"One in the World"

An exhibition at Vitra Design Museum delves into the history of the ubiquitous Monobloc.

One plus one makes infinity if it’s a Monobloc, the familiar white plastic chair produced in one step and with one material. A paragon of modern simplicity in postwar Europe, it soon went global. In “Monobloc: A Chair for the World,” on view at Vitra Design Museum (through July 9), its story is told through 20 objects, from predecessors, like the Panton chair of the late 1950s, to contemporary riffs, like the Campana Brothers’s 2006 plastic-and-wicker “Café Chair” parody. The classic version arrived in 1972 as the Fauteuil 300, invented by the French engineer and entrepreneur Henry Massonnet, who had devised its under-two-minute production cycle at his plastics factory. Despite the low manufacturing cost of the Fauteuil 300, not to mention an influx of copycats, skyrocketing demand drove up its price, and, by the 1980s, it was in the range of much higher-end furniture. “One reason, back then, was the fascination among both designers and consumers with the novel technology,” explains the show’s curator, Heng Zhi. But the egalitarian aesthetic was apparently due for a backlash, and plastic seating has since come to be seen as cheap, disposable, and even worthy of banishment in some European cities. Zhi’s takeaway is more forgiving: “It’s a controversial everyday object that reflects the complexity of global material culture,” she says. Fetishized or maligned, the Monobloc continues to multiply.

Published: SurfaceMag.com, April 2017 *
* An abbreviated version ran in the May 2017 issue of Surface

A Monobloc overlooking the Austrian landscape. (Photo: Jürgen Lindemann)

A Monobloc overlooking the Austrian landscape. (Photo: Jürgen Lindemann)


"A Designer Updates a Centuries-Old Pottery Tradition"

While touring the Yangtze Delta, Christopher Jenner stumbled on the town of Yixing and its famous ceramics.

Back in 2013, designer Christopher Jenner was exploring China’s Yangtze River Delta, where the river churns through its final stretch before it meets the sea. Curious about the region’s crafts, he visited the city of Yixing, where he “fell in love,” he says, with its pottery. So begins the story of his Yixing collection, the new series of ceramic homewares his firm is debuting this month at Salone del Mobile, in Milan. Particularly celebrated for its teapots, Yixing is home to a centuries-old tradition that grew from its clay: Iron-rich and thick with quartz, it lends the pots a deep red color and a slightly rough finish. Jenner was intrigued. Soon, he and his team were working out of their London studio with craftspeople in Yixing to fabricate 20 items—plates, bowls, containers, and, of course, a tea set. At Salone, the collection will be presented in a calm, teahouse-inspired scene. The atmosphere, Jenner believes, will allow each piece to “hold its own” in a setting that nods to its origins.

Published: SurfaceMag.com, April 2017 *
* An abbreviated version ran in the May 2017 issue of Surface

(Photo: Michael Franke)

(Photo: Michael Franke)


Rick Owens: Furniture

A fashion designer having a muse is hardly groundbreaking, but, for Rick Owens, when it comes to his longtime partner Michèle Lamy, he has yet to discover the limits of the ways she can inspire him— at least, when she isn’t getting the job done herself. Out this spring, Rick Owens: Furniture (Rizzoli) showcases the furniture and design objects that Owens has produced in collaboration with her since 2007. The volume is simultaneously an ode to Lamy, who is affectionately referred to throughout as “Hun.” It’s the “organic chaos” she brings to the table that has shaped the designs, from a pill-shaped stone lamp to a crystal toilet bowl to a series of marble or plywood Stag stools that each has a single moose antler as a back. “I can be impatiently and tediously pragmatic,” Owens told the Los Angeles Times Magazine in 2010, in an interview printed in the book. “She can coax things out of people with love.”

Published: Surface, March 2017

(Photo: Dani Vernon/ Surface )

(Photo: Dani Vernon/Surface)


"Paper Trail"

Part magazine, part collective diary, and part archive, the art journal Packet has been resisting publishing definitions since it started in 2012. “For the longest time I was like, just don’t call it a zine,” says co-editor and co-founder Chris Nosenzo. Alongside Nicole Reber and Christine Zhu, the Brooklyn-based team publishes Packet once every two weeks. Often, a miscellany of contributions results in a hodgepodge of photographs, interviews, poetry, paintings, illustrations, screenshots, collage, and everything in between. It’s all reproduced on printer paper and bound with simple metal fastenings, lending it an “Office Depot aesthetic,” as Nosenzo describes it. To stay unpredictable, every 12 weeks (or for six issues) a chosen artist begins a “cover residency,” during which time they’re responsible for the content on the covers. While Packet has been growing in influence—with MoMA recently acquiring their archive—it still knows how to have fun. The trio has a joke-themed issue in the works.

Published: Interview, August 2016


"Guy Bourdin"

Over the course of his career, one of the most original fashion photographers to emerge in Europe after World War II, Guy Bourdin, amassed a vast collection of personal ephemera that offers deep insight into his process. "My father would keep everything," his son, Samuel Bourdin, says. "From his late teens to his death, he never ceased to create and explore. Drawings, paintings, sketches, notebooks filled with potential ideas for photographs, photographic plates from the early '50s, vintage prints, thousands of rejects from the shoots—he could shoot 30 reels of film for one image. The discoveries are endless."

Guy Bourdin died in 1991, at the age of 62, in his native Paris. For the past 15 years, Samuel, in collaboration with Louise Alexander Gallery, has been sifting through those rich archives. Among their discoveries are never-before-published Polaroids that help to fill in the master's approach during a revival of interest in his work. There is currently a Bourdin retrospective on view at Fotografiska in Stockholm, and in the spring, Steidl plans to release Guy Bourdin: Untouched, which draws from his early, black-and-white photography. While Bourdin was most clearly indebted to surrealism, "his influences were very diverse," Samuel says. "From pop culture to high art, American comic books from the '50s and '60s, hyperrealist painters, classic filmmakers like Erich von Stroheim, horror movies, Pre-Raphaelite painters, classical music, James Brown." It's a wide array fit for a vibrant artist. "I found one quote of his summarizes his attitude towards life," says Samuel: " ‘Better to live five minutes of happiness rather than an entire life in a conventional way.' "


Published: Interview, February 2016


"True Colors"

By the 1980s, Atlanta-born artist Emma Amos had lived in New York for two decades and had been the youngest and only female artist in Spiral, a Civil Rights era collective of African-American artists. It's then that Amos conceived her leitmotif "figure in flux"—men and women rendered in wispy brushstrokes and often framed with swatches of patterned fabric, their fragile appearance serving as a metaphor for their trace in a whitewashed history. She chose subjects who held a tenuous stake in cultural memory: her Athletes series (1983-85) draws parallels between black athletes and animals for both their agility and exploitation; and The Falling Series (1989) portrays black entertainers and other figures tumbling through fragmented backgrounds. This month, New York's Ryan Lee gallery will display about a dozen works, revisiting Amos's innovative depiction of the black body at a timely moment. "I hope people will be able to see the works for what they are," says Amos, "and what they can reflect of the times in which they were made, and how they resonate in the present."

Published: Interview, February 2016

Emma Amos,  Why We Left the Beach , 1987 (Courtesy Ryan Lee Gallery)

Emma Amos, Why We Left the Beach, 1987 (Courtesy Ryan Lee Gallery)