Elena Cue

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 Yesterday saw the opening of a new exhibition at Madrid’s Ivorypress gallery of designer and architect Ron Arad’s work. Elena Foster is the gallery’s founder and current director, fulfilling her role admirably. The gallery’s New York garage-style space is appropriate for the scale and scope of Arad’s surprising world.

 

 

The first item you see as you enter is a ping-pong table in stainless steel and bronze: the structure and design of its lines is a work of beauty in its own right. Already from this first item, the artist’s incredible technical skill is apparent.

 

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The exhibition invites us to appreciate the breadth of the artist’s work, which spills out into architecture, furniture design, lighting and sculpture. His collection of designer chairs is fascinating, from his very first chair, the Rover Chair, result of two ready-mades, a Rover 200 seat on top of a Kee-Klamp frame; spectacular chairs such as the Narrow Pappardelle and all its poetry; the Blo-Void, which unapologetically abandons all functionality to become a statue; or the singular Gomli, named, according to the artist, after his friend and fellow artist Antony Gormley designed with comfort in mind while eschewing all preconceived ideas of beauty.




 

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Arad is a versatile, highly creative artist, and skilled in the use of his materials which, through movement, are ascribed a life of their own. He likes to experiment with steel, aluminium, polyethylene or corian, playing around with them liberally to achieve often unexpected and delightful results. His shelf units are just as surprising. The stainless steel map of China is exceptional, and carries great visual impact upon first viewing. No Bad Colours, a workstation containing innovative technology that allows it to change colour, is incredibly creative and breaks new ground in design. But the real star of the show was Restless: movement, harmony and design all coming together in one great art piece.

 

 

 

 


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Blame the tools, a replica of a Fiat 500, architecture projects, eyewear design… all form part of the artist’s fascinating world.

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

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In terms of his architectural work, I would pick out the brilliant Design Museum Holon near Tel Aviv, the artist’s hometown. This is an impressive spiral-shaped construction in Corten steel which surrounds the museum, almost like a huge metal sculpture. A great example of how architecture, sculpture and design can come together harmoniously in a common public space.

 

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The exhibition embraces and embodies Arad’s motto: “My only principle: don’t base anything you do on what already exists”. This and much more can be enjoyed at Ivorypress, thanks in no small part to Elena Foster’s continued efforts to introduce us to the great artists and thinkers in design, architecture or painting.

 

 

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In 1999 I visited the magnificent Ducal Palace in Gubbio, owned by Federico de Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino and one of the 15th century’s great wonders. It was there, in the palace’s cold, empty halls, that part of the Panza di Biumo collection is held, containing works from the 1980s and 90s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Monochromatic paintings in various formats filled the walls of the palace, and each of the participating artists was given a specific space in which to display their talents. The collection included Ettori Spalletti’s simplicity and harmony, metallic monochromatic paintings by David Simpson, geometric paintings by Ford Beckman and even small cubes by Stuart Arends, whose tiny size caught my attention - appearing in different colours on a large wall, it seemed as though they would simply vanish in space. 

 

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In his book Memories of a Collector, Panza reflects on Arends’ imaginative and sensitive artwork, noting that rather than hiding a certain ideology behind its surface, its sole purpose is aesthetic: beauty, composition and colour. There are times when visitors are grateful for the simple aesthetic contemplation of a piece, without feeling as if they are missing out on a greater message that the artist is trying to communicate.

 

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In September 2012 I had the chance to visit Villa Menafoglio in Varese (near Milan), a splendid building and home to Giuseppe Panza, one of history’s great contemporary art collectors, who lived there until his death. His widow Giovanna, who shared his passion for art, still lives in the Villa today. Panza’s interests were broad, including philosophy, astronomy and biology, the first in particular informing much of his art collection. He was a passionate man who tirelessly pursued his search for truth in life and art.

 

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He bought his first painting, a Tàpies, in 1956, attracted as he was by its pessimism which he recognized as being the result of the social traumas and political upheaval after WWII, and which deeply affected him personally. He was collecting art from the United States, spurred on by the lower prices and a more energetic, exciting art scene, at a time when Europe was not paying much attention to the American art market. Towards the end of the 50s, he starts buying Rothko’s spirituality, the every-day of Rauschenberg as a conceptual form of expression, the endlessness of Kline… In the 60s, he moves towards ever more abstract art, minimalist and conceptual works that are stripped to their essence, adding artists such as Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Richard Serra, Bruce Nauman and Robert Morris to his collection. In this period he also shows an active interest in the emerging pop art movement, acquiring works by Lichtenstein, Oldenburg and Rosenquist, among others. His collection continues to grow steadily, eventually adding up to over 2,500 pieces: a staggering representation of every avant-garde movement that came out of the second half of the 20th century.

