The Epic Event Horizon

In theoretical astronomy, an “Event Horizon” is the boundary of a black hole. Beyond that margin, nothing—not even light—can escape the pull of the immense gravitational forces at the heart of the uncanny celestial objects formed by the inward collapse of a star. Event Horizons are the mouths of “the seductive dragons of the universe,” as the writer Robert Coover described black holes, “emitting a negative radiance that draws all toward them, gobbling up all who come too close.”

Marc Newson’s Event Horizon table also represents a threshold—one in the universe of design. There is nothing negative in its radiance nor in its seductive power. Produced by the Australian designer in an edition of 10 in 1992, the Event Horizon table—along with its companion pieces, the following year’s   Orgone chair and stretch lounge, in a suite of polished and enameled aluminum furniture—announced the arrival of a fully-refined new furniture aesthetic: sleek, seamless, sculptural; organic and yet industrial; retro-futuristic. More significantly, the Event Horizon table heralded a new technocratic design sensibility. Newson, born in 1963, has been at the vanguard of a generation of designers who embrace science, mathematics and technological advances as both an inspiration for and a fundamental basis of their work.

Prototype of the Event Horizon table.

Marc Newson has justifiably been called the most influential and accomplished industrial designer of our day. Shoes, cutlery, toilets, toys, glassware, wristwatches, a flashlight, salt and pepper mills, cell phones, fountain pens, luggage, a camera, a champagne bucket and a dish-drying rack—it’s difficult to name a household object he hasn’t designed. He is also one of the most enterprising and open to the novel and experimental. Newson has employed materials as various as carbon fiber, polypropelene, marble, a Japanese plaster incorporating dried grasses, Corian, electroformed nickel, and a linen and resin composite called Micarta. He has used advanced techniques that range from rapid 3-D prototyping and laser sintering to blow-molding and hydrojet cutting.

To survey the creations of many leading contemporary designers—those of young cutting-edge talents such as Joris Laarman, Konstantin Gric, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, and Mathias Bengtsson; newer works by older hands like Ron Arad, Zaha Hadid, and Martin Szekely—is to see Newson’s influence at play. His pioneering work fostered the design ethos that produced such current practices as the eager employment of newly-developed industrial materials and the search for novel applications of familiar ones, and the use of computer-guided and laser-powered modeling and fabrication methods. Today’s designers, like Newson, could describe their creations as “technical experiments which need a medium to exist” and found expression as furniture.

When the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company announced plans in 2007 to start a private space tourism program, Newson was chosen to design the interior of the rocket ship. He has designed a concept car for Ford, a prototype jet—the Kelvin 40, for Paris’s Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in 2003—a powerboat, surfboards, and the interiors of Qantas airliners and private planes. Speed, space travel, sci-fi, and streamlined form have been constant themes in his career—all part of a fascination Newson traces to watching the Apollo moon landings as a six-year-old boy. “A sense of utopia; a sense of optimism pervaded” around that NASA mission, he has recalled. “It led me to want to create things, to explore things, to be ambitious.”  

Marc Newson's Kelvin 40 Concept Jet, 2004.

Appropriately, the object that brought Newson the attention of the international design community was named for an American aerospace company, the Lockheed Lounge. Long, flowing, and voluptuous—“a fluid metallic form, like a giant blob of mercury,” in Newson’s words—the lounge is as much sculpture as furniture. Made of a fiberglass body sheathed in thin riveted aluminum panels, it is a post-modern-meets-post-industrial interpretation of the 19th century recamier sofa that also resembles a prop-driven aircraft fuselage. Newson began working on the lounge design not long after his graduation in 1984 from the Sidney College of the Arts, where he specialized in jewelry-making. Bolstered by a grant from the Australian crafts council, he built six sculptural seating pieces, which were exhibited at a Sydney art gallery in 1986. The lounge prototype was noticed by the design press worldwide.

Newson refined the piece over the next two years and produced 15 examples of what by then he called the Lockheed Lounge. Most were sold between 1988 and 1990 to local buyers for around $1,000 apiece. Today, the Lockheed Lounge holds the auction price record--$3.7 million—for a work by a living designer. And yet Newson considers the lounge something of a disappointment. “I had a pretty good idea of what it would look like: a seamless, smooth, shiny object,” he has said. “I never wanted it to be covered in panels. That was the only way I could think of to achieve something close to the effect I visualized.”

The Event Horizon table would finally fulfill Newson’s ideal. The road to achieving that design began with his search for the automobile of his dreams. By 1991, Newson had established a studio in Paris, supported by an assortment of commissions from companies that included the Italian furnishings makers Flos and Capellini. With the windfall profit from a perfume bottle design for Shiseido, Newson decided to buy an Aston Martin DB4, a classic roadster manufactured from 1958 to 1963, the epitome of the sexy, sleek, whippet-fast British sports car. He went to check out an available example located in a town north of London at a high-end auto body shop that specialized in Aston Martin restorations. Their work was a revelation: here were artisan-technicians who could fabricate a design like the Event Horizon table to his exact specifications. “What they do is more akin to silversmithing,” Newson would say. “They work metal as if it were a piece of fabric or plasticene. What you see in the end is this incredibly sensual and refined object.”

The Event Horizon table is an exercise in contrasts, contradictions and illusions—an “impossible mind-fuck,” as Newson described it, half in jest, to design critic Alice Rawsthorn. It is solid, yet has an almost liquid appearance; it is all-metal, but light in weight. It is a table, yet it has an interior space—and what an interior, that draws you in towards the contoured funnels of its black hole-like legs. The present lot is the only example of the Event Horizon table with an interior enameled in blue—Bugatti blue, along with Ferrari red and British racing green, the three colors Newson originally chose for the piece to honor European motor sports, before adding orange, yellow and lime green. The Event Horizon table is a machine. Cold, aerodynamic and lustrous, its profile hearkens to the air-intake scoop in the hood of Newson’s beloved Aston Martin DB4. And yet the table has the wholeness of a living thing. It has a continuous skin; it seems almost to breathe. If the Lockheed Lounge is Frankenstein, stitches and all, the Event Horizon table is Galatea.

“I’m a geek,” Marc Newson once said. “Geeks are interested in the details.” Those who share his concerns might well regard the Event Horizon table as his first true, perfected masterpiece.

Both my sculptural work and the production furniture have always had as much to do with what is not there as with is there - the voids, the interior spaces, the things that you don’t see.  

—Marc Newson

Marc Newson b. 1964

Born in Sydney in 1963, Marc Newson spent his childhood traveling in Europe and Asia. His mother took a job working for a leading Australian architecture firm, exposing Newson to design at early age. He attended Sydney College of the Arts to study jewelry and sculpture, graduating in 1984. Newson was awarded a grant from the Australian Crafts Council to stage his first exhibition where he presented his Lockheed Lounge Chair that would be purchased by the National Gallery of Southern Australia. Newson moved to Tokyo in 1989 where he met the owner of Idée, Teuro Kurosaki with whom he would produce numerous designs for over the years. From Tokyo, Newson moved to Paris before settling in London and opening his own design studio, Marc Newson Ltd. Not one to be categorized, Newson has designed cars, jets, and watches in addition to his iconic furniture. In 2005, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. His work is housed in the collections of several major museums around the globe including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

Auction Results Marc Newson