Inspired by the Spirit of Paris in the 1950s, ‘Jazz’ to Open at Demisch Danant in September




William Hawkins, State Capitol, Albany #2, 1986. enamel on masonite; 48.5 H x 56.5 in; 123.2 H x 143.5 cm; Courtesy of Demisch Danant & Ricco/Maresca

Demisch Danant will open its doors to the exhibition, Jazz, organized in collaboration with Ricco/Maresca. Inspired by the melodies and spirit of the 1950s in Paris, this exhibition highlights unexpected syncopation and rhythms shared by French design of the Fifties and paintings of architecture and cityscapes by African American artist William L. Hawkins.

William Hawkins, Old Town Square #3, 1987. Enamel on masonite; 48 H x 56.5 in; 121.9 H x 143.5 cm; Courtesy of Demisch Danant & Ricco/Maresca

While the works on view derive from very different places of origin and eras of creation, and reside within the discrete categories of fine art and design, they are provocatively connected by the influence of postwar musical innovation and improvisation.

Freed from its former Napoleonic mindset and the traumas of World War II, Paris in the 1950s saw young French designers, including Pierre Guariche, Joseph-André Motte, Étienne Fermigier, among others, revivifying modernism and promoting a forward-looking lifestyle with furniture and architectural designs for a new postwar era. At the time, African American musicians were blazing a triumphant return to Paris, picking up where their 1920s predecessors had left off. For these musicians, the city was a haven from the social and economic constraints of America. Paris was full of basement clubs with avid audiences for visiting jazz bands whose inventiveness awakened a spirit of exploration among the next generation Parisian designers and artists.

In Columbus, Ohio, the African American artist William Hawkins (1895–1990) integrated a jazz sensibility into his creative process. Hawkins was functionally illiterate and completely self-taught; unaware of the rules of academic art practice, he was not constrained by them. Hawkins’ modus operandi was as improvisational, instinctual, and fluid as the jazz music he listened to. The artist utilized the elements found in discarded ephemera—newspapers magazines, and flyers that he collected every day on the streets of Columbus—as inspiration and material for his paintings, which recreate architectural icons as well as historic events and larger-than-life animals.

Étienne Fermigier, Desk, 1957. Teak, Aluminum structure, glass top; 29.13 H x 84.8 x 39.37 in; 74 H x 190 x 100 cm. Edition Meubles et Fonction. Photography by Thierry Depagne. Courtesy of Demisch Danant

In both Hawkins’ paintings and the objects created by French designers of the 1950s, visitors to the exhibition at Demisch Danant will recognize the resourcefulness and freshness that are hallmarks of the jazz music loved by their makers.

Pieces by such designers as Joseph-André Motte and Pierre Guariche evolved from the young designers’ desire to produce affordable and efficient design in a changing world. Guariche became known for an approach to furniture, lighting, and architecture principally motivated by its emphasis on new forms, volumes, and materials. His designs reflect a commitment to simplicity—to locating the essence of a thing— and to the idea of series that can be industrially produced to meet modern demand. Guariche’s rare Wall Cabinet (1952), for example, is composed of functional, modular color elements.

An exacting but romantic minimalist, Étienne Fermigier was a furniture designer, interior designer, and gallerist of great influence in the postwar creative milieu of Paris. Curious about every aspect of industrial aesthetics, he conceived of not only furniture and lighting, but also hardware, desk accessories, a television and several radios, and a single-seater automobile before his untimely death at the age of 41. On view in the exhibition, Fermigier’s Desk (1957) represents the ultimate in furniture fabrication: its construction, details, material, and proportions have the authority of breakthrough architecture.

Geneviève Dangles and Christian Defrance, Desk, 1958. Nickel plated steel, elm, Formica. 29.53 H x 68.11 x 33.46 in; 75 H x 173 x 85 cm. Unique work; Photography by Thierry Depagne. Courtesy of Demisch Danant

Embracing new technologies and elevating common materials such as rattan and glass, Motte became one of the most influential designers in France with such iconic works as the 771 Chair (1958). With a back and seat formed as a single element, this design achieved a surprising sleekness that has established the piece as an icon of 1950s design. Motte’s focus upon otherwise overlooked materials made cost effective production possible. As he once said, “material is in charge, then imagination.”

William Hawkins took a similarly inventive approach to everyday materials, repurposing plywood and cardboard and discarded paint to make his work. He occasionally attached wood, gravel, newspaper photos, or found objects to his paintings, giving them an astonishing sense of life and atmosphere. Hawkins’ paintings of architecture, including such works as State Capitol, Albany #2 (1986) and Old Town Square #3(1987), are characterized by repeating geometries that resonate with the design objects on view and, again, call to mind the dynamic repetitions and variations of jazz music.

Jazz will be on view at Demisch Danant from 10AM to 6PM Monday through Friday, and 12PM to 5PM on Saturdays, from September 10 through October 19, 2019. Opening Reception, September 10th from 6-8pm. Demisch Danant is located at 30 West 12th Street, NYC.