 

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Today Villa Menafoglio maintains a permanent collection, even though the majority of the original collection was acquired by Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art and the Guggenheim in New York. What I found most fascinating was a part of the villa dedicated to Dan Flavin, made up of various halls each containing an installation piece by the artist: I’d certainly never seen a larger permanent space dedicated to Flavin before. The space was filled with complete silence, and visitors would walk down corridors lit by lights in adjacent rooms. The halls were set up to induce visitors into an almost mystical state of deep contemplation and reflection. Another artist whose work caught my attention was James Turrell: his work, which changes the environment around it, plays with space, light and our perceptions in general, sometimes tricking our senses in a surprising way. Other artists of note here are David Simpson, Max Cole, Fredenthal, Charlton and Beckman, as well as an excellent collection of African and Pre-Columbian art.

 

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A visit to the museum is highly recommended - through its collection, Panza has tried to understand the society of his time and the profound changes it was going through. This close relationship between art and the passing of time, together with the idea of art as a channel for humanity’s deepest concerns, were the common threads in his life and collection.

 

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Entering Bernardí Roig’s workshop, one is greeted by a series of disturbing, stark-white sculptures, created by the artist to induce a sense of catharsis similar to that experienced by ancient spectators of Greek tragedies.


 

 

 


la foto 3 (1)Upon close inspection the solitary, brightly-lit sculptures, first and foremost, transmit a strong sense of emotion, and their key feature is their meaningful gaze and their relationship to the viewer. The statues express the artist’s fears and obsessions, and they exist to ask profound questions about art and its observer. How does the artwork affect the viewer? How do viewers understand and assimilate the art that they see, considering their experiential history? How do they subjectively interpret what the artist is trying to express? And in what way does the artwork change and evolve with the thousands of gazes received by the viewers?

 

 

 

 

 

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The artist’s use of fluorescent light is a reference to 1960s minimalism; the idea of simplifying down to the essential. It is also used to emphasize the feelings of pain represented in the statues. The sculpted figures before us are all shying away from their respective light sources, referring to the well-known Plato’s Cave allegory in which, through our unreliable senses we are only able to see the shadows, and the truth is inaccessible to us; only the philosopher, armed with reason, is capable of acquiring knowledge and truth in the world. The artist’s collective work is a hotbed of myth, metaphor, depth and humanity.

 
 
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Roig is mainly a figurative contemporary artist, but a healthy conceptual dimension also exists in his work. He is interested in exploring humanity through the variety of media at his disposal: sculpture, video, illustration or photography. His drawings in particular, some abstract, others more concrete, are exceptional in their intensity and depth. They can be found lying around the floor of the workshop and hanging on the walls, illustration being in fact the artist’s preferred medium for the immediate capture of his thoughts and reflections.

Also of note here is a wall covered in photographs, news clippings and souvenirs, which I was lucky enough to have seen earlier this year at the wonderful exhibition in the Lázaro Galdiano Museum, Madrid, aptly titled “El coleccionista de obsesiones" (“The Obsession Collector”). The artist himself referred to the exhibition as his personal monologue.

 

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Ending my visit to the workshop, I discovered Roig’s refined taste in design as I laid back on Charles and Ray Eames’ famous Lounge Chair (1956), basking under the light from Jean Prouvé’s adjustable wall lamp Potence (1950).

 

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                                                  Judd Foundation. Photo Paul Katz/ © Paul Katz/Courtesy; Judd Foundation Archive

A few years ago I discovered New York’s Judd Foundation, the residence and studio of minimalism’s most important exponent, Donald Judd, since 1968. My desire to visit it was frustrated due to it being closed for refurbishment. Its doors finally reopened three years later, in June 2013, and I was allowed a visit a few days before the official reopening.




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The impressive 19th-century cast-iron building is located on 101 Spring Street in the heart of SoHo. It’s made up of five loft-style floors - one for each activity, as Judd once wrote. He used the top floor as a bedroom, and it now includes works by some of his close friends: Dan Flavin created a spectacular sculpture out of fluorescent lights in the shape of a series of windows, and Chamberlain had a sculpture made of pressed scrap metal hung from a wall. The next floor from the top had a two-fold purpose: as a games room and dining-room. The next floor was a studio and exhibition area, which today contains a large piece by Frank Stella and designer furniture.

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On the second floor Judd placed the kitchen and a closet for the children, including a theatre where guests were entertained. And the entrance doubles as a second exhibition space and features a Carl André sculpture and some of Judd’s own works.

