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Exhibitions > In Retrospect / Lydia Yee


At the 2009 opening of his survey exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Ron Arad wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the image of Ed Ruscha's famous painting I Don't Want No Retrospective (1979), featuring the artist's eponymous quote. Arad, who has always been forward looking, does not take pleasure in the exercise of looking back at his past work, as retrospective exhibitions are wont to do. Thus, it may seem paradoxical that his exhibition at Design Museum

Holon is titled In Reverse. Although it is not a retrospective, In Reverse does suggest various relationships to the past - looking at one's earlier work for inspiration, going in the opposite direction, or the metaphor of a vehicle moving backwards - which are all fitting in this case.

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Design ExhibitionArad wearing t-shirt printed with Ed Rusha’s painting I Don’t Want No Retrospective

In Reverse focuses on three decades of Arad's work in metal, his favorite material, and culminates in a major new project, exploring through physical experiments and digital simulations how automobile bodies, specifically the Fiat 500, behave under compression. On clean white walls in the upper gallery, Arad has installed six crushed Fiat 500s, each flattened in a manner that resembles the outcome of an accident in a cartoon or a child's drawing that lacks a sense of depth. The crushed vehicles surround a bulbous wooden forming buck, a mould that was used to shape and fit the metal panels of the 500, which is on loan from the Centro Storico Fiat. Nearby is Arad's Roddy Giacosa (2013), a new sculpture created by painstakingly positioning hundreds of polished stainless steel rods on a metal armature in the shape of a Fiat 500. Each contoured section takes the shape of one of the vehicle's panels and the parts fit together to form the body of the car.  

Behind the walls displaying the crushed Fiats is a group of Arad's designs, primarily chairs made from steel, tracing his experimentation with the medium from his earliest works in the 1980s to more recent pieces that share some of the same properties as their forebears. Additionally, Arad displays a group of crushed artifacts, such as a toy police car that he found forty years ago in the street in Tel Aviv, as well as other objects that were studies and tests, including a bottle rack that he had flattened by a steamroller. The lower gallery features Arad's digital simulation of the crushing process, using the most recent model of the 500, as well as a sculpture made by a 3D printing technique, which is based on a single frame from a related film. Digital prints on paper capture the results of simulated digital compressions of the Roddy GiacosaAlso on view is a selection of Arad's recent work, sculptural forms that were designed with the aid of 3D modeling software. 
Ron Arad | In Reverse | The Rover Chair
The Rover Chair, 1981

Arad's crushed Fiats trace their line age back to his earliest design, The Rover Chair (1981), a leather Rover car seat salvaged from a London scrapyard and mounted onto a frame made from steel tubing and key-clamp fittings. Both works depend on relics from the post-war automobile boom and its cycle of planned obsolescence. They also owe a debt to Marcel Duchamp's concept of  the readymade,  ordinary industrial objects - such as a urinal,  bottle rack or bicycle wheel - which the artist selected, signed and presented as art with little or no modification. Arad's Aerial Light (1981), a halogen lamp attached to a car aerial which can be adjusted by remote
control, is also a readymade, albeit one with a more significant intervention. When he made these works in the early 1980s, Arad was among a handful of young designers in London, including Tom Dixon, Andre Dubreuil and Danny Lane, tagged with the label "creative salvage" for making furniture out of found materials and a do-it-yourself, punk attitude. Arad, however, did not fully embrace this label. He saw his practice as a response to th Duchampian strategy of appropriating found objects, with affinities in both the worlds of art and design: Picasso's Tete de Taureau (1942), a bicycle seat and handlebars mounted on the wall to resemble a bull's head, and Achille Castiglioni's Mezzadro Stool (1957), a metal seat attached to a leaf spring, both from a tractor. Duchamp, according to Arad, made everyday objects useless by calling them art. By contrast, Arad has taken obsolete objects and gave them another life. Throughout the 1980s, he continued to make Rover chairs one at a time as he found discarded seats, but eventually the supply dwindled and he stopped producing them. Two decades later, Arad, working with the manufacturer Vitra, revisited the chair in a
limited edition titled Moreover (2007), produced in rusted and chromed steel versions.

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Aerial Light
Aerial Light, 1981
In recent years, Arad has been described as an architect, artist and designer; he works between these three disciplines, defying easy categorization. Although he is arguably best known as a designer, he did not set out to become one. Today, his designs are equally at home in large public spaces and exclusive private collections. He trained as an architect, but it has only been in the past decade that he has been receiving significant commissions, most notably Design Museum Holon.

