Sitting – Lying – Swinging. Furniture from Thonet at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Leipzig

April 16th, 2014

Standing in the Leipzig Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, surrounded by 150 years of Thonet chair history, Peter Thonet, x-times-great grandson of company founder Michael Thonet and until his recent retirement company CEO,  is clearly a very satisfied man, “It makes one proud to be able to look back on a collection of objects that have not only been important for the company, but which have also, occasionally, written design history”

Few visiting the new Grassi Museum exhibition “Sitting – Lying – Swinging. Furniture from Thonet” could or would argue.

Sitzen Liegen Schaukeln Möbel von Thonet Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig 02

Sitting – Lying – Swinging. Furniture from Thonet at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Leipzig

Established by Michael Thonet in “the 1840s”, Thonet grew from the backyards of Vienna to become one the world’s largest and most commercially successful furniture manufacturers. Success with bent wood – ask any Thonet staff member and they will happily confirm that between 1859 until 1930, around 50 million of Thonet’s pioneering Chair 14s were sold worldwide – was followed by success with bent steel tube, for all through works by designers such as Mart Stam, Marcel Breuer or the Parisian triumvirate of Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand & Pierre Jeanneret, before, as so often in European biographies, the war years got in the way.

From the seven Thonet production facilities that were in operation before 1939 only the base in Frankenberg (Eder) near Kassel in Germany remained after 1945. The rest either destroyed by war or nationalised by socialist regimes.

Frankenberg was also badly damaged by allied bombs, but there was enough standing to allow the Thonet family to begin again.
And begin again they did.

Today Thonet employ around some 170 staff in Frankenberg producing a mix of classic Thonet products and more contemporary designs.

Presenting some 150 objects, Sitting – Lying – Swinging explores the story and history of Thonet chairs with a special, though not exclusive, focus on those works realised since 1945.

Organised by thematic, material and functional criteria rather than presenting the works purely chronologically, Sitting – Lying – Swinging freely mixes historic with contemporary objects and established Thonet classics with little known pieces; a curatorial decision that helps one to understand and follow the story of Thonet seating.

In the first half of the exhibition each section is arranged around a central, illuminated island, an arrangement that gives one the impression of visiting a hotel sushi bar: but an arrangement which does greatly aid the viewing. The second room, with its views into the Grassi courtyard is arranged in a more conventional museum style, but is sparsely enough populated to allow one to ignore the presentation and enjoy the objects.

As more regular readers will know we like to say that Thonet were responsible for two furniture industry revolutions, bent wood furniture and bent steel furniture. And that we’re all still waiting for third. Sitting – Lying – Swinging doesn’t provide any great hope that the third is coming any time soon, but demonstrates if it doesn’t arrive, that isn’t because Thonet as a company have been sitting back on their laurels.

For all since 1945 Thonet have worked with an impressive roster of German and international design talent including, for example, Ferdinand Kramer, Verner Panton, Gerd Lange, James Irvine or Naoto Fukasawa, designers who have not only helped keep the company portfolio fresh but who have introduced new ideas into the company’s philosophy.

Those of you who read our thoughts on Artek in Milan will no doubt now be asking why we feel it’s OK for Thonet to work with new designers, but Artek should just keep putting out the works of Alvar Aalto?

Those who read our thoughts on Artek in Milan properly will understand that we’ve nothing against established firms such as Thonet or Artek working with new designers, they must just keep focussed on their core competence. On those things they do well.

With Konstantin Grcic and Hella Jongerius Artek have worked with two designers who have utilised and extended Arteks’ core competences, and viewing Sitting – Lying – Swinging one sees clearly that Thonet’s most impressive, convincing and successful post-war creations are and were those where the designers have understood Thonet and have attempted to do something new, yet something that is still “Thonet”.  It sounds ridiculous, but a company must be comfortable with what they are doing if they are to break new ground. From Thonet’s most recent collaborations special mention in that respect must go to those with, amongst others, Läufer + Keichel, Delphin Design and Stefan Diez.

