Amelia’s Magazine | Ron Arad: Restless. A review of the design exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery, London.

Ron Arad reflective chair
Ron Arad reflective chair
All photography by Amelia Gregory unless otherwise stated.

Once upon a time I assisted a well known stylist on a shoot with Ron Arad. We went to his vast warehouse studios in Camden to take the photo for a magazine, more about and my abiding memory is of the courtyard in front, more about which was littered with the carcasses of old chairs.

Ron does chairs. This is a man who seriously, thumb seriously loves something to sit on, so it comes as no surprise to find that the entire upper gallery of this Barbican exhibition is devoted to his many chair designs.

Ron Arad typewriter chair
Fun with a rusty old typewriter as seat pad.

Ron Arad Rover Chair
The Rover Chair. Image courtesy of the Barbican.

Ron Arad steel rover chair
The gleaming metal version in pride of place.

Here we can trace the journey of Ron’s love from the early days – when he casually tossed aside a career in architecture to pursue dreams of product design – up until the present. At first he took a higgeldy piggeldy approach to their construction: the chair that made him famous was one constructed from the leather car seat of a Rover. In one room we discover how he adapted and changed this original concept before culminating in the final denouement: a sleek recliner in gleaming steel proudly showcased in front of a digital LED screen. For why stop at just one product when you’re onto a winner? Herein lies the essence of Ron’s career – straddling the creation of one off works of art and mainstream manufacturing with gleeful abandon.

Ron Arad Tom Vac
Image courtesy of the Barbican. This was popular in trendy restaurants.

Ron Arad big chair
Ron Arad rocking chairs
Ron Arad. Well Transparent Chair
Image courtesy of the Barbican.

So what defines a Ron Arad work? Aesthetically he has messed around with all sorts of materials, especially in the early years, but if I had to pin it down to a couple of things, I would say he is principally concerned with bulk and sheen. Rotund forms bulge ominously towards the ceilings and floors of the small upper galleries, suggesting the swallowing of any daring seatee. Delicate this ain’t. Comfortable? Maybe, but we aren’t allowed to try. I particularly love a smooth red and white plastic chair, glowing like a giant boiled sweet. But I think I want to lick it rather than sit on it. Is this the reaction one should have to a chair? Semi-phallic pieces appear more sculptural than useful. Shiny metal surfaces reflect the gallery-goers like distorted mirrors, and automated rockers set the chairs in perpetual motion as directional lighting throws dramatic shadows against the encroaching walls.

Ron Arad red white chair
Ron Arad London Papardelle
Ron Arad sculptures

If we aren’t allowed to sit in the chairs upstairs there is much fun to be had stretching out on the various seating arrangements that populate the large open downstairs gallery. Particularly with my austostitch app in hand. On the walls there are bookshelves – his famous curved Bookworm, an impressive patchwork map of America and a giant bookshelf wheel that maintains an impressively upright angle as it regularly slips down a long slope. Some of the most interesting items are the models that Ron has sent out for mass production, complete with scribbled markings.

Ron Arad blue chairs
Ron Arad chairs
Ron Arad America bookcase
Ron Arad wheel bookshelf
Ron Arad chair model

In side rooms we discover Ron’s other projects, including some experimental lighting that plays with the direction of beams so that GOD reads WAR, and a giant disco ball. But it is in his recent return to architecture that Ron really goes to town, even if not much seems to have actually been built other than in Israel, country of his birth. The rest represents little more than extreme flights of fancy, huge brutalist monstrosities designed to house his chairs but destined to forever remain toy models.

Ron Arad War- God light
Ron Arad architecture
His architectural models leave me cold. I mean, I love a bit of brutalism, but there’s a time and a place. Architecture now needs to take into account the environment.

The exhibition left me pondering when the time is right to have a retrospective. When is the work of an artist deemed of high enough calibre? Until recently Ron Arad was head of product design at the RCA and he is still very much an active designer today. This in itself makes for an interesting angle, but does he deserve such a major retrospective? I’m not convinced. At times it felt to me very much like this was the work of a one (or two or three) trick pony. Who, despite the title, likes very much to sit down.

Ron Arad: Restless is on until the 16th of May at the Barbican Art Gallery.

Categories ,art gallery, ,Autostitch, ,barbican, ,Brutalism, ,Chairs, ,Furniture Design, ,Israel, ,LED, ,Lighting, ,Ron Arad, ,Royal College of Art, ,sculpture

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Amelia’s Magazine | London Art Fair 2013 Review: 12 Top Picks

London Art Fair 2013 LED art
The London Art Fair hosts a bewildering variety of artist talent under one roof at the Business Design Centre. From the banal (the LED artwork above, almost identical to a gadget in the baby sensory room at my local Sure Start centre) to the dreadful (oh god, bad painting) to the sublime (pretty much anything below) to the derivative (copycat Damian Hirst Skulls-R-Us) – you can expect to find it all here. I negotiated the thronging crowds at the 2013 London Art Fair with boyfriend and baby in tow – here are my most interesting discoveries.

