Category Archives: Decorative Arts

How Sebastian Errazuriz Provokes Viewers to Rethink the Everyday


sebastian_1200p_web

Sebastian Errazuriz and his wall of sketches inside his Brooklyn studio.

Fifteen years ago, Sebastian Errazuriz was walking through his native Santiago, Chile, scoping sites for a public art project, when he came upon a rundown taxidermy museum that was going out of business. The owner had been clearing the space and piling the unwanted animals, mostly birds and reptiles, along the sidewalk for the dumpster. Among them was a large, white goose. The 21-year-old design student knelt down for a closer look. The bird smelled. Its neck was broken, its head flopped to one side, and its chest puffed, rigid and unmoving. Errazuriz thought it was “disgusting, awkward, and morbid.” Yet somehow, he says, it seemed funny? Weirdly elegant, even. Darkly cute?

Errazuriz had been struggling to find confidence in his ideas, and here he found a concept he loved. He plucked the goose from the pile and told the museum owner he’d be back with an idea and a blueprint.

This past September, Carnegie Museum of Art debuted Sebastian Errazuriz: Look Again, the first solo museum exhibition of the artist’s work. Since moving to New York City in 2006, art fairs including Art Basel and Design Miami have given his ideas an international platform. His work has been auctioned at Sotheby’s. He was named Chilean Designer of the Year. Now, through installation art, sculpture, conceptual furniture, and fashion, Look Again explores Errazuriz’s most pervasive theme to date: the unavoidable brevity of life. Among the earliest works in the show is Duck Lamp, made in 2004.

Continue reading

The Shadow of Memory in a Post-9/11 World


under-attack-candles_sebastian-errazuriz

Under Attack candles, 2010. Image courtesy of Sebastian Errazuriz Studio.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, nightmare-like imagery appeared on television screens across the country. News footage of two commercial airliners flying dangerously low through the New York skyline played on an infinite loop. The twin towers of the World Trade Center hemorrhaged fire and black smoke against a clear blue sky. Office workers helplessly plummeted from windows. Clouds of ash rolled through New York’s financial district like slow-moving dust storms. Crowds of strangers wept and hugged one another in the streets. It was unbearable to watch, yet impossible to look away. Thirteen years later that graphic imagery still lingers in the nation’s collective memory, a stark reminder of what personal loss and incalculable horror looks like.

Like so many other people who looked on in disbelief that day, Chilean-born artist Sebastian Errazuriz was influenced by the events that transpired. For more than a decade, Errazuriz—whose first major solo museum exhibition, Look Again, opened last Friday at Carnegie Museum of Art—has been creating sculptures, photographs, collages, and sketches in memory of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Collected under the title Never Forget, Errazuriz treats the ongoing project as not only an exercise in memory, but as a way to reconsider the messages and imagery that surfaced both during and after the attacks.  

Continue reading

Video: The Art Connection


We just wanted to say thanks to everyone who came out on Sunday, April 14 to mark the opening of The Art Connection Annual Student Exhibition! Check out the video to see our student artists hard at work in the museum’s studios as they prepared for this year’s exhibition. Throughout the school year, students in grades 5–9 worked through the creative process with the help of teaching artists in the museum’s galleries and studios. Artworks in this year’s exhibition reflect the influence of recent exhibitions such as White Cube, Green Maze: New Art Landscapes, Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Art at the World’s Fairs, 1851–1939, and Cory Arcangel: Masters.

crowd-4

Objects of Desire: Dawn’s Pick


bugattiinstall
Installation view, Carlo Bugatti, Cobra chair, 1902, wood, parchment with painted decoration, and copper, Berdan Memorial Trust Fund, Helen Johnston Acquisition Fund, and Decorative Arts Purchase Fund

Choosing my favorite object from Inventing the Modern World is nearly impossible—my “favorite” tends to shift by the hour or according to my mood (this says more about my love of objects than it does about my indecisiveness). There’s one extraordinary object however that stands out no matter the time of day or my disposition—the Cobra chair designed by Carlo Bugatti.

cobradetail1

Bugatti was one of the most eccentric European designers working at the turn of the century and his furniture is truly fantastical, bordering on bizarre. Inspired by nature, architecture, and decorative elements of the Middle East, North Africa, and Japan, he worked in unusual combinations of materials.

