October 6, 2020

Highlights from Adrian Sassoon at the London House of Modernity Exhibition

There is a unique duality of styles in the Palladian style mansion at 14 Cavendish Square, where Swedish furniture gallery Modernity’s London showroom is located. One of two mansions built in 1770 on both sides of Dean’s Mews in Mayfair, the five-story building reflects its dramatic proportions and classical traits on its Portland stone façade. However, what inspired the gallery to join forces with the city’s other design powerhouse Adrian Sassoon was its transformation to a Modernist architecture on its backside, which was rebuilt in 1950s following a World War II bombing. “The historically-charged interior with elaborate features suddenly changes into a minimalist environment with many curatorial opportunities,” says Modernity’s director Andrew Duncanson to Interior Design.

Adrian Sassoon at the London House of Modernity is an exhibition of art, design and furniture, which has blossomed from both galleries’ fascination for the house’s particular interior. Their familiarity with each others’ programs dates back to pre-pandemic times when both galleries showed at the same design fairs multiple times. “Best of both worlds,” says Adrian Sassoon’s director Mark Piolet about collaborating with their colleagues at a time when fair concept is far from possible and need for alternative forms of presenting design is most felt. The building’s lived nature has been an unparalleled advantage to curate what Piolet calls “vignettes” that reenact pockets of domestic settings within the house’s soaring interiors. “Fairs present highly finished and muted backdrops for design, but these objects are meant to exist within personalized environments,” he adds. In this regard, two galleries have concocted juxtapositions that reflect their particular characteristics in design and furniture, with delightful cross-overs of forms and colors.

Read Interior Design’s highlights from the exhibition which opened on October 5 during London’s annual art and design week.

Alvar Aalto floor lamp, 1959

A Monumental Atomic Magma Vase, 2018, composed of crystalline-glazed stoneware. Photography courtesy of Modernity and Adrian Sassoon, London. At right, floor lamp model A809 designed by Alvar Aalto for Valaistustyö, Finland. 1959. Photography courtesy of Modernity. 

For Piolet, who oversaw the curation of objects in groupings, the priority was to synthesize shapes and color palettes to create “part home and part gallery settings.” This lacquered steel, brass and leather floor lamp was designed by Finnish designer and architect Alvar Aalto for the house of French art collector, Lois Carré. This A809 model, which was made by the lamp’s original manufacturer, Valaistutsyö, is here joined by Kate Malone’s crystalline-glazed stoneware sculpture, A Monumental Atomic Magma Vase (2018) and Fernando Casasempere’s clay and Indian ink on felt painting, Salar de Atacama (2019).

Andrew Wicks, A Still Life of Eight Spiral Vases, 2019

A Still Life of Eight Spiral Vases, 2019, by Andrew Wicks made of thrown and carved porcelain. Photography courtesy of Adrian Sassoon, London.  

A fireplace is utilized for an arrangement of porcelain vases by Bath-based designer Andrew Wicks, who is known for his white-hued thrown and carved pieces. He carves the leather-hard pre-fired surfaces with fine elaborate details, removing large portions of the material throughout the process. His references range from pairings of 18th century Chinese export garnitures to the mysteriousness of natural formations. The objects’ placement above a fireplace in front of a fiery red painting salutes Wicks’s fire-infused technique and creates a bold-toned background to elevate the vases’ whiteness.

Junko Mori, Moss Cactus, 2013

Junko Mori’s Moss Cactus, 2013. Forged mild steel, wax-coated. Photography courtesy of Adrian Sassoon, London.  

In her forged steel sculptures, the Wales-based Japanese artist and metalworker Junko Mori is directly inspired by natural phenomena. This mild steel and wax-coated wall piece is a testimony of her interest in creating organic forms, through a meticulous manual process against roughness of her material. The shape can be interpreted as a blossoming flower, a radiating light or a blown-up molecule, but it is Mori’s poetic bending of the material which leaves the form open for the viewers’ subjective eye. “We don’t always have opportunity to show such pieces on such dramatic backgrounds,” says Piolet about presenting the ethereal work in front of the interior’s patina-washed walls. 

Tim Edwards, glass vessels, all 2020

Outline XVII, 2020, by Tim Edwards. Blown and wheel-cut glass. Made by the artist in South Australia. Photography courtesy of Adrian Sassoon, London.  

