At Carpenters Workshop Gallery’s show DYSFUNCTIONAL at Ca’ d’Oro, Venice, error leads to perfection; the quality of an artisan piece is based on experience, on case analysis, on manual skills handed down without theory, through hands-on learning
The DYSFUNCTIONAL concept by Carpenters Workshop Gallery appears as an error in a studied process. On the first floor is an initial definition wherein dozens of mirrors standing upright on the floor move to reflect the works displayed in the room. Mirrors (Vincenzo de Cotiis, Ode) interfere with observation and visitors are at a loss as to where to look. At times they move in synchrony and at others collectively, sometimes generating noise while at other times silent in rapid succession and in different modes for every corner of the piece.
Lights flash onto the statues miming confused neuronal synapses; man is stimulated by deferred impulses in his surroundings, scientifically depressing his attention level. An artwork that will not let itself be studied, fails in its primary function to be observed: it is therefore dysfunctional. This mirrors set up is signed by RANDOM INTERNATIONAL and it is included in the DYSFUNCTIONAL exhibition —‘dysfunctional’ as in not complying with a given task or purpose.
The difference between art and design used to be industrialization, today is functionality. If a design piece is a unique piece, it is functional art and not design—more simply described, it is a piece of furniture custom-made by a craftsman. On the other side—if a design piece is no longer functional, it can only be considered art. This criterion triggers work by Carpenters Workshop Gallery—research, edit, production, network, sales.
“People are used to pigeonholing the disciplines, the idea of this exhibition is to break those pigeonholes,” says Loic Le Gaillard. The difference between art and artisan lies in the message: experimentation in artisanal pieces today pushes human ability into the primary definition of decorative art—while contemporary visual art is concentrated in a philosophical and literary dimension. In the rooms of Ca’ d’Oro overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice, the exhibition titled DYSFUNCTIONAL aims to break these guidelines.
Childhood friends Julien Lombrail and Loic Le Gaillard founded the first Carpenters Workshop Gallery in Chelsea in 2006 in a former carpentry workshop. Today they work at four galleries—London, Paris, New York, and San Francisco, and represent the likes of David/Nicolas. Le Gaillard’s father was a contemporary art dealer. The two put in £20,000 each and started to sell photos for £300 apiece. Carpenters Workshop Gallery presented the proposal for the DYSFUNCTIONAL exhibition to the Ca’ d’Oro management seven years ago.
The project was later produced with support from bank foundation Lombard Odier Group and Swiss watchmakers Piaget. Ca d’Oro was the perfect venue. Built in the sixteenth century, it was bought at the beginning of the twentieth by the baron Giorgio Franchetti who restored it with the understanding that he would leave it to the Italian State as a museum following his death.
Today the building houses a collection that ranges from the Fondi Oro to Flemish art. Giorgio Franchetti designed the marble mosaic on the ground floor, which covers at least 100 square meters and features ancient marbles: red porphyry, serpentine, pavonazzetto and lucullan marble. In sixteenth-century Venice they would not have placed in a mosaic on the ground floor where servants worked and where traders yelled. In this way Franchetti’s mosaic is perfectly dysfunctional. The exhibition is ongoing for four months and includes fifty works by twenty artists represented by Carpenters Workshop Gallery.
Ingrid Donat designed a cabinet that copies the aesthetics of the Viennese secession, imagined as a piece of furniture of interest to Baron Franchetti who was in business then. It plays with references to the façade of Ca’ d’Oro which used to be covered in gold leaf. Crafts, art, and design. A sofa of brutalist inspiration by Rick Owens, who has collaborated with Carpenters Workshop Gallery for seven years now is placed in front of a ruined fresco by Tiziano. A clay wall built by Vincent Dubourg stands close to relics in clay from the Ca d’Oro collection: this wall was constructed by assembling tablets bearing the fingerprints of French men and women. It is actually a door—what could be more dysfunctional than a door for a wall? The tablets are the those of the origins of the world and the door is a gateway to hell.
There is one of the three St. Sebastian by Mantegna at Ca d’Oro (the other two are at the Louvre and in Vienna). One can catch sight of a candle in the bottom right-hand corner of the painting. The wind is blowing onto the cloth that covers the martyr’s nakedness, while the candle flame never flickers as it goes out. The painting had matched Franchetti’s purpose: the transience of his existence and his efforts, which would be left for posterity with Ca d’Oro. Nothing is stable if not divine. The rest is smoke. Before the Renaissance, God made the decisions; with the Renaissance, man gained reason, and nature and man came into conflict. The lamp by Studio Drift is made from dandelion clocks, crystallized and turned into electric lightbulbs, caged in by a reticular metal matrix. In nature, dandelion clocks blow in the wind while these by Studio Drift stand perfectly still—just like Mantegna’s candle, immobile as the cloth flutters.