And for us the reverse is one of the reasons why the company lost their way a little in the 1980s. In our opinion too many of the chairs from that period were conceived with the aim of reinventing the Thonet brand, rather than advancing chair design. And such can never work.

Sitzen Liegen Schaukeln Möbel von Thonet Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig 19

Sitting – Lying – Swinging. Furniture from Thonet at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Leipzig

Viewing Sitting – Lying – Swinging there comes an, inevitable, moment when the question arises, when does an exhibition about Thonet chairs become a sales promotion for Thonet chairs?

A question that given that we see a Thonet trade fair stand every six months or so probably comes quicker to us than to most normal visitors.

The answer is, it doesn’t. If, as in the case of Sitting – Lying – Swinging the commercial interests have no influence over the museal content.

Sitting – Lying – Swinging has been curated by the Grassi Museum alone and all aspects organised by the Grassi Museum alone, Thonet merely allowed the Grassi team access to the archives to research.

Thonet is a very valid subject for a museum exhibition, Sitting – Lying – Swinging is the first exhibition ever to place a focus on Thonet’s post-war production and is one of the most comprehensive Thonet exhibitions ever staged. The Grassi Museum with its history going back almost as far as Thonet’s and being an institution that helped propagate the fledgling Bauhaus, is a fairly logical place for such an exhibition. And not mentioning Thonet in such an exhibition would be a little difficult. And daft.

One must also understand that the the majority of the chairs on show aren’t currently in production, and in all probability never will be again. They are, in effect, historical artefacts being presented in a curated museum environment.

And should be enjoyed as such.

Sitting – Lying – Swinging is a very simple exhibition that doesn’t attempt to do anything very complicated. Something it achieves with great competence.

Obviously if you don’t like chairs, don’t go, you’ll not enjoy it. It’s two large rooms full of chairs.

If however you do like chairs, or at least want to learn how chair design has developed over the past 150 years, how little chair design has developed over the past 150 years, and for all where Thonet  fit into the history of chair design, then do go.

You will enjoy it.

Sitting – Lying – Swinging. Furniture from Thonet runs at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Johannisplatz 5-11 04103 Leipzig  until Sunday September 14th 2014.

Full details can be found at

(smow) blog compact: Irritation #13: Guus Beumer – The outdated exhibition format @ Hôtel Droog Amsterdam

April 15th, 2014

We spend a lot of our time in exhibitions.

A lot.

And a lot more travelling to and from exhibitions.

But are we wasting our time?

Guus Beumer, director of Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, believes so.

And he is a man who has spent even more of his life in exhibitions than us. Both as viewer and as curator; perhaps most notably as artistic director of the 2009 Utrecht Manifest, Biennial for Social Design and as curator of the Dutch Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

On Thursday April 17th as part of Hôtel Droog’s Irritations series Guus Beumer will argue that the exhibition is an outdated format and that they are “costly, time consuming and mostly geared towards an older audience”

A position which of course poses the questions, what is one to do? What alternatives do we have? Or is Guus Beumer wrong, is the exhibition as relevant and useful a format as ever? Is the problem with those who curate exhibitions rather than those who view exhibitions?

All wishing to hear what Guus Beumer has to say, or let Guus Beumer hear what they have to say, and are in Amsterdam on Thursday are invited to take part at Hôtel Droog, Staalstraat 7B,1011 JJ Amsterdam.

The event begins at 8pm and entry is free.

Full details can be found at

Milan Design Week 2013 Droog 20+ Up to a beautiful future

Droog 20+ Up to a beautiful future @ Milan Design Week 2013. A waste of time, resources and money? Discuss!

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Triennale Design Museum – Italian Design Beyond the Crisis. Autarky, Austerity, Autonomy

April 14th, 2014

One could be facetious and say that organising an exhibition looking at “the creative potential triggered by crises in the history of Italy” is akin to organising an exhibition presenting an unbroken chronology of Italian creative potential since time immemorial.

But that is exactly what the Triennale Design Museum Milan have undertaken for their seventh edition.

