There’s good news for fans of the dark side this spring: the German furniture maker ClassiCon and designer Konstantin Grcic are celebrating 25 years of working together with a new furniture collection in deepest, darkest black. With the exception of a brand-new oak daybed called, rather appropriately, ‘Ulisse’, the Black Edition represents a journey through the greatest hits of Grcic’s work for ClassiCon over the years. The folded metal ‘Pallas’ table (2003) is there, so too the ‘Mars’ (2003), ‘Venus’ (2006) and ‘Chaos’ (2001) chairs, the ‘Odin’ sofa (2005), the ‘Orcus’ desk (1993) and ‘Diana’ side tables (2002). It is a wonderful mix of his work; at once so familiar to the design fan, and so very radical in form.
When he first crossed paths with ClassiCon in 1991, Grcic had just left London, where he had graduated from the Royal College of Art and worked for Jasper Morrison, and had returned to his home town of Munich to found his own studio, KGID. Also a new company, devoted initially to a classic modernist line of furniture manufacture, ClassiCon was looking for young talent to create new formal dialogues with design history’s big names, in particular the late Eileen Gray, whose work it had the licence to produce. It decided to take a risk with the rather far-out designs of the young Grcic and it rapidly became clear that they were an effective foil to the Gray pieces, but also had a formal daring all of their own. It was a great call by ClassiCon – now everybody wants a piece of Grcic. One or two retired masters aside, he is, without doubt, Germany’s greatest living designer. He has curated exhibitions; produced pieces for the likes of Authentics, Cappellini, Driade, Magis and Flos; has works in the permanent collection of MoMA; and is a winner of Italy’s Compasso d’Oro – perhaps the design industry’s greatest honour.
So why celebrate this highly successful partnership with such a sombre-coloured collection? In 2010, Grcic curated an exhibition for the Istituto Svizzero di Roma called ‘Black2’, in which he selected 51 black rectilinear consumer objects, and housed them in a glass cabinet of his own design. It was a collection of everyday curiosities and included a black American Express card, Zanusso’s 1969 'Black 201' TV set, a Braun calculator and a Leica camera. The show was a sort of homage to Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 Black Square painting but also to the black monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the black quadrilateral becomes a representation of a certain kind of liberation and enlightenment, but also the abandonment of the rule book and rebelliousness – the apple in the Eden of the arts, ‘giving shape’, in Malevich’s words, ‘to pure feeling’.
The Black Edition is far from monotonous monochrome; the chromatic nuances of black in the individual objects reflect a very conscious decision on the part of the designer. Each piece has a new surface coating or upholstery that ranges from an almost rubbery matt black for the ‘Pallas’ table to high gloss for the ‘Orcus’ desk and a sumptuous black velvet by Raf Simons for Kvadrat for the ‘Odin’ sofa. To emphasise the sensuality of the new edition, ClassiCon invited the Iranian artist Shirana Shahbazi to photograph the whole ensemble against a vibrant geometric colour background, which ties Grcic’s designs firmly back to their modernist roots.
One of the things that fascinates about Grcic’s work is the evidence of the journey he takes through function and form to reach the final design. The freedom of his pieces, the absolutely radical forms – that are nevertheless strangely timeless once you have got over the shock of the new – is rooted in the most rigorous workings out, incorporating not only technical solutions but also context, both historical and practical. And all of it reduced to the max at the end.
Grcic’s creative brilliance thrives on restrictions. ‘I have learned a lot from him,’ says ClassiCon CEO Oliver Holy. ‘About making prototypes, about never neglecting details and always to see through the development personally. He never lets up: he’s a true master.’ I interviewed him a few years back on the subject of one of his forerunners – the great German designer Dieter Rams. Grcic said that when he was younger he really disliked Rams’ work and everything it stood for because it belonged to the past and was so dogmatic. It was only later that he discovered, while talking to Rams, the incredible poetry and emotion embedded within his ostensibly functional work. ‘It all became so human... so beautiful,’ he said.
One of the great similarities between Rams’ and Grcic’s work is that the former finds it almost impossible to articulate this sense of poetry, and Grcic, too, clothes this intangible, yet powerful element of his own creative expression with words such as ‘discipline’ and ‘routine’. Grcic says, for example, of the new ClassiCon Black Edition, that he intentionally chose black ‘because it is a colour that represents classic modernism and its existential objectivity. But black is also a clear, modern statement: pure, topical and radical.’ All of which are compelling reasons, but it is what he didn’t say – that the rich chromatic blacks and extraordinary surfaces of this edition make it unbelievably sensual, sexy, decadent even – that is perhaps, in the final analysis, the most interesting.
As originally featured in the May 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*206)