Gormley's Greek Ghosts

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The weather has changed in the last few days, the wardrobes and demeanours of my fellow Londoners is sunnier. It is strange perhaps that with the first wafts of Summer I begin to think of the Summer holidays. What is happening elsewhere in Europe? And then I came across this rather beautiful exhibition on the Greek island of Delos, recently opened…

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Nestled in the archaeological ruins on the island of Delos, British artist Antony Gormley in collaboration with the Ephorate of Antiquities of Cyclades, and Neon has taken over the site with an installation called SIGHT.

SIGHT is specially conceived to resonate with the statuary, temples, squares, vistas and the topography of the island of Delos.
— https://neon.org.gr/en/exhibition/sight-antony-gormley-delos-island/
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The pictures are breathtaking. Gormley studied archaeology, anthropology and art history and it is perhaps this background that has led him to this project on Delos, the first of its kind. Early on in his life he hitchhiked through Europe ending up in India after a year where he spent the next two years studying Buddhist meditation. There is something of the other-wordly, the mediative in these pictures of his figures on water, figures in the landscape of ancient ruins.

‘I treat the body as a place encouraging empathic occupation of that which lies the other side of appearance: what it feels like.’
— Anthony Gormley
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Delos is a tiny island by all accounts. A rock in the middle of the Cycladic Islands in the Aegean less than 5 km long and 1.5km wide with a rich history.
Mythology tells us its first name was «Άδηλος» (A-Delos), meaning ‘the non-visible’ - a floating rock with no fixed location. It became «Δήλος» Delos, ‘the visible’, when Zeus arranged for Leto, his mortal lover, to find refuge there, safe from the wrath of his wife, the goddess Hera. When Leto gave birth to twins Apollo, god of light, and Artemis, goddess of the hunt, the island’s destiny and future prosperity was assured.

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The exhibition or installation opened on 2 May and runs until 31 October of this year. I imagine a still-ness to it now, at the beat before the Summer Holidays have really begun. Though to see it with children running in and out must have a beauty to it too.

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For anyone lucky enough to go and see this installation at any point over the next 5 months please do send me pictures and let me know what the experience was like. On this Friday afternoon I will make do with a leisurely look over these pictures and imagine myself walking amongst these Ghostly Gormley’s and Greek remains.

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Marguerita Mergentime - Forgotten Designs

Marguerita Mergentime, 1930s. © Mergentime Family Archives

Marguerita Mergentime, 1930s. © Mergentime Family Archives

When Virginia Bayer began looking through her late mothers belongings she came across the incredible design legacy of Marguerita, her maternal grandmother….

Molly, Virginia’s mother who died in 2008 was the eldest daughter of Marguerita Mergentime. Virginia knew a little about her grandmother, stories from her childhood of an unknown female figure, one who had died before she had been born. She knew the colours of her grandmothers placemats and tablecloths that were a feature of her family apartment when growing up and she had been told that Marguerita had designed the carpets and wall coverings for Radio City Music Hall.

"Food Quiz" tablecloth and table setting. 1939

"Food Quiz" tablecloth and table setting. 1939

But in 2008, whilst looking through her things she realised that Mergentime’s story went much further than this. She find newspaper cuttings displaying her work, designs that were sold in Macy’s and Lord & Taylor and features in magazines such as Vogue, The New Yorker and House Beautiful.

Marguerita Mergentime’s Two-Timing tablecloth featured in House Beautiful, February 1935.

Marguerita Mergentime’s Two-Timing tablecloth featured in House Beautiful, February 1935.

The results of these finds is a beautiful book, Marguerita Mergentime: American Textiles, Modern Ideas released by West Madison Press in 2017.

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Mergentime was a proud American, the colours of the print adorning the front of the book testament to this, further echoed in the colours of much of her work.

Mergentime was a pioneer, a tastemaker of her time whose work adorned the American home of the 1950s.

Marguerita was born Marguerita Straus on 3 March 1894 in New York City. She graduated from the Ethical Culture School and continued with art studies through classes at Teachers College from 1923-27.

Unable to find the table linens she desired she decided in the late 1920s and early 1930s she decided she would remedy this problem by becoming a textile designer herself. She educated herself researching in museums, and studying the arts with designers such as Ilonka Karasz.

In 1929 she was commissioned by Donald Deskey to create the interior fabric - Lilies in the Air - which covers the walls in the Ladies Lounge and the carpet for the Grand Lounge in Radio City Music Hall.

Marguerita Mergentime, Lilies in the Air sample of design for Radio City Music Hall, ca. 1932. Michael Fredericks, © Mergentime Family Archives

Marguerita Mergentime, Lilies in the Air sample of design for Radio City Music Hall, ca. 1932. Michael Fredericks, © Mergentime Family Archives

In 1939 Mergentime designed a souvenir tablecloth for the New York World’s Fair and a hanging for the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco.

