The Salon: Art + Design event at the Armory was more than an armory show; it was an exposition of objects beautiful and beguiling. What set it apart from other fairs here in NY was its presentation. Booths were designed in an aura of architectural elegance, as though each company’s display was an act of seduction. If you like what you see on the outside, come on in! And, in we did, to the delight of our visual senses.
In the Parisian world of ideas, presentation just about everything. Not only did the exhibitors mark their booths with great entrances, they married the beauty of their wares to the manner in which they were displayed. Thus, Lucas Ratton’s impeccably designed space sets the stage for his artworks within. White half walls subtly masking the valuable African and Congo objects inside are counterbalanced by recessed black interior walls. The contrast generates a most dramatic setting, while poignantly highlighting the works. Within the partial walls are slits, enticing the viewer to peek through, as though one were piercing through the veil of history back into the ancient past. The masks are additionally poised upon pedestals, each of which is highlighted by overhead spots, thus drawing especial importance to the works at hand. A seamless integration of architecture and art plays well for Ratton’s exemplary exhibit.
The next store, for truly it is as though one walks down the Rue de Seine into one shop and then another, is Vallois, a magnificent venue for Art Deco and period works. Too difficult to categorize, this Galerie’s rotating table library by Pierre Chareau is a modernist tour de force. It’s geometric forms tear simple planes from the commonplace, elevating them to the ultimate sophistication of ineffable simplicity. Circles arc, spheres rotate, planes intersect, levels transcend, and yet all in a days work as a side table. So rare, yet so sensible. The Deco / Modernist table dates from 1930 and is made of walnut and black patinated iron. Pivoting on a spherical ball linked to a hinge poised on a semi circuit two shelf element, the table rotates in or out depending on the user’s comfort. It’s movement is like that of a finely crafted watch, with form and function so perfectly fit.
Similarly brilliant in its movement and modernist appeal is a swivel chair known as LC7 We find this most iconic piece at Francois Laffanour’s Galerie Downtown. Designed by Charlotte Perriand in 1927, it was not until 1929 that it was integrated into the Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlottle Peririand collection for the Salon D’Automne in Paris. The LC7 is an exploration into the structural possibilities of tubular steel. The beauty of the chair lies in the perfection of function to form. With it’s vertical elements curving at right angles to become horizontal, meeting at the center and below the seat is utterly ingenious. The tubular back, miming the shape of its steel structure, is a curved cylinder of leather. The metallic tube actually runs through the cushion providing its strength and structure. Extending out from the chairs back, the metal tubes then travel down to the seat at right angles. A simple circular seat and cylindrical backrest in leather set to music by perfectly proportioned metal tubes create an airiness and lightness unrivaled to others before it. And, then, it moves. It’s simple swivel provides the user with a unique ability to easily move and be moved. As Leonardo would say of this chair, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
In the Parisian shop of Yves Macaux, but clearly Austrian, are a pair of chairs designed by the architect Koloman Moser. These burr elm pieces of art, for surely it veers into another realm of creativity, are veneered in snakewood, Birdseye maple, and mother-of-pearl inlays. More like a piece of jewelry than a chair, the Moser pieces were designed in 1902/3 for the dining room of Dr. Hans and Gerta Eisler von Terramare’s apartment. The chairs’ geometries are an interplay of Wiener Werkstatte style, which the architect helped found, and Morris-like Arts and Crafts underpinnings. Highly structured, the chair’s basic form is derivative of Moser’s architectural ideas. Monumental, squared in form, it’s strict planes contrasts strongly ”with the inlay of varying materials and the application of its many different wood veneers. Complex and quality decoration vying on a single plane with a more than nodding gesture to art expresses their uniqueness. It was, in large measure, part of Moser’s scheme for full integration between ornamental decoration and architecture. Thus, he sought clientele with whom there would be a camaraderie of understanding. For these clients, he created a complete environment, one in which each element plays to the strings of the whole. “The neutral backgrounds are made into a spatial capsule, autonomous, strong and clearly defining the room in its tectonics.''
From the square to the circle in the square, Andre Sornay’s beside tables display great imaginative ingenuity. These 1935 objets d’art, displayed at the Galerie Alain Marcelpoil, shine in their purist geometries, each plane playing off of each other. The square recessed base, adding a light and floating motif, gives rise to a “log” cylindrical base. Upon the circle base is set a square plane of wood that slides open to reveal the interior cabinet. Within the storage area lies a small spherically shaped light fixture that when rotated and flipped up and back becomes a reading light. From square to circle to square and back to circle, it completes itself. It is not only a geometrical wonder of intelligence and creativity, it is also beautiful. Sornay’s typical nail detail (also a circle) plays artfully with the design as a whole. Even the grooved cylinder, like the rotations of a gyre, create a sense of movement climaxed by the moveable top. So elegant, so clever, so chic.
The seamless integration of architecture and art, form and function, simplicity and sophistication, the Salon: Art + Design surely achieves it’s goals.