From the category archives:


Dust Covers To Covet

by Claudia Dias on July 28, 2009

In the 1989 movie Back to the Future Part II, time-traveler Marty McFly visits a 2015 antique shop whose saleswoman shows him a book with a dust jacket and explains that it is from before the days of (fictional) dust-repellent paper. 


This year, only 6 years away, the most famous example of a dust jacket was on the first edition of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, published in 1925. With the jacket the collector’s value of that book is 20-30 times higher then without. Only in the early 1920′s the decoration from the book itself had moved to the dust jackets and later on simply to the cover design for hard-cover and paperback (now also for the internet). Today it happens that the cover designer is better known then the author of the book (i.e. Chip Kidd). 

Early on the independent literary publisher ‘New Directions‘, established in 1936 in New York, caught up with this idea and commissioned in 1940 Alvin Lustig to design the covers for re-editions for their “Modern Classics” series and for their authors like Tennessee Williams. He was influenced by the European designs of bauhaus and the Dada movement, and the Russian Constructivists books by El Lissitzky and Alexander Rodchenko, all with the intention of ‘knocking the eye off-center’.


Meanwhile, a healthy rivalry started with other designers ‘who could alter the form faster’, one of them being Paul Rand for the magazine “Direction”. 
‘By the mid-1940s, when he was designing all the jackets in New Directions’ “New Classics” series (which b.t.w. includes Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’), Lustig had combined modern type with abstract line drawings, or what he called symbolic ‘marks’, which owed more to the work of such artists as Paul Klee, Joan Miró and Mark Rothko than to accepted commercial styles.’


‘Like jazz improvisations, these non-representational images signaled the progressive nature of his publishing house. During the late 1940s he introduced collage/montage and reticulated photography, evoking surrealistic fantasies. And in the 1950′s he developed a series of paperback covers for Noonday and Meridian Books using only gothic and slab serif typography. Rand and Lustig clearly shared certain traits, since they were both fluent in the language of Modernism – each had a similar preference for contemporary typefaces and child-like scribbles – but each interpreted Modernism in their own ways’. (Quoted from Steven Heller “Paul Rand”)

Today Lustig remains famous for his cover designs but what amazes me that in his short life (1915-1955) next to books and magazines he designed sign systems, textiles, interiors, buildings and a helicopter, always applying his believes in modern abstract design! 


If you are interested in books, but maybe even more in their covers; here comes your chance: New Directions is preparing for a limited edition of some of their ‘Modern Classics’ books with the original cover-designs by Alvin Lustig; printed on dust-collecting paper, affordable and definitely something to covet.

Please refer to the publisher for inquiries and prices.

New Directions Publishing Corp.
80 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10011,

Photographs are courtesy of  Alvin Lustig Archive.


Own Your Own Bucky

by Claudia Dias on July 9, 2009

Ephemeralization‘, one of R. Buckminster Fuller’s theories shows how to approach the serious purpose of design, as opposed to the triviality of mere styling, in his own words, with ‘applying the principles of science to solving the problems of humanity.’ 
Although his work is based on the concept of mass-production (ca. 300,000 geodesic domes based on his patent where erected between 1954-1983 world wide), Buckminster Fuller’s smaller works have reached collectable value and can be acquired in some US galleries (some as secondary market).


Setting up an exhibition with Buckminster Fuller prints and collapsable models last year for Sebastian+Barquet Gallery (NY) at the DesignArt London fair, I was surprised how Fuller’s work was still being ignored and was completely unrecognized compared to his European contemporary colleagues. Carl Solway Gallery in Cincinnati started collaborating with Fuller in 1972, issuing limited editions of the Dymaxion World Map, collapsable models and sculptures,  a two-hull rowing shell (catamaran in an edition of 100) and a portfolio with 13 screenprinted sheets of Fuller’s inventions.

DYMAXION AIR OCEAN WORLD MAP, 1980 (Signed edition of 85). The Dymaxion Air-Ocean World Map designed and patented by Buckminster Fuller is the first in the history of cartography to show the whole surface of the Earth with no visible distortion of the relative size and shape of the land and sea areas and no breaks in the continental contours. 