 

Behind this permanent exhibition of works in his own home was Judd’s idea that to understand an artist’s work, one has to see the place in which he works. He asked his sons Flavin and Rainer, current co-presidents of the Foundation, to leave the house exactly as he had left it, to ensure that future visitors to the studio would continue to appreciate this relationship. Other works of note in the Foundation, apart from Judd’s own pieces, are those by Larry Bell, Claes Oldenburg, a fresco by David Novros and furniture designed by Alvar Aalto.

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More examples of Judd’s installation work can be found in Marfa, Texas, where he moved to in 1971. There, in the middle of an open field, he was able to materialize his project of a permanent installation, creating a large-scale art piece consisting of 15 gigantic hollow boxes placed outside on a desert-like landscape. Also in Marfa is the Chinati Foundation, which he created with the purpose of housing his own work as well as that of his peers (Chamberlain, Flavin, Oldenburg, Roni Horn) and which echoes his artistic aesthetic and principles on permanence.

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Although not content with the “minimalist” label, Donald Judd was certainly interested in simplicity of form, as well as the relationship between objects and space. His work, when taken as a whole, is a reminder to the viewer that often the simpler the art, the more complex its meaning.


His primary field of work was sculpture; he once wrote: “Actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface. Anything in three dimensions can be any shape, regular or irregular, and can have any relation to the wall, floor, ceiling, room, rooms or exterior or none at all.”


The Donald Judd Foundation is a tall, magnificent studio, with great ceiling-to-floor windows that allow the interior to be bathed in sunlight, and with a decadent touch added by the floor and old wooden stairs. Its architecture and interior design, and the sculptures and paintings it houses, all come together in one unique space that transports the visitor to time long gone. It begs repeated visits, not least to fully capture the full range of ideas and aesthetic principles the artist wanted to leave us with.

 

 

 

 

 

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Architecture and design lovers should not miss a visit to Weil am Rhein, a town in the German region of Freiburg as well as a suburb of the Swiss city of Basel. Here we find the Vitra Campus, Vitra being the Swiss furniture producer founded in 1950 by Willi Fehlbaum. In 1981 a major fire destroyed parts of the original Campus factory and Nicholas Grimshaw, a British architect, was commissioned to design a new production building, which started a series of contributions by architects adding more and more buildings and constructions on the Campus premises, today a world-class destination for all architecture enthusiasts.


Where else can you enjoy the works of so many prestigious architects in one place? Zaha Hadid, Herzog & de Meuron, Tadao Ando, Renzo Piano, Frank Gehry, Nicholas Grimshaw, Jasper Morrison, Alvaro Siza, Richard Buckminster Fuller and Jean Prouvé have all left their mark on the Campus through the years.

 

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As well as the architecture, the factory also exhibits a wide selection of designer furniture from recent history, all of which have helped define the design of their time: in-house items are on display together with works by Verner Panton, Philippe Starck, Ron Arad, Charles and Ray Eames, Jean Prouvé and more.

 

 

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I visited the Campus in 2011 and I was fascinated by the sight of these very different architectural styles all sitting together on a wide open plateau, vineyards glistening in the distance. Sadly, Renzo Piano’s Diogene had not been completed at the time of my visit, a minuscule living space measuring just eight square metres and named after the Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, whose self-imposed poverty-ridden lifestyle led him to live inside an earthenware jar.

 

 

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I could well have benefited from more time on my visit, as one day is not enough to see the extensive collection of furniture on display - urban, office and domestic - at a leisurely pace, taking in all the spectacular sights around you.


I spent most of my time in the Vitra Haus, a 2010 building designed by Herzog & de Meuron. It consists of a series of houses all of the same basic shape, stacked on top of one another, reminiscent of Switzerland’s Actelion Business Center. Light plays a key role in the appreciation of the building, and the view from outside at sunset is quite stunning. The Vitra Haus building also contains the Vitra Home Collection, where visitors can see, touch and purchase different items representing the latest design trends, across various floors and exhibition halls.

 

 


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Herzog & de Meuron are the Swiss architects responsible for some of the world’s most diverse and iconic constructions, including London’s Tate Modern gallery, the CaixaForum in Madrid, Beijing’s spectacular Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium and the Prada building in Tokyo. They’re all fascinating structures, my personal favourite being the Bird’s Nest due to its sheer size and scale.



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Another architect whose work I greatly admire is Jean Prouvé. At the Vitra Campus one can see his petrol station originally designed in 1953 and relocated to the Campus in 2003. It brings together all the qualities that define Prouvé’s work: functionality, careful selection of materials and resourcefulness. These were the guiding principles of his work, and they would prove particularly relevant during the harsh post-war period, considering the uses his buildings would be put to.

