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ARTNET DESIGN
by Brook S. Mason
 
Hip European contemporary art dealer Thaddaeus Ropac has just kicked things up a notch by opening a new 8,530-square-foot space with 22-foot ceilings just outside Salzburg. The new Halle, as it is called, is designed to accommodate gargantuan artworks, which are becoming increasingly common. "When we did our last Anselm Kiefer show, we had a hard time getting the paintings through the doors," Ropac says. "One 20-foot work we couldn’t show."

But it’s not simply the scale that outpaces other galleries. Ropac’s 12-room duplex facility is the art world’s take on corporate headquarters. Aside from the requisite galleries, the Halle contains a photo gallery, archive, library, storage facility, private viewing rooms ("I practically invented the private viewing room," says Ropac) and a garage. "That way trucks can drive in fully loaded and if necessary spend the night in a temperature-controlled space," he says.

Ropac’s expansion parallels the boom at the top of the market, where the number of private museums is exploding exponentially, according to Ropac, thanks to all the new collectors in former Iron Curtain countries. "Look at Russia," he says. "It must have ten new private museums."

Lots of Laarman
Part design showcase and part hi-tech science lab, the aptly titled "Joris Laarman Lab" is 100 percent eerie installation. The show of the cutting-edge Dutch designer Joris Laarman, which closes Apr. 10, 2010, at Friedman Benda in Manhattan’s Chelsea art district, is approaching a sell-out. No wonder. Hands down, this is the most riveting design show of the year.

A graduate of the Design Academy Eindhoven, Laarman made his first big splash in the U.S. with his biomorphic Bone Chair, which captivated crowds at "Design and the Elastic Mind" at the Museum of Modern Art in 2008.

Nature is still a jumping off point for Laarman. His 2010 Leaf Table, fashioned of steel, aluminum and resin, adopts the structural language of veins within leaves. Benda notes that his clientele rarely refers to Laarman’s latest works as furniture. "They speak of the science and the poetry of the design," he says.

Benda went for a dramatic presentation, with a shadowy interior, sections of raw-edged sheetrock and bare studs, and Laarman’s own drawings penciled right on the walls. The new designs result from six years of experimentation, range from a bioluminescent lamp prototype that began as cells in a Petri dish, to an 18-foot-tall In Case of a Thousand Books, a multilevel library of polyconcrete, glass and stainless steel.

Laarman’s Starling Table owes its shape to swarms of those black-feathered birds. "Software didn't just generate the birds, but their flying patterns and behavior in relation to each other," says Benda.

His marble Cumulus Table is modeled on a mathematical rendering of that billowy cloud. A bit like candlesticks, the clouds come in pairs and cost $45,000. To date, half are already tagged as sold.

With his work already in the collections of MoMA, the Pompidou Centre, the Vitra Design Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago, it’s only a matter of time before a developer zeros in on Laarman for his next new building.

"Single Man" Set for Sale
Former Gucci fashion designer Tom Ford has commanded Oscar-worthy attention for his first film, the brilliantly realized A Single Man starring Colin Firth. Less well known, however, is the fact that Ford used a classic John Lautner (1919-1994) house as the home of his tragic hero.

Now, that 1949 Modernist masterpiece of redwood, glass and concrete, the Schaffer Residence, which is nestled in a Glendale oak forest, is for sale. Pioneering Los Angeles realtor Crosby Doe, who early on made a specialty of selling historic Arts and Crafts houses as well as homes by modernist and contemporary architects, has the listing. Located just minutes from downtown L.A., the two-bedroom residence is priced at $1,495,000, a comparative bargain in Manhattan eyes.

"The owners paid $1.2 million for it in 2005 and put in over $500,000," says Doe. "Every inch was meticulously restored."

To Doe, it’s no surprise that Ford would zero in on the Lautner house. Ford has long collected modern art and design -- he is on Sotheby’s advisory board, and is selling an Andy Warhol self-portrait at the firm’s May contemporary sale, est. $10 million-$15 million. And Doe reports that film industry insiders know modern design as well. "The people behind the lens understand the architecture and the spatial values of such historic homes," he says.

Museum close up for Lautner
Tom Ford is not the only person paying attention to Lautner, of course. The traveling survey of his work, "Between Earth and Heaven: The Architecture of John Lautner," has recently opened at the Palm Springs Art Museum, where it runs until May 23, 2010. The show debuted at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and has appeared in Glasgow.

Lautner’s groovy Elrod House, the 1968 domed concrete structure perched on a Palm Springs hillside, was featured in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. But what set the architect apart, in addition to his adventurous designs, was his considerable talent for framing the landscape, and this exhibition underscores that feature.

"Our show has more of a physical presence with landscaped images printed on massive scrims to give the viewer a sense of his completed buildings and how the setting is a strong element in his architecture," says Sidney Williams, curator of architecture at the Palm Springs museum. 

Included are 115 original drawings and sketches; ten vintage models, among them the Bob Hope House in Palm Springs; six large-scale architectural models created for the exhibition; and a documentary. 

New art/design/cuisine nexus
The new Mark restaurant in the Mark Hotel at East 77th Street and Madison Avenue results from the fusion of two super talents in the design and haute restaurant worlds. Located directly opposite the Gagosian Gallery retail emporium, the Mark pairs Parisian designer Jacques Grange, who designed the homes of Yves Saint Laurent, with chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who has spun out a veritable global empire of dining spots from the downtown Spice Market to restaurants in London, Paris and Shanghai.

Grange totally redesigned the Mark Hotel as well, and those curious about his distinctly Parisian sensibility should pop in and take a look. The lobby is paved in gleaming stripes of black and white marble, as if in homage to Bridget Riley, and makes the Mark’s former neo-Georgian incarnation seem antediluvian. The focal point of the space is a rare early Ron Arad hanging lamp that looks very Star Wars. It’s Arad’s Ge-Off Sphere with stainless steel cables.   

Grange commissioned the dining room chairs from Swiss designer Mattia Bonetti, whose collectors include Princess Gloria Von Thurn und Taxis, landscape designer Madison Cox and Coach creative director Reed Krakoff. Among museums, Bonetti can count the Pompidou Centre, Cooper Hewitt, Victoria & Albert and Musée des Arts Decoratif in Paris.

With the Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York scoring significant sales with its solo show devoted to the designer, the Bonetti upholstered chairs give the restaurant a certain gilt-edged art-world prestige.

Best of all may be Jean George’s sumptuous meals. With both rocker Mick Jagger and fashion designer Vera Wang stopping by recently, it’s only a matter of time before the Mark is anointed the art/design/style commissary par excellence.


BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.