02/
12/
14

Comparison & Review: Art Toronto & Feature Art Fair

If one had to choose between feeling overwhelmed or inspired, exhausted or refreshed, the decision would be simple. Along the same lines, being able to predict your reaction to an art fair is actually quite simple as well. How, you ask? Isn’t all art there to inspire and refresh, even in its most challenging forms? Perhaps. Yet a lot of art today, or at least the way it’s presented, can do just the opposite, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. The secret to a viewers’ reaction to the work of a collection of artists’ or an art fair lies in a simple, unsurprising word: curation.

While the majority of art fairs today focus on variety and volume, a handful pride themselves in showcasing curated content. This fall, two art fairs, the Toronto International Art Fair and Feature Contemporary Art Fair, took place at the same time, in the same city, each offering a very different experience.

The Toronto International Art Fair (Art Toronto) was held in the sprawling Metro Convention Centre, while Feature Contemporary Art Fair (Feature) took place in the restored heritage building of the Joey & Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre. Art Toronto is a modern and contemporary fine art fair and is considered a must-attend event for art collectors, art educators and other industry professionals. The fair showcases more than 100 galleries from around the world with a wide variety of Canadian and international artists. Feature, with only 23 galleries and 60 artists represented, is a curated alternative to Art Toronto. Feature is dedicated to Canadian cutting edge contemporary art, showcasing only artists whose practices have demonstrated an outstanding ability to innovate, challenge and inspire.

My experience attending both shows brought their differences into sharp focus. Cruising aisle upon aisle at Art Toronto and covering what feels like miles in an afternoon, it’s hard not to glaze over after the first hour or two. The feeling isn’t dissimilar to that of shopping at a mall in December. While there is impressive art to be seen, the venue commoditizes it and in a way, devalues it.

Visiting Feature was an entirely different experience. If Art Toronto’s goal is to gather as much art as possible in one place in order to sell it, Feature’s focus is to educate and break down the traditional ways of seeing and buying art. As Julie Lacroix, the director of AGAC (L’Association des galleries d’art contemporain), the fair’s organizer puts it “… each gallery at Feature is presenting a fluid exhibit with the pieces working together to create a more unified tone, rather than disparate art placed together for convenience. It’s an opportunity not to make the visitors feel overwhelmed, but to give them time and space to appreciate each individual piece of art.”

Another striking difference was Feature’s attention to detail. Their innovative logo, designed by the Montréal-based multidisciplinary studio Bureau Principal, was integrated throughout. From its playfully designed website, through the matching scarves worn by the gallery attendants, to the art catalogue and signage system, Feature showed maturity and sophistication on a much greater scale. By emphasizing not only the importance of art, but also the space and the way in which the art was presented, Feature offers a lesson along with its stimulating experience: every detail counts. And while curation is the key to providing a positive experience for the viewer, it also has the effect of enhancing the value of the product in question.

As good a lesson for brands as it is for art fair organizers.

In our next post we’ll list five things about art fusion that brands must know. See you then.

Toronto International Art Fair 2014, Toronto
Toronto International Art Fair 2014, Toronto
Feature Contemporary Art Fair 2014, Toronto
Feature Contemporary Art Fair 2014, Toronto
Feature Contemporary Art Fair 2014, Toronto
Feature Contemporary Art Fair 2014, Toronto
Feature Contemporary Art Fair 2014, Toronto
Feature Contemporary Art Fair 2014, Toronto
Feature Contemporary Art Fair 2014, Toronto
Feature Contemporary Art Fair 2014, Toronto

11/
11/
14

Know & Tell

The most inspiring small, upstart brands are the ones that seem to know themselves from the get go. They have a strong point of view and more than a little courage. It’s little wonder that these brands also happen to be the ones that fearlessly engage in art-fusion collaborations, not only as a way to build their name, but also as a way to express their personality.

The über hip furniture store Mjölk in Toronto’s Junction area is a perfect example and a great source of inspiration. The timelessly modern, yet markedly original pieces of design they carry, along with the store’s strong aesthetic sensibility, cause some to consider it more of a gallery of Northern and Eastern design than a traditional retail outlet.

Mjölk’s decision to collaborate with international artists and designers on a regular basis has become not only the bedrock of their brand’s identity, but a way to ensure originality, simplicity and exceptional beauty in all the products they carry. For Mjölk, the most crucial aspect of collaborative process is establishing a mutually respectful relationship with each and every prospective artist or designer. So they do their homework. When they feel they know as much as they can about a potential collaborator, Mjölk goes farther than most small brands would consider in the age of Skype and conference calls.

