Didier Krzentowski and his partner Clémence founded their Paris space Galerie Kreo as a high-end design lab, a platform for new, functional design by leading lights and rising stars of the industry. The gallery – named for the word 'creation' in Esperanto – has quietly advanced the cause of collectible design with a string of major breakthroughs by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Martin Szekely and Pierre Charpin, among others.
Their new London gallery was launched last autumn as a way to be closer to British collectors and commissioned designers like Jasper Morrison and the duo Doshi Levien. Yet its latest exhibit puts a spotlight on the owners’ role as major collectors of midcentury lighting from Italy. The couple have collected Achille Castiglioni, Pierre Paulin and Pierre Guariche over three decades and have amassed the world’s largest collection of Gino Sarfatti lights. Hundreds of them: the Paris location could double as a lighting warehouse. Most of the models – Didier estimates 80 per cent – are no longer produced today, and samples of these have been singled out for a mini-exhibition at the front of the Mayfair space.
Sarfatti created his simple, soft spherical lights, harnessed together by lacquered-metal rings, in the line of research. Didier says he was a steadfast scholar of new techniques, prototyping new forms as soon as the latest bulb was available. You can draw a direct line from the designer’s methodology to the patron’s professional philosophy, and his efforts to nurture a new generation of like-minded collectors.
Lighting of this calibre, Didier says, is nearly impossible to find in top condition. 'It is completely minimal,' he says. 'It could be made today.' Most likely owners hold on tight and live with them for generations. He points out his most treasured piece: Sarfatti’s '2095/9' ceiling light from 1958, no longer produced. It comprises nine luminous glass orbs the size of a fist, shooting down 220cm from the ceiling in a spiral formation.
The Sarfatti selection is a prelude to 'La Luce Vita', a Cinecittà-inspired exhibition that mixes legends including Guariche and Vittoriano Viganò with new-ish work by Morrison, Charpin and Joschua Brunn. Apparently the era of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita coincided with major creative output by the aforementioned and their peers Joe Colombo, Giò Ponti, Joseph-André Motte and Robert Mathieu. Didier calls them 'cinematographers of our daily landscape'.
The contemporary work, accented by Paulin’s collectors-item 'CM 190' series of chairs, is no less classic. In 30 years, Morrisson’s 'Variation #6' stackable marble benches will likely confound collectors in the same way Sarfatti’s lighting is doing today; already Chanel has picked up several for the shoe display at its Bond Street store. François Azambourg has done a versatile mirror in a silvered blown-glass frame ('Miroir Estampé') that hangs from an adjustable wire.
Charpin’s 'Mini-Eclipse' light is a pair of teal-green lacquered-metal posts, one with a mounted lightbulb. When the lightbulb orbits around its neighbour, the light is obscured and dims as a result. Not that you can really perceive of the effect in situ. The setting is far too brilliant.