Under the title “Autarky, Austerity, Autonomy” the Triennale Design Museum have, however, chosen to focus on just three periods of Italy’s perpetual crisis: the 1930s, the 1970s and today.

Opening with a collection of objects that stand as representative for the three decades under consideration, including, for example, the 1939 Littorina autarchica wood and aluminium bicycle, a table from Enzo Mari’s 1974 Proposta per un’autoprogettazione project or the 2014 3D printed lamp “In tensione” by Alberto Meda for Belux, the exhibition then moves on to explore in more detail how Italian designers responded to the particular challenges of the autarky of the 1930s, austerity of the 1970s, and autonomy of our modern age.

As ever with Triennale Design Museum exhibitions Autarky, Austerity, Autonomy presents a veritable who’s who of Italian design: Sottsass, Mari, Ponti, Brandi, de Lucchi, Albini, Formafantasma, Martino Gamper……….

And as ever with Triennale Design Museum exhibitions the biggest problem is an exhibition format that presents far too much. Or at least does towards the end. Whereas the first two thirds of the exhibition is relatively intelligible and clear the nearer one gets towards the end the more the objects become stacked, helplessly, on top of one another.

This may of course be symptomatic of the inflationary nature of contemporary design, proof that today there is far too much “design”. It is however, we suspect, much more that the curators wanted to present as many examples of contemporary design as possible, and got a bit carried away. The organisers speak of presenting some 650 objects. Were the Triennale exhibition space three times as big one could have attempted to present so many objects. It isn’t. And so by the end of the exhibition one is so overloaded one almost loses the will to explore.

A situation exacerbated by an exhibition design concept that, for us, perfectly demonstrates the sort of outmoded, uninspired format that, we feel, the Vitra Design Museum are being ironic about in the Object Space section of Konstantin Grcic – Panorama.

Following on from 2013′s Made in Slums – Mathare Nairobi, Autarky, Austerity, Autonomy is the second exhibition about design in context of crises to be staged at the Triennal Design Museum in the past twelve months. However whereas in Made in Slums the curators could convincingly present a design culture born of the local conditions and crises, the curators of Autarky, Austerity, Autonomy present only very little that is exclusively Italian. Very little that can be considered an Italian response to the global crises of the periods under consideration, far less a particularly Italian response to particularly Italian crises.

And indeed through the inclusion of notable non-Italians such as Ronen Kadushin or Patricia Urquiola they tacitly acknowledge this fact.

Consequently what one is left with is an extensive collection of design objects from the past 80 years.

Not what the curators were intending to present; but, as an extensive collection of design objects from the past 80 years, well worth viewing.

Italian Design Beyond the Crisis. Autarky, Austerity, Autonomy runs at the Triennale Design Museum, Viale Alemagna, 6, 20121 Milan until February 22nd 2015

A few impressions.

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Artek @ Salone del Mobile

April 13th, 2014

If we’re honest, we really, really, should have seen it coming. We didn’t.

Having been acquired in 2013 by Vitra, Artek have now begun working with leading designers from the Vitra roster.

Specifically, in Milan Artek launched a new chair from Konstantin Grcic and new colour and textile schemes from Hella Jongerius for the classic Alvar Aalto 400 and 401 armchairs and Stool 60.

We just hope no-one is tempted to over egg this particular pudding.

In the Milan press release Artek CEO Mirkku Kullberg expresses her delight that through Vitra Artek have become part of an infrastructure that allows the company to focus on product development and the expansion of the distribution network, in the words of Kullberg “the core elements for growth”

Judging by the easy, almost natural way, the Vitra sales reps crossed from the Vitra stand to the neighbouring Artek stand to show their customers the Artek collection, Artek should have no major problems growing through the new distribution possibilities. And certainly it makes perfect sense for both companies to fully utilise the new realities to optimise their sales, marketing and distribution structures.

For us however in terms of products, product ranges and product development Artek must remain focused on its core competence: Alvar Aalto as designed by Alvar Aalto. That is what it does best. Nothing against new collaborations and new products, and indeed over the years Artek have regularly – and very successfully – co-operated with new designers and brought new blood into the company, perhaps most famously with Tom Dixon as Creative Director. Which is obviously all positive and helps keep the company fresh and competitive. But one shouldn’t get too distracted. Just because one has easier access to leading contemporary designers doesn’t mean one should take up the option.