They hop on a plane.

Whether it be to Japan, Sweden or Denmark, they feel it’s of utmost importance to fill the gaps that technology can leave, and meet the artist in person. Only then do they feel they can intimately understand each artist’s school of thought and vise versa.

Once the artist is chosen, the budget is discussed. Mjölk proposes an allowance they feel comfortable investing and the artist’s agreement provides a commitment to the design and manufacture of a product that will meet their mutual expectation visually and functionally.

Because they invest so much time and thought in the collaborative process, Mjölk’s knowledge about each product and the narrative of how it came into being is so extensive, it’s captivating. It’s Mjölk’s unbridled enthusiasm behind each of the products they share with their clients that often turns a simple shopping experience into an inspirational journey.

The bottom line? A successful collaboration, like any good relationship, is based on mutual respect, communication, openness, trust and a mutual desire for everyone to succeed – the brand, the artist and society as a whole.

In our next post we’ll compare and review two art fairs that took place in Toronto this fall, Toronto International Art Fair and Feature Art Fair. See you then.

MjÖLK Storefront
MjÖLK Storefront
LUCA NICHETTO SUCABARUCA COFFEE SET x MJÖLK
LUCA NICHETTO SUCABARUCA COFFEE SET x MJÖLK
Mjölk: Luca Nichetto Sucabaruca Book
LUCA NICHETTO SUCABARUCA COFFEE SET x MJÖLK
Mjölk Favorite Products, Concrete Shaving Kit
Mjölk Favorite Products, Concrete Shaving Kit
AT MJÖLK: Vass cabinet by Claesson Koiviston Rune, Ilse Crawford lamp, Rocket stool by Eero Aarnio
MJÖLK PACKAGING
at MJÖLK: Oji Masanori & Rina Ono products
at MJÖLK: Oji Masanori & Rina Ono products
MJÖLK x studio junction
MJÖLK x studio junction
MJÖLK book series
MJÖLK book series

21/
10/
14

Declaring War on Indifference

Even well-designed spaces, despite all the care and attention to detail put into them, can end in rather generic results. For example, contemporary interior design, lifestyle and travel publications with their countless photographs of minimal and timeless interiors, haven’t been able to avoid becoming uniformly predictable in their effort to be inspiring. They will all inadvertently achieve the opposite if something new doesn’t come along to shake things up.

Appetite for good design has grown substantially over the past decade. Capitalizing on internationally recognized brands of modern furniture, lighting and decorative arts sold by the likes of Knoll and Design Within Reach has become a prerequisite of any trustworthy architectural or interior design showcase. Dare we say, what was once unique is now ubiquitous? But satisfying the desire and need for beauty and art is an ongoing process—something that more industries have been starting to take more seriously.

Art boutique hotels, for example, have become part of a movement that has declared war on indifference. The stylish mini-chain, ACE Hotels based in Portland, Oregon has collaborated with local artists for each of its four US locations, turning each hotel into a showroom of local art. In other words, they’ve transformed their spaces into destinations in and of themselves.

Even the yachting and boating industry has joined in on the fun. The camouflage designed boat Guilty was a project encompassing revolutionary boat architecture and an exceptional art fusion collaboration between Milan-based interior design studio, Porfiri and the well-known artist, Jeff Koons. Even though Greek industrialist and art collector Dakis Joannou commissioned the project privately, it has set a precedent within yachting and boating culture, causing the entire industry to re-examine the status quo.

In our own backyard, art boutique hotel The Gladstone Hotel where art apparently “is not just to be found on the walls, but even in dreams”, has become one of Toronto’s favourite hotels. With its multitude of onsite arts and music venues, The Gladstone has become a cultural destination for tourists and local Torontonians alike.

Holace Cluny, a Toronto retail destination for its exclusive collection of international furniture, lighting and decorative arts has been showcasing pieces by venerable design brands like Carl Hanson & Son and Knoll for years. But lately, it has been adding something else to its traditional repertoire. Its recent art fusion collaboration with Rollout and Robert Sangster has introduced a collection of wallpapers that redefine the form and function of commercial and residential surfaces and patterns alike. The artfully installed wallpaper collection provides a highly dynamic contrast to the monotony of the high-end retail design spectacle we’re used to.

