I haven’t made it yet to 2 Willow Road, the house that Ernö Goldfinger (he of London’s rather wonderful Brutalist Trellick Tower (which is featured in our upcoming book on aesthetics by Stephen Bayley, "Ugly: the Aesthetics of Everything") and, yes, the inspiration for the Bond villain) designed for himself in Hampstead in 1939. Ryan Gander and Michael Marriott both have, and it is their shared fascination for this Modernist masterpiece that has informed their exhibition Ernö Goldfinger v Groucho Marx currently on show at the Russian Club Gallery on East London’s Kingsland Road.
The exhibition occupies just one room in the gallery, whose small size belies its increasing reputation; amongst last year’s delights were Sameness & Difference, which Gander also took part in. For this show the artist has contributed a large, wooden frame-like structure that contains a series of objects including books and empty picture frames, which have been spray painted into homogeneity to give the appearance of a relationship between them.
As a transcript from his Loose Association lecture series pasted up on the wall asserts, the vitrine is inspired by the surrealist device of dissonance and similitude, something that Gander sees in Goldfinger’s design of the Willow Road interior. This is most explicit in a similarly-shaped screen in the architect's design for the living room.
This collaboration between Gander and Marriott, an artist and designer respectively, makes for problems on the language front: mindful of the increasing redundancy of the term ‘designart’, and of the deliberate ambiguity on their design/art status, I’d describe Gander’s structure as a work of art that uses furniture as a medium for conceptual expression, a realm currently also being explored by the likes of Nicole Wermers and also Pablo Bronstein at the ICA.
Marriott’s main contribution is more straightforward to classify; a number of bollard-like Roto stacker plastic stools strewn across the space designed by Marriott for the Southbank Centre this year.
Like Marriott, Gander explains the debt to Goldfinger in both conceptual and formal terms: he describes the echoes between the shape of his plastic stool and the cast-iron base of the architect’s remarkable bricolage-esque table in the Willow Road flats.
There is also an element of the architect’s use of readymades here. Pasted up on the walls are photocopies from the catalogue for Mies Meets Marx: MMM, an exhibition on Marriott held at the Geffrye Museum in 2002, which combined readymades, found objects and authored designs, just like the Russian Club Gallery show. According to the gallery’s blurb, Marx’s main contribution is found in the exhibition’s air of ‘syntactic ambiguity.’ Certainly pinning down a meaning, and meaningful relationship between the exhibitors, and between the ideas and objects displayed, proved at times (I imagine deliberately) rather elusive – perhaps something a long planned visit to 2 Willow Road might rectify.
Ernö Goldfinger v Groucho Marx is on show at the Russian Club Gallery until the 25th June.
Posted by Cat Rossi