The Cobra chair was part of a suite made by Bugatti for the 1902 Turin Prima Esposizione d’Arte Decorativa Moderna, the first world’s fair devoted exclusively to decorative arts and design. The organizing committee declared that only original and innovative designs free of historical precedent would be accepted. It is obvious that Bugatti rose to this particular challenge.

cobradetail2The dynamic form of the Cobra chair blurs the boundaries between sculpture and functional design with a revolutionary assembling technique decades ahead of its time. Composite wooden elements were joined and shaped to create a curving silhouette that anticipates the cantilevered designs of the 1920s and 1930s by Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, and Kem Weber. Bugatti disguised and unified the composite parts with stretched and joined parchment, making the chair look like it’s a solid piece. The vellum is painted with stylized flowers, dragonflies, and geometric shapes while the applied copper disc on the back further accentuates the cobra imagery. Although the chair exhibits the exotic influences, organic shapes, and naturalistic references that typify Art Nouveau, the chair stands out as a thoroughly modern product of Bugatti’s vivid imagination.

cobradetail3

The otherworldly aspects of Bugatti’s designs are truly elucidated in the image of the Snail Room at the 1902 fair. One of three complete rooms Bugatti designed for the exhibition, the Salle de Jeu et Conversation (room for games and conversation) contained a spiraling banquette and table surrounded by Cobra chairs and circular panels mimicking the chair backs. The room is at once futuristic, organic, and exotic.

Though Bugatti’s Cobra is beloved by art historians today, it was a bit too radical to be widely accepted in 1902. Nevertheless, Bugatti was awarded a diploma of honor by the Turin jury. They clearly found the Cobra chair to be as unforgettable as I do. As one contemporary critic of the exhibition wrote, “the artist who knows how to give a truly individual imprint to his furniture is C. Bugatti.…Bugatti, living outside every movement and owing everything to himself and demanding everything from himself, is the exhibitor who most clearly remains stamped in one’s memory.”

Installing the Presepio


P1090265Art handler Matt Cummings takes on the delicate task of installing figures in the middle of the scene for the Neapolitan presepio.

Every year on the Monday—Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving, Carnegie Museum of Art staff installs the museum’s remarkable Neapolitan presepio. Beloved by Pittsburghers as an annual holiday tradition the presepio is an incredible multi-media work of art, created by 18th-century artisans in Naples.

Monday
We install the stage set within the steps of St. Gilles in the Hall of Architecture. The set is made up of dozens of platforms topped with miniature buildings, bridges, roads, rocks, and a stream. The various pieces are unified by the application of conservation-safe moss cloth.

P1090259A member of the so-called “Turkish band,” a common sight in the bustling Mediterranean port of 18th-century Naples.
P1090264Watch out—his sheep has a wild look in his eye.

Tuesday
In come the figures on rolling metal carts. More than 100 human and angelic characters, plus another dozen animals, and countless finimenti or finishing touches (tiny props like walking sticks, assorted foods for the marketplace, and tiny ceramic and silver jars and platters. If all goes well, we finish the day by suspending the host of angels overhead.

P1090288Museum staff place figures in the foreground, while the yellow ladder at back will help us install the angels overhead.
P1090287During the rest of the year the presepio figures rest in carefully padded and outfitted drawers like this one.

Wednesday
We polish off the installation with a green velvet skirt, gold stanchions, and didactic panels, as well as a special display case that provides an opportunity to see one figure up close.

P1090261The Moorish King Balthazar
P1090262This lady even has carefully crafted miniature earrings.
P1090269The fisherman is the oldest figure in the presepio, dating to 1700. A natural fit for a streamside spot, he also serves as an allegory for Christ, who was called the “fisher of men.”
P1090273This begging dog is quite a character with his upward gaze and wagging tail.
P1090293Art handler Steve Russ arranges items based on photographs from a previous year.