The son of artists, Arad was born in Tel Aviv in 1951 and came of age in an era when ideas and ideals counted more than the mastery of technical skills. He enrolled in environmental and industrial design courses at the Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem before relocating to London in 1974 to study at the Architectural Association (AA). Esther Peretz Arad wanted her son to become a respectable architect rather than a struggling artist. In the highly experimental programme at the AA, where he studied under Peter Cook and Bernard Tschumi, Arad and his peers, including Nigel Coates and Zaha Hadid, did not learn by copying the designs of their teachers; instead they were encouraged to conceive visionary architectural megastructures. After graduating, Arad came to realize that in order to pursue a career in architecture, he would have to work for an established architect and pay his dues by turning out countless, highly detailed and tedious technical drawings. 

After briefly working for an architectural firm, Arad inadvertently stumbled into design. In the early 1980s, there was virtually no manufacturing infrastructure for contemporary design in the UK. As such, young designers were left to cut their own paths. The rebellious young Arad opened One Off, a studio, workshop and showroom, in London's Covent Garden neighbourhood in 1981. His training in
architecture enabled him to design his own spaces. Much of the construction, however, was improvised and experimental, and the same skills used to make his early pieces - scavenging
material, pouring concrete and cutting, welding and bashing metal - were put to use in fabricating the walls, floors, work surfaces, seating, and signage. Not merely functional, the One Off spaces were adorned with artistic flourishes, including an entrance made of reclaimed bus doors at the initial location on Short Gardens, a sculptural metal balustrade at Neal Street and "light tattoos" made by
burning holes in the steel wall with a cutting torch at Shelton Street.
Ron Arad | In Reverse | One Off
Announcement for opening party of One Off's space on Shelton Street, 1988

Arad does not make a clear distinction between the disciplines of art and design. As a design student at Bezalel, he spent much of his time hanging out in the fine art department, learning about the work of leading contemporary artists such as Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol. He thought the AA, with its emphasis on architecture as ideas, looked like an art school. There was, in fact, a strong dialogue between architecture and other artistic disciplines at the school. Tschumi, who was a unit master at the AA, and RoseLee Goldberg, director of the gallery at the Royal College of Art, initiated an exchange of ideas about architecture and art, focusing on conceptual approaches to space and performance. In an essay published in the exhibition catalogue, A Space: A Thousand Words, Goldberg writes, "It is in space that ideas are materialized, experience experienced. Space consequently becomes the essential element in the notion of practice."

Arad's work is rooted in ideas, yet it springs from materials as much as concepts, and there is a performative quality to much of his output. One Off afforded him a theatrical space in which to experiment and give material form to his practice. Its improvised interior of found materials and welded metal had the look of a Nouveau Réaliste (New Realist) sculpture. 

The French New Realists and American Neo-Dadaists - whose work in the 1950s and 1960s built on the legacy of Duchamp and Dada and was largely comprised of detritus - offered an irreverent critique of consumer culture. Arad had first encountered the work of Jean Tinguely, who was part of the New Realist group, at the Israel Museum, where his sculpture Eos XK 3 (1965) graces the garden. Tinguely's 1982 retrospective at the Tate - featuring noisy, welded metal machines, such as the sound sculpture Meta-Harmonie II (1979) - also impressed Arad. His New Descending Staircase
(1984), for example, installed in One Off's Neal Street location, had a playful Tinguely-esque
quality, periodically emitting brief tunes as staff and visitors ascended and descended the stairs, formed from cantilever railway sleepers and wired to a synthesizer to trigger sounds when stepped on. For the exhibition Nouvelles Tendances: Les Avant-gardes de la fin du XXeme siecle (1987) at the Centre Pompidou, Arad made a sculptural machine out of rough metal titled Sticks and Stones

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Sticks and Stones
Caddy Compression, from Sticks and Stone, 1987

This contraption was constructed from a conveyor belt and a powerful baling machine.
The words "sticks & stones may break my bones but names will never harm me" were cut into the metal panels on the two sides of the conveyor belt. Visitors were invited to place their chairs, old and new, onto the belt and to watch as the baler compacted them into cubes. Over the course of the exhibition, these blocks of mangled metal, wood, upholstery and plastic were stacked to form a wall around the machine. Recognising the connection to the 1960s crushed car sculptures of the French New Realist Cesar, Arad also referred to this project as the "Cesarian Operation".  

While the crushed objects have the appearance of small sculptures by Cesar, the machine and its actions looked and behaved more like one of Tinguely's destructive devices, such as Rotozaza II (1967) - an apparatus, made of welded iron, a bicycle chain and a motor, designed to smash glass bottles.

