On view now through March 25th in the Bradley Family Gallery, Jaime Hayon: Technicolor brightens up wintertime in Milwaukee with a colorful splash of fun and fantasy. The energetic exhibition features work from two decades of the Spanish artist-designer’s career, including textiles, ceramics, glass, drawings, and playground equipment. These works represent a wide range of approaches to making, thinking, and viewing, while also remaining unified by a refreshing sense of playful whimsy.
Jaime Hayon trained in his native Madrid and in Paris before directing the design department at Fabrica, the Benetton-funded design and communication academy in Italy, for nearly a decade. In 2003, he left Fabrica to focus on his own studio practice. Hayon Studio now has offices in Italy, Spain, and Japan and is acclaimed worldwide.
The centerpiece of the exhibition is Technicolor, a set of textiles and ceramics which—like most of Hayon’s projects—began as drawings, some of which are included in the exhibition. Hayon uses drawing as a tool for exploration, allowing him to creatively construct the characters and scenes that populate his work. In doing so, he draws upon the fantastical realm of his own imagination and his wide-ranging travels. This includes his exposure to the bold graphics of skate culture and street art, which he was immersed in as a teenager. The details waiting to be discovered in Technicolor, from subtly sinister vampire fangs to topsy-turvy houses, provide ample opportunity for viewers to use their own imaginations as they experience the work.
Materials and process are also important to Hayon’s conception of Technicolor, especially the relationship between machine and hand production. The textiles were woven at the Tilburg Textile Museum’s TextielLab in the Netherlands on Jacquard looms, a centuries-old technology that automates textile production. Hayon brought this technology into the twenty-first century by incorporating new synthetic materials, including some that produce shimmering metallic surfaces for the weavings. The Technicolor ceramics exhibit a comparably hybrid quality; the vessels were manufactured by the Italian ceramics company Bosa before being painted by Hayon. This mixing and matching between machine and hand production is a common theme in the Museum’s Design Collection, which seeks to complicate the boundaries between art, craft, and design through works such as Hella Jongerius’ Repeat collection bowl, which dares to mix ceramics with cotton thread.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, a playful narrative is created by three works that feature an unforgettable character: a vibrant green chicken transformed into a rocking chair. The earliest of these three objects is a full-scale piece of furniture called Green Chicken. Hayon, like many other contemporary designers included in the Museum’s Design Collection, radically re-thinks what constitutes a chair in this work. Like Mathias Bengtsson’s Slice Chair and Jonathan Muecke’s recently-acquired Bench, Hayon’s Green Chicken pushes the idea of a chair to the edge of what we may recognize as functional seating.
The Green Chicken rocking chair is shown alongside a portrait of Hayon taken by photographer Nienke Klunder, in which the designer rides his own creation. The figure appears once more in miniature, as part of a porcelain figure that Hayon designed for Spanish ceramics company Lladró. In each case, the chicken shifts slightly in tone—from silly to sweet, absurd to surreal—and demonstrates how factors like scale and material can convey just as much information as a design’s figurative elements.
As playful as many of Hayon’s works may be, there is no match for Wabbit and FunkioMonkio, two larger-than-life wooden play sculptures which visitors are invited to climb and explore. The works are part of a larger installation of play equipment called Tiovivo: Whimsical Sculptures by Jaime Hayon, which Hayon designed for the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Handmade by artisans at the Italian company La Veneta di Remigio Scapin, these wooden sculptures create an interactive experience, allowing viewers to physically enter the designer’s imaginative world. The inclusion of these play sculptures in the exhibition also raises a worthwhile question: how can objects designed for outdoor play function inside of an art gallery? In the case of Tiovivo, 3D-printed maquettes help viewers envision what the other, larger pieces in the series look like, and brightly painted walls bring an energetic sense of the great outdoors to the gallery.
Finally, the most recent works in the exhibition are a set of glassworks, together titled Afrikando. Commissioned specifically for the Milwaukee Art Museum’s permanent Collection, this “family” (as Hayon describes it) of seven vessels infuses the storied history of Murano blown glass with Hayon’s unique sensibility. For more on Afrikando, look out for another upcoming blog post that will focus on this exciting new work.
Jaime Hayon: Technicolor is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum in the Bradley Family Gallery December 8, 2017–March 25, 2018.
Hannah Pivo is Curatorial Assistant for Design. She works on acquisitions, gallery rotations, and exhibitions of 20th- and 21st-century ceramics, glass, textile, graphics, industrial design, and more.