Marguerita Mergentime, New York World’s Fair tablecloth, 1939. Michael Fredericks, © Mergentime Family Archives

Marguerita Mergentime, New York World’s Fair tablecloth, 1939. Michael Fredericks, © Mergentime Family Archives

This book aims to put a light back onto the work of Mergentime. Her legacy has been, up until now perhaps a little lost. Maybe because Mergentime was a woman. Maybe because her designs are principally ones for the home, and she has not been as recognised as those follow colleagues of her from the American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen (AUDC) which she became a member of in 1929: Frank Lloyd Wright, Egmont Arens, Donald Deskey, Norman Bel Geddes, Eliel Saarinen, and Russel Wright.

for a woman whose designs were ubiquitous in her day, whose spirit breathes through our kitchenware and tablecloths, the appreciation feels far too delayed, and she is known by too few.
Marguerita Mergentime, Wish Fulfillment cocktail napkin from a set of eight, 1939. Michael Fredericks, © Mergentime Family Archives

Marguerita Mergentime, Wish Fulfillment cocktail napkin from a set of eight, 1939. Michael Fredericks, © Mergentime Family Archives

She resides permanently in the collection of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Museum at FIT, and the Allentown Art Museum and justly so. We know that this new book will also make a handsome addition to our collection and provide much colour and design inspiration for our own future projects.

Marguerita Mergentime, Americana hanging, 1939. Brooklyn Museum, gift of Charles B. Mergentime, 43.70.38. ©Brooklyn Museum

Marguerita Mergentime, Americana hanging, 1939. Brooklyn Museum, gift of Charles B. Mergentime, 43.70.38. ©Brooklyn Museum

“Are you allergic to meaningless, uninspired patterns in printed cloths?” Mergentime once asked.

We know we aren’t…. Are you?

[ABOVE IMAGE: Textile samples (Six swatches of printed silk indicating different colorways) Printed, Woven silk. late 1930s.MOMA collection, Margueriita Mergentime]

Marguerita Mergentime, Food for Thought tablecloth, 1936. Museum of Modern Art, 967.2016. Michael Fredericks, © Mergentime Family Archives

Marguerita Mergentime, Food for Thought tablecloth, 1936. Museum of Modern Art, 967.2016. Michael Fredericks, © Mergentime Family Archives

Bauhaus turns 100

The life at the Weimar Bauhaus: members of the Bauhaus and guests, around 1922 Photographic paper (with silver halide salts in gelatin) Print: 11.1 x 8.4 cm © Bauhaus-Archive Berlin

The life at the Weimar Bauhaus: members of the Bauhaus and guests, around 1922 Photographic paper (with silver halide salts in gelatin) Print: 11.1 x 8.4 cm © Bauhaus-Archive Berlin

While the ripples of the Bauhaus school reached far and wide after its closing in 1933 - to places such as the renowned Black Mountain College in California, Harvard Graduate School of Design, the White City in Tel Aviv and the International Style of Architecture, the Bauhaus school in its original form was in fact a very short-lived entity. Started in 1919 under the directorship of Walter Gropius it was closed in 1933, a mere 14 years later by the newly appointed National Socialist party in Germany.

Typography by  Herbert Bayer  above the entrance to the workshop block of the Bauhaus, Dessau, 2005

Typography by Herbert Bayer above the entrance to the workshop block of the Bauhaus, Dessau, 2005

The Bauhaus came out of the energy of Germany post World War I and was influenced in it creation by individuals such as the 19th century William Morris and the absence of distinction between form and function. Beginning life as a means of reuniting creativity and manufacturing, it fashioned itself into a kind of craftsmen’s guild, with echoes of the Renaissance guild system of the 15th century.

William Morris in his 50s.

William Morris in his 50s.

A 20th century reinvention, focusing on the importance of functionality over every other consideration, as a primary starting place.

Whilst most closely associated with architecture and product design it covered a whole spectrum of applied subjects some better known in their legacy than others - pottery, metalwork, photography, fine art, graphic design to name but a few.

Coffee and Tea set design by Marianne Brandt

Coffee and Tea set design by Marianne Brandt

Walter Gropius, a trained architect, founded the Bauhaus school in Weimar in response to the industrialisation of the time and became the school’s first director. In the same year, 1919, Marcel Breuer joined as one of the first and one of the youngest students.

Walter Gropius

Walter Gropius

The Bauhaus held three homes in its lifetime. The first building was in Weimar, followed by a move to Dessau in 1923 with Gropius designing the studio building and dormitories.