That said, the two new collaborations presented in Milan have, we believe, been completed in Artek’s best interest.

With Konstantin Grcic Artek have cooperated with a designer who understands the soul of Artek and understands where Artek come from. A fact demonstrated, perhaps a little too elegantly, by a work in progress prototype from Grcic being presented in Milan by Magis. At this juncture all we shall say is, had Alvar Aalto been a keen skier he too may have arrived at such an idea.

However for Artek Grcic has also poetically demonstrated his understanding of Aalto and Artek and has developed a new swivel chair christened, somewhat curiously, Rival and intended for home office use, but which in our opinion is much better suited to bar, restaurant and conference room use. Or possibly co-working spaces. Crafted from birch Rival comes with either a high or low backrest, a choice of seat padding and in a range of colours.

Hella Jongerius meanwhile has not created a new product but has refreshed three Aalto classics, in that she has developed four new wood colours – silver birch, honey, walnut and charcoal – for Aalto’s Stool 60, Armchair 400 and 401, and introduced new textiles for the 400 and 401. Developments that will almost certainly help make the objects interesting and accessible to a wider audience than was perhaps the case until now.

While we full understand the background thinking behind the changes, and would agree that Hella Jongerius has achieved her aim of adding more depth and warmth to the objects, for us, and for all with the designs for the 401 we just feel that she has gone a little too close to a “generic Jongerius” aesthetic. The 401 would, for example, look every bit as good and every bit at home on the Vitra stand as on the Artek stand.

And that is exactly what the two companies need to make sure they avoid. Vitra and Artek come from different backgrounds, their identities, philosophies and understanding of design originated at different times, from different motives and in different contexts; consequently they must travel different paths. Must maintain that what makes them unique.

A fusion of the two traditions would benefit neither.

As we say, the start is positive, but it’s going to be interesting to observe how things develop!

A few impressions from Artek in Milan.

Milan 2014 Artek Rival Konstantin Grcic

Rival by Konstantin Grcic for Artek, as seen at Salone del Mobile Milan 2014

Milan 2014 Artek Alvar Aalto 400 Hella Jongerius

Alvar Aalto Armchair 400 by Hella Jongerius for Artek, as seen at Salone del Mobile Milan 2014

Milan 2014 Artek Alvar Aalto 401 Hella Jongerius

Alvar Aalto Armchair 401 by Hella Jongerius for Artek, as seen at Salone del Mobile Milan 2014

(smow) blog Design Calendar: April 12th 1919 – Official confirmation of the name “Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar”

April 12th, 2014

Herewith we inform the directors of the Hochschule für bildende Kunst that the Provisional Republican Government has approved the request to rename the unified Hochschule für bildende Kunst and Kunstgewerbeschule as “Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar”1

With this succinct letter from the Office of the Hofmarschallamt in Weimar on 12th April 1919, Bauhaus formally existed.

A succinct letter that ended four long years of negotiation and planning, and which – arguably, and depending on your position – opened a chapter which would change architecture and design more comprehensively than any movement before or since.

Having decided in 1915 to leave Germany for his native Belgium, Henry van der Velde recommended Hermann Obrist, August Endell and Walter Gropius as potential successors for his position as Director of the Kunstgewerbeschule in Weimar.2 In October of the same year Walter Gropius began a correspondence with Fritz Mackensen, Director of the Großherzoglich Sächsische Hochschule für bildende Kunst, also in Weimar, about a new Department of Architecture and Applied Arts at the school, a new department Gropius was earmarked to lead.

In 1917 Mackensen, together with the school’s Professors for painting, graphics and sculpture, approached the Weimar government demanding not only the creation of such an architecture department but also the employment of technicians with handicraft skills to assist and support the teaching at the school: clearly as a step to helping Gropius establish his craft based faculty.

