[ED. NOTE: To my delight and amazement, many of these carpets are still in production and are now available through the Stark Carpet showroom in Manhattan.]
ARTIST: OSWALD MATHIAS UNGERS, 1990
“Billy Baldwin, the preeminent interior decorator of the 1940s and 1950s, asserted that ‘When it comes to floors for the rooms we live in, there are two things I insist on: they must lie down and they must keep quiet.’ Floors that do nothing of the kind virtually leap from the pages of the new catalogue for Dialog, a collection of some 45 carpets designed by contemporary artist, architects and graphic designers for the German manufacturer Vorwerk.
Established five years ago, the program has invited some two dozen artists — including Sol Lewitt, Milton Glaser, Arata Isozaki, Mathias Ungeres, Rosemarie Trockel, Gottfried Böhm, Sam Francis, Jean Nouvel, Michael Graves, Roy Lichtenstein, Coop Himmelblau and Matteo Thun — to participate. With the invitation come a few restrictions, among them, that a base color can be specified along with a limit of six additional colors. Working within these constraints, artists then submit a colored scale drawing. Designs are imprinted on a tufted nylon substrata in a technique similar to printing. Artists approve samples but are generally not involved in the actual manufacturing of the carpet — or in the translation of design from drawing to printed nylon.”
ARTIST: SAM FRANCIS, 1989
ARTIST: SOL LEWITT, 1990
ARTIST: JEAN NOUVEL, 1989
“What makes the collabaration appealing to those who have participated appears to be the quality of the carpet. As Wendy Bradford, director of interiors at the Princeton studio of Michael Graves, points out, ‘The actual printing process allows for much greater detail than is usual in nylon carpets. You can get a much sharper image here, with the kind of crispness and precision you might expect from fabric or ceramic plate. So you can do much more with graphics.’
In Graves’ case, for example, the architect had specified very subtle degrees of shading in a highly detailed, stylized floral design. The thin, short pile used in the Dialog collection makes it easier to reproduce color and detail, Bradford says. ‘Most carpeting sold in the United States has a much thicker, denser pile. This is a much flatter surface which allowed us to do more.’
For obvious reasons, there are limitations to the graphics we put on the floor. Conventional design wisdom has dictated that the illusion of three-dimensional surface or otherwise dramatic patterning of the manner that confuses the senses be avoided at floor level. Just as obvious, then, comes the question: What happens when artists, whose very reputations are based on jarring human perceptions, work in this medium?”
ARTIST: GERHARD RICHTER, 1989
ARTIST: ROY LICHTENSTEIN, 1988
ARTIST: MILTON GLASER, 1989
ARTIST: DAVID HOCKNEY, 1990
“Actually, the strongest work comes from those artists whose work we associate with spontaneity. In Sam Francis’s drip rugs, painter Mimmo Paladino’s graffiti sketches, or even David Hockney’s fluid scribbles, there is a more genuine awareness of color than we have come to expect in nylon carpeting. There is also a sense of immediacy in the graphics that is a marked contrast to the more mechanical process we know it takes to make a carpet — and in this visual contradiction lis their interest. In fact, that a repeat exists at all in patterning that seems so spontaneous, while not exactly jolting our perceptions, jostles them in an engaging manner.
Predictably, the participating architects were more restrained, coming to the project perhaps with amore innate consideration of the purpose served by flooring material. Work by Michael GRaves is surprisingly sedate, and the carpet by French architect Jean Nouvel, in its optical grid of light and shadow, nevertheless remains an elegant, formal study.
The exceptions to this rule come from Coop Himmelblau and Zaha M. Hadid: these carpets look like architectural drawings gone ballistic and rolled out on the floor. Architects, unlike painters, are trained to think in three dimensions; when limited to two, their renderings can slide in and out of this play with dimension, making for an animated, if not totally disorienting surface. But considering that these architects are on the vanguard of deconstructivism, that’s probably the point. After all, it’s been 40 years since Billy Baldwin made his decree. And a lot of things that were meant to lie down and be quiet are doing quite the opposite.”