Bauhaus Studio building, Dessau. Photographs are courtesy of the  Bauhaus Dessau Foundation  and are by  Yvonne Tenschert

Bauhaus Studio building, Dessau. Photographs are courtesy of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation and are by Yvonne Tenschert

It was in this same year that Lászlö Moholy-Nagy began teaching. The final moved was to an abandoned telephone factory in Berlin in 1932, under pressure from the Nazi party.

my most extreme work… the least artistic, the most logical, the least ‘cozy’ and the most mechanical.
— Marcel Breuer talking about his Wassily Chair/ B3

Marcel Breuer returned to the Bauhaus in 1925 and designed an early version of the bent metal Club chair (model B3). It was a revolutionary take on a classic club chair which the artist himself described as “my most extreme work… the least artistic, the most logical, the least ‘cozy’ and the most mechanical.” It met all the requirements of the school’s design philosophy - easily mass produced, lightweight and easily moved.

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As the art historian Seamus Payne notes, Breuer’s was “the first ever chair to feature a bent-steel frame…it marked the beginning of a new era in modern furniture with a design that maintains a progressive look even today.”

In 1930 van der Rohe took over as the then (though no one would have have known this) last Director of the Bauhaus and in the same year he designed the Villa Tugendhat in the Czech Republic, and with it defined the Functionalist style.

Villa Tugendhat © Alexandra Timpau

Villa Tugendhat © Alexandra Timpau

Villa Tugendhat © Alexandra Timpau

Villa Tugendhat © Alexandra Timpau

Villa Tugendhat © Alexandra Timpau

Villa Tugendhat © Alexandra Timpau

Look at your writing table, this shabby writing table. Do you like it? I would throw it out the window. That is what we at the Bauhaus want to do. We want to have good objects so that we do not have to throw them out of the window.
— Mies van der Rohe arguing with Alfred Rosenberg about the Nazi' closing of The Bauhaus

On the morning of 11 April 1933, Mies van der Rohe arrived at the Bauhaus to find the building cordoned off by police and surrounded by crowds.

“Stop!’ he shouted at the officers.

“What’s the idea? This is my school! It belongs to me!”

“Not any more” said an officer.

The next day Mies went to see Alfred Rosenberg, the conservative minister of culture.

“The Bauhaus has a certain idea,” said Mies, “but this idea has nothing to do with politics. Look at your writing table, this shabby writing table. Do you like it? I would throw it out the window. That is what we at the Bauhaus want to do. We want to have good objects so that we do not have to throw them out of the window.” Rosenberg was an architect himself. “Then we will understand each other,” said Mies.

“What do you expect me to do?” asked Rosenberg. “The Bauhaus is supported by forces fighting our forces.”

“For any cultural effort,” replied Mies, “one needs peace, and I would like to know whether we will have that peace.” The Bauhaus remained shut.

Photo credit: Werner Blaser 

Photo credit: Werner Blaser 

His final effort was that of a man who believed deeply in his school and the work that they were doing. Every other day he went to the Gestapo headquarters to attempt to talk to the man in charge. after three months of this, on July 21, with the bauhaus on the brink of bankruptcy he got his audience and was told by the Gestapo that they would allow the re-opening of the Bauhaus if the curriculum was changed to meet “the demands of the new State” and if two of its leftwing teachers, Ludwig Hilberseimer and the painter Vasili Kandinsky were replaced. Mies gathered his colleagues, opened Champagne and closed the school himself.

Wassily Kandinsky: Bilder einer Ausstellung (Pictures at an Exhibition), Stage design for scene XVI: The great gate of Kiev, ca. 1930, Theaterwissenschaftliche Sammlung, University of Cologne

Wassily Kandinsky: Bilder einer Ausstellung (Pictures at an Exhibition), Stage design for scene XVI: The great gate of Kiev, ca. 1930, Theaterwissenschaftliche Sammlung, University of Cologne

POST BAUHAUS YEARS…

László Moholy-Nagy

László Moholy-Nagy

László Moholy-Nagy moves to the Netherlands initially before moving to London in 1935 living in the Isokon Building with Walter Gropius for 10 months. He eventually moved to Chicago to become director of the New Bauhaus in 1937 and later open the School of Design.

Isokon Building, Lawn Road Flats, Hampstead, London, NW3

Isokon Building, Lawn Road Flats, Hampstead, London, NW3

Walter Gropius managed to escape Germany in 1934 with the help of English architect Maxwell Fry. He went to Italy under the pretext of making a propaganda film and from there, he escaped to London. He then moved to the US, becoming Chairman of the Harvard Graduate School of Design and founded The Architects’ Collaborative in 1946.

In 1936 Marcel Breuer also moves to London, designing Sea Lane House in West Sussex and starting work with Jack Pritchard on Isokon furniture designs.

Sea Lane house, West Sussex - exterior

Sea Lane house, West Sussex - exterior

Sea Lane House, West Sussex - interior

Sea Lane House, West Sussex - interior

In 1939 Mies van der Rohe had started designing the IIT Campus in Chicago, though not completed until 1958. He spent the rest of his 31 years here, with his last project seeing him return to Berlin for the Berlin National Gallery, opened in 1968.

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