Radical Design

Arad's 2RNot Chair

One of the most venerable and influential of contemporary industrial artists, Israeli-born, London-based Ron Arad has made a career operating at the interstices of fine art and design. For over thirty years, his ability to draw out sinewy curves and sensual helices from muscular materials like steel, polyethylene, and plastic has given the world instantly recognizable objects, from the Bookworm bookcase to the Well-Tempered Chair. His singular vision extends into the buildings he has also conceived of worldwide, such as the Mediacite Center building in Lieges, Belgium (completed in 2009) and the Design Museum Holon, in Israel (completed in 2010). This year will mark the finalization of Arad’s redesign of the interior of the storied Watergate Hotel, in Washington, D.C.

Though trained primarily as an architect at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, and later London’s Architectural Association, Arad first rose to prominence for his design of an iconic chair. When he mounted a leather seat from an abandoned Rover car on a steel frame in 1981, the Rover Chair was born. The piece earned him instant acclaim and allowed him to leave his job as an apprentice architect and found his own, eponymous studio. It’s telling that Arad has referred to Marcel Duchamp as an influence, as the Rover Chair is frequently likened to a spiritual descendant of Duchamp’s Readymades; that is, objects that the pioneering twentieth century artist repurposed (most famously his Fountain (1917), a porcelain urinal turned on its side) into objects of fine art. Since then, dreaming up radical approaches to the humble piece of furniture — from the Raviolo Chair to the Folly Bench — has been part and parcel of Arad’s work.

The 2RNot Chair is an outstanding example of this estimable lineage. Made entirely of copper, portions of which have been polished and blackened, the chair seems almost to be constructed of two entirely different materials. The seat exhibits the undulating contours that are characteristic of so much of Arad’s work. Buffed to a high shine, they are suggestive of the sun glinting off the waves of a rolling sea. Yet, once again surprising us with his relentless ingenuity, with the 2RNot Chair Arad breaks one of many preconceived ideas about his work. The shimmering curves of the seat are encased in a swarthy, geometric frame, its austere lines and rigid angles a rare feature in his oeuvre. Like an optical illusion, the cube alternately eclipses or reveals the chair’s rippling interior, depending on the viewer’s perspective. All of a sudden, it is not only a chair but also a puzzle, revealing seating options at every turn.

Ron Arad b. 1951

Ron Arad was born in Tel Aviv in 1951 and attended the Bezaele Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem from 1971-73. He moved to London to attend the Architectural Association, encountering a creative environment that emphasized ideas over technique. Inspired by Gaetano Pesce, Arad became interested in using industrial materials in domestic settings. He co-founded his London design studio and workshop, One-Off with Caroline Thorman in 1981. That same year, Arad created his seminal Rover chairs made with scavenged materials. Throughout the 80s, Arad explored the possibilities of sheet steel, opting to shape and alter it by hand, imparting a distinctive rough finish that would become a signature of his work. From 1997-2009, Arad was the head of the Design Product Department at the Royal College of Art in London. In 2008, Ron Arad Architects was established; two years later, the Design Museum in Holon, Israel was completed and received much international acclaim. Along with his studio work, Arad has produced a number of designs for companies such as Vitra, Alessi and Cassina to name a few. He also began to experiment with jewelry making in 2003, combining 3-D printing with traditional and non-traditional materials to create dynamic wearable forms.

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