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The beauty of imperfection

Richard Avedon :: portrait of Marella Agnelli :: 1959
















Throughout Western history, the concept of beauty has always been associated with the idea of perfection. In ancient Greece, the definition of beautiful was structurally linked to notions of order, symmetry and clarity, and to the presence of proportions defined as harmonic. In the Middle Ages, Christianity gave beauty a symbolic dimension by interpreting it as divine attributes, such as goodness and truth – in this sense, also linked to the idea of perfection. And although Renaissance brought relativistic concepts, which incorporated cultural and socio-economic aspects to the concept of beauty, it was not until the seventeenth century that subjectivity began to permeate the notion of beauty (thus giving rise to the concept of “taste”).


In the second half of the eighteenth century, the social upheavals in Europe created a favorable environment for the revival of Ancient Greece and Rome’s ideals of beauty, widely used in the representative images of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire. And it was precisely at that moment that Kant emerged, the first thinker to move the center of existence of beauty from the object to the subject. The division that Kant established between ‘judgment of knowledge’ (which creates concepts based on the object’s properties) and ‘aesthetic judgment’ (arising from the personal reaction of the beholder before the object) defined the foundations of contemporary aesthetics. The beauty is no longer only in what is seen, and also lies in the eyes that see.


The Kantian thought paved the way for the great aesthetic ruptures that took place between the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The ideas of uniqueness, individuality, pleasure, emotion, power, courage, vitality, and others, were incorporated into the concept of beautiful. We were able to understand that there is beauty in perfection, but also that perfection is not a prerequisite of beauty. We sharpened our capacity of perception and expanded the possibility of giving pleasure to our souls. We began to admire the crystal clear voice of Nat King Cole as much as Chet Baker’s insecure voice; the classic proportions of Grace Kelly’s face, and the exotic and voluptuous features of Sophia Loren; the dense beauty of Raushenberg’s work and the almost superficial pop art of Warhol.


A few decades later, the path of apparent freedom curiously ended up leading us to an imprisonment. Stimulated by an industry that is interdisciplinarily structured in mass production and overestimation of youth to generate profits, the search for a beauty ideal – for the perfect beauty – has never been as exacerbated as today. In an insane and endless process, men and women throw themselves on a journey towards that which is nothing but a collective imaginary construction. And by abandoning their own beauty to (try to) attain the other, they live eternally unhappy, wandering along this path.


We need to rescue the wealth of plurality and the beauty that lies in imperfection. We need to remember the weirdness of Dovima. The eyes of Serge Gainsbourg, the teeth of Lauren Hutton. The mouth of Mick Jagger, the eyebrows of Frida Kahlo and the lines of Grace Jones. And, above all, remember the words of Leonard Cohen, who, in his song ‘Anthem’ from 1992, said:
“…Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

Simplicity and style

Elsa Peretti :: photo by Duane Michals :: Vogue, 1974

Elsa Peretti :: photo by Duane Michals :: Vogue, 1974













Elsa Peretti is perhaps the greatest responsible for the contemporary image of Tiffany & Co. Since her first collection for the brand in 1974, the Italian designer has been creating beautiful objects and jewelry that are characterized by an organic simplicity and an unmistakable formal elegance – attributes that have kept her work among the best sellers of the company over the past 40 years.


Born in Florence in 1940, Elsa revealed her creative, curious and free spirit in a very early age. Daughter of a magnate of the oil industry, while still young she distanced herself from her conservative parents to spend time in Switzerland, and teach Italian and ski. Back in Italy, she graduated in interior design in Rome and, after breaking her engagement, moved to Milan and began working with the architect Dado Torrigiani. In the following year, 1963, she moved to Barcelona and began her career as a model, and plunged into the fascinating world of Catalan artists and architects – in particular Gaudi, a declared influence to her. Fascinated by the sculptural forms, she traveled to Japan and Hong Kong to immerse in Asian art and symbolism; finally, in 1968, she emigrated to the United States and went to live in New York (according to her, the best place to enjoy one’s youth at that time).


When walking the runways for Halston, Sant’ Angelo and De La Renta, Elsa noticed her special interest in the design of jewelry and accessories. With her somewhat rebellious personality, refined esthete perception and proximity to the fashion world, she quickly realized that the language that was emerging in clothing design (characterized by the combination of comfort, practicality and sensuality) should also permeate dressing accessories. Then she began her wax modeling work with abstract, simple and organic shapes inspired by the forms of nature; later, by dipping them in silver, she created beautiful pieces, attractive because of their clean and innovative design and their superb execution. Only 5 years separated her first necklace creation to her contract with Tiffany – and by the time the renowned jewelry brand launched her first collection, all her pieces of work were already sold out.


Elsa Peretti usually says that her work comes from her life. And there is no doubt that every one of her creations reflects her personality and the way she sees the world: her passion for nature, whose shapes she copies and then reinvents; her tireless curiosity, that moves her in search of various materials and production processes; her devotion to craftsmanship, that makes each creation the result of hard and investigative manual work; and her eternal rebellion that keeps the flame of questioning alive in her.


Even today, there is no model more perfect for Elsa Peretti’s creations than herself. Style (which, according to the designer herself, does not go with excesses), beauty, simplicity, competence, elegance and personality – to see, wear, admire and learn.


To learn more: http://elsaperettidesign.blogspot.com.br

Our innovative history

Mosaic :: BR Conspiration :: Fábio Galeazzo :: 2012











According to some historians, the first record of tiles in Brazil dates back to around 1620, when pieces of glazed ceramics from Portugal came to adorn the convent of Santo Amaro de Água Fria, in Olinda. Since then – whether for its strong representation of the metropolis’s culture, for its plastic beauty or for its thermal comfort characteristics (well suited to our climate) – the tile gained more and more space in Brazilian buildings. Initially present in panels of religious or government-owned buildings, in a few decades the beautiful pieces began to be imported not only from Portugal but also from France and the Netherlands (countries that produced their tiles with an important forma of artistic expression) and also began to serve as frontages of urban buildings.


Also in the late nineteenth century, Brazil started manufacturing the tile – but it was not before the beginning of the twentieth century that our production became regular. And although during that time some architects abandoned the use of this material (as a rejection of elements that represented the colonial period), the modern Brazilian movement, seeking to “combine tradition and modernity, and turn domestic and traditional materials into a bridge between the colonial and the modern”* (re)incorporated the tile to its architecture. Since then, the domestic tile has become a powerful artistic expression of our own culture, and depicted, along with geometric shapes, elements of our landscape, our wildlife and our flora.


Under this historical perspective, the tiles created by designer Fabio Galeazzo and now released by Azulejaria Brasil (Cerâmica Antigua) have gained even greater momentum. In a collection named Conspiração BR (BR Conspiracy, in a free translation), which consisted of 20 prints divided into four themes, Galeazzo rescues and revisits, with mastery, one of the most important elements of our architecture.


Galeazzo reveals deep knowledge, extreme sensitivity and an enormous capacity for innovation through his choice of format (15cm X 15cm, the most traditional in our production), his choice of themes (which range from Festa do Divino images to prints traditionally found in the Brazilian cheetah), and his assembly of the color palette, thus obtaining results of undeniable plastic beauty.


By combining technical and theoretical expertise, sensitivity and talent, Galeazzo proves that interior design can indeed be innovative and storytelling, playful and cultural – all at once, while providing beauty to the environment