnishings in "Leleu: Post-War Design," an exhibition that opened this week.
"Jules Leleu and his sons moved with the times by delving into new materials and creating designs for new generations of collectors," says Gerard Wittershoven, who heads up the Greenwich Village gallery. The Leleus were really the ultimate multigenerational design family. While the founder Jules Leleu created lavish furniture with intricate wood inlays typical of the 1920s, his sons Andre and Jean turned their attention to new materials. For example a commission for the ocean liner SS France demanded fireproof materials. So in place of wood, the brothers took on synthetic lacquers and polished metals.
This nicely curated exhibition highlights the Leleus’ inventive use of new materials married with an innovative design sense. Especially sleek is their 1959 sandblasted glass writing table on a base of steel, which features crisp gilt-bronze detailing, from small padded feet to desk mounts. Then surprisingly bold is their 1970 Bureau Boomerang in a searing orange fiberglass right in sync with Pop art. It’s $85,000.
Certain to further ratchet up the value of those examples and others on view are two factors. One relates to provenance, as many are from the personal collections of Jules and Andre Leleu. Then two, they’ve got the museum seal of approval. A number were showcased in pivotal exhibitions at the Musée d’Art et d’Industrie as well as the Musée des Années 30, both in Paris.
Carlos Cruz-Diez at Longchamp
Leave it to the French to bring on art for their boutiques. Handbag purveyor Longchamp will soon boast a new store with an installation by Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez. American architect Eric Carlson, who designed the Louis Vuitton store on the Champs Elysee in Paris, fine-tuned the new Longchamp store on Madison Avenue. The double-layered glass façade and interior walls echo the design of their signature Le Pliage bag.
Cruz-Diez, who has work in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Fondation Cisneros in Miami, among other institutions. Right now, the Miami Art Museum is featuring "Carlos Cruz-Diez: The Embodied Experience of Color" until June 2010; the show then appears at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
New Belgian design
Philippe Starck blazed a trail with his "ghost" Plexiglas chairs, which have become so ubiquitous that they even fill the downtown salesroom at Phillips de Pury & Co. Now, however, there’s a new contender in the race for mystery-laden design. The Madison Avenue outpost of L’Arc en Seine is showcasing "Contemporary Ghost Furniture." On view is Belgian designer Pol Quadens’ latest work. "This is a new venture for us as we commissioned all the furniture," says Frederic Fieux, who heads up the L’Arc gallery here.
The materials Quadens employs include Corian, a Dupont resin mixed with marble dust, and carbon fiber. Although those materials can be bent or cut just like wood, they are hardy and his furnishings are suitable for garden use, too.
Style-wise, the furniture (which includes sculpted floor lighting pieces) is sleek -- totally devoid of ornamentation but with curvilinear lines that are surprisingly soft. The chair alone is sublime and already six have sold. Its price of just $10,000 is modest for such a talented designer, who has already racked up an impressive cred. Paris tastemaker Pierre Berge, who built the Yves St. Laurent label, has commissioned work from Quadens. He’s also made a name for himself designing watches for Hamilton and Rado.
While Quadens, like thousands of volcano-stranded travelers, could not make it to the opening, the event drew the A list of architects, including Lee Mindel. "Quadens is taking new materials to new heights yet combined with exacting European craftsmanship," says Mindel, now finishing rock star Sting’s London townhouse and whose firm -- Shelton Mindel -- has racked up 30 plus AIA awards.
Maria Pergay at 80
Fifty years ago, contemporary design was led by the slight, stylish Parisian Maria Pergay. In the late ‘60s, she created stainless furniture, like her Flying Carpet daybed, to considerable acclaim. The royal family of Saudi Arabia, the Shah of Iran and fashion designer Pierre Cardin were among her clients. Today, work from that period then can command six figure prices at auction.
Though now 80, Pergay still amazes, and her latest work at the Chelsea-based Demisch Danant evidences her continuing love of fashion and fabric. For example, Broken Cubes (2010), a pair of stainless steel side tables, appears to have been ripped open to reveal a luxe snakewood interior. Pergay tears the steel as if a piece of fabric.
With Demisch Danant completing the Pergay catalog raisonné, to be released by Pointed Leaf Press in 2011, her work is bound to increase in popularity (and value) even more.
Prada: Blurring the Art/Fashion Boundaries
The Italian fashion house Prada just got a lot closer to the art world. Last week the American Academy in Rome bestowed the McKim Medal Laureate award to Miuccia Prada. She is the first fashion world figure to receive that award, reports an academy spokesperson.
Prada’s reach into the art world is considerable. Miuccia collaborated with Elmgreen & Dragset for the famous installation modeled on one of her boutiques in the desert near the Donald Judd compound in Marfa, Texas. The 2005 work is a stucco Prada store, another example of fashion making its mark in the art world.
Lalanne: The Cat’s Meow?
The artistry of the late French designer and sculptor François-Xavier Lalanne is reflected in his fanciful 1968 Chat Polymorph, and when Christie’s hammers it down at the firm’s upcoming design auction in New York on June 17, 2010, the price is almost certain to soar above its $500,000-$700,000 estimate. The only other number in the edition is currently showcased in "Les Lalannes" at the Les Musée de Arts Décoratifs, an installation cleverly designed by New York architect Peter Marino.
Measuring eight feet long and made of brass, the fanciful design looks like a standing cat with a fish tail, with a gryphon’s wings when the bar’s side doors are opened. Ever since Christie’s stunning Yves St. Laurent sale back in February 2009 in Paris, where a Lalanne 1965 brass bar scored a record €3.5 million above a presale estimate of €200,000-€300,000, prices for his work (as well as for his wife Claude) have been climbing the charts.
Insiders say the price of the Chat could reach well beyond $1 million. Both Chelsea dealer Paul Kasmin and London dealer Ben Brown have been selling both new and period Lalanne to great success. So, clientele for the Chat is bound to be international.
Also on the block is Claude Lalanne gilt bronze jewelry, including a gilt bronze necklace and bracelet cast from foliage, which Christie’s says will bring $4,000-$6,000. A matched necklace and bracelet, which incorporate a sculpted pair of lips, is tagged with a $2,500-$3,500 estimate. Those examples may well be fought over.
BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.