Ben Brown Fine Arts: Ron Arad 'Summer Exhibition' (until 26th September 2016)

For their summer exhibition, Ben Brown Fine Arts, W1K, present a collection of works by internationally renowned designer and artist Ron Arad. The division between fine art and contemporary design is repeatedly challenged here, to the point where it is suggested that the two may overlap seamlessly. Certainly, there is nothing to say that design has a lesser place in the gallery setting than fine art, however with Arad's functional influences and potential uses for the works, the idea of an exhibition containing works which identify as both art and design concurrently is an interesting starting point for analysing the show.

Ben Brown Fine Arts do state that this body of recent works by Arad contains "sculpture, hand-crafted studio pieces and industrial design", so that the viewer is immediately aware of the ambiguity present within the pieces. This is not to say that the designs are not bold and aesthetically compelling, as they surely are, but intriguingly this overlap of art and design helps us investigate not only the intricacies of Arad's practice, but the role of the gallery in presenting accessible art and design industry pieces to the public. Perhaps the greatest example of this is 'Even the Oddballs', a set of two stainless steel sculptures which appear as a striking form of contemporary art, bearing a familiar visual resemblance to chairs. We are reminded once again of William Morris' infamous quote on the useful and the beautiful, which actually emerges on another piece in the show, 'Useful, Beautiful, Love'.

Installation view: Ron Arad, Even the Oddballs, 2008. Stainless steel, 96cm x 128cm x 76cm. Ben Brown Fine Arts, London and Hong Kong.

Merging ideas from art and design in such a way evokes questions of utility in contemporary art, and whether this is truly compatible. Evidently, acquiring 'Even the Oddballs' would not lend itself to the piece being used as domestic furniture, and given that Arad's practice encompasses architecture in addition to industrial design, this is likely to have been a point of contention for curators and the artist alike. Instead of practical utility, the gallery states that interaction is a pivotal motif in the artist's work, and whether this is in the form of an emotional reaction to the work, such as the familiarity found in 'Even the Oddballs' and the couch-like form of 'Tuba', or in the more abstract way of amusing connections such as the sweetly titled 'Hedgehog' hand-blown glass piece, this is certainly the case in Ben Brown Fine Arts' showcase.

Ron Arad, Hedgehog, 2016. Hand-blown glass and stainless steel, 85cm x 79cm x 76cm. Ben Brown Fine Arts, London and Hong Kong.

Referring again to 'Even the Oddballs', the artist interestingly suggests a niche market or user base for the piece, through its title. This is not an object for public or banal consumption; instead, further emphasis is placed on the value of the piece in a gallery setting, where it is to be admired and contemplated rather than being used as a backdrop. With the aforementioned diverse practice of Arad, we are able to see distinct stylistic similarities between his design practice and his architectural endeavours, such as the Dats Et showroom for Notify Jeans in Milan, with its sharp stainless steel appearance and a swift curvature which gives the impression of constant progress. This is another effective strategy for showcasing the ways in which art, design and, indeed, architecture can be interchangeable and serve different purposes yet come together under one practice.

New works by Arad are not merely reserved for the partial privacy of the gallery space, as the 2009 sculpture 'Free-Standing China' is situated outside the gallery on  Brook's Mews and described by the gallery as a "sculptural bookshelf", again reinforcing the potential of utility and beauty coming together in design practice, in addition to the role of the art gallery in conveying such an idea. With Ben Brown Fine Arts' central location of Mayfair, the temptation for works to fall into indulgent opulence is great, yet a reminder of the value of material, labour and function in these works is appreciated by the viewer and, surely, the industry alike.

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