Considering his fondness for the over-sized and the overly colorful, prim and proper Philadelphia might seem like an unusual location for the first American retrospective of Dutch designer Marcel Wanders' work. But there he is at the historic Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has just launched "Marcel Wanders: Daydreams," putting together Wanders' own favorite pieces from his 20-year career to date.
The exhibition, which runs through June 13, is a truly multimedia affair. Designed by Wanders himself, it features light, video and art installations all anchored around a clutch of seminal Wanders furniture. "This is like nothing we've ever done before in America," explains Wanders, who received the coveted Design Excellence Award from local Philadelphia collective Collab at the show's opening (previous winners include Frank Gehry and Georg Jensen).
Since opening his own Amsterdam studio in 1995, Wanders has emerged as one of Europe's most varied design talents, producing work for the likes of Flos, Puma, Boffi and Cappellini. Like his peers Philippe Starck and Karim Rashid, Wanders has a penchant for the witty and the fantastical, with an instantly recognizable aesthetic that blurs the boundaries between form and function, organic and fabricated. It also comes with a dose of Mad Hatter craziness. A Wanders chair, for instance, may be fashioned from crocheted flowers or pieces of knotted resin. A stool arrives hewn from precisely cut doilies, a lamp is sheathed in weblike filaments. But the surrealism is mostly within the bounds of commercial viability, creating an important factor in the designer's success.
Most of Wanders' best-known pieces are on display in Philadelphia, along with an array of never-released prototypes and rare editions. More are featured in a series of accompanying videos and short films purpose-made for "Daydreams." Many of the clips feature Wanders shown in an almost hologram-like manner, explaining his inspirations just steps away from the resulting products.
While Wanders concedes his experience of Philadelphia is minimal, he's no stranger to the U.S. The pastel-colored Thor restaurant in New York City's Rivington hotel, for instance, was Wanders' first significant Stateside commission back in 2004. Last year, Wanders' work was unveiled at Miami's Mondrian hotel his first major top-to-bottom hotel project, complete with an instantly iconic black lacquer staircase at the reception. "Next we have new hotels in Amsterdam and Hong Kong and an office building in Cairo," Wanders enthuses. "Along with product- and lighting-design projects in Italy." Dealing in daydreams requires a lot of hard work, it seems. See philamuseum.org for more.