The building’s towering windows that overlook the Cavendish Square yields reflections of natural light over three blown and wheel-cut glass vessels by Australian designer, Tim Edwards. “Glass surfaces are illuminated by changing daylight throughout the day,” says Piolet, pointing out the architectural conversation he builds between inside and outside. Varying between 18 to 16 inches, their robust figures and colorful transparencies build a gentle transition towards the lushly green view.   

Märta Måås-Fjetterström, Rug Stavenow, 1930s

Felicity Aylieff. Golden Star Flowers, 2018. Thrown and glazed porcelain with hand-painted enamel over-glaze and gilding. Photography courtesy of Modernity and Adrian Sassoon, London. Rug Stavinows, designed by Märta Måås-Fjetterström for MMF, Sweden. 1930s. Photography courtesy of Modernity. 


Swedish textile designer Märta Måås-Fjetterström wove this rug for the mansion of Ludwig Stavenow, head at the Uppsala University at the time. The pattern was never revisited by Måås-Fjetterström who was interested in oriental rug techniques during the turn of the century. She opened a weaver in Båstad, in the south of Sweden and worked with the town’s locals weavers. “She was a forward-taking woman weaver who never compromised,” says Duncanson, who notes that the weaver has been in operation to this day, since Måås-Fjetterström started in it 1919.

Hiroshi Suzuki, A Pair of Seni Vases, 2020

Hiroshi Suzuki. A Pair of Seni Vases, 2020. Hammer-raised and chased Fine silver 999. Made by the artist in Japan. Photography courtesy of Adrian Sassoon, London.  

After working with silver in the U.K. for a decade, Hiroshi Suzuki returned to his homeland Japan where he continues to create hand-raised single sheet silver objects, such as this set of chased fine silver vases. Piolet notes that Suzuki’s objects reflect a combination of Japanese meticulousness with experimentalism he adopted during his time in the west. The silversmith’s commitment to his material is evident in his effortless mastery over the surface, which pays homage to natural formations, such as waves over the sea or layers on earth. Note the stunning contrast silver’s sheeny quality builds with the exhibition’s emphasis on wood.

Finn Juhl, The Chieftain chair, 1949

“Sort of scandalous,” Duncanson explains about the unveiling of this Finn Juhl chair during the Cabinetmakers Guild exhibition in Copenhagen in 1959. After the Danish King, who fell in love with the chair, could not help but rest on it, a journalist argued that Juhl should name his design “The King’s Chair.” The designer, however, found the suggestion pretentious and declined by saying that the seat is called The Chieftain chair. The teak and cognac leather chair was manufactured by master cabinetmaker Niels Vodder and carries hints from Juhl’s interest in ancient Egyptian iconography.

Armchair “Chieftain” designed by Finn Juhl for Niels Vodder, Denmark. 1949. Photography courtesy of Modernity. Pictured right is Felicity Aylieff’s Monumental Vase; Cactus in Bloom, 2014. Photography courtesy of Adrian Sassoon, London. 

Felicity Aylieff, Monumental Vase, 2016

The building’s stunning exterior was a photo opportunity the exhibition’s organizers could not overlook for their catalog. During the three-day photo shoot, they created this juxtaposition of pieces to provide a glimpse of their offering of design and furniture behind the walls. For the larger-than-life enamel-glazed porcelain vase, Felicity Aylieff combines large sections of porcelain and burns them as a single form inside a monumental scale kiln in China’s city of Jingdezhen, famous for its porcelain manufacturers. 

Stephen Cox RA, Cycladic Gemini with Altar, 2018

Stephen Cox RA. Cycladic Gemini with Altar, 2018. Hand-carved alabaster with gold leaf details set on an alabaster base. Photography courtesy of Adrian Sassoon, London.  

Two human forms are subtly embodied in this decorative object by Royal Academician Steven Cox, who is often times inspired by gemini figures in all manners of stone. Two vertical hand-carved alabaster bodies with gold leaf details stand on another alabaster base, under the luminosity of light entering from the building’s back window. The humorous accent of breasts on both figures adds a contemporary touch to the material’s hefty presence, while the object’s pairing with a teal-colored velvet chair by Swedish designer Björn Trägårdh from the 1930s creates an intergenerational aqua-toned arrangement. 

Adrian Sassoon at the London House of Modernity is on view at Modernity’s London showroom through October 28, 2020.

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