WATERCRAFT—ROWING NEEDLES: United States Patent Office no.3,524,422, filed March 28,1968, serial no. 716,957, granted August 18, 1970. During his lifetime, only four examples of Fuller’s patent were fabricated. The first two examples had round aluminum hulls. Determining that V-shaped hulls would be more efficient, the final two prototype examples were made with fiberglass hulls. This also further reduced the weight, a primary objective in every Fuller designed structure. Each bow and stern end is socket-assembled in lengths of light aluminum tube. The oarsman sits in a light plastic nacelle and the width can be adjusted to suit. Unique advantage of the catamaran form is stability: lone oarsman can climb back aboard without additional help.


‘MONOHEX’ or ‘Fly’s Eye’ dome: UnitedStates Patent Office no. 3,197,927, filed December 19, 1961, serial no. 160,450, granted August 3, 1965. First patented in 1965 was a method of reducing the structural weight – and thus the cost – of a simple dwelling to the lowest possible level. Fuller developed it in various materials including steel, aluminum, and fiber glass until 1978. Constructed from nestable, single-shape component, when assembled formed a 5/8 geodesic sphere. It represented the last and simplest of all Fuller’s approaches to mass-production low-cost housing. Additionally, 3/4 of the dome’s surface constituted of 7′ diameter circular openings which served as doors, windows, mounts for solar collectors and wind-driven air turbines, etc. All rainwater feeds into the dome’s watercourse cistern system.

Next to original sketches, photographs and the catamaran, Max Protech‘s gallery in New York showed the original Buckminster Fuller Fly’s-Eye dome, which was made of 50 fiberglass sections, weighs a total of 3,500 lbs, is 24ft in height, and is assembled by hand with approximately 1,050 stainless steel bolts.  This prototype was fabricated in California in 1976/77, and is the only 24’ dome Fuller produced. 

monohex-w1The more I get into R. Buckminster Fuller’s work, the more the modern movement of 20th century European architects (like Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe) starts looking like a fraction of the radical modern concept envisioned and partially built by Fuller. The two words, ‘Synergy‘ and ‘Design Science‘ stand out, suggesting that there can be still individual feats of design even with the bewildering speed of technological advance which gives a limited shelf-life to even the finest manufactures. This is because scientific and technical development is continuous, and every single design must eventually vacate in favor of something cheaper and better, or become part of another composite element, incorporated into a greater whole.


Please refer to the Galleries for inquiries and prices.
Carl Solway Gallery
424 Findlay Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45214, Tel.+1 513 621 0069

Max Protech
511 W 22nd St, New York, NY 1001, Tel +1 212 633 6999

Sebastian + Barquet
601 W 26th St, New York, NY 10011, Tel +1 212 488 2245


In Search For Infinity

by Claudia Dias on June 29, 2009

What looked to me as patterns of a series of kaleidoscopes goes actually back to the invention of Renaissance painters, who applied scientific formulae to represent a “perfect reality”.


While reproducing these Renaissance pieces, Josiah McElheny combined the most ingenious designs of that period with his own investigations into the immense difficulty in the process of production (working these patterns into glass plates), and came to the conclusion that ‘there was some sort of spiritual iconography as its generating impulse … I mean “spiritual” in terms of the obvious correlation between mathematical perfection and the artistic representation of spiritual perfection.’


Studies in the Search for Infinity, 1998

Perspective drawing was developed by painters of the Renaissance era. In their search for the spiritual perfection of image, painters devised various geometric methodologies for creating the illusion of three dimensional space. The point of infinity or vanishing point was the reference used to construct pictures in accordance with the laws of optics. Scholars of mathematics used these concrete visualizations to give the concept of infinity a precise meaning.

In parallel with painting, Renaissance Venetian glassblowers aimed to depict a perfected, spiritually true reality through the use of point perspective. The appearance of infinite distance was created by elaborate patterning within the glass. These designs were generated by abstracting the geometric templates used to determine the relative proportion of objects within a picture plane. Great preparation and concentration was involved in creating patterns that formed the image of endlessness.


Josiah McElheny: Studies in the Search for Infinity, 1997-1998
Blown glass, wood, fabric, metal display, text, 20 x 144 x 8 inches

Collection of the Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island; Photographs courtesy of Donald Young Gallery, Chicago


Gallery Seomi from Korea dared the challenging market and introduced as the first Korean gallery at Design Miami/Basel 09 works of four well-established Korean artists and designers. The response was unexpectedly favorable and most of the works were sold, some pieces being purchased by Brad Pitt.


