It's not apparent from its rough-hewn facade, but "Make Me," recently opened at Moss in New York, has a romantic bent. The romance lies in a classic juxtaposition: a tough exterior combined with a sensitive core (think the lumberjack who is a gourmet chef; an ironworker with a PhD in philosophy). These kind of hard-shell with gooey-center contrasts are all over "Make Me." We let the description speak for itself in our announcement, but a reminder: "a cerebral-yet-virile narrative applied to rough work crafted in wood, iron, steel, marble, rust, paint, boiled leather, clay, baked agricultural waste, plant-life, gypsum drywall, and blood, sweat, and tears."
Those last three elements are the keys to this show: a human made this stuff, by hand, and with consideration. Blood, sweat, and tears run through each piece: in process, materials, function, and concept. These elements are evident in the visible shiny gold screws fastening rough planks of Douglas Fir in Peter Marigold's Man Made series, as well as in the charred wood negative providing support for its blown glass bowl in Jakub Berdych's Landscape Series, and they are possibly most apparent in Oscar Magnus Narud's remaining pencil marks created in the making of his Keel Collection of furniture.
Many of the designers created these objects using accessible and traditional craft techniques, and a few even went medieval. The works are not pretty or delicate or austere. They are a little messy and not immediately beautiful, but they are made by hand using simple and classic materials, with complex consideration put into them by their creators. They look rough at the outset, and upon further examination, reveal finesse.
Bleiswijk's Corroded Candleholder
Dutch designer Joost van Bleiswijk's "Corroded Collection," a series of medieval-looking objects (including a human-height candle-holder) are constructed of cut, slotted, and interlocking Corten steel sheets. No glue or joinery holds the pieces together. Bleiswijk sprays the final forms with rainwater, then leaves them outside to further bond the steel slots together (Corten steel naturally forms a protective layer of rust when exposed to the elements). The resulting "Corroded" pieces are impressive, and embody Moss' concept for the show overall: rough yet elegant, humble yet strong, and with pride in imperfections.
Jakub Berdych Landscape Bowl
Simon Hasan Leather Vases
Other successful pieces where form celebrates process include Jakub Berdych's "Landscape Bowl" series. Berdych paired glass-blown bowls with the wooden mold used to create their bases. Honest and elegant, the pairings reveal the process: the molten glass was blown into the mold, scorching the surface of the wood. Simon Hasan also allowed material to dictate form with his collection of scrunched, boiled-leather vases. The leather was pinched with metal rivets and given structure with stainless steel shafts. The vases are the result of Hasan's exploration into Cuir Bouilli, a medieval technique used to soften and shape thick animal hides into body armor.
Narud's Keel Tables; Assembly shots at bottom from his website
Oscar Magnus Narud's Keel collection of benches and tables use rough planks of wood for the surfaces, with iron keel-shaped legs. A wooden mallet accompanies each piece, used for whacking Ashwood shims in place to secure the legs. The furniture is graceful, but proudly displays its sturdiness through its clearly visible construction. Narud's remaining pencil marks on the wood surfaces further indicate the hand that made them.
Marigold's Man Made series.
Narud's studio-mate, Peter Marigold, commands the most visible location in the Moss shop, with his blood-red "Man Made" series of tables. Like the other objects, process and material are key to the resulting forms. Each piece was made from a single log by cutting successively smaller L-profiles. With no waste, each piece of furniture's final dimensions and form were determined by the size and shape of the log.
As is appropriate in a show celebrating contrasts, not every piece is successful. Most notably standing out are Marcus Tremonto's Electroluminescent Sculptures. While interesting and wonderful in their own way as graphic and comic light fixtures, the Electroluminescent lights bear none of the blood, sweat, or tears of the craft and process present in many of the other objects.
Marcus Tremonto's "Spill II."
Suitably, the contrasts with this show exist not just in the objects themselves. These tough, carpenter-lauding pieces paradoxically landed during the middle of fashion week here in New York, in the beloved swanky space of Moss, located right in the middle of the brick-paved streets of fashion-y Soho. It made me crack a smile over-hearing disgruntled murmurs regarding the sole beverage option served at the opening: Pabst Blue Ribbon, in a can, and straight from the case proudly set right on the counter (but handed out with a napkin and a wink, by friendly black-clad servers.)
And the show also reveals contrasts abounding within the Moss shop itself. All the swank surrounding Moss recalls some of the exhibitions that celebrated the opposing side to "Make Me." While Moss' current collection champions solid craftsmanship in functional objects, locating value in thought and skill, this contrasts with past shows at the shop. Studio Job's Robber Baron and Bavaria series, for example, were all about delicacy and excess, perfection and detail, using obviously valuable materials like gold and rare woods.
Enzo Mari's Putrella, on one of Narud's Keel Tables.
So should a show like this, celebrating human ability and raw, accessible materials, be attributed to the recession and a return to simpler times? Possibly, but those values have perpetuated for some time now. If anything, through his own curation, Murray Moss wisely recognizes that work like this is nothing new, but rather takes from and builds on what has already been done. He did this by simply setting down a 1958 Enzo Mari piece, right smack in the middle of the show, atop one of Narud's tables. It's Putrella, an I-beam tray belonging to Moss—simply a tray made from a cut of an iron I-beam. Reductive but thoughtful, craft-driven but theoretical, a 5" x 20" slice of a construction site selling for $1000, Mari's tray references these juxtapositions present throughout this show. "Make Me" will be on view at Moss through November 13th.
Further Reading: We recently wrote about Enzo Maris' Autoprogettazione project, which also sets precedents for a lot of the work and themes in "Make Me".