Saturday, October 31, 2009

Zanini de Zanine Caldas at NOHO Modern, 10/23/09

Last weekend I had the privilege to attend and help out with the setting up of a truly monumental exhibition of the work of a young Brazilian furniture designer and sculptor, Zanini de Zanine Caldas. My close friend Thomas Hayes, owner of the NOHO Modern gallery, along with Zanini, has been working on this exhibition for over two years. It was a truly special experience to contribute, even in a small way, to the success of this show, and to see years of hard work, impeccable craftsmanship, and seemingly insurmountable logistical difficulties finally come to fruition.

Zanini strolling past his Ipe wood hanging bookshelf, the night before the opening.
The work of Zanini is unlike anything I have ever seen. Although he draws considerable inspiration from the work of his father, renowned Brazilian architect and furniture designer Jose Zanine Caldas, Zanini remains true to his quest to be his own man and his own artist, all the while carrying on the considerable legacy of his father, who passed away in 2001 at the age of 82.
Like his father, Zanini works exclusively with salvaged wood, either from trees that have naturally fallen in the Brazilian rain forest, or from houses (sometimes built by his father) that are being torn down or remodeled. Most of his work is done in one of three exotic Brazilian hardwoods - Ipe, Macaranduba or Pequi wood, all of which are some of the most dense, heavy woods on Earth.

The weight of the wood is such that Sofa Curva (pictured above), crafted from a single salvaged Ipe wood beam, weighs over 1 ton, and can only be moved with a forklift.

The simple Ipe wood "deck chairs" (pictured above, with Zanini balanced on top), crafted from a deck that was being torn off a house built by his father, weigh about 75 lbs each.

However, having said that, there is much more to Zanini's work than simple mass. Taking inspiration from his father's body of work, but never outright recreating or copying his designs (which would be impossible, anyway, because each of his father's furniture designs were one of a kind, and created with each specific piece of wood in mind), Zanini's designs are incredibly simple, yet almost mind-bogglingly complex when the work and skill required to tame these incredibly difficult materials is taken into account.

Dining table of Ipe wood and glass. This table, priced at $35,000, was considered by many to be the star of the show.

Zanini was literally raised by his father to be a furniture designer, which has created a certain. Here I would like to quote Thomas' essay in the exhibition catalog: "(Zanini) has such profound respect for his father and his work that his every decision in designing is aimed at two goals. The first is to respect the standards his father set about how to do things with the highest level of mastery, and the second is to create pieces markedly different from his father's work; pieces that could never be confused with them". In these goals, Zanini has also succeeded admirably - one would be hard pressed to confuse Zanini's Inclinida Aperador credenza (pictured below, with Zanini standing atop), or, for that matter, one of his simple, geometric wall sculptures, for the work of his father. At the same time, the lineage and inspiration is obvious.

The same credenza, the night before the show, with wall sculptures scattered on the floor before being hung

The list of sons who have never been able to break out of the shadow of their famous fathers is long and tedious (wherefore art thou, Julian Lennon?), whereas the list of sons of famous fathers who have been able to not only carve out their own space in the same niche occupied by their fathers, but actually thrive in that niche, is much more succinct (continuing on the music analogy, I can only think of one example off the top of my head - Rufus Wainwright - although I'm sure there are others that I'm forgetting about). With this exhibition, Zanini places himself squarely in the latter category. His is a body of work that will ripen with age, along with his worldwide reputation. Although he has already made a bit of a name for himself in his native Brazil, the NOHO exhibition is Zanini's first US show of any size. Considering the sheer quality and singularity of the work, there is no question in my mind that there will be many more to follow.

Zanini de Zanine is showing at NOHO Modern Gallery, 6162 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90038, now through December 31, 2009.
NOHO Modern on

The gallery on opening night.

NOHO Modern gallery owner Thomas Hayes posing with Zanini on opening night.


elifoster said...

This talented fellow will be admired by all who wish to surround themselves with objects of the finest quality and unique designs. It will not take long for the U.S. design community to recognize his genious.

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