There then followed a period of social and political unrest leading to the German Revolution and the overthrow of Kaiser Wilhelm II on November 9th 1918……

On January 31st 1919 Walter Gropius, no doubt sensing the favourable wind blowing across the young republic, contacted the new government in Weimar to inform them about the talks that had taken place with the old regime, and to offer his services to the new authorities.3

With success.

On March 29th 1919 the Vossische Zeitung reported, “The Berlin architect Walter Gropius has, according to our Weimar correspondent, been appointed Director of the Hochschule für bildende Kunst in Weimar. Simultaneously he will assume control of the Kunstgewerbeschule with the Kunstgewerbliche Seminar that the former Professor Vandervelde [sic] led”.4 On April 1st 1919 Gropius formally signed a contract with the Office of the Hofmarschallamt in Weimar appointing him Director of the new unified institution, an institution which received its new name on April 12th, and shortly afterwards Walter Gropius published his “Bauhaus Manifesto”.

The rest, as they say…………………………..

1. Letter from Hofmarschallamt Weimar, reproduced in hans M. wingler “Das Bauhaus. Weimar Dessau Berlin und die Nachfolge in Chicago seit 1937″ Verlag Gebr. Rasch & Co und DuMont Schauberg, 4th Edition 2002

2. Michael Siebenbrodt “Bauhaus Weimar. Entwürfe für die Zukunft” Hatje Cantz Verlag Ostfildern, 2000

3. ibid

4. Vossische Zeitung, Saturday 29th March 1919 (Morning Edition)

Hauptgebäude Bauhaus Universität Weimar Henry van de Veldes (©Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Foto: Nathalie Mohadjer)

Henry van de Velde's Kunstgewerbeschule in Weimar building. Later it housed Bauhaus Weimar. Today serves as the main building of the Bauhaus Universität Weimar. (©Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Foto: Nathalie Mohadjer)

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Berlin Design Selection

April 11th, 2014

In design the term “readymade” is used to refer to products created by giving existing objects a new function; generally a new function far, far removed from the original.

Examples of the genre include the Mezzadro stool fashioned from a tractor seat by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, Jasper Morrison‘s 1983 Handlebar Table or David Olschewski’s Clothes Peg Lamp, an object that never reached the fame of the previous two examples. But which is and was every bit as interesting.

Berlin based Werner Aisslinger has pushed the scale boundaries of readymade design a little, and has transformed European landmarks into items of furniture.

No, honest!

The first results can currently be enjoyed as part of the Berlin Design Selection exhibition in Milan: and despite sounding like an obvious, and particularly uninspired, student project, one can genuinely enjoy Aisslinger’s interpretation of the Colosseum as a side chair-cum-lounger or the Atomium as a side table/light combination. The latter being a truly marvellous item reminiscent in many ways of the better, more structured, less experimental works of Joe Colombo.

Elsewhere in the Berlin Design Selection show we were very taken with the Crossboard shelving system by LOCKWOOD, a relatively simple concept that combines oak and steel to excellent, modular, effect, the rattan lamps by hettler.tüllmann initially confused but ultimately delighted us with their innocent mix of 1970s DIY and Japanese lantern while Hopf, Nordin’s Astrahedra lamps, visualising in their form as they do the vastness of the interstellar void are always a joy to behold.

And a special mention must go to the ceramic-table collection by Elisa Strozyk,featuring table tops created through experimentation with mixing and handling different liquid glazes. A collection we first saw when they premièred at the Objects and the factory exhibition in Cologne. And which still delights.

A few impressions from Berlin Design Selection 2014 in Milan.

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Danish Dynamite by Alexander Muchenberger

April 11th, 2014

“We are red, we are white, we are Danish dynamite!”

So sang the Danes their national football team to victory at the 1992 UEFA Euro tournament.
Another example of “Danish Dynamite” is/was on display at Ventura Lambrate as part of the Design School Kolding’s Milan 2014 show.

If we were slick professionals we’d now say something along the lines of, and it isn’t red and white. But green!!!

