WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PIECE IN YOUR HOME?
Julie talks about her sculpture by Marta Pan, her favorite piece out of her entire collection.
SCULPTURE BY MARTA PAN
Trained at the Academy of Arts in Budapest, Marta Pan moved to Paris in 1947. The 24 year old artist was then inspired by plants (onions, cockles, roots) whose joints she drew according to increasingly close-up shots, with great sensuality. She transposed these figures, brought to the limits of abstraction, in chamoté clay and, for some of them, in ceramics. After marrying architect André Wogenscky in 1952 (Le Corbusier's closest and most ardent disciple), Marta Pan tried her hand at woodcarving in the workshops of Charles Barberis - the carpenter based in Corsica who notably carried out the production for architectural elements for the Unité d'Habitation of Marseille, France by Le Corbusier and for which André Wogensky collaborated - in 1954. With astonishing mastery, Marta Pan tackled three types of abstract forms simultaneously. Some, seemingly simple, are striking with the dynamism that emanates from them. Others are articulated, like "Teak", a large sculpture whose two elements are deployed around a hinge. Finally, others, such as this sculpture, retain the signs of Marta Pan's initial attraction for plant forms: they are marked by an invisible point of balance, on which two form elements pivot and of different mass. Very quickly, her relationship to architecture led her to approach works of large dimensions. André Wogenscky’s wish to create a particular tension at certain points in space during their collaborations led Marta Pan to create large sculptures. She then multiplied public commissions and created large-scale works, deepening her research into the relationship between sculpture and environments or architectures. She went on to make a series of Floating Sculptures, reflecting the depth to which architecture has influenced her work. The balanced, meditative qualities of her work received great international appreciation throughout her career and to this day.
WISHLIST & Q&A
We asked Julie to select 5 pieces from our available collection that would be included in her wishlist. In a Q&A, we talked about her selection, her inspirations and the historical significance of the pieces.
Was it easy to select amongst the hundreds of pieces?
J.S. : Yes and No. No, because there are so many sublime pieces to choose from. Yes, because I am partial to certain designers that only Magen H Gallery emphasizes in their inventory: Pierre Sabatier or Edgard Pillet for example, so I started there.
Do you think your choices were influenced by the current situation? If so, in what ways?
J.S. : I hadn’t considered that, but now that you ask I might be able to draw some parallels. My taste, like the current situation, has never been colorful or fun (despite my personality and the many cheerful Marimekko textiles I encountered in my childhood homes). I have always been drawn to monochromatic or muted hues, surreal imagery, sensual organic shapes and materials that can move me emotionally, just as some pieces of music can, into a darkness that is bearable for being so beautiful. So, no, my choices are simply a reflection of what I am always attracted to. But maybe the pieces I chose highlight, though it was unintentional, the need to heed Mother Nature’s wake up call and a reminder that humanity must evolve (more oneness, less ego). Despite the fun of choosing from Magen’s inventory, I must say that during this moment of global reflection, my desire to collect is on the wane while my desire to simplify my life is on high alert. I’ve always gotten a sense of security from knowing that I could pack up my house in a single day and take off for a new life very quickly. I’m a Sagittarius - we love change. That feels right. I am realizing that as one’s collection gets distilled to more elevated versions of itself the more funds it takes to appraise, insure, and protect it…and it makes me wonder, “Is this what my life is about?” However, as the pandemic continues, and I realize that I couldn’t pack up and take off for a new life in a day (or a year? alors!), if I wanted to, I am grateful to enjoy my collection in my current surroundings for as long as it takes…despite craving minimalism and wings.
Can you tell us a little bit about each piece and why they made the cut? Why did you select the pieces by Pierre Sabatier?
J.S. : The “San Andreas” coffee table, despite its riff on the inevitable doom and demise of my native California, is a piece I have long coveted…the yin (earth, dark, cold) and yang (heat, heaven, light) aspect it seems to reference, fissures pulling apart and coming back together, masculine and feminine connection. Peter Gabriel sings, “Out of a woman comes a man; he spends the rest of his life trying to get back in if he can.” I get the innuendo of this lyric, but I also think it so true for all of us, especially right now. The need for connection and also the need for that place of spirit that we inhabit in the womb before we are born. This table also reminds me of the title of a ceramic sculpture by Lucio Fontana on display in last year’s Met Breuer exhibition, ”Earthquaked, but motionless. I so often feel this way these days.