The bottom line? Who wouldn’t like to spend time in spaces that are not only sophisticated, but also inviting and captivating, all the while vigorously defeating indifference in every possible way? We certainly would. And it’s no surprise that the coveted high-end consumer would too.

In our next post we’ll discuss some brands that despite their small size, think large and engage in art fusion collaborations ceaselessly. There’s much to be learned from their brazenness, so stay tuned.

KNOLL BOOK COVER
DWR CATALOGUE COVER
Dana Tanamachi x ACE HOTEl
Centralia Knitting Mills x ACE HOTEl JACKET PATCH
Kate Neckel x ACE HOTEL
Kate Neckel x ACE HOTEL
GUILTY SHOWCASES Dakis Joannou’s EXTENSIVE ART COLLECTION
GUILTY Yacht BY JEFF KOONS & IVANA PORFIRI
Dakis Joannou ON HIS YACHT GUILTY
Dakis Joannou ON HIS YACHT GUILTY
Barr Gilmore & Michel Arcand x GLADSTONE HOTEL
HOLACE CLuNY x ROLLOUT x ROBERT SANGSTER
Barr Gilmore & Michel Arcand x THE GLADSTONE HOTEL
Barr Gilmore & Michel Arcand x THE GLADSTONE HOTEL
ALLYSON MITCHELL x PAUL CAMBELL x ­­­THE GLADSTONE HOTEL
ALLYSON MITCHELL x PAUL CAMBELL x ­­­THE GLADSTONE HOTEL

17/
06/
14

Highbrow Brands x Lowbrow Art

Comme des Garçons does it. Louis Vuitton does it. Even Hermès does it. They are among the handful of highly progressive fashion houses that have fused their highbrow brands with lowbrow street art by collaborating with avant-garde and sought-after national and international graffiti artists to help them disguise the luxury they’ve become known for. Why, you ask?

With the increasing popularity of online shopping, retail stores have more than ever become venues for experiences rather than just buying goods. While many high-end brands have been selling their sophisticated collections in equally high-end boutiques, the more avant-garde brands have been pushing the boundaries much further. By disguising and transforming retail spaces into art spaces with interchangeable street or store installations, such brands are able to truly heighten their brand’s publicity. And by using the work of the most cutting-edge artists the national and international art scene has to offer, they give a new and interesting platform to soft-sell their own high-ticketed and acclaimed collections from.

Paying attention to brands that deconstruct their store interiors or exteriors and offer extreme contrasts to their sophisticated collections has become something of a movement we all enjoy taking part in – whether just by visiting these makeshift storefronts or by exploring the art installations themselves; or simply by talking or reading about them in social media. In other words, retail is no longer about selling products that appeal to us, but about providing experiences that can truly seduce us.

The art fusion collaboration between Louis Vuitton Miami Project and the American mural graffiti artist RETNA in 2012 was one of numerous examples that set the blogosphere ablaze. RETNA, with his hieroglyphics and calligraphic designs, created murals that helped to disguise the traditional looking Louis Vuitton storefront. The store was easily spotted for its vandalized look, instead of its usual Louis Vuitton elegance. Provocative enough?

We know that by thoughtfully juxtaposing and contrasting opposites, a truly winning formula can arise. Take a look at the London or Tokyo or New York Comme des Garçons’ Dover Street Market in particular. In each and every location, fashion fuses with art ever-so tastefully and thoughtfully. You may ask yourself whether you want to look at avant-garde clothing displayed in cheap looking plywood structures or walk around beams covered in low-end graffiti knitting in order to spend so many of your hard-earned dollars. But in the end, who these days is interested in looking at innovative collections in traditionally intimidating and unwelcoming store settings that seem unfriendly for some while fatiguing, if not boring for others?

If you’re curious about what the next paradoxical differentiator brands have been experimenting with, stay tuned for our next post coming in September when we return from our summer break.

