Furniture gallery R 20th Century paid tribute to the revolutionary Danish designer
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 4/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
In the last few years, Verner Panton—the prolific Danish designer with a bad-boy reputation and a passion for pop—has had something of a renaissance. Maharam reissued two of his op-art textiles, Geometri and Optik, last year. The Vitra Design Museum's traveling Panton retrospective is currently on view in Düsseldorf, Germany. And references to his geometric, color-saturated aesthetic have been cropping up everywhere from haute couture to music videos. Panton's use of modularity, pattern, and scale was so visionary, so ahead of his time, that it seems we're only now starting to catch up to him.
His over-the-top interiors may be on heavy rotation in the viz biz, but is the mainstream market ready for Panton? A recent exhibit of his work at R 20th Century in New York—the first for Pantonin the U.S.—seemed to indicate so. "There is nothing like him," affirms Zesty Meyers, co-owner of the TriBeCa vintage furniture gallery. "It's so overpowering when you see an image of his installations. You just say to yourself, 'What is this, and how can I get there?'" For four months last fall, all one had to do to get "there" was visit the lower level of the gallery, where two of Panton's all-encompassing environments were replicated: his 1960 Zurich installation of Plus-Linje furnishings and part of his Visiona 2 exhibit in Cologne, Germany, in 1970.
Walls lined in red plastic half spheres and chairs shaped like flying saucers may be ideal for a hip nightclub, but can one of Panton's orange flowerpot lamps work in a prewar residential setting? Meyers responds with an emphatic yes. "Obviously, most consumers will never live like this," he admits, gesturing toward the red-and-blue Visiona 2 re-creation. "My dream was that someone would come in and buy all the wall elements and the rug and build a room to put them in." But while customers may have shied away from buying an installation in its entirety, they certainly snapped up the designer's hanging shell lamps. And many of the fixtures did, indeed, find prewar homes. "People went crazy for the lighting—we probably sold 50 hanging lamps," says Meyers. "Panton's lighting is so successful because it crosses the boundaries of design." It's graphic and sculptural, functional and kooky, a pure melding of material, substance, and form.
A special treat for the Panton collectors who flocked to the show was to experience the designer's work as it was meant to be understood: as total immersion. Though the installation was museum-quality, visitors to R 20th Century had the privilege of hanging out and relaxing on the furniture. Not everyone came just to look and lounge, however. Brooklyn-based artist Sandra Hamburg borrowed the gallery for a photographic series investigating the interaction of humans and their surroundings. "This is one of the few times that I've used a ready-made space," says Hamburg, who often employs slides or light projections to create original photo sets. "It was a challenge to figure out what I was going to do with it. It's important for me to get into the vibe of a location, to feel like I'm actually living there." So Hamburg donned her '60s Paco Rabanne metallic disk dress and spent a day documenting herself shimmying in the curvaceous doorways and beneath the aluminum hanging lamp—her way of becoming one with the installation. "For me, go-go dancing is about losing yourself, about stepping outside your own body," she says. "Panton had a complete vision of living for the future. I'm trying to work with that idealism, picking up where he left off."