Cultured Magazine

June/July 2015

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106 CULTURED STONE COLD For his debut exhibition at Salon 94, French designer Martin Szekely fuses nature and technology to create minimalist objects of stunning clarity. BY TIM MCKEOUGH In 1996, Martin Szekely made a change that would be almost unthinkable for any other designer: He gave up drawing. Traditionally considered a designer's primary tool for conceiving and communicating ideas, Paris-based Szekely felt the practice of drawing by hand was holding him back in his quest to discover a purer expression of furniture. His decision to quit putting pencil to paper "was to create an objective distance from each project," he says through a translator. "I would no longer rely on individual imagination, and its corollary, drawing." Instead, he decided to focus on what he calls "hard stones,"—an object's purpose, cultural history, materiality, destination and relationship to the people who will use it. "My focus is solely on the purpose of the object—not the style, the talent of the artisan or the prettiness of a material or pattern," says Szekely, who, when not producing limited-edition furniture, has also worked for commercial clients such as Perrier, Christofle and Dom Pérignon. His singular approach, which was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in 2011, results in furniture that's stripped down to the essentials. His GlassGlass tables have glass tops and cylindrical glass legs connected by minimal steel hardware for the ultimate in transparency. His Heroic shelves are made from svelte vertical and horizontal sheets of honeycomb aluminum that give the units incredible strength with a strikingly thin profile that makes them nearly disappear. And his Stonewood tables have quartzite tops supported by oversized threaded bolts that screw right through the surface to form legs. Now, he has brought his latest creations to New York for his first exhibition at gallery Salon 94. "When I saw Martin's work, I had a huge affinity for it because I could see that he had absorbed the canons of Mies van der Rohe and Donald Judd, but he put a new sense of luxury on top of these things," says gallery founder Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, who grew up in a St. Louis home filled with pieces by such minimalist masters. "All the elements Martin was investigating had roots in things that are already part of my internal makeup. There's no ornamentation in his pieces, so every detail has to be perfectly resolved," she says. Case in point, Szekely's Artefact collection, which is on view at Salon 94 through June 26. After picking up a single smooth pebble from a beach in Normandy, the designer became intrigued by its seemingly perfect, organic shape formed solely by nature. Deciding to replicate it, he took a three-dimensional scan of the pebble and then scaled it up to create side tables that double as stools, and a larger coffee table, while retaining the original stone's proportions. "I wanted to consider the state of our relationship with nature and technology," says Szekely. "The question remains: are we able to modify and create nature? What's natural? What's artificial?" The resulting pieces feature hollowed-out quartzite tops that are digitally milled to resemble supersized pebbles, and sit on slender gold-plated stainless-steel legs. Salon 94 has also made Szekely's MAP modular table system a central part of its arsenal for art fairs such as Frieze and Art Basel. Based on components in two shapes, a square and a rectangle—in gold, bronze and black anodized aluminum—it is endlessly reconfigurable and expandable. All of an owner's components can be used together, or split into separate furniture elements—a blessing for any person or business with a nomadic existence. "We'll change its form and function every time," says Rohatyn. "It may be a pedestal in one place and a work table in another." MAP reflects the sort of clean, logical solution that makes you wonder why someone else didn't think of it long ago. "Indeed," says Szekely. "It is my ambition to design pieces that could be described as obvious." A stool made from quartzite from Szekely's Artefact collection is the artist's first direct and physical reference to nature in his work. "My focus is solely on the purpose of the object—not the style, the talent of the artisan or the prettiness of a material or pattern." —Martin Szekely

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