French Design Masters at The Wolfsonian-FIU
by Tom Austin
|La Maison de Ph. Starck kit (1994) by Philippe Starck|
|Pi chaise lounge (1984) by Martin Szekely|
November is a big month for The Wolfsonian-FIU on Miami Beach: The internationally recognized museum celebrates its 16th anniversary on November 11 with an 11/11/11 fundraising event held, aptly enough, at the 1111 Lincoln Road building. And on November 25, the Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity exhibition opens. It is organized by The Wolfsonian-FIU from the collection of France’s Centre National des Arts Plastiques (National Center for Visual Arts), and ramps up the allure of December’s Art Basel Miami Beach, this year celebrating its 10th year. In sync with the glittery realm of Art Basel, The Wolfsonian-FIU is also hosting events with Van Cleef & Arpels, a sponsor of the show.
This particular exhibition of more than 125 objects explores French cultural identity through design, from the mid-20th century to today. Broken down into nine narrative clusters with titles like “Armchair Activist: The Barricade” and “French Design Digest: The Framework,” it presents the work of Jean Prouvé and other modernist architects, les villes nouvelles (“the new towns”) of the 1960s and 1970s, and design after the May 1968 “neorevolution” in Paris. The installation design—with pieces situated on wooden blue, white, and red units referencing the French flag—is a collaboration between graphic designers M/M Paris, design theorist Alexandra Midol, and designer Matali Crasset, whose work appears in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Each unit is based on the Modulor, a measuring system created by Le Corbusier in 1943. The show features such designers as Pierre Paulin, Roger Tallon, and the Bouroullec brothers. Along the way, it embraces everything from Pi, a Martin Szekely chaise lounge, to a Michel Ducaroy loveseat that’s part of the Togo line at Ligne Roset.
One section of the exhibition is entitled “Starck System: The Star” and is fully devoted to Philippe Starck, highlighting the differences between industrial design for the masses and the work of the design auteur’s work for the elite. Among other pieces, Starck contributes a Richard III armchair, the world’s edgiest toilet, and a simultaneously cute and creepy TeddyBearBand stuffed toy. La maison de Ph. Starck Kit is a mixed-media piece comprised of paper, a videocassette, a hammer, and the French flag.
Happily enough, the very French and very talented Starck is back on the Beach, his old stomping ground: The seminal Delano hotel Ian Schrager created with the designer sits a few blocks away from the museum, while Starck’s new project, the SLS Hotel at South Beach (set in the former Ritz Plaza and slated to open in March 2012), is across the street. Owned by Sam Nazarian of sbe, which also has the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills, the Miami version features James Beard Award-winning chef José Andrés presiding over The Bazaar, and Lenny Kravitz is orchestrating a penthouse for the property. The vibe is white-on-white tropical surrealism— Hollywood meets South Beach—with the oceanfront Hyde Beach nightclub echoing French Riviera chic. Starck, ever the showman, has called Kravitz “an unlimited boiling bucket of culture, a daily firework.”
That particular over-the-top quote, perhaps not inappropriate when all is said and done, might just as easily apply to The Wolfsonian-FIU’s celebration of all things smart and French in its eagerly anticipated Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity show.
photograph by jean tholance/les arts décoratifs, paris (Pi chaise lounge); b. scotti, paris
(kit); jean-baptiste mondino (stark)