Created by Interaction Designer Alexander Muchenberger and essentially nothing more technically advanced than three sticks and a piece of rope, the idea with Danish Dynamite is that you bind the sticks with the rope to form a tripod. The sticks have small spikes on top which you can use to fix a magazine, pile of cardboard – or in Milan a catalogue – and as if by magic you have a makeshift stool.

When you no longer need a stool you simply dispose of the seating element and pack up the sticks/rope.

Until you next need a seat.

As a system Danish Dynamite is, in our opinion, perfect for camping trips, bike/walking tours and of course festivals and similar events. One just needs to ensure that you can find always something stable enough to use as a seat. Which shouldn’t really pose too many problems.

In addition it is a wonderful space saving, resource light object that ably demonstrates that in product design new approaches and new concepts can always be found and developed. One just has to know where and how to look. And we really like they way Alexander has approached the project.

Following their 1992 success the Danish national football team’s star began to wane somewhat.

We hope that of Alexander Muchenberger’s Danish Dynamite is just beginning its ascendency and look forward to seeing how it develops.

A couple of impressions.

Danish Dynamite Alexander Muchenberger Design School Kolding Milan 2014

Danish Dynamite by Alexander Muchenberger, Design School Kolding @ Ventura Lambrate Milan 2014

Danish Dynamite Alexander Muchenberger Design School Kolding Milan 2014

Danish Dynamite by Alexander Muchenberger, Design School Kolding @ Ventura Lambrate Milan 2014

Danish Dynamite Alexander Muchenberger Design School Kolding Milan 2014

And from where it gets its name.......

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Moooi

April 11th, 2014

Preparing for his solo exhibition “Pinned Up at the Stedelijk, 25 years of design” clearly helped Marcel Wanders tackle, and defeat, his inner demons.

We can find no other explanation for the transformation from the darkness of Moooi’s 2013 Milan show to the lighter, happier, untroubled, feel of 2014′s.

The formats were and are essentially the same, both based around room contexts backdropped by large format photos of heavily stylised spaces, but whereas last year’s presentation was a menacing neo-sadistic Wes Anderson battles Tim Burton fantasy hell; this year there was free sorbet on offer on the press day.

In two flavours: pink grapefruit or lemon.

The new Moooi products also exude a lighter, more accessible, less troubled, aesthetic.

And a new construction approach: carpentry.

Something that until now simply wasn’t part of the Moooi programme, and which they have realised with an aplomb we honestly wouldn’t have expected.

Not because Moooi can’t do quality or craft, but because in recent years the feel of the collection has been going ever more towards extroverted extremes, to forms, compositions and imagery that have challenged concepts of good taste.

The antithesis if you will of nicely turned chair legs and rounded table edges.

And then came Pinned Up………..

Among the new products the highlight for us was the Zio family of armchair, footstool, sideboard and low table by Marcel Wanders. And principally the sideboard.

An object that doesn’t do anything especially new, when all is said and done it’s a standard mid-60s wood sideboard; however, it does what it does with a wonderful degree of clarity and a self-controlled vanity that is somehow far removed from the its more formal forefathers.

It may be meant ironically. We don’t know. We don’t care. We like it.

Elsewhere the new Taffeta sofa and chair from Alvin Tjitrowirjo caught the attention with their almost colonial charm, the Nut chairs and footstool by Marcel Wanders bring a genuinely fresh form to the over-saturated world of moulded plywood chairs, and so prove that in the furniture world a market is never so over-saturated that one more object can’t be squeezed in, while the Prop Lamps from Bertjan Pot bring the glamour of the stage dressing room to the living room. In a surprisingly incognito fashion one must add for such big, brash objects. And they probably also represented the most theatrical aspect of the Moooi 2014 presentation.

A few impressions.

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Uncino by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Mattiazzi

April 10th, 2014

“Modern office chairs can be like machines, very technical. We wanted to create something a little softer, more human.” So explains Ronan Bouroullec the background thinking to the new Uncino chair by the brothers Bouroullec for Italian manufacturer Mattiazzi.

