The high-sheen furniture of Israeli-born, London-based designer Ron Arad, 58, has long been de rigueur for deep-pocketed design collectors, with some forking over $1 million for a single chair. But now with the Museum of Modern Art debuting the first major retrospective devoted to his career, Arad’s prices, along with his stature, seem ready to climb to even more stratospheric heights.
For design aficionados as well as those who can never afford a mega-Arad piece of furniture, the exhibition "Ron Arad: No Discipline" (Aug. 2-Oct. 19, 2009) is a must-grab on multiple levels. In terms of design, this show has all the elements of a blockbuster: high-tech effects, monumental examples and new materials. Cinematic? You bet. The show includes no less than 60 videos, unspooling in loops on tiny screens spotted throughout the installation.
When it comes to setting the stage, Arad doesn’t believe in holding back. For showcasing his wares, he devised a Corten and stainless steel structure entitled Cage sans Frontières (Cage without Borders). Talk about monumental scale: it measures 126.5 feet long, spanning the entire length of the museum’s International Council gallery, and stands over 16 feet high. In shape, it’s both loopy and honeycomb. Tucked inside are his chairs and other objects. The entire unit happens to belong to the Geneva-based fair impresario Yves Bouvier, which tells of his financial resources.
How the Cage came to fruition speaks of Arad’s skill set in merging projects. "Yves had commissioned a sculpture for the Singapore FreePort and the museum show was in the works," says Arad. Thus, Cage is doing double-duty for the exhibition installation.
Just as Arad has blurred the lines between sculpture, design and architecture for close to three decades, with the Cage he demonstrates his uncanny talents to merge museum exhibition, retailing display and merchandising ploy like never before.
The cost of the Cage? "Expensive enough but also very cheap," replies Arad, who later revealed the price was between $2 million and €2 million.
In viewing his oeuvre, Arad appears like a millennium descendant of Ray and Charles Eames. He employs several vocabularies and tinkers with them endlessly. There’s his riff on car culture, notably his Rover chair (think discarded car seat, specifically from the British Rover V8 2L), which jumpstarted his career back in 1981, and which he turned out in chromed steel only two years ago; his circular bookcase dubbed Reinventing the Wheel; and his sensually shaped rocker chair, the Blo-Void, which comes in polished lacquered aluminum as well as in other materials.
Grouping his output by design vocabulary tells the viewer with enormous ease the variations and their limitations. For his renditions of the traditional club chairs, the 1999 New Orleans, which he painted to a Miroesque effect, appears the most vibrant.
One quibble, the notion of the video as object label has its limitation. The information the viewer wants isn’t always instantaneous. Clearly, video as wall text is a work in progress.
Overall, the most riveting work in terms of his considerable expressiveness in metal is tucked right inside the darkened entrance. It’s his 2008 Gomli, consisting of polished stainless steel ribbons. Made by Mourmands in Maastricht, home of the European Fine Art Fair, the chair demonstrates Arad’s exacting handcraft techniques.
But Arad is more than just alchemist and furniture designer rolled into one. As an architect (he trained at the Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem and at London’s Architectural Association School of Architecture), he also turns out buildings. They’re captured via video, and models of them are included. The flagship store for Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto is a must see. Also on view are designs for the lobby of the Tel Aviv Opera House (1994–98) and the Design Museum Holon in Israel.
The Arad opening had to be the year’s most attended event. On hand were artists Marina Abramovic, Francesco Clemente and bold-face name collectors like Agnes Gund.
When this exhibition headlined at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, lines were around the block. Next year, the show travels to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The tour is certain to ratchet up the appeal of Aradiana.
But the market for Arad has long been stronger in Europe. "Overall, sales are not designer driven," says Marc Benda of the Chelsea-based gallery Friedman Benda, where a few examples of Arad’s work are on view now in a group show. While Benda clinched sales of over 50 Arad examples to architects and interior designers over the past several years, including Robert Couturier, Peter Marino and Jacques Grange, the ratio of designer to collector sales works out to 1:10.
With the downturn prices for Arad have been adjusted. "Last year, a major example was $1 million," says Benda. Now, prices hover in the $250,000-$500,000 range.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, collectors are not overwhelmingly hedge funders by a long shot. In fact, the financial community accounts for only 25 percent of Arad collectors, according to Benda.
