PRINT April 2012


Ron Gilad

Ron Gilad, Platform + Border = Fruit Bowl (Part 1), 2000, wood, brass, 3 1/2 x 11 x 11".

WHEN THE DESIGNER RON GILAD moved from Tel Aviv to New York in 2001, he felt like an alien; he couldn’t quite find the words in English to express the punning visuality of his thoughts. Fortunately, the objects he creates speak in their own tongue—a language that straddles the “fat, delicious line between the abstract and the functional,” as his professional biography puts it.

Eleven years later, Gilad still feels like an alien in New York, caught not so much between Hebrew and English, or between verbal and visual language, as between the world of art and the world of design. Still, he has been fortunate enough to be recognized by both, and his work has found its way into the collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art and garnered a small, informal exhibition, in 2006, at the city’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Despite the much-decried descent of art into “mere” good design, there are still precious few venues that meaningfully accommodate both art and design. So it is hardly surprising that, though his work has appeared with some degree of frequency in shelter rags, this is the first article about Gilad in an American art magazine.

Gilad doesn’t have a signature “look.” With each project, he reinvents the wheel, so to speak (but be careful what you wish for). Perhaps his best-known design, produced under his former product label, Designfenzider, is the Dear Ingo pendant light (2003), and it is exemplary of his approach, which is to interrogate the very essence of the functional object under investigation, and then to upend and thereby clarify some fundamental, if previously unnoticed, aspect of it—or of our expectations for it. What is a chandelier? Gilad inquired. It is a light fixture made up of many individual lamps that hangs from the ceiling. With the Ingo light (an homage to German industrial designer Ingo Maurer), which dangles from threads like a spider, he literalizes that simple realization: This fixture is nothing more than a steel ring to which the designer has affixed some sixteen standard folding task lamps of the sort that adorn every dorm-room desk in America. Voilà, an adjustable chandelier. Another early success was his Ran Over by Car vases (2001), each a one-of-a-kind mass-produced object. Gilad took machined metal cylinders, cut a slit in each somewhere near the top, and then placed them in the path of an automobile; the uniquely squished object that resulted was then painted; the slit, having been torn into a larger orifice, would now be the opening of the vase.

In time, Gilad’s rethinking of the object would lead to ever greater abstraction, and he has moved freely from more fluid, irregular, or chance-derived forms to strikingly spare geometric shapes. Consider one of the two works in the Met’s collection. Platform + Border = Fruit Bowl (Part 1) (2000) connects eight points with twelve brass lines around a freestanding square slab of beech wood to suggest a rectangular polyhedron within which one can store fruits—a hyperbolically stark, even counterintuitive, remaking of the bowl. His more recent Wallpiercings, of 2010 (in MoMA’s collection and produced by the lighting manufacturer Flos), avail themselves of LED technology to elegantly transcend the mundane problem of the wall sconce. These vertically mounted light panels filter the harsh luminescence of LED through aluminum tubes that are expressively knitted and interlaced, suggesting an abstract light sculpture of rarefied, ethereal beauty more than a practical lighting solution.

At times, Gilad seems to have moved away from function entirely, into the realm of the line, the symbol, or even the Platonic form. A recent project, 2009’s “20 Houses for 20 Friends,” practically revels in its uselessness. The “20 Houses”—essentially schematic line drawings in three dimensions of this fundamental architectural form—were blown up and displayed as public art (under the title The Neighborhood) at the University of Milan and in Moscow’s Gorky Park in 2011. “I am not a real designer,” he has boasted. “I don’t care about creating products or solving functional problems.” In mid-April, during the Milan Furniture Fair, Gilad will have a solo show at the Dilmos gallery, with pieces on display in five other venues as well. The exhibition, titled “The Line, the Arch, the Circle & the Square” (“the basic elements from which our world is constructed,” the designer notes), is echt Ron Gilad: just the basic forms—but, of course, processed through his rigorously analytic, inexhaustibly playful brain. This show might be thought of as a “three-dimensional sketchbook” (the designer’s phrase) in which Gilad will isolate, scrutinize, and reconfigure those rudimentary elements, remaking them.

His Birth of a Chair, 2009, for example, puts the square through its paces, in a sequence of three-dimensional permutations by means of which a chair ultimately evolves. The alignment of these twenty black-painted sterling-silver objects (the largest of which isn’t quite five inches high) results in a collective work that is forty inches long and uncannily animated, like an Eadweard Muybridge progression. In several new pieces, a line becomes an arch. The fully formed arch is created in marble or glass—or as a piece of luggage. Ostensibly, this piece is the most functional. One could even sit on his Glass Tube Bench (2012), if without comfort; but one would likely slide off.

Born of an irrepressibly ludic mind, Gilad’s conceptual sketchbook plays with such Platonic forms, imagining how they dream of themselves.

Steven Watson is the author of Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties (Pantheon, 2003), among other titles.