Soap bubbles in borosilicate glass for an iridescent effect that mimes children’s games. Seeming unreal due to their huge size, the bubbles stick to one another like real soap bubbles suspended in the air. Some of them measure more than a meter in length. Eternal soap bubbles, something ephemeral that may last forever. Dysfunctional is rendered inconsistency that becomes constant. The bubbles are on display in the Gothic patio on the second floor where they hang from wooden beams in a game of shade and reflections.
Twins Jeroen and Joep Verhoeven maintain a very close friendship. For some years, Jeroen lived in the Netherlands while Joep was working in India. They spoke every day. The idea of the bubbles came about five years ago—and the first step was a trip to Murano. They realized it was impossible to produce glass so thin that it copied the lightness of a soap bubble. The difficulty was not only in the minimum thickness of the glass, but also in the required evenness of this thickness, if like in nature, the entire surface of the sphere was to have the same amount of material. The glass made in Murano was thicker and uneven; the glassmakers were not prepared to experiment with that weight and were not interested in research.
The twins continued to study the nature of a soap bubble. They explored the mathematical physics that lay behind static and chemical tensions, continuing with trials that tested the efficacy of a material. They found a factory in Hungary willing to listen to them and to take on the challenge of attempting to perfect iridescent spheres in borosilicate glass, as light and big as the twins required, similar to the bubbles made so easily with a little soap. The issue was than to cut those bubbles and to have them stuck together as real ones floating in the air.
This is when the 34-year-old Italian artisan Alessandro Innocenti came to their aid. With a father that works in the automotive sector, they had the glass balls sent to him from Hungary. Fusing two balls together was not difficult; “it’s like a kiss,” say the twins. The problems started when there were more than two to be joined, then “it’s complicated”. The problems increased when you added a third, then a fourth, when each bubble had to attach to three or four different spherical surfaces, with different radii. Borosilicate glass is a hard material: if the cuts were not perfect on the different curves, an error of a hundredth of a millimeter during welding smashed all the hard work done by the Hungarians to smithereens.
A mechanical arm was used to make the cuts in the glass and Alessandro Innocenti developed dedicated software to control it. The machine was tested and so was the software, but the impossibility to solve communication problems between the two devices meant they continued to shatter the glass. The twins flew in IT technicians from all over Europe at their own expense and an error in detection of the exact weight of the glass was found and resolved, clearing up the impasse.
The DYSFUNCTIONAL concept recurs here too because error leads to perfection: the quality of an artisan piece is based on experience, on case analysis, on manual skills handed down without theory, through hands-on learning. If error is a school for understanding, repetition of the error leads to learning of ability and art. Simply put, the more one falls, the more one learns. Error and dysfunction, are the only way to achieve and understand perfection. The costs of this project were high—the Verhoeven had other income from business ventures in India. “Our father taught us never bet on just one horse” . Art is an expression, an ambition—money is needed to make unthinkable ideas real and tangible. Craftsmanship is a question of mathematics, they explain, proud that Alessandro Innocenti is as satisfied with their success as they are.
Piaget supported Verhoeven’s work for DYSFUNCTIONAL and extended its storytelling. Georges-Édouard Piaget was nineteen when he opened his first laboratory on his family’s farm in 1874, wanting to spend his time producing high-precision components. In 1960, a micro-rotor concept enabled Piaget to launch the slimmest automatic movement in the world, the 12P, ultra-fine: “do what has never been done before” is something Valentin Piaget had said that echoes and rings true with many things the Verhoeven brothers say during our conversation. A story about artisans and about engineering an ephemeral soap bubble that becomes everlasting; a story related in time to the efforts by a watchmaking company – related in art to two artists that have spent the last few years lightening glass down to a thickness never seen before, ultra-fine.
“Loïc is also an artist, not just a curator; it is difficult to find someone capable who can also dialogue with art. We have been with the Carpenters Workshop Gallery for twelve years. Our relationship was interrupted and then started over again three years ago.” Today, a business that produces and sources such as that of the Carpenters Workshop Gallery, working with different artists and hands, has a similar dimension to that of an entrepreneur. “An entrepreneur survives now; an art curator survives forever,” Jeroen ends by saying.
Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro
In partnership with Lombard Odier Group