The art world was forever changed in 1917 when Duchamp put a urinal on a wall and called it art. Ever since, artists have consistently asked to challenge our assumptions of what exactly art is supposed to be and do, and how we value art against objects we use in our everyday lives.
Nearly 100 years later this tradition continues. New York has been awash in art this week leading up to the Frieze art fair on Governor’s Island. Luxury rug makers Henzel Studios commissioned 12 artists to make art we can walk on. Artists including Mickalene Thomas, Richard Prince, Marilyn Miner, and Leo Gabin were asked to design a rug. Once their work was done, the rugs were hand woven in Nepal and shipped back to Barney’s NYC to be put on display. If you’ve always wanted a one-of-a-kind piece of art that you could spill wine on, one of the rugs can be yours for only $15,000-20,000 (depending on the size). Once your order has been placed, your rug will be hand made and shipped to your door.
We were fascinated by the rugs as both functional objects and as pieces of art. We decided to ask the project’s curator Joakim Andreasson a few questions. Click through the images above to see the rugs on display at Barney’s and see what Joakim has to say below. Don’t miss Michalene’s graphic portrait and especially Scott Cambpell’s rug that speaks to money, capital, art, and the relationship between consumerism and a loneliness of spirit (on a $20,000 carpet).
How was this project conceived? Were you inherently interested in how artists treat rugs and textiles as functional objects and as works, or were you approached with the concept? What drew you to the project?
I discovered Henzel Studio at the Minotti showroom in Los Angeles. Their work and rugs are based on the artistic practice of Calle Henzel, a multi-media artist who translates his own fine art into hand knotted rug designs. I saw the potential and unique foundation of applying this methodology within a broader scope, and approached him with the idea of engaging in unique collaborations with contemporary artists in the creation of art rugs. This is the first time I worked with this extraordinary media that inherently possesses a strong sense of history and references to artistic and aesthetic movements. The artisanal production process was another draw, adding another dimension of artistry into the equation.
How did you select the artists that you wanted to work with? Had any of the artists worked with non-conventional materials or textiles before?
I had a specific dynamic in mind that I wanted to achieve when inviting the artists to take part. Art rugs have been around for quite some time in various forms, and some of the most prominent artists; Francis Bacon, Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder, Robert Indiana, Mike Kelley, Ellsworth Kelly, Fernand Leger, Roy Lichtenstein, Henri Matisse, Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol have all turned to the media at some point in their oeuvre. With this collection, given the advanced yet artisanal production possibilities at hand, I also wanted to explore different translations and adaptations in terms of media . Examples include video art by Leo Gabin, collage by Mickalene Thomas, photography by Juergen Teller, sculpture by Helmut Lang and portraiture by Robert Knoke. As for the artists previous experience with textiles, it is funny that you ask as many of the artists have worked with textiles in some capacity or another, including assume vivid Astro Focus, Helmut Lang, Scott Campbell, Anelm Reyle, Mickalene Thomas, and Robert Knoke. However, this was not a factor that influenced their inclusion in the project. Although rugs are considered an applied art form, I think this collection proves that rugs can be an artistic media and category on its own regardless of discipline or practice.
It seems to us like the artists featured in the project all rip and tear at conventional notions of what-makes-good-art, even in the contemporary art world where this type of work has been done to death. How does this sense of moving past borders and defying definitions play into the final product?
You are right, the artists all share a certain anarchistic status either by practice or stature, which I enjoy and is very much in the spirit of Calle Henzel’s work and operation as multimedia artist. They are all groundbreaking and leading forces within their respective fields – for example, there’s Scott Campbell’s autonomous voice as a tattoo and fine artist, Linder’s uncompromising work that helped shape the aesthetic of punk and Assume Vivid Astro Focus’ exclamatory ethos combining the decorative with highly political and social undertones. This artistic spirit contributed to us challenging the media at hand, creating unprecedented designs and further blurring the parameters of art and design.
Are there any pieces that you think exemplify the heart of the enterprise? Any standouts or things you just keep coming back to?
The creative and curatorial mission was to create rugs that offer a seamless translation from the artist’s practice into hand knotted rugs regardless of media. We worked closely with each artist to explore the production possibilities at hand, including shape, volume, material composition and finishings. Given the vast variation of works, I like to think that we did this quite successfully with each rug design – where authenticity constitutes as the determining factor.
Are any of the works by these artists being considered for mass production? Will it be possible to have a Mickalene Thomas or a Scott Campbell sitting under our dining room table? Do the pieces mean something different if they will never actually be used as objects of function?
No, we are not considering mass production of these rugs. They are all made to order, and to defy the artisanal production would no longer make it an art rug. Each piece takes seven months to produce, and involves an entirely handmade twelve step process.
Rugs, if used, are walked all over, spilled on; they may tie a room together but they are not generally a focal point of our attention in a space. By putting arresting art on a rug, are you asking us to question the privileged place we give art or to think about everyday objects (e.g. rugs) as potential sites of artistic production, or both, or neither? How do you imagine these pieces being used, or are they meant to be used at all?
I agree: these rugs certainly command a prominent presence in any space and encourage us to further consider the floor for artistic expression. I think the purposing of these pieces will be subjective, where ones definition as to what constitutes as fine versus applied art will factor into whether the rugs will be places on the floor or hung onto a wall. It is a conversation we are glad to shed new light on.
The beauty of this project is that the artisanal production process contributes to the artistic integrity of the product. With any mass produced object, it is difficult to bridge that gap. However, I see great opportunities in applying technological advances into the production of artistic consumer goods.
- Joseph Osmundson
*Photo of Joakim Andreasson by Daniel Trese