According to Ronan the path from the commission from Mattiazzi for an office chair to Uncino was “quite slow”, but was obviously worth it, resulting as it has in a truly fascinating and engaging object.

Available in either a static version with a delightful curving sleigh base that hints cantilever without venturing so far, or a swivel version, a version which we consider to be the far superior, Uncino is constructed from ash and steel and comes with a choice of two backrest forms: an elongated, centred, version for lumbar support or a narrower, rounder, curved version more appropriate for relaxing.

The combination of wood with the delicate bent metal tubing bequeaths Uncino something of an historic feel, almost a Victorian steam punk flair; a form language that unquestionably arises from the research Ronan and Erwan undertook when developing the project.

“The very first office chairs were wooden and the seat turned on a very simple, central spindle”, elucidates Ronan “and for us it was quite easy to return to this typology”

Despite its pre-industrial references Uncino is unquestionably a chair for contemporary, post-industrial, environments and we can well imagine it, for example, in a reduced, uncluttered yet busy, office. Or a home office.

If we’re honest we visited the Mattiazzi stand on a couple of occasions to inspect, reinspect and reinspect Uncino, so unsure were we if we really did actually like it. Ultimately we decided we did.

We suspect that for most people it will also take a little getting used to.

But then, somethings just take time…..

Uncino by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Mattiazzi

Uncino by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Mattiazzi, as seen at Milan furniture Fair 2014

Uncino by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Mattiazzi

Uncino by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Mattiazzi, as seen at Milan furniture Fair 2014

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Source Material @ Kaleidoscope Project Space

April 10th, 2014

Exhibitions in which designers present objects that inspire them are nothing new. But are by their very nature exhibitions that are always new. No two being the same. A fact that always makes them worth visiting.

During Milan Design Week the Kaleidoscope Project Space is showing “Source Material”, the latest such exhibition.

Presenting objects submitted by 45 creatives from across a range of genres, Source Material claims to be an exploration of how the creative process is both “informed by the legacy of material culture that surrounds us” and at the same time an “affirmation of the potential of an object to reflect and nurture the human spirit”

That the exhibition has been organised by Jasper Morrison and Jonathan Olivares in cooperation with art director/publisher Marco Velardi the list of participating creatives is suitably A list, and so we learn, for example, that Naoto Fukasawa first understood beauty through the rolls of vinyl friction tape his electrician father used, that Richard Sapper finds inspiration in Romano Guardini’s Lettere dal lago di Como or that Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon carries his songs, cigarettes, computer and camera in a handmade leather briefcase bought in 2009 in Japan. And how the idea of longevity inherent in the briefcase inspires him to strive for the same in his music.

All very interesting, entertaining and insightful individual stories.

But nothing more.

We all have objects that tell stories, yet simply telling the story behind a collection of unrelated objects from unrelated individuals is too little for an exhibition.

For us the basic problem is that curatorial aim of Source Material is too easy.

We all know that personal objects can cause us to reflect and can inspire us. That’s why we keep them, often in the face of bitter opposition from a loved one who simply cannot understand our infatuation with some, invariably, broken object. Or a cellar full of boxes from which we can’t be parted.

The stories of objects belonging to successful people we may have heard of, assuming we have the correct cultural interests and references, are however no more interesting than those of people we’ve not heard of. And never will hear of.

Unless that is all the objects presented have played some role in the success of the individual. Have directly inspired their work. Helped build the career. Are, so to say, biographically relevant.

With Source Material, despite the implicit intention in the exhibitions name, that is not the case. Or not always. Occasionally it is. Too occasionally.

Or put another way, had the curators focussed more attention on the objects rather than the contributors they could have created a much more coherent and useful exhibition.

However, if you simply want to know what an old pair of yellow industrial earmuffs mean to Konstantin Grcic, embroidery frames to Klaus Hackl or what his spurtle means to chef Fergus Henderson, your definitely in the right place.

Source Material can be viewed at Kaleidoscope Project Space, Via Macedonio Melloni 33, Milan until Saturday April 12th

There is also an accompanying book by Kaleidoscope Press.

Full details can be found at