For many artists, destruction can be a potent, liberating force that clears the way for the future. Arad recalls his thinking behind Sticks and Stones: "I wasn't interested in the future. All I could do was make it come a little faster. And the only way I could do that was by destroying some of the
[past]... I said the most important machine in the car industry is really the machine that destroys cars, because it makes room for new ones." Arad's outlook has its roots in the Dada movement, and his view on destruction echoed that of the avant-garde poet and writer Tristan Tzara, who was one of the founders of Dada. More than four decades after its instigation in the aftermath of the first World War, Tzara reflected on the aims of the movement: "The Dada program was, despite what some think, collective destruction, it was the creation of new values, overthrowing existing values and of course, to overthrow them, we had to destroy the commonly accepted values, which were
more or less academic... Of course, we can't create if we don't destroy what existed before."
Beginning in the late 1950s, Neo-Dadaists and New Realists sparked a renewed interested in the anti-establishment attitude of Dada, which resonated with artists from subsequent generations. For example, Gordon Matta-Clark, who was known for cutting open abandoned buildings in the early 1970s, felt an affinity with the early twentieth-century movement: "Dada's devotion to the imaginative disruption of convention is an essential liberation force. I can't imagine how Dada relates stylistically to my work, but in spirit it is fundamental." Matta-Clark's oeuvre includes a performance
documented in the film Fresh Kill (1972), in which he destroyed his truck with a bulldozer at Fresh Kills landfill in New York.

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Tinker Chair
Tinker Chair, 1988

After crushing chairs, including purportedly one designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers for the offices of the Centre Pompidou, Arad moved into a particularly productive phase of his career, at times approaching the creative act with aggressive, if not destructive, tendencies. He defines design as "the act of one imposing one's will on materials to perform a function." Arad's definition, minus the function, is similar to how the American sculptor Richard Serra describes his approach to materials: "In 1967 and 1968, I wrote down a verb list as a way of applying various activities to unspecified materials. To roll, to fold, to bend, to shorten, to shave, to tear, to chip, to tear, to split, to sever... The language structured my relationship to materials which had the same function as transitive verbs." Arad's aphorism is best exemplified by his Tinker Chair (1988), made by beating sheet steel with a rubber mallet until it felt like a comfortable seat, or in the words of Arad, "until it confessed to being a chair." Then the two sides are welded on, fixing its shape. After making five Tinker Chairs, Arad continued to work with sheet steel for his series Volumes, improvising the shapes by drawing on the surface and cutting out the forms to be welded together and then polished.

The early versions had the quality of a rough sketch, but as his workshop team became more skilled, the chairs became more refined, with cleaner welds and a lustrous finish. Arad experimented with a variety of forms - including an overstuffed club chair, Big Easy (1988), and several rocking chairs, such as Rolling Volume (1989). The latter was weighted at the back to shift the point of balance.

Throughout the 1980s, Arad focused on unique pieces and limited editions made by hand, aligning him more closely with artists than designers who work primarily with manufacturers to fabricate products on a mass scale. In addition to serving as a studio and workshop, One Off was also a showroom and enabled Arad to build an audience for his work and that of his peers. He sold pieces directly to the public and organized exhibitions and parties to bring potential clients through the door. Unlike industrial designers, he could not rely on manufacturers to invest in the necessary tooling to produce his designs and in marketing them to both retailers and consumers. According to architecture and design critic Deyan Sudjic, he had to "assume responsibility for every aspect of
the design, manufacture and marketing of a piece of furniture... It carried with it not just freedom, but a whole range of distractions and difficulties." 

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Two Nuns
Two Nuns, 2011
Arad received his first commission to design a piece for manufacture in 1986, when Rolf Fehlbaum, the owner of Vitra, approached him to create a piece for Vitra Editions. Ironically, the design that Arad came up with could have been realized in his studio. Well Tempered Chair (1986), a deceptively simple armchair, is made from four sheets of sprung steel, looped and held together by wing nuts. The essential quality of this surprisingly comfortable chair, its tautly curved, springy surface, is the result of the tempering process, which gives the steel a memory, so it wants to snap back to its
original flattened form. Shortly after its inauguration in 1989, the Vitra Design Museum invited Arad to run a workshop. He asked to work again with tempered steel, but it was only available in widths of 30cm. After conducting various experiments with the material, he created prototypes for seats that further exploited the properties of tempered steel, including Bucking Bronco (1990), and Beware of the Dog (1990), some of which were produced in limited editions by One Off. Twenty years later, Arad went back to sprung steel, looping and connecting thin strips to create a new type of bicycle wheel that gives his Two Nuns (2011) a gentle, bouncy ride. Since the early days of One Off, Arad has documented his work in photographs and 
videos - not only the finished products, but also the experimentation and process of making his work.During the Vitra workshop, Arad shot video footage of one of the experiments, in which he and a couple students roll and bounce a large loop of tempered steel across a tented work space. This short film is not unlike those made by Bruce Nauman of his studio performances, such as Bouncing Two Balls Between the Floor and Ceiling with Changing Rhythms or Playing A Note on the Violin While
I Walk Around the Studio
(both 1967-68), in which he carries out the rather straightforward tasks described in the title. Arad's footage is not, however, a performance or an artwork per se, but as with Nauman's films, it reveals a dedication to the process and act of making art. Nauman always appears as the solo protagonist in his films, whereas Arad is often with assistants, fabricators, technicians and other collaborators. In contrast to most visual artists who work in a solitary studio
setting, Arad thrives in a lively and challenging environment with other creative people, who bring different ideas and skills to the mix. He has likened his working environment to a kindergarten, where play and social interaction are essential to developing skills and knowledge.