London Art Fair sarah woodfine
At Danielle Arnaud Sarah Woodfine had constructed an installation from MDF and cardboard. Like many of the artists that catch my eye these days she ‘explores the imaginary worlds that border the familiar and the fantastical.’ Fine pencil drawings decorate 3D shapes reminiscent of vessels.

London Art Fair 2013 Klari Reis Hypochondria installation
Klari Reis (showing with Cynthia Corbett) hails from San Francisco, where she creates wall installations from colourful epoxy polymers. Her current Hypochondria series features patterned groupings of petri dishes that appeal to my love of all things bright.

London Art Fair 2013 Nadav Kander Bodies
It was great to see one of Nadav Kander‘s Bodies photographs up close: an un-airbrushed version of the feminine that proves you can be true to reality and still utterly beautiful. You can see the whole series in his current exhibition, listing here.

London Art Fair Chris Wood
Installation artist Chris Wood works with glass and light to create enchanting works of art that caught my eye last year and again this time around.

London Art Fair 2013 Sweettoof
London Art Fair 2013 Sweettoof
I have only ever encountered Sweet Toof artworks on the walls around East London but like most contemporary street artists he also creates pieces with the fine art world in mind. His Dark Horse series features a host of scurrilous street scenes, skeletons jousting with gummy grins. His website explains that he ‘masterfully blends urban detritus with bygone decadence,’ and the results call to mind works by Jake and Dinos Chapman, especially their cheerful defamation of prized Goya drawings.

London Art Fair 2013 Ye Hongxing Scream Fine Art Utopia
I first saw works by Chinese artist Ye Hongxing at Scream late last year and was immediately drawn in by her kaleidoscopic use of kitsch stickers, used in their thousands to create Modern Utopian landscapes featuring wild animals (such as the zebra in this detail). Her work is a reaction to the swift changes taking place in Chinese culture.

London Art Fair Butch Anthony
Alabama based folk artist Butch Anthony has tapped into our love of all things skeletal; layering his own doodles on top of junk shop finds. You can see more of Butch Anthony‘s work at his new show, Intertwangleism, opening February 8th at Black Rat. ‘Intertwangleism is how I look at people and break them down to the primordial beginnings,’ explains Butch Anthony, who also hosts Doo-Nanny, his very own annual outsider folk art festival. Watch this video to find out more about the intriguing Butch Anthony.

London Art Fair 2013 Yellow Pollen by Simon Allen
The sculptor Simon Allen creates carved, polished, pigmented forms that appeal to all my tactile senses. His pollen series was featured alongside equally captivating carved metallic wooden forms.

London Art Fair 2013 Mel Bochner words
London Art Fair Mel Bochner
We recently visited the Mel Bochner exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, so I am familiar with his large scale typographic works. At the London Art Fair his tactile paintings featured extraordinary mounds of screen printed paint. I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the pornographic words.

London Art Fair Shane Bradford
I profiled Shane Bradford many years ago in the print version of Amelia’s Magazine: assorted objects dipped until they are heavily encrusted with glossy paint take on new symbolism and meaning.

London Art Fair Jealous Gallery Adam Dix
I listed Adam Dix‘s 2012 exhibition Programming Myth, which inspired these gorgeous gold leafed screen prints for Jealous Gallery. The images marry old fashioned imagery and a modern day fascination with technology.

London Art Fair Susie Macmurray
Susie Macmurray‘s huge installation bulged from the wall like an overgrown carbuncular growth, unapologetic in it’s vulgarity. A former classical musician, she is well known for her use of unconventional materials such as cling film.

And there you have it: my best bits from this year’s London Art Fair. To see my fave images as I see them follow me on instagram @ameliagregory.

Categories ,2013, ,Adam Dix, ,Alabama, ,art, ,Baby Sensory, ,Black Rat, ,Bodies, ,Business Design Centre, ,Butch Anthony, ,Chinese, ,Chris Wood, ,Cynthia Corbett Gallery, ,Damian Hirst, ,Danielle Arnaud, ,Dark Horse, ,Doo-Nanny, ,East London, ,Folk Art, ,Goya, ,Hypochondria, ,instagram, ,Intertwangleism, ,Islington, ,Jake and Dinos Chapman, ,Jealous Gallery, ,Klari Reis, ,LED, ,London Art Fair, ,Mel Bochner, ,Modern Utopia, ,Nadav Kander, ,Petri dishes, ,Programming Myth, ,review, ,San Francisco, ,Sarah Woodfine, ,Scream, ,Screenprints, ,sculpture, ,Shane Bradford, ,Simon Allen, ,street art, ,Sure Start, ,Susie Macmurray, ,Sweet Toof, ,Whitechapel Gallery, ,Ye Hongxing

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