Lukas Gschwandtner has long been interested in women on chaises longues. ‘I have always noticed depictions of reclining female figures, carved into building façades and friezes,’ says the Austrian artist in a Zoom interview in early October. For years, he has meticulously documented such figures encountered in museum and gallery visits, drawn to the variety of postures, behaviours and gestures, and the points of contact between limbs and pillows. This collection of imagery became the inspiration for his Pillow Portraits series, first presented at Brussels’ Maniera gallery in spring 2021. ‘I started to directly translate those postures into wearable canvas sculptures,’ he says. ‘The moment the sculpture is worn, it immediately directs the body to impersonate the corresponding painting or artwork.’
Fendi at Design Miami 2022: Triclinium by Lukas Gschwandtner
A year on, Gschwandtner is presenting his Pillow Portraits as part of a new installation at Design Miami 2022 (29 November – 4 December), at the invitation of Fendi’s artistic directors, Silvia Venturini Fendi and Kim Jones. The commission enabled him to spend some time in Rome, where the fashion house is headquartered, and he speaks of this time fondly: there were beautiful summer days wandering around the Villa Medici, Vatican Museums and Galleria Borghese; visits to Fendi’s ateliers; and conversations with Venturini Fendi, who enthusiastically responded to his research and quipped that she would work, eat and socialise from bed all day long if she could get away with it.
There was also a memorable visit to the Sistine Chapel, where, carried away by the music on his headphones and the beauty of the frescoes, he intuitively started taking photos on his phone – not realising the commotion he caused among irate security guards trying to enforce the venue’s no-photo policy.
Now back in Vienna, Gschwandtner has distilled the highlights from his Roman sojourn into individual Pillow Portraits sculptures: among his muses are Sleeping Ariadne, a marble copy of an ancient Greek sculpture, now in the collection of the Vatican Museums, and Antonio Canova’s Venus Victrix, modelled after Napoleon’s favourite sister and on display at Galleria Borghese.
Referring to earlier research, Gschwandtner also homed in on Solitude (Melancholia), a Giorgio de Chirico painting depicting a sculpture of a dejected Ariadne against a backdrop of arched arcades, whose geometry evokes the Fendi HQ at Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana.
These Pillow Portraits are made from an off-white canvas: ‘The material takes away historical, class and gender context and relaxes the eye, so we are concentrating only on the shape and form,’ explains Gschwandtner. He also enjoys its resemblance to calico, the heavy, plain woven cotton textile commonly used in the fashion industry for prototyping garments.
As we speak, the Pillow Portraits are nearing completion and Gschwandtner is preparing to travel to Brussels, where he will assemble them onto three steel chaises longues of his own design.
In Miami, these chaises longues will be presented in the format of a triclinium, a seating configuration typically found in the dining rooms of wealthy ancient Romans. Elongated for effect and overlapping at points, the chaises longues will be dressed in a heavy, grey-blue silk that the artist had found in the Fendi ateliers and was drawn to because of its shine and its resemblance to upholstery fabric, particularly from the Baroque and Rococo periods.
To recreate the sense of privacy that ancient Roman users of a triclinium would have sought, Gschwandtner will curtain off the Fendi booth at Design Miami 2022 using a thinner version of the canvas from the Pillow Portraits.
And while projected visitor numbers prevent Gschwandtner from allowing the general public to put on his Pillow Portraits on this occasion, they will see a video of him and various collaborators modelling the artwork, so as to better demonstrate its relationship with the human body.
For the past few years, as part of its Design Miami commission, Fendi has asked each collaborator to present an interpretation of its iconic ‘Peekaboo’ bag, which debuted in 2008. This was a dream assignment for Gschwandtner, who, prior to becoming an artist, had trained as an accessories designer.
‘My response was to fill each compartment of the bag with plaster, so I could understand its inner structure,’ he says. He then cut out the coagulated plaster elements and intends to use them to adorn his installation.
Conceptual and experimental, Triclinium marks a departure from Fendi’s previous Design Miami commissions, which include the likes of Cristina Celestino, Kueng Caputo and Peter Mabeo – all illustrious designers who have nonetheless put forward more conventional presentations of furniture. Gschwandtner, meanwhile, aims to create ‘a subconscious and physical space for conversation, [reflecting] on how museums are experienced and how ancient surfaces are read’.
It’s a bit of a gamble on the part of the fashion house, notwithstanding the fact that Gschwandtner is more of an emerging talent than his predecessors. But from what we’ve seen so far, it’s been worth the risk.
Triclinium is on show from 29 November – 4 December 2022 at Design Miami
A version of this article appears in the December 2022 Entertaining Issue of Wallpaper*, available from 10 November in print, on the Wallpaper* app on Apple iOS, and to subscribers of Apple News +. Subscribe to Wallpaper* today
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TF Chan is a former editor of Wallpaper* (2020-23), where he was responsible for the monthly print magazine, planning, commissioning, editing and writing long-lead content across all pillars. He also played a leading role in multi-channel editorial franchises, such as Wallpaper’s annual Design Awards, Guest Editor takeovers and Next Generation series. He aims to create world-class, visually-driven content while championing diversity, international representation and social impact. TF joined Wallpaper* as an intern in January 2013, and served as its commissioning editor from 2017-20, winning a 30 under 30 New Talent Award from the Professional Publishers’ Association. Born and raised in Hong Kong, he holds an undergraduate degree in history from Princeton University.
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