As exhibition designer it was my job to select and clearly present the art works, which were different in kind, material and size, and to make them visually immediately accessible. Three of four artists worked with ceramic and those pieces I decided to show against a ‘Yves Klein-Blue’, while the larger stone/wood furniture from Choi Byung-Hoon stood out against a light gray background, which continued as carpet  and delineated a walking path through the booth. 


With help of color and a continues shelf I created a horizontal cut along the booth walls that allowed the delicate ceramics from Jang Jin and Kwon Dae-Sup to float above the large objects from Choi Byung-Hoon, and to be visually independent.  Lee Hun-Chung’s furniture made from a beautiful combination of ceramic and cement, again, was displayed on the same blue carpet, which emphasized the intensive coloration and glazing of his ceramic objects.

Gallery Seomi’s choice of contemporary works, based in Korean traditional materials and shapes stood out with its serene quality, at a fair, which was dominated by hip Dutch contemporary or the all-too-well-known 20th century French, Danish and Italian classic furniture. 


Choi Byung-Hoon:Recognized as a forerunner of Korean art furniture, Choi’s works are wood compositions made of simple elliptic spheres and oval shapes on the plinth of natural stone or on a horizontal wood pedestal. Choi makes a delicate effort to harmonize the environment with the place where works are situated as well as with the working process, and expresses in his works the sense of unity and intimacy with nature.’ 


Jang Jin:For the past 30 years, Jang Jin opened up new doors in the field of Ceramic Arts, her works have anal most perfectly clean natural free touch. Colors in Jang Jin’s ceramics are vital and plentiful. Clear blue autumn sky, tender greenness of the bud, and the soft milky colors of the magnolia are the significant colors that are simply pure and natural.  Traditional Korean beauty shines in Jang Jin’s ceramic works in the most genuine form.’


Kwon Dae-Sup:Kwon Dae-Sup‘s notable works include the series of Full-Moon Jars in white porcelain, through which he pronounces the essential traits of simplicity as well as a hint of diffidence in its character.  An epitome of Korean White Porcelain dating back to the Chosen Dynasty, Full-Moon Jars with their large volume and generous shape illustrate not only the cultural aspects emphasizing the full-circle of life and humbleness with the intentional lack of embellishments, but also reveals the beauty that lies within the sphere imperfect, which Kwon wholly translates into works of his own.’


Lee Hun-Chung:Think an uncouth chunk of concrete serving as a table, with one of its legs steeped in ceramics. You’ll walk away with your head turned 180 dgrees from the conventional idea of what a piece of furniture should be (..). You’ll be surprised to see the light in concrete, arguably the most impersonal artificial entity, when it intermingles with the warmth of ceramics.’

Quotes are from Gallery Seomi.

Please refer to the gallery for inquiries and prices.

Seomi&Tuus Co.
97-19 Chungdam-dong Gangnam-gu, Seoul 135-100, Korea, Tel +82 2 511 7305

Regarding exhibition design please contact me at Fifth Season.

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nendo: Blown-Fabric, 2009

by Claudia Dias on June 5, 2009

Interestingly enough, whenever there seems to emerge a new high-tech material, it arrives ‘camouflaged’ in a vintage design. I  feel this way again with nando’s blown-fabric designs. Discovering “Smash”, a specialized long-fiber non-woven polyester, a light and rip-proof product of  Japanese advanced synthetic-fiber technology, can be blown into unique shapes, nando applies this technique to create Japanese-style chochin paper-lanterns. While admiring the outcome of the experiment, I wish for a less retro application, … but maybe that’s what we generally call ‘progress’. To keep it vintage: “One small step for men, one giant step for mankind.”