HERMÉS ATHENS x Philippos Photiadis
HERMÉS ATHENS x Philippos Photiadis
Comme des Garçons NY CHELSEA WALK IN ART MURAL
Comme des Garçons NY CHELSEA WALK IN ART MURALS
KONGO X HERMÈS
DOVER STREET MARKET NY
DOVER STREET MARKET LONDON x Mondongo
DOVER STREET MARKET TOKYO
COMME des GARÇONS x Hermes “Comme des Carrés” Collection’s Event
COMME des GARÇONS x Hermes “Comme des Carrés” Collection’s Event
Kidult Tags Hermès Paris Store With ‘Love’
Kidult Tags Hermès Paris Store With ‘Love’
Louis Vuitton Miami Design District Store x RETNA
Louis Vuitton Miami Design District Store x RETNA
DOVER STREET MARKET Japan
DOVER STREET MARKET TOKYO

27/
05/
14

Charitable winning

It goes without saying that art fusion collaborations can take many forms. We’ve seen many grace the market as a new product, a new service, a special event, an in-store installation and as a graffiti application, to name a few of the more popular forms. Some run independently, but it’s worth noting that many of the most successful are a combination of two or more.

Savvy brand managers and artists alike know that the launch of a new product collaboration can be profoundly enhanced by a complementary in-store installation, multiplying the effects of the new product, and magnifying the retail experience at large. Art fusion collaborations that are thoughtfully layered, taking place on a few strategic levels are not surprisingly quite effective, or in other words, sought after and talked about.

The National Football League (NFL), Bloomingdales and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CDFA) undoubtedly knew this when they teamed up with a group of top designers to forge 48 bespoke football helmets in support of the NFL Foundation and team charities. The resulting art fusion collaboration of customized football helmets was indeed a multi-sensual, multi-faceted, multi-platform extravaganza. The helmets were designed by well-known designers like Helmut Lang, as well as up-and-comers like Monique Lhuillier for the event’s auction. The 48 haute couture helmets were then displayed in Bloomingdales 59th street store windows in New York and promoted nationally across all marketing channels of Bloomingdales, CDFA and NFL.

The bottom line? Art-fusion collaborations are the most successful when everyone is winning. The 48 haute couture helmets were an example of just that – art fusion pushing boundaries by simply employing artfulness and using all avenues available to promote the result. From this art fusion collaboration, everyone walked away a winner: Bloomingdales – engendering goodwill and fashion cred from its association with the inspiring event, the NHL Foundation – with the record-setting funds raised, the CDFA – getting exposure for its most talented designers, and of course the art lovers who bid and rightfully felt good about making a contribution towards something that’s not only desirable, but meaningful.

Recognizing art fusion as multi-dimensional collaborative opportunity that can lead to something potentially much larger than the sum of its parts can be the first step of challenging the status quo and bringing the freshness and innovation consumers are constantly searching for.

Stay tuned for our next post where we examine the strategy behind high-brow brands using low-brow in-store installations.

RICHARD CHAI
RACHEL ZOE
ALICE + OLIVIA
NICOLE MILLER
steven alan
alexis bittar
eugenia kim
tadashi shoji
fenton/fallon
MONIQUE LHUILLIER

22/
04/
14

Should your brand create a collection or a masterpiece?

For most art fusion collaborations, brands choose one of two approaches: they develop a group of related products—the ‘one-of-many’ approach—or an exclusive ‘many-of-one’ product. Fashion brands like Comme des Garçons, Louis Vuitton, or Lacoste have favoured the ‘one-of-many’ choice, while brands like Evian, Absolute Vodka, or Domeau & Pérès have been known for limited-edition, art fusion releases of a single product. As long as the art fusion collaboration has a relevant story to tell, socially or culturally, we believe there’s no right or wrong.

Developing a narrative based on a collection of pieces (the ‘one-of-many’ approach) may sound like an easier task. But don’t be fooled. It takes skill and artistic vision to make this work. Each piece of a collection, like a character in a story, needs to embody a unique personality or the collection as a whole will fall flat. Be it a jacket, pair of sneakers or pants, a chair or a breadbox – each has to be able to go beyond its fundamental function and form. Good design of form and function is still essential, of course, but in order to nourish a sense of longing, the intention needs to go deeper.

If effective storytelling is measured by its emotional impact, then an art fusion collaboration consisting of a collection of pieces is no different. It needs to create a momentum we can’t help but to gravitate towards, to experience it and thus to own it. In a recent The New York Times Style Magazine article titled Perfect Pairing, Bruce Pask provides as colourful a commentary on the fall/winter 2014 collaboration of Belgian designer Raf Simons and the Los Angeles artist Ruby Sterling as the collaboration itself. “Together, they showed that fashion can become a work of art in its own right,” Pask notes. In this one-off collection for the label, presented in place of Simons’s eponymous line, Ruby decked out the runway with his signature large-scale sculptures. Shaped like red-white-and-blue fangs dripping from the ceilings, the artwork set the scene for the colorful clothes: khaki trench coats artfully appliquéd with brightly colored fabric strips and various articles emblazoned with words like “father” and “Abu Lang,” which Ruby explained stood for the phrase “abusive language.” “We loaded a lot of things into the clothing, both in terms of iconography and also our own path,” Ruby added.