 

 

 

 

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Another gem to be found in the Campus is Richard Buckminster Fuller’s Dome, a geodesic structure currently used as an exhibition space. Fuller, like Prouvé before him, was also interested in achieving maximum functionality with minimum expense, both in terms of materials and energy consumption.



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The minimalist simplicity of Jasper Morrison’s bus stationZaha Hadid’s fire station or Frank Gehry’s buildings, archetypes of deconstructivism, complete the visit to this unique location, an absolute must for anyone interested in architecture and design, or indeed art of any kind.

 

 

 

 

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Greek civilization laid the foundations of our contemporary Western culture - it is in Ancient Greece, specifically in Miletus, where the origins of philosophy are to be found.
The book begins with the Seven Sages of Greece and with Thales of Miletus, the first man to attempt to explain natural phenomena through science rather than myth.


Among other things, he earned his fame for having predicted a solar eclipse, discovering Ursa Major and its importance in circumnavigation, and for his theory on the existence of a primordial entity from which all things originate. Until Thales’ findings, all phenomena that could not be readily understood by man were attributed to the Greek gods who, although they exhibited physical attributes far superior to mortals, were nevertheless imagined in the shape of man with their same mortal needs.

For most readers, philosophy is a very dense discipline, and that is true for some parts of it. Hence this book’s appeal: written in an engaging and accessible style, it takes the reader on an exciting journey through the history of thought.

Philosophy, meaning “love of knowledge”, began in Ancient Greece and it is the attempt to find rational answers to the fundamental questions in life. Studying the history of philosophy is important not only for the factual knowledge we learn in the process, but also because it teaches us about the need to develop independent thought.

Philosophy is our guide in the difficult task of daring to think for ourselves. Kant - and many others before him - reminds us of this with his well-known “Sapere aude”, or “Dare to know”. We are so conditioned in our thinking that we don’t even realize it’s happening. Our family, teachers, our spiritual guides, the State, mass media, our consumerist society, etc.: everything and everyone around us, in some way, directs us towards a certain way of thinking and living. This is actually very easy for us to submit to, since we spend a lot less effort delegating our thinking to those we consider better able at doing it for us. According to Immanuel Kant in his 1784 essay, “Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?”, we act like this either out of laziness - it’s easier for us to have others think on our behalf - or out of cowardice - for fear of being wrong. In either case, he thinks it’s down to immaturity.

The idea of “daring to know” is as timeless as the history of thought; the great contributions made to the evolution of thought by these philosophers can be applied to any time in the history of humanity. And this is precisely why philosophy is a highly relevant subject in all our lives. This book is just the first step.

 

 

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One of this year’s Venice Biennale’s most remarkable exhibitions was undoubtedly Italian artist Rudolf Stingel, held in the Palazzo Grassi.

His first exhibition in the United States, which I still remember vividly, took place at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 2007. The artist had covered the walls of a room with Styrofoam coated in aluminium, and visitors were invited to physically interact with the installation by scratching parts of the aluminium coating off the wall, thereby leaving their marks on the piece with writings, drawings or scribbles. I’ve tried and failed to remember what mark I left on the wall: probably nothing of note.



 

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Stingel’s work is characterized by an interest in having the viewer actively participate in the creative process. On this occasion, Stingel’s large exhibition takes place in the 18th century Palazzo Grassi, where the artist has created a fascinating installation in which the palace’s floors and walls have been entirely covered by an enormous carpet (a reference to Freud). Also on display are his monochromatic paintings and paintings of Gothic and Baroque saints, which when juxtaposed with the reference to psychoanalysis helps to create a bizarre and unexpected viewing experience. The paintings and their connotations, with their idea of looking back at a past moment in time, may be implying an analogy with Freudian therapy. I was particularly struck by a side-view image of Christ’s crucifixion: the angle chosen by the artist to represent this iconic image is uncommon and one that I had not seen before. I found it a very disturbing piece.




 

 

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Combining the full-space carpet installation with the paintings on the walls leads to a feeling of unease. It’s disorienting to be looking at the paintings on a carpet background which should really belong to the floor one is standing on, and one’s perception of the painting is certainly affected. Viewers tend to feel somewhat confused.


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Stingel is interested in the viewer’s perception of art, something clearly seen in this exhibition. Conceptual art, installations and hyperrealism are the tools he uses in his mission to explore the creative process. A provocative, compelling artist whose prolific and heterogeneous output is well worth taking the time to study in depth.

 

 

 

 

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Art-Exhibitions

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