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July 28, 2014

In Residence: Alexandre de Betak

Winding Down for the Holidays at the Visionary Show Producer’s Balearic Hideaway

Fashion show producer, art director and designer Alexandre de Betak lounges in the sitting room of his remote island home in the northern Tramuntana hills above Deia, Majorca, in this month’s episode of In Residence. Like almost every other room at Son Muttaner, the house has a devastating view of the Mediterranean sea, and during summer evenings when the sun finally sinks into the water, each of its undulating walls turn neon pink. The subtle light show evokes the spirit De Betak brings to his work––whether it’s a multi-sensory Dior Couture set or a Star Wars-themed Rodarte installation, the transient spectacles he creates are meticulously designed under Bureau de Betak, the company he has helmed for two decades. “The house I did for myself, my family and my friends,” he says. “There’s no ‘work-for-hire’ there, it’s incredibly personal.” Outside, the façade of the classical Majorquian finca nestling among an expanse of olive groves belies its playful interior: curvaceous, white plastered walls are punctuated with quirky design details such as Darth Vader candles, R2-D2 lamps, rock-encased computer screens, 1970s pin-ups (“they’re my mascots––I don’t move without them”), and a Flinstones-inspired tub. “I love that kind of binary, communitarian, organic white architecture of the 1960s and 1970s,” the producer explains of the interior. Despite his refusal to conform to classic architecture conventions, De Betak’s home appears to have very few ticks on the standard mid-century design checklist––but on closer inspection, one sees collectible Joe Colombo Elda chairs, a Sergio Asti profiterole lamp, British custom-made plumbing (to ensure that a shower chez De Betak lasts no less than 30 minutes), and, naturally, a wall tap that produces endless red wine.  

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E.V. Day: SNAP!

The New York Artist Straps Down Da Monsta at the Philip Johnson Glass House

E.V. Day envelops Philip Johnson’s jagged Neo-Expressionist building Da Monsta in kinky red rope for new work, “SNAP!” The first site-specific exhibition to be held at the acclaimed spot is captured by the New York-based photographer Vincent Dilio, revealing pop-savvy concepts that punch a striking metaphysical hole in the bucolic Connecticut landscape. It had already been Johnson’s take that “the building is alive,” and with the exterior evocative of a spider’s web and the interior’s ambient purring chambers filled with a feline-inspired tension, it seems to be living up to its billing. NOWNESS spoke to the prolific sculptor, whose work is housed in permanent collections at The Whitney and the Smithsonian Collection, about her creative processes and her muse, the city of Los Angeles. 

What was your key inspiration for this work? 
E.V. Day: It began with the building itself, whose very name implies a narrative—a monster! I wanted to address it as a living creature, a wild one that swallows you through its entrance and induces vertigo because there are no right angles in the structure. I wanted to play with that energy using taut lines, fishnet stockings, and suspension.

Tell us about the purring chambers. 
Philip Johnson would reportedly pat Da Monsta on its right side like a horse each morning. After spending several weeks with the building, I began to feel an affection for it as a character, as opposed to it simply being a building with character. I wanted the sound and the vibration of the purring under its floor to enhance its ‘creature-ness.’ When you sit in the installation and feel the purr, the beast is sleeping and you feel safe. At least for a moment.

As a New Yorker, how have you developed such an affinity with Los Angeles?
The compression of NYC grips you like Spanx—it definitely feels spring-loaded here. However, I have pined for LA since I lived there for two years in the early 90s. LA, as the manufacturing center of pop culture and its inherent bounty of problematic social, political, and environmental issues works as an eruption of active content for my art. 

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The Bouroullecs: A Sketchbook History

Fifteen Years of Drawing and a Show at Les Arts Décoratifs

One of the most illustrious fraternal teams in the design world, the Bouroullec brothers are known for their colorful, organic textile shapes and structures. Key works, including the 2008 Vegetal chair, are shown here in their early stages as drawings in a selection curated by the duo exclusively for NOWNESS. Hailing from the northern tip of Brittany, France, the brothers’ curriculum vitae reads like a Who’s Who of the design world, making products for the likes of Danish textile firm Kvadrat, Cappellini and more recently Vitra during the 2013 Clerkenwell Design Week, London. Celebrating their collaboration with a bound volume of sketches, Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec: Drawing, the duo have also put together Momentané, a massive retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. In a riot of iridescent color and natural shape and form, the pieces cover some 1,000 square meters of the historic museum that was founded in the early 20th Century and celebrates all aspects of French design. “It’s incredible to see all our work in one place and notice how it has developed,” says Erwan. “The way the show presents design is direct, not jokey, heavy or hard to understand, and I’m happy that our work comes across in this way.”

Are you happy about the evolution of your designs over the years?
Erwan Bouroullec:
I don’t know if I’m happy with it, because that would suggest I have nothing left to learn. What I am happy with is the increasing accessibility of our design—it works with people who don’t have a design background or culture, but it also works with those who are really passionate about design. 

How do you make objects that connect with the user or viewer?
EB: I think on one hand we are dealing with machines and creating an object with the materials available, and on the other we have to deal with function. When we create a sofa, we are dealing with fabric, and a character must emerge from this material. You then have to consider its function and the human need for comfort, which is a strong factor. There is a hidden culture for understanding design which we all somehow possess but aren’t fully aware of.

Do you share taste as siblings?
If we were each in a separate room and you asked us to choose our favourite of five different products, we’d probably answer the same. I think you learn that in your childhood: the color schemes of your past, the way your parents decorated their house, the furniture in your school—every year you take in information and build an aesthetic. 

What are you working towards as a designer?
One of my principal goals is to transform reality and enliven the mundane. I like to make things come alive, or indeed make them useful. It’s about working on projects easy enough for you, me or anybody else to understand.

Momentané runs until September 1 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.

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