At first glance, Lukas Gschwandtner’s installation for Fendi, revealed at the latest edition of Design Miami last month, looked uncharacteristically Fendi – or fashion-skewed, for that matter. Titled Triclinium – the term used to refer to the formal dining room in Roman buildings during ancient times – it consisted of textile sculptures, each with an attached pillow, strewn around and over a set of chaise lounge chairs.
As it turned out, the said sculptures were wearable, and everything was crafted from canvas – a material similar to calico, which fashion labels, including Fendi use when testing a garment’s pattern. A spinoff of Gschwandtner’s ongoing Pillow Portraits series, the idea was that when donned, the sculptures compelled one to take on the reclining posture of women depicted in historical Roman artworks. Such was the cerebral and clever connection between the exhibit and the luxury fashion house known for its distinctive balance of class, craft and creativity founded in the Italian capital 98 years ago.
The house of Fendi – represented here by family matriarch and the brand’s artistic director of accessories and men’s fashion Silvia Venturini Fendi (middle), and her jewellery designer daughter Delfina Delettrez Fendi (left) – recently invited the emerging artist Lukas Gschwandtner (right) to helm its showcase at the hyper-hip annual art fair Design Miami. The result was a poetic, highly conceptual ode to the brand’s Roman roots and heritage in craftsmanship.
The Vienna-based Gschwandtner joins the diverse roster of contemporary artists Fendi has commissioned since it started its annual partnership with Design Miami – the hyper-hip sister fair to Art Basel – in 2008. Previous names that the brand has roped in include the Swiss object studio Keung Caputo – known for its bold play on colour, shapes and volumes – and the frenetic, logo-appropriating Sarah Coleman. In contrast, Gschwandtner comes across as a younger (he’s 27), quieter and more poetic choice of a collaborator, but his affiliation with the label is a uniquely personal one.
Titled Triclinium, Lukas Gschwandtner’s installation for Fendi Design Miami 2022 was made up of an all-canvas set featuring chaise lounges and wearable sculptures in the same material. The idea was that when donned, the sculptures directed one to take on the reclining posture of women depicted in historical Roman artworks.
He got his start in design through a stint making leather accessories at age 14. “I am obsessed with craftsmanship,” he says in an interview with the Canadian luxury magazine Nuvo. “I make everything – I am welding; I am stitching; I am building.” That certainly strikes a chord with Fendi, a house built on artisanal handbags and furs.
He also has had a longtime obsession with the cultural past of Fendi’s hometown – what with its opulent murals, frescoes and friezes that often showcase elegant, god-like figures. This has, in turn, influenced his own art that explores how the human form interacts with space and objects across historical and modern contexts.
Gschwandtner’s exploration of the human form and how it interacts with space, furniture and objects are rooted in his longtime obsession with reclining figures found in ancient art. Inspirations for his installation for Fendi’s latest partnership with Design Miami include (clockwise from top left) Giorgio De Chirico’s 1912 painting Solitude (Melanconia); Antonio Canova’s 19th century Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix; and French sculptor Pierre Julien’s Ariane Endormie, which dates back to 1785.
Both Triclinium and Pillow Portraits were inspired by works of Italian greats, such as Antonio Canova’s Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix and Titian’s Venus of Urbino. Meanwhile, raw, bare canvas has always been his preferred material because of its democratising effect. Gschwandtner explains: “It takes away historical, class and gender contexts and relaxes the eye, so we are concentrating only on the shape and form.” (Kim Jones – Fendi’s body-positive artistic director of women’s ready-to-wear – would approve.)
This interest in stripping away both physical and social structures has led to one of the most unorthodox interpretations of Fendi’s Peekaboo handbag that Design Miami has seen (consider the task a tradition for every artist the brand invites on board). First filling every compartment of the supple tote with plaster, Gschwandtner proceeded to cut away the leather, revealing the inner construction of the bag that had been imprinted onto the plaster cast – a deconstructed Peekaboo that could pass off as a Roman relic.
Coordination Assistant Keng Yang Shuen
This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2023 Art & Music Edition of FEMALE