‘Smash’ … can be manipulated into different forms through hot-press- forming technology. Because it is thermo-plastic, (…) but glows beautifully when light passes through it, we wanted to create lighting fixtures in the style of vernacular Japanese chochin paper lanterns with it. (…)  We realized that Smash’s particular properties would allow us to shape it like blown glass into a seamless one-piece lantern. It is impossible to completely control the process, so each fixture takes a unique form as heat is added and pressurized air is blown into it. As in glass-blowing, we can intervene during the production of each piece, resulting in a collection of objects whose infinitely varied imperfections are reminiscent of the infinite formal mutations of viruses and bacteria in response to environmental changes…’      


‘The fixtures are weighted at the base by the light source.(..) Smash changes form if the interior temperature rises above 80 degrees centigrade, so we mounted low-heat LED bulbs in machined aluminium sockets that double as a heat-sink to maintain a low interior temperature.”
Text quoted from nendo              

nendo created blown-fabric for ‘Tokyo Fiber ’09 Senseware’ presented in April at the Milan 09 Triennial


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Josiah McElheny: Venini’s New Look, 2000

by Claudia Dias on May 23, 2009

An anecdote right on time for this year’s Venice Biennial …
This Historical Anecdote about Fashion is a vintage story told and frozen into glass about Christian Dior’s first collection from 1947. At the time his ‘decadent abundant use of cloth and regressive vision of femininity’ was protested in Europe and the U.S. McElheny recreated these glass objects, once blown by the famous Venini glass company, and brings them alive in their own time and space environment with historic photographs, drawings and an accompanying note.

‘In the 1952 Venice Biennial, Venini, the famous glass design company, entered a display of vases designed not by the factory’s artists and architects, but by the glassblowers themselves. The unusual shapes and cloth-like pattering were based on the haute couture fashions which the owner’s French wife wore when she visited the factory.
Ginette Gignous Venini was intimately involved in running the company with her husband Paolo Venini, and could often be seen by the male workers in the furnace room as she ascended and descended the stairs to the office.
In the late 1940s, as Europe and the firm returned to life after the war, Ginette began wearing designs by Christian Dior. When his first collection debuted in 1947, it was heralded as the New Look. (…) … the New Look soon became highly influential in art and design. The glass masters at Venini adopted its hourglass silhouettes and exaggerated forms. A few of these glass pieces were put into limited production and presented as designs of Paolo or Ginette Gignous Venini.’

Text by Josiah McElheny



Source: Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea


ICFF 09 Marathon in New York run by Yours Truly

by Claudia Dias on May 22, 2009

This year’s ICFF was less ‘endless’ then usual. Still, running this New York Marathon of commercial designs these handful of high-lights ( and a handful more ) re-energized me and helped me break through the wall and reach after 4 hours the finishing line.


1. Tokyo Dresser designed by Shinichi Utsumi, 2005 
Designed  for crowded Tokyo apartments, this vanity – as what I would use it – turns into a side table once the mirror is closed. Using a single steel pipe as axis, each ‘drawer’ can freely open in two directions into this surprising fan-shape!

2. Frou Frou Sunbrella designed by Davy Grosemans, 2008
‘The design is a tribute to the classic raffia parasol on exotic beaches. When closing your eyes, you can even hear a sea breeze whistling in the fringes…’
It probably keeps you smiling even when you have to close Frou Frou: it might reminding you of a special palm tree.

3. Single Slice Toaster designed by Naoto Fukasawa, 2009
The more then ideal toaster for “single-slice” consumers (hello New York!) and people for who each single slice has to be equally fresh and warm.

 4. Anti-Theft Lunch Bags designed by the.
Finally the solution! 10 Anti-Theft Lunch Bags in one brown bag.
‘Tired of having your food stolen by sticky-fingered coworkers or roommates? Bullies taking your kid’s lunch? Well, worry no more . . . Anti-Theft Lunch Bags are sandwich bags that have green splotches printed on both sides, making your freshly prepared lunch look spoiled. Don’t suffer the injustice of having your sandwich stolen again! Protect your lunch with Anti-Theft Lunch Bags.’
Made of food-safe reusable and recyclable LDPE; h 6.875″ x w 6.625″ (sandwich size)

5. Shopping bag “Amigo” 
Still today used by Japanese fishingmen, these nets out of polypropylene still make the most ergonomic shopping bags I know.  A single one weighs 1 ounce, carries up to 86 lbs., and once folded is the size of an i-phone.  Besides,  they come in gorgeous colors. Can’t beat it! 
Only one problem: you have to know Japanese to order them on-line.

6. SIWA furoshiki designed by Naoto Fukasawa, 2008
SIWA translates from japanese into “wrinkeled paper”. This soft and flexible and extremely strong and water-resistant paper is made from wood pulp and polyolefin using a washi-suki paper manufacturing method. (Siwa was commissioned by the Japanese paper company Onao).

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