'Chinese Design Today' exhibition at Themes & Variations, London

steel coffee table
'Coffee Table SQN5-T', 2012, in steel, by Zhang Zhoujie.
(Image credit: Courtesy of Themes & Variations)

While exhibitions of contemporary Chinese art have been mounting in Western galleries for years, design by a new generation of furniture-makers has remained extremely rare in these parts. Until now, that is.

In London, the largest and most comprehensive show of Chinese design to date has opened at Themes & Variations in Notting Hill. The selling exhibition represents a group of designers who are creating in a prolific way, freed from the artistic suppression under Mao.

For 'Chinese Design Today', on show until 8 December, gallerist Liliane Fawcett has amassed a body of original work from 16 emerging and established designers, chosen from within China and the widespread diaspora. Their source material ranges from shipping crates that are then upcycled into bedroom furniture to model airplanes coated in real plumage.

For instance onetime calligrapher Chen Qing Qing, from Beijing, reinterprets traditional fashion in hemp. Zhang Zhoujie engineers futuristic furniture from hard-edged, contemporary metals. And July Chow, a political activist and filmmaker, pays homage to traditional Chinese building techniques in his range of acrylic furnishings.

Li Lihong, China's answer to Grayson Perry, uses traditional porcelain-painting techniques to adorn ceramics with instantly recognisable iconography from the present day. His output comments on China's conflicted relationship with Western imports and trends.

In most cases the medium is the message in 'Chinese Design Today', be it a fascination with millennia of history, deference toward tried-and-tested customs or the opposite: rejection of outmoded rituals.

Chinese design table

'Summer Palace 2 Console', 2012, by July Chow. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Themes & Variations)

Zhongtang Armchair

'Zhongtang Armchair', 2012, by July Chow, in Perspex and elm wood. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Themes & Variations)

king chair

The catalpa and elm 'King Chair', from a 1995 design by sculptor Shao Fan. This is no.53 of a limited edition of 70. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing, and Themes & Variations)

wooden bench with woollen bedding

'Bench No.2', 2012, in wood and wool, by Gu Yeli. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Themes & Variations)

Memory Box Table/Stool

Jia Li's limited-edition 'Memory Box Table/Stool', 2012, in Plexiglas, silk and iron wire. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Themes & Variations)

Mickey Mouse

'Mickey Mouse', 2009, by Li Lihong. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Themes & Variations)


Themes & Variations
231 Westbourne Grove
London W11 2SE