Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Bringing Objects to Life... Sometimes in Unexpected Ways

One of the great things about visiting museums or galleries is that you often get an opportunity to see objects differently than you might otherwise. A perfect example of this played out years ago when I was an Art History student in Paris. While our classrooms were in the Louvre, we often studied in other museums, including the Musée d’Orsay. One of the paintings in the Musée d’Orsay is Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 version of The Bedroom. Although it has been replicated everywhere from coffee table books to posters to screensavers, it’s far more spectacular in person than one could imagine.

On this particular day as I inched closer to examine the viscous paint I noticed something unexpected… He had used a newspaper to tamp down the paint in different areas. And how did I know this? Because you can see the letters of the newsprint embedded in the paint! It was spectacular. In my mind I could imagine him with a piece of newspaper wrapped around his finger tamping down the paint then tilting his head as he ponders whether or not to add paint to cover the ink. Thankfully he didn’t and it made a spectacular painting even better.

Such is the world of art and design: it’s bringing something to life, sometimes in unexpected ways. This gift applies particularly well to the world of design.

For thousands of years man has created objects, art and structures that sometimes were functional, sometimes stylish and sometimes both. Unfortunately history has a way of losing things, from buildings to coins and everything in between. Thankfully, museums and galleries function as time machines giving us a glimpse of an earlier time.

Whether it’s a building or a piece of furniture, an Objet d’Art, or an element on an assembly line, usually a great deal of work went into creating something of value. But as time goes on things sometimes become, less functional, less desired and often fall into disrepair and are eventually discarded.

The sad thing is that much heart and soul and energy likely went into the creation of those objects and after their use is faded they’re simply gone and the sweat and energy that went into them is forgotten. It’s because of that trajectory however that we sometimes are able to find objects that can be re-purposed and brought back to life, often in unexpected ways. It’s almost like we’re reaching back and waking the spirit of the craftsmen or artisans or artists by giving life to their efforts in the modern world.

Whether it’s Van Gogh leaving a clue about his technique hiding in plain sight, Marcel Duchamp turning a urinal or a bottle rack into works of art or a building capital finding new life as a console, art and design find countless ways of making life more beautiful, often in the most unexpected of ways.

Below are some wonderful objects that have undergone a metamorphosis from their original use to become beautiful unique pieces that are not only functional, but at the same time have the added allure of connecting a room with some distant piece of history.

In this case the manufacturer is Mother Nature, but this coral lamp is nothing short of spectacular.

The frame of this Greek key mirror came from the facade of an early 20th century building in the US North-East, similar to the building below in Riga, Latvia

These decorative pieces were used as money in Papua New Guinea. They are called Yua Wenga (Money +  Clam Rings) and are made from Clamshells.  They are still used in some areas!

This French print block from the mid 20th century was used to apply patterns to fabric similar to the way a printing press applies ink to a newspaper. 

These are cork bee hives that now make great drink tables with that rustic look about them.

This lamp is made from an Italian gilded and painted wood fragment that likely came from the interior of a building.

Boat prows are the tip of the spear as a boat sails through the water. More decorative than functional, intricate boat prows were not at all unusual when wooden ships commanded the sea. (Below is an example.)  This prow has come back to life as a decorative piece that suggests the fantastic voyages for which it was the lead.  

These sconces started out life as Italian Processional Columns. Yesterday they illuminated the soul, today as beautiful sconces they illuminate the room.

This unique piece is made from a European millstone that was likely used to mill wheat or corn and today is a rather sturdy table.  The notches carved in the middle to stabilize the millstone as it turned make great holders for drinks or things decorative.  Below is a grinding wheel from Estonia that is a vertical version of  how such stones are sometimes used.

These beautiful objects are splash boards from Papua, New Guinea, which are used in the front of a canoe to protect from splashing. Their vibrant colors and intricate wood inlay make them stunning objects d'art.  

This spectacular console began life in the early 20th century as an iron capital on a building in  New York City. It spent most of its life being seen from hundreds of feet below where it was impossible to make out the details. Today, seen from only a few feet away as a console, its beauty and detail are no longer invisible to the naked eye, as can be seen by the image below.  

These petrified wood drink tables started out as trees and a short hundred million years later they are prepared to entertain and support... pretty much anything! 

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