Edited by Stanley Abercrombie -- Interior Design, 4/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
by Bernd H. Dams and Andrew Zega
New York: Rizzoli International Publications, $60
164 pages, 50 color illustrations
There can be great pleasure in thumbing through picture books, especially when the pictures are as fanciful and elegant as these meticulous watercolors of pagodas, pavilions, tents, bridges, gatehouses, and parasollike follies—mostly in France in the 18th century but also some in England, Germany, and Italy and one, a bandstand, in New York's Central Park. A few of the designs were never built; many were built and destroyed. Bernd H. Dams and Andrew Zega painted 42 of the images, which are supplemented by period etchings and watercolors now at the Musée du Louvre, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Albertina, and other museums. Introduced by Hubert de Givenchy, who collects the work of Dams and Zega, the ensemble conjures up a Cathay that existed only in the imagination. As historian Hugh Honour is quoted as saying, "Of this mysterious and charming land, poets are the only historians and porcelain painters the most reliable cartographers."
Jean-Michel Frank: The Strange and Subtle Luxury of the Parisian Haute-Monde in the Art Deco Period
by Pierre-Emmanuel Martin-Vivier
New York: Rizzoli International Publications, $95
400 pages, 584 illustrations (108 color)
Jean-Michel Frank was born in Paris in 1895, became a designer of interiors and furniture in 1921, and committed suicide in New York in 1941. Rediscovered by Billy Baldwin, Frank is now secure in the pantheon of 20th-century designers. Nevertheless, this is, remarkably, the first sizable book on him since one by Leopold Diego Sanchez was published in France in 1980.
As this book's subtitle says, Frank was a deco designer, but his style transcended that label. Instead of deco's often crude geometries, Frank's were clean and simple. Instead of primary colors, his were pale and earthy. His materials palette was equally elegant: parchment, cane, straw marquetry, ivory, and alabaster. He applied this vocabulary to Paris showrooms for couturiers Elsa Schiaparelli and Lucien Lelong and stage sets for the Comédie-Française; to a famous villa in Grasse for Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles; and to apartments for Nelson Rockefeller in New York and Templeton Crocker in San Francisco. Frank designed light fixtures with Alberto Giacometti, screens with Salvador Dalí, furniture with Emilio Terry and Frances Elkins, and carpets with Christian Bérard. Frank's friends and admirers—Jean Cocteau, André Malraux, Man Ray, Cecil Beaton, Nancy Cunard—belonged to the artistic and social elite of the day.
Telling us all this and much more, with admirable organization, the author is an instructor of decorative arts at the Université Paris Sorbonne and the head of the Comité Jean-Michel Frank, a foundation that preserves and promotes his work. Alice Frank, the designer's niece, contributed the foreword.
What They're Reading. . .
Partner of Lynch/Eisinger/Design
The Crying of Lot 49
by Thomas Pynchon
New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, $13
Partner of Lynch/Eisinger/Design
A Walker in the City
by Alfred Kazin
Fort Washington, Pennsylvania: Harvest Books, $14
Christian Lynch and Simon Eisinger have a practice that keeps the future firmly in focus—for clients such as Converse, Nike, Calvin Klein, and Herman Miller. Interestingly, however, both designers turn for inspiration to books written back in the 1960's. Lynch explains that visionary Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 "emerges from the linear conventions of modernism, which I was taught as an undergrad and sometimes have a hard time with." Just as Pynchon's typically labyrinthine narrative artfully illustrates that the effort to maintain total control ultimately succeeds in uncovering only total chaos, Lynch adds, he prefers to "develop as many different solutions as possible" when working on a project. Eisinger, meanwhile, prefers the experiential to the conceptual. A Walker in the City is "ostensibly a memoir triggered by walks around New York," he begins, then clarifies that it's ultimately "about how perception is cued by surroundings. You don't have the same conversation in the street that you would in a barroom." It's an affirmation of the power of place. —Deborah Wilk