The “Tropismes” wall is just so overwhelmingly stunning and masculine. It makes my jaw drop. I own a tiny brass wall relief by Pierre Sabatier that is called, “Cross II.” It is so quiet and mesmerizing; the yin to this wall’s yang. That one hand could have created both is exciting to me. I can lose myself in the patinas of Sabatier’s metal textures for hours. It’s like lying on the bottom of my swimming pool at night watching the dappled patterns the water makes and feeling so deeply alone (in a good way) as if I’ve left this planet for a time.
>> A great admirer of Egyptian and Assyrian art, as well as of the architecture of the great cathedrals, Sabatier is interested in exploring the different approaches and techniques available to painters and sculptors to integrate their work into an architectural environment. In 1966, the publication of a new magazine “Le Mur Vivant” - with introductory texts by Raymond Lopez, Maurice Novarina, and Le Corbusier - is hailed as an important event by artists of his generation who had been campaigning for the integration of art and architecture. Following studies at the Ecole Superieure des Arts Decoratifs, and the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts in the 50's, Sabatier joins this movement with which he feels much kinship. Thanks to a 1% for art program – first implemented for educational buildings in 1951 - Sabatier is selected to create his first truly monumental commissions.Using tools he fashions himself in order to make them more efficient, he works on a large scale with steel, lead, tin, aluminum, brass and copper, treating large surfaces and volumes. Together with his assistants, he folds, cuts out, hammers, and welds tons of metal, and transforms huge surfaces. Sabatier’s style is organic and fluid: “The metal seems to be acting like a landscape under seasonal changes, a living organism expressing intense feelings… His work reminds us of tremors, crevasses, waves…”. His work is also directly inspired by these natural, living phenomenons, as seen in his "San Andreas" tale, inspired by the San Andreas fault in California, or his "Tropismes" wall sculpture, of which the central panel reminds fossilized tropical leaves. Sabatier’s work is an exploration and enfoldment of the marriage of materials and movement. From largescale works to functional design, the virtuous nature and range of Sabatier’s work lends itself to an inquiry into the adaptation of forms and materials. It is also a reflection of our willingness as a society to remain flexible in a constantly changing world.
What about the "Les Palmes" sculpture by François Stahly?
J.S. : These sculptures are hauntingly beautiful and create such a story standing all together; it would be difficult to separate them and get the same effect. I would enjoy rearranging them as the light changes in my house during the seasons…not that we have those anymore. If I had children I am sure they would want to play with them, and give them all names. In light of the current situation question above, I see them also as little signposts emerging from dark earth, like bamboo shoots, warning us to pay attention to the “signs.”
>> As sculptor François Stahly became fascinated with natural formations and their hidden patterns, his sculptures began to take on an organic appearance, as this piece, and eventually he became one of the founders of Art Informel, which practiced a pure form of expressionistic abstraction. Les Palmes, amongst other series of sculptures like “La Foret de Tacoma” or “L’Été de la foret” expresses in Stahly an impulse toward the sky which translates his will to escape his taste for solitude while simultaneously expressing the desire to communicate with the cosmos world. Renowned in France with his large public project as the hallway of Maison de la Radio or his chimney across the Seine, the sculptor was also well established in the United States, where he worked for Nelson Rockefeller and taught at Berkeley, Aspen and Seattle universities.
You also selected the "Kangourou" chairs by Pierre Jeanneret. What drove this choice?
J.S. : I want to replace two Poul Kjaerholm PK22 chairs that fit my body perfectly, but which are just not me. I love a low-slung small chair or a lap on the floor to sit on. I think the Pierre Jeanneret “Kangarou” chairs would fit me the same way. Jeanneret has a way of designing chairs that are so elegant yet have such playful personalities. These chairs look like two people lying on their elbows and making up stories about shapes they see in the clouds.
>> Pierre Jeanneret, Le Corbusier's cousin and associate, is the author of most of the furniture pieces created for Le Corbusier's project in Chandigarh, India, that took place between the 1950s and 1960s. Under Le Corbusier's direction and in collaboration with Indian colleague as Jeet Malhotra or A.R. Prabhawalkar, Jeanneret created pieces for Chandigarh's public buildings and some private homes. This specific model, the "Kangourou" chair, was created as part of the furniture for General Hospital, some buildings in the Sector 32 and privates homes in Chandigarh. Jeanneret used local and widely available material as teak or Indian rosewood, as in these chairs, to allow a large production for this enormous project.
Lastly, you chose the wall sculpture by Edgard Pillet. Why?
J.S. : Magen Gallery has had so many monochromatic wall reliefs that I have longed for over the years, but alas, got there too late. This one’s sectioned circular shapes remind me of the stylized bright orange and yellow citrus fruit painted on the side of an Arabia sugar bowl we had on the breakfast table growing up. In black-on-black, the whole vibe becomes way more sophisticated and almost talismanic. I could use some protective talismans in my life right now.
