Decorative arts today: Where to find that coffee-filter ballgown

Contemporary applied crafts on show at Sotheby’s



Each year, Sotheby’s contemporary design exhibition seems to get more innovative and experimental. This year sees a great line-up of international designers, producing not just tasteful Valentine presents but some really challenging creations and installation projects.

The whole of Sotheby’s Bond Street showroom is given over to this annual event, which runs from 13 to 30 February. There are fewer designers than last year, this time 50 in all, which is no bad thing as it gives the exhibition more focus and the designers more space.

Jewellery is inevitably one of the more popular aspects of the show, but some designs are definitely more wearable than others. The organiser has taken great pains to find jewellers working in unusual and innovative materials and techniques. Susan Cross and glass artist Keiko Mukaide have produced extraordinary glass jewellery. Alison Evans and Jung-Ji Kim use more traditional techniques, with pieces woven from silver and gold wire. Jacqueline Lillie blends antique and modern with Bohemian seed beads, stainless steel cables and silver and gold in geometric shapes.

The furniture this year tends towards the design statement rather than the functional. Italian designer Mauro Mori, who uses wood in a highly innovative way, has designed moving side-tables in copper and wood, and Satyendra Pakhale, who has produced work for various Italian design houses, uses rope to make his vessels. Dejana Kabiljo has made tables from hundreds of leaves of paper—useful for doodling while on the telephone. Aldo Bakker’s vibrant, curvaceous forms in fibreglass use more traditional materials but are as much pieces of sculpture as chairs for sitting on.

Alongside the more familiar British ceramicists in the show is a strong international section which brings a cosmopolitan flavour to the exhibition. There are four German artists in the show, Gotlind and Gerald Weigel, Joachim Lambrecht and André von Martens, who has developed a unique finish for his work. As the pots cool from firing they are covered in a layer of soot then soaked in hot beeswax to make them impermeable. Once hardened they are polished with mountain crystals and decorated with delicate carvings.

There is an outstanding section of glass design, and as with jewellery the metalwork section demonstrates not only skill and craftsmanship but also highly innovative ways of using often quite traditional metalworking techniques. Greek artist Thalia Georgoulis combines hand-blown glass and forged, thinly hammered silver in her delicate tableware. David Huycke uses time-honoured techniques of casting, hammering, soldering and granulating to make minimalist silver vessels. He exploits the natural colour of silver, which is then either matt-finished, patinated or painted with a dark grey hue.

The lighting section is always one of the most avant-garde parts of the show. Here the emphasis is definitely on “art” rather than practical living. Design Studio Perhonen has created a new work, “Vuokko Lamp”, which emulates falling lace. “Electric wig” lampshades are a quirky pastiche on the crocheted variety, a kitsch alternative for any contemporary household.

An addendum to this year’s show is an exhibition “Waste to taste.” There are some surprisingly beautiful and useable objects made from domestic waste including Nathalie Hambro’s glamorous ballgown, “Cappuccino dress”—made out of gold-sprayed coffee filters!

Originally appeared in the Art Newspaper as 'Where to find that coffee-filter ballgown'