By definition, art is a construct whose products “are to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content,” whereas design is defined as an object with “purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object.”
The distinction is between the two worlds is whether the work is strictly decorative or somewhat functional. Artists tend to work with decorative media throughout their career, including painting, sculpting, or drawing, while designers produce seating, lighting, and storage solutions. Between these two disciplines lies a group of artists who have moved seamlessly between the worlds: producing painting and sculpture in addition to designing innovative light fixtures, theater sets, or other furnishings.
In celebration of spring, the Donald Judd Foundation announced that a line of ready-made furniture designed by late artist Donald Judd – long known for his crossover between minimalist sculpture and functional furnishings – would become available in April 2017. “There was no separation between Judd’s art and life,” Jenny Moore, director of the Chinati Foundation told The Wall Street Journal. Formerly, these designs had been available on a limited, made-to-order basis, which took up to 18 weeks to produce. This revolution prompted our editors to search for the best crossover artist/designers of the last century.
Harry Bertoia was an Italian jeweler, printmaker, furniture designer, sculptor, and philosopher who played with the boundary between form and function throughout his career. At an early age, Bertoia moved to America to pursue artmaking. During his time in art school, he focused on painting, jewelry, and printmaking – eventually sending 100 prints to the acquisitions director at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Non-Objective Paintings, which the director purchased both for herself and for the museum.
After he finished school in the 1940s, Bertoia moved to California to work with Charles Eames on experimental furniture. In the 1950s Bertoia relocated to Pennsylvania, after which point he worked on a chair collection for Knoll and, later, tonal sculpture (works that make noise when engaged with). Bertoia’s early pieces showcased his interest in organic shapes and attention to detail, traits which continued to be important to the artist throughout his career as a furniture maker and sculptor.
Happy birthday to the woman who inspired the famous “#MaeWest Lips Sofa,” “The Mae West Room” in Figueres, and #Dali’s “Il volto di Mae West.” Image: The Mae West Lips Sofa designed by Dali (1937) on display at the Surrealism and Design Exhibition at the museum Boymans in Rotterdam (2007). Photograph by Robert Vos/EPA.
Salvador Dalí’s opulent and surrealist expressions included projects in film, sculpture, drawing, painting, and photography. Perhaps best known for his “melting clock” motif, the artist also often included insects, animals, eggs, and inanimate objects like drawers in his works.
These motifs carried over to Dalí’s designs, which include lamps, tables, and seating. Dalí’s foray into surreal furniture occurred at the request of English poet and Surrealist collector Edward James, who paid the artist to redecorate part of the James family estate. As part of this project, Dalí designed five versions of the iconic “Mae West” lips sofa and the lobster telephone, both of which represented recurring themes from the artist’s work.
Diego Giacometti was the brother of sculptor Alberto Giacometti. Their close working relationship is visible in the similarity of their aesthetic languages, which consists of elongated bronze forms. Diego’s work expanded after the death of his brother, at which time he began to design for interior decorators and create public sculpture.
In Giacometti’s creative circle was interior designer Jean-Michel Frank, who also worked with Salvador Dalí, as well as high fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, a known collector of Diego’s furniture and sculptures. While his brother is known for depictions of the human form, Diego’s work most often featured animals like ostriches or rodents.
Roy Lichtenstein was a prolific pop artist who worked alongside Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and James Rosenquist starting in the 1960s. Lichtenstein used a primary color palette and his signature Ben-Day dot printing technique to emulate the mass-printed aesthetic of 1950s comic book scenes.
Lichtenstein often translated his trademark comic style into design objects. He created small- and large-scale versions of his pop art explosions for interior and exterior spaces. An edition of one of his greatest sculptural works, Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight, will be highlighted in Phillips‘ Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art on Thursday, May 18 and is estimated at $10 million. Other projects include a dinnerware service conceived and produced in the 1960s.
Francois-Xavier Lalanne moved to Paris to begin his fine art career when he was 18, running in the same circle as Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Marcel Duchamp, while Claude was born in Paris and studied architecture. The duo often co-created projects along their favorite themes of animals and vegetation.
Les Lalanne, as the married couple is referred to, differ in their aesthetic. They attracted attention with Francois-Xavier’s bronze cast sheet sculpture in the 1960s, but Claude gravitates to organic-looking jewelry. In addition to fine art objects, Francois-Xavier was commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture to design fountains and gardens across Paris, while Claude designs furniture. Of their work she states, “they are not furniture, they are not sculpture – call them ‘Lalannes.’”
Marc Newson graduated from the Sydney College of the Arts in 1984. He went to art school to study jewelry, but eventually transitioned to sculpture and furniture design. Newson staged his first exhibition in 1986 and later moved to Tokyo and then Paris to set up a design studio. After co-founding the watch company Ikepod in 1994, Newson has worked to design shoes for Nike, bags for Samsonite and Louis Vuitton, and joined Apple in 2014 to help design the Apple Watch.
Newson’s versatility is well-known, but his modern, minimal design aesthetic is a constant across his many projects. Much of the furniture he’s created possesses curvilinear design elements, and he often works with contemporary industrial materials. One of his first and most popular pieces, the Lockheed Lounge, continues to set records. Of its categorization, Newson states, “Some people consider it a sculpture, some people consider it a piece of furniture. But the fact is, it probably lies somewhere in the middle.”
American artist and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi worked for over 60 years on sculpture and public works, as well as furniture and design projects. Noguchi began his career by exhibiting plaster and terracotta works, later finding work making portrait busts. He was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship grant to study stone and wood-cutting in 1926 despite technically being too young.
Noguchi’s sleek and minimal artistic style was well-suited for furniture design. In 1947, Isamu Noguchi began collaborating with the Herman Miller company along with Charles Eames, producing a catalog of extremely influential modern furniture designs.
Ukrainian-born French artist Sonia Delaunay was initially influenced by Post-Impressionist art in her painting. After a while, she moved away from naturalism and was one of the founders of Orphism, a graphic and colorful form of cubism that emphasized movement.
Later, Delaunay transitioned into design through costuming and fashion textiles, in which she continued to utilize abstraction. In her needlework, Delaunay emphasized the influence of Russian folk art. She designed costumes for the Russian Ballet’s production of Cleopatre and by the mid-1920s had a textile and clothing studio under the fashion house moniker “Sonia.”
Titan of modern art Pablo Picasso was a prolific painter in several styles. Following his Blue and Rose Periods, Picasso pioneered Cubism and was inspired by the political climate in Europe, as well as classical and African themes.
In addition to his varied explorations on two-dimensional surfaces, today, Picasso’s ceramic works are among some of his best-known series. The artist created plates, bowls, pitchers, and vases decorated with animal and human forms. Similar to his paintings, the designs on Picasso’s clay pieces often represent an abstracted or simplified version of the human form. Furthermore, the curved forms of the vessels themselves mirror the shape of the human body.
Keith Haring was an American street artist known for his cartoon-inspired figures. Despite his usually bright color palette and playful compositions, Haring’s work addressed pivotal political and social themes of the 1980s.
While he started his career painting in subways and on walls, Haring later commercialized his work in an effort to meld together high and low art. He opened two Pop Shops, or stores that sold his own memorabilia, and collaborated with designers Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren on a fashion collection in the 1980s. In his design and fashion objects, Haring leaned on the iconic figures he invented in his earlier work, including his signature tags “Radiant Baby,” “Barking Dog,” and many more.