>> Edgard Pillet originally started his career as a painter making abstract works in the late 1940s and editing Art of Today, a Paris-based magazine. After, he spent two years in the United States where he taught painting at the University of Louisville, Kentucky. After returning to Paris, he developed work that combined astrological figures with geometric compositions as a symbolic form of communication. He created many relief sculptures that were designed to integrate with architectural structures. He created in the 1960s a techinique called "creuset", which consists in combining materials like sand and pigments often on a base of resin or plaster, playing with light's reflection on convex and concave surfaces, as seen in this piece.
What qualities did you look for when selecting the pieces?
J. S. : When I am buying for my house, scale is really important to me. I live in a steel-framed Craig Ellwood house built on stilts in 1953. Mid-century houses from that era tend to be small (mine is only 1500 sq. feet), and mine is mostly glass with small rooms, so I lean towards Italian mid-century furniture, because they feel lighter in weight and dimension than some of the furniture from the 70’s, Oscar Niemeyer for example, whose designs I love so much, but which would not work scale-wise for this little house. And when I am choosing furniture I am very practical - do I need a desk? different dining chairs? etc. But when it comes to objects and art I can be very impractical and only buy what truly moves me. I have noticed over the years that if I buy an object “strategically,” because I think it will fit in my collection, I usually get bored with it. (Maybe similar to marrying for money, but I wouldn’t know). But when the piece makes me feel something, whether it be a sense of grace, a bit melancholic or energized whenever I see or think about it, I tend to stay enamored with it for a very long time. It’s like with people. You don’t really need to know their fine print, you just have to recognize a kindred spirit and from then on, even if you only see them once every 10 years, you feel this energy that lights you up and leaves you feeling fantastic. Art and objects should do the same.
In your opinion, do you think eclecticism is important to realize a successful grouping?
J. S. : What is important to me is the way pieces speak to each other in a space and how that conversation reflects the owner of the space. As for eclecticism, I guess I don’t give it much thought except when I see an interior in which the designer seems to be trying too hard to pull it off. Of course, in an “if these walls could talk,” moment maybe the conversations in those interiors would be extremely fun and lively, but since they can’t…In any case eclecticism should never be the goal. It should just sort of arrive.
If you could keep one of these pieces for your current house, which one would it be? Why?
J. S. : I have absolutely no spot for the Pierre Sabatier “Tropismes” wall at my current house, otherwise I would choose that for sure.
What/who inspire you inside or outside of the design world?
J. S. : I am always inspired by women of style who let themselves age gracefully, who never stop seeing the humor, who never stop wearing real clothes, who never stop engaging, who never stop evolving. There are so many women who inspire me, but Isabella Rossellini pops to mind immediately!
First piece of design that impacted you?
J. S. : In the 1960’s and 70’s my father was on the board of directors of Forms + Surfaces, a design firm in Southern California that still designs and manufactures incredibly beautiful architectural hardware, carved wood panels, cast bronze doors, hand-made tiles, as well as lighting. We often visited the founders, Joy and Sherril Brody, in their homes in Lake Tahoe or in Carpenteria. Their aesthetic was so minimal, but with lots of texture, earthiness, patina and muted colors. I was intoxicated. And the bronze doors…I just loved the bronze doors…maybe that is why I love Pierre Sabatier so much.
Your design motto:
J. S. : “You don’t have to know what it is; you just have to know that it is good.”
Julie Simpson is a collector of mid-century design and European jewelry from the 1960’s and 1970’s. She lives in a 1953 Craig Ellwood home that she has lovingly restored over the past ten years in Los Angeles. Her collection continues to distill and evolve with her house as both muse and vessel.
Her background is a series of interests pursued, some of which lead somewhere, and some that did not. She spent her youth training to be a ballerina and working in her parent’s art gallery, her 20’s teaching design in Japan and working for Sotheby’s London and NY auction houses as Japanese client liaison for 20th century Design, Impressionist, Contemporary and Japanese Art Departments. After an M.B.A. from New York University, Julie spent her 30’s as “Girl-for-Hire,” a qualitative research/strategic planning consultant for the wine, fashion, and technology sectors, and spent her 40’s working as a nutrition counselor, and sometime raw food guru, with a side gig selling her own jewelry designs in Venice, California.
Currently she spends most of her time providing consulting, resources and support for non-profits in the arts, sustainable agriculture, food justice, and education while also campaigning for Biden and thinking up her next chapter.