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.
Arad 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.
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-esquequality, 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(1987).
Caddy Compression, from Sticks and Stone, 1987
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 weremore 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 performancedocumented in the film Fresh Kill (1972), in which he destroyed his truck with a bulldozer at Fresh Kills landfill in New York.
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 ofthe design, manufacture and marketing of a piece of furniture... It carried with it not just freedom, but a whole range of distractions and difficulties."
Arad's Fiats will inevitably be compared to the crushed metal sculptures of John Chamberlainand 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 twocounts 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.
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, Wilsonthen 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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