Others come from the worlds of fashion and technology, like Coach leather goods creative director Reed Krakoff. As to Americans holding Arad, they can be anywhere from 30 to 80 years old, and own art as traditional as Post-Impressionism.
On the auction scene, Arad hit a high at Phillips New York back on Dec. 13, 2007. Then his 2003 mirror-polished stainless steel Title D sofa from an edition of 20 scored $409,000, well above the presale high estimate of $100,000. That price hike is bound to curry favor with a new batch of collectors.
Michael Gross: Radioactive?
With Rogues' Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum (Broadway/Random House), journalist and author Michael Gross has penned a juicy, deliciously detailed history of the nation’s largest museum and the oversized egos of those who run it. But Gross’ book has garnered curiously little critical coverage, positive or otherwise. Gross has claimed that the museum itself worked to suppress any reviews. True or not, the art-world press has been oddly quiet regarding this book by a former New York Times reporter.
"There’s a conspiracy of public silence," says Gross, while adding that he believes "art publications" don’t want his book to exist. A Nexus search reveals 90 citations for his 740 Park, his 2005 biography of the famed Rosario Candela apartment building where moneyman Stephen Schwartzman now commands a $38 million pad, but only two for his latest book. The New York Times published a short and strangely pro-forma review in its Sunday book section a month or so ago.
It’s true that the book has a suspicious tone -- Met director Philippe de Montebello might have been wiser to cooperate rather than contemptuously dismiss the author, and for non-New Yorkers the tome probably far too much on Met trustee Annette de la Renta (born Anne France Mannheimer). But as a history of culture in this city, it’s spot on.
Gross is a master researcher and unearths some devastatingly comments. Among them is Met trustee Frederick Rose referring to the Temple of Dendur, the site of many a catered gala, as the Temple of Din-Din. Donors pony up staggering sums for the right to hold parties there.
Undoubtedly, the revelations about looted antiquities disturbed the Met.
Cynthia Conigliaro, who heads up the Archivia Books on the Upper East Side, reports sales have been more than steady. "Our clientele can identify with the book; they know the characters," she says. At Crawford Doyle Booksellers on Madison Avenue, Rogue’s Gallery is selling out.
As expected, the book is not available at the Met bookstore. But then, it’s also not for sale at the Museum of the City of New York. But it can be had on Amazon for $19.77 (list price $29.95).
A Belle Epoque twin for Ralph Lauren?
Art and antiques from the Gilded Age have always been a bit of a hard sell. Too ornate, too over the top have been the complaints. Still, fashion designer Ralph Lauren stylishly repackaged a Manhattan temple to that period, the Rhinelander Mansion at the corner of Madison Avenue and 72nd Street, into a showcase for his luxe country house look with boiserie galore, blue and white porcelain and period sterling silver trophies.
And now, Lauren has had two buildings demolished, including a limestone townhouse, directly West across 72nd Street. According to his publicist, the new store building will be four stories and "conceived in the Beaux Arts tradition." It will be right in sync with the Corinthian columned townhouse belonging to the Emir of Qatar right up the block towards Fifth Avenue. And like the potentate's richly done up home, the new Ralph Lauren stores will be clad in limestone.
Clearly, this new addition to the architectural landscape of the Upper East Side confirms the appearance of yet another Gilded Age.
Galleries go "Clic"
French fashion designer Christiane Celle launched her Calypso boutiques to winning effects: 34 shops and a total of $60 million in sales. Now she has turned her eye to the art world and opened five Clic Galleries. Three are clustered together downtown at the edge of SoHo where it meets Little Italy, another is in East Hampton and the fifth in St. Bart’s.
Tiny, some just over 500 square feet, they are the new, quick, one-stop shopping for art and books.
"Clic really started for the love of books about art and photography, and my desire to do something different than fashion but still related in a way," says Celle, who is married to photographer Antoine Verglas. Prices stop at $3,000 but she is already drawing the Tinseltown and fashion set along with art-world heavyweights like Nan Goldin and Mary Ellen Mark.
Her East Hampton shop’s hottest-selling artist is Tony Caramanico, who happens to be a professional surfer and does surf collages. His "Surf Diary" has gotten favorable press in New York Magazine as well as on surfer websites, including YouTube
With the Chelsea gallery scene now pockmarked with some two-dozen gallery closures, Celle’s business model appears a winning paradigm for the recession.
BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.