On the other hand, Evian has been building its brand strategy one story at a time, by releasing a limited-edition single bottle, “Eau Couture,” annually for the last seven years. Evian’s narrative stands for beauty and purity. Their latest collaboration, with Lebanese fashion designer Ellie Saab, serves as an additional tribute to these qualities. “We are thrilled to see our bottle dressed by Elie Saab,” remarked Evian’s president, Martin Renaud. “This masterful artist designed a unique, subtle lace gown for our glass limited edition that elegantly underlines its purity while capturing how unique and precious the Evian water is.” For Evian, the ‘many-of-one’ approach has proven highly effective. Maintaining continuity and consistency has been essential; however, due to its innovative approach, Evian’s art fusion collaborations never feel repetitive–only refreshingly beautiful, each and every time.

What’s the rule of thumb? If brands decide to use art fusion collaborations based on the ‘many-of-one’ approach, then continuity and consistency are key. After all, building a narrative over a period of time demonstrates maturity and confidence. But be warned: missing a beat is that much more noticeable in this approach. On the other hand, while the ‘one-of-many’ approach requires less long-term commitment and offers more flexibility, the collection’s narrative needs to engage instantly. ‘One-of-many’ can be much less forgiving, but also tremendously rewarding.

Stay tuned for our next post that will focus on how to plan a successful collaboration.

DR. LAKRA x absolut vodka, Homage to Mexican Culture
Evian x Issey Miyake
Domeau & Pérès x Pharrell Williams
Domeau & Pérès x Matali Crasset
LACOSTE x OSAMU TEZUKA
LACOSTE x OSAMU TEZUKA
Raf Simons x Ruby Sterling, FW 2014
Raf Simons x Ruby Sterling, FW 2014
Raf Simons x Ruby Sterling, FW 2014
Raf Simons x Ruby Sterling, FW 2014
Raf Simons x Ruby Sterling, FW 2014
Raf Simons x Ruby Sterling, FW 2014
EVIAN x ELIE SAAB
ELIE SAAB SS 2013 HAUTE COUTURE

20/
09/
13

Art Creating Brands – Brands Creating Culture

While art is being made, curated, exhibited, and collected, products are being developed, manufactured, marketed and sold. But more and more often, the word “curated” is being interjected from the world of art into the world of mass-production and mass-consumption.

While the word is borrowed, curation is no less a technique of marketing and selling in the contemporary art scene than it is in the world of brands. The two worlds are learning from each other and co-mingling more than ever before. Take for example, the plethora of artist/brand collaborations that have been captivating the marketplace in recent years. The effect, as we’ve seen, can be nothing short of spectacular. We would argue that the best of these examples will be regarded historically as an art movement of our time. To recognize this and to be a part of it, fascinates and excites us to no end.

So what exactly is this movement that is blurring the lines between art and brand? We call it art fusion. It is when an artist of any kind (painter, filmmaker, designer, printmaker, musician, graffiti artist, etc.) collaborates with a brand of any kind (product, service, retail store, charity, etc.) to create a cultural artifact (a product, sculpture, mural, film, etc.) for the benefit of both. As consumers, we’ve already seen many examples and can expect to see many more as different kinds of brands dip their toes in the waters and more artists get involved.

One of the most successful art fusion collaborations was between Louis Vuitton and Yayoi Kusama in 2012. Not only did it create incredible talk-value and welcome a whole new customer base for the brand, it catapulted the artist to top-of-mind awareness in circles she was not well known. The caché of both parties rubbed off on and worked well for each other. But does it have to be a well-established, high-end brand and a high-level artist for art fusion to work? Stay tuned for next post.

YAYOI KUSAMA’S x LOUIS VUITTON
YAYOI KUSAMA’S PUMPKIN
YAYOI KUSAMA’S x LOUIS VUITTON
YAYOI KUSAMA’S PUMPKIN
LI XIAOFENG x LACOSTE
LI XIAOFENG x LACOSTE