REVIEW: The Futile Effort of Differentiating Fine Art from Design

August 24, 2017

The Useful and the Decorative at the Landing explores the relationship between fine art and design, and how the lines blur between them.

 

LOS ANGELES — If you ever admired Eero Saarinen’s modernist Tulip chair, a mid-20th-century industrial design icon, and thought it made for better sculpture than whatever you just saw in the art gallery down the street, you will enjoy The Useful and the Decorative at the Landing. The group exhibition explores the relationship between fine art and design, and how the lines blur between them. Comprising seven artists — unfortunately, only two of them women and all of them white — it explores the relationship between fine art and design, and how the lines blur between them. Underlying this investigation is the suggestion that these two arenas are distinguished by their use-value: design is explicitly utilitarian in its reinventions of items such as silverware, furniture, lighting, etc, while artworks are made without any practical function in mind, their central utility being conceptual. This exhibit is a nice opportunity to consider whether or not you buy that argument.
 

The strongest works are by Ryan Fenchel and Don Edler. But while the former identifies himself as a painter, and the latter as straddling between fine art and design, these considerations had no impact on my experience of their work. Fenchel paints vessels from his imagination, including vases, amphoras, jugs, and the like, taking liberties with their shapes and surfaces. His best piece in the gallery is “Sidereal Procession, the Adept In Public” (2017), a 12-foot-long frieze of 10 vessels set in vivid chroma. The connection between the image and its title is far from clear, but there is richness and delight in the orchestration of shapes and hues, some anthropomorphic, some like human organs, some resembling antique Chinese porcelain.

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