Over the past two decades, Arad has taken full advantage of opportunities to work with manufacturers as well as highly-skilled artisans and technicians. The Italian furniture manufacturer Moroso was the first to mass produce his designs, creating the Spring Collection (1990), upholstered pieces based on works originally executed in steel. Arad also made new prototypes in painted steel, some of which were put into production. Collaboration with specialist fabrication firms has enabled
Arad to take innovative forms he designed digitally and translate them into beautiful objects, composed of new metal alloys with exacting finishes. His Southern Hemisphere and Afterthought (both 2007), produced in collaboration with Ernest Mourmans, adopt a material used in the aircraft industry, superplastic aluminium; the latter is created from a pair of untrimmed blanks used to make
the former. For his series Bodyguards (2007), Arad inflated superplastic aluminium onto a four-part mould and welded the sections together, creating a curvaceous form that resembles a human torso. He then cut away sections to give each one a unique shape, then patinated or polished the surface and even introduced color to some of them. 
Ron Arad | In Reverse | Southern Hemisphere
Southern Hemisphere, 2007
When Arad first conceived the idea of crushing a vintage Fiat 500, he envisaged how it should be done - a huge hydraulic press would crush the car as if it were a toy. A test with a small press and a toy version of the car confirmed his intuition. His collaborator Roberto Travaglia at Realize helped
him crush an actual Fiat 500 by manually compressing the car between metal plates with a makeshift vice and weights, and then further flattening it under a metal plate with a small digger. The process took more than two days, and although it came close to achieving the desired flatness, Arad preferred a more dramatic and immediate solution - crushing the cars using a 500-ton press used in shipbuilding. The Fiat also has personal significance for Arad. An earlier model, the Giardiniera, was the family car when he was growing up in Tel Aviv and his father survived a serious accident while driving it. Of his early days in London, he recalls "I always enjoyed watching a demolition ball in action." Arad understands that the process is sometimes as important as the end results. Critics have called him a showman, but Arad appreciates that strong images and a good story can go a lot farther than a conventional photograph of an object displayed in a gallery setting. In an image with one of his Squashed Vipps (2008), which he made for a charity auction, Arad is humorously portrayed as a tough guy who is able to crush the metal can with his bare hands.

Arad's Fiats will inevitably be compared to the crushed metal sculptures of John Chamberlain
and Cesar from the 1960s. Although Chamberlain is best known for his use of car parts, he also used discarded household appliances and other scrap metal to create his compositions: "I'm basically a collagist. I put one thing together with another thing. I sort of invented my own art supplies. I saw all this material just lying around against buildings and it was in color, so I felt I was ahead on two
counts there." Cesar is also recognized for his sculptures made of crushed automobile bodies, which he called "compressions". His approach was more akin to Duchamp's found objects than Chamberlain's collage technique and involved choosing objects from a scrapyard that have been compressed by a large hydraulic press. Although Arad shares Cesar's interest in industrial machinery and the found object, his concerns have expanded; issues of form, process and narrative are equally important. 

Ron Arad | In Reverse | Squashed Vipp
Arad with Squashed Vipp, 2008

There are also affinities between Arad's Fiat project and works by his immediate peers. His friend Cornelia Parker employed a steamroller to flattened more than a thousand silverplated objects, including cutlery, candle holders, plates and instruments. The title of her work, Thirty Pieces of Silver (1988-89), describes the arrangement of objects into thirty groups and refers to the biblical story of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot. Richard Wilson's Butterfly (2003) is another recentantecedent to the crushed Fiat project. After destroying a small Cessna with two bulldozers, Wilson
then reconstructed and suspended the plane, before allowing it to crash to the floor. 

In any given project, Arad expands his ideas around a central core and then allows further experiments, new materials and techniques to take his work in new directions. Here, he has conducted virtual experiments using digital simulations of the process of crushing cars, in collaboration with a firm specialising in crash and safety design and a post-production company for film and advertising. In the resulting film Slow Outburst (2013), the effects of the crushing process slowly appear on the body of a red Fiat 500, but without any visual force acting on the material, and then the procedure is reversed and the crumpled panels and shattered glass are slowly restored. Like the intertwined processes of going forward and reversing in Arad's new film, this exhibition looks at his work from both directions. And even though Arad does not want a retrospective, he acknowledges that "the biggest source of raw material that you have... 

it's really your own previous work. When you work you choose to do something one way, and there are lots of other ways you could have done it, but you just think, well, maybe next time. And then later you do actually come back to it."

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