Art of the Curious, a collaboration between storied London Old Master paintings dealer Colnaghi and Munich’s Kunstkammer Georg Laue aims to help modern collectors recreate a version of the fabled Renaissance Kunstkammers – rooms chuck full of priceless art, treasures and wonders from the natural world – but all with a distinctly contemporary take. This is not an episode of ‘Hoarders’, but instead a curated and modern glimpse into what a kunstkammer would be today.
In recent years, Colnaghi has paired with contemporary photographers and artists to show just how beautifully their Old Master paintings can be incorporated into modern homes and collections. With this current exhibition, they take this concept one step further by adding old and new curiosities and objets to the mix. The idea of the kunstkammer is not new, but what is, is the idea and mixing historic paintings, prints and new decorative works of art by contemporary artists such as Sarah Graham and Steffen Dam.
From the past, a beautiful watercolor of flowers done in India circa 1800 gives a real sense of how the Kunstkammer worked. If you imagine back to 300 years, the world was exploding with new discoveries and finds and I can just imagine British adventurers having native Indian artists make these detailed watercolors of exotic plants to send home to scholars and botanists in London to add to the growing catalogue of world plant specimens. Artist Sarah Graham (b.1973) continues this tradition today with finely rendered studies of the coolest bugs and insects you can imagine! I MUCH prefer to see these on the page in her art than crawling across the floor! Graham has travelled all over the world seeking inspiration that she then reworks in her studio. Decorators and clients always covet images such as these because they are exquisite and perfect for adding to a library or hallway of a country home.
Whereas collecting bugs and animals floating in formaldehyde are generally not my thing, Danish artist Steffen Dam (b.1961) has taken the concept and created beautiful glass pieces which only appear to contain the treasures of the deep. Dam’s creations are actually all illusion – he uses his technique in capturing otherworldly life forms in glass. Not meant as objects to study, they are instead designed to inspire curiosity – just as the historic predecessors once did with real specimens. These glass sculptures would be great in an office or library where you could really appreciate them … the bubbles in the glass give life to the pieces and create a sense of suspended animation.
As someone who loves decorative arts, but does not always want to show off the actual pieces, a great compromise are the original design folios for porcelain, furniture, jewelry and silver. Often you can find the most incredible designs for objects, many of which may not have even been created. Artist’s allowing their imagination to outpace the technical abilities of craftsmen is nothing new! These designs are terribly sought after as art in their own right. Colnaghi has this ink and chalk drawing of a design for a silver flatware service done in Germany in the 18th century. They also have the actual pieces if you like, but I kind of think I would get more use out of displaying the drawing in a kitchen or breakfast nook where I would enjoy it every day rather than only use the flatware now and then.
Mixing old and new adds layers and depth to your decor. The last thing you want is for your room to have the stale appearance of having been put together overnight or at one shop. Nothing looks more “homey” than a room where the owner’s collections and interests show through. And for this, Colnaghi’s “Art of the Curious” is worth a stop if you happen to be in London
richard rabel: interiors + art
interior design and art advising
new york city
image credits: Colnaghi, London. The show runs at their Bond Street premises until 25 October 2013.