Vladimir Kagan’s Annecy Collection — his final work — dares you to decide: Furniture designer — or sculptor?

vladimir-kaganLast week I made a quick roundtrip to New York City to see the preview of Vladimir Kagan’s final furniture collection, ‘Annecy’, at The Carpenter’s Workshop Gallery. There are four pieces in the collection, which Kagan approached as sculpture first, furniture second — flipping Louis Sullivan’s famous mantra to “let function follow the form.” Kagan died just a few months ago at the age of 88. This stunning last work is a befitting finale to his amazing 70-year career. Above: That’s Kagan’s spectacular cantilevered Annecy Sofa, which he proclaimed one of the masterpieces of his career. And with it — my daughter, who joined me for the event. She graduated from college in June and now is working in the city. It was great fun to take her along to her first Retro Renovation event — and to introduce her to Kagan, an icon of midcentury modern furniture design.

Photo viewing tip: On a desktop computer, click on any photo, and it should double in size on screen for a better look at the details.

But: Is this Kagan work ‘furniture’ — or is it ‘sculpture’ for people who are “a little far out”?

VLADIMIR KAGAN IN HIS SIGNATURE 100A BARREL CHAIR 1950S

VLADIMIR KAGAN IN HIS SIGNATURE 100A BARREL CHAIR — 1950s

Born in Germany in 1927, Vladimir Kagan came to the U.S. in 1938. His earliest focus was on painting and sculpture, but in his formative years he became exceedingly attracted to architecture and design. He studied Architecture at Columbia University and in 1947 joined his father, Illi Kagan, a master cabinetmaker, to work in his woodworking shop and learn furniture making from the ground up. His talent was quickly recognized, and he developed a circle of famous clients, including Marilyn Monroe and Andy Warhol. Today his work is featured in a number of permanent collections museums and institutes around the world including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Vitra Design Museum in Germany.

Erica Wilson

Erica Wilson. Used with permission originally featured in this story.

Personally, I am also in love with the fact that Kagan was married to Erica Wilson, the queen of American needlecraft in the 1960s, 1970s and beyond. (In fact, I first learned about Vladimir Kagan via my fascination with Erica Wilson; read more here and here and here.) What a creative and prolific pair!

CATALOG IMAGE FOR THE GROSFELD HOUSE COLLECTION, CA. 1950 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

CATALOG IMAGE FOR THE GROSFELD HOUSE COLLECTION, CA. 1950.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

In the foreword to Kagan’s autobiography, ‘ladimir Kagan: A Lifetime of Avant Garde Design (Amazon affiliate link), architect Zaha Hadid described Kagan’s legacy to the history of furniture design:

Kagan’s work is unique because, even to jaded modernist fans, it still has a wow factor — a potency and flair and this new and fresh. Kagan once said of his original clientele, “People who enjoyed what I did had to be a little far out.” I almost wish I could see his work with fifties eyes.

The furnishings he made in the late part of that decade represented such a dramatic shift from the staid furnishings of earlier years – and their shapes were so daringly sensuous – that to put them in a Park Avenue apartment must have been shocking. But that’s why they’re still around.

The designs that people either love or hate are the ones that end up defining a new era.

VLADIMIR KAGAN AT THE KAGAN FACTORY LONG ISLAND CITY, QUEENS, 1972 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

VLADIMIR KAGAN AT THE KAGAN FACTORY, LONG ISLAND CITY, QUEENS, 1972. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

HOT PINK OMNIBUS CONFIGURATION AT THE STANDARD HOTEL, 2002 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

HOT PINK OMNIBUS CONFIGURATION AT THE STANDARD HOTEL, 2002.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The foreward that designer Tom Ford wrote for the original 2004 edition of the autobiography speaks to the superlative artistic underpinnings in all of Kagan’s work:

Vladimir’s designs are provocative and powerful, yet grounded by his deep understanding of materiality and structure, continuing a narrative that re-invents our perception of solid and void, figure and ground, form and function…

His passion and imagination has suspended each piece in time and space, yet they are bound by neither.

Vladimir’s works evoke a future of tremendous ambition, their fluid lines and sinuous forms evolved from his superbly unapologetic belief in the fantastic, his commitment to progress and boundless sense of discovery.

Furniture designer … or sculptor? The answer, clearly, is: Yes.

Vladimir Kagan’s Annecy Collection — on exhibit at the Carpenters Workshop Gallery through Oct. 29, 2016

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From the exhibition. Courtesy Carpenters Workshop Gallery.

On display at the Carpenters Workshop Gallery are three completed pieces in the Annecy Collection: a sofa with rosewood detailing and  a console and a low table each completed as castings in the Carpenters Workshop Gallery’s Mitry-Mory Studio.

kagan-annecy-deskA fourth piece — a desk — is on display, but it is rendered in structural foam, not yet built out. I was told that Vladimir Kagan had spent many hours on the piece, carefully scraping a bit here, sculpting a bit there, to get it just right — it was exciting to look at it to imagine and search for ‘his mark’.

‘Annecy’ is the name of Vladimir Kagan’s second youngest grand-daughter; it was his tradition to name his creations after his family members..

kagan_annecy_exhibition-views_02

From the exhibition. Courtesy Carpenters Workshop Gallery.

kagan_annecy-coffee-table_04

From the exhibition. Courtesy Carpenters Workshop Gallery.

A very limited number of the pieces will be produced for sale. The Annecy sofa will be available in an edition of 12, along with four artist’s proofs. There will be eight each of the consoles and low tables produced, also with four artist’s proofs of each.

kagan_annecy-console_03

The Annecy Collection console table. Courtesy Carpenters Workshop Gallery.

kagan_annecy-console_05

Reaching back to the earliest days of his career, Kagan applied textures to his two most sculptural pieces in the Annecy Collection: the console table and low table. Courtesy Carpenters Workshop Gallery.

VLADMIR KAGAN | PORTRAIT © JOHN WALSH

VLADMIR KAGAN | PORTRAIT © JOHN WALSH

Vladimir Kagan: One of a kind. ♥

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Comments

  1. Carol says

    Mr. Kagan will always remain my favorite designer, so it’s “Sculpture” for this “a little far out”. I once had a conversation with a retired book editor from NYC in Nashville, my hometown. After a few minutes, he asked if he could state an observation, and I said of course. He said: “You are about 3 degrees off center aren’t you?” After a moment, I told him it was more than that and we had a good laugh. Since my teens I’ve been called eccentric by a choice few. I only know how to be me and at least I’m not bored with myself. (Both of my parents were only children) Maybe this is why I’m in awe of Mr. Kagan’s talent. He produced what was in his head, and stayed true to his aesthetic.

  2. linda h says

    That might be my favorite Kagan sofa yet since I first saw a curvy Kagan sofa years ago. Your daughter is lovely. It is fun doing things like going to exhibits with our daughters.

  3. Karin says

    All of Kagan’s pieces with their flowing lines are so elegant, I find it hard to pick a favorite. If I could have just one piece, it would be one of his rocking chairs. I first saw one of these in a magazine article about great flea market finds. It is stunning. Sculpture or furniture? It is both. That characterizes all of his furniture. Great post, thanks.

  4. tammyCA says

    Neat that you and your daughter went to see this (she looks like you). I guess if you can sit on it without sliding off it’s furniture as well as sculpture. 😀 It’s pretty & sinewy (I adore curvy lines) but I really like the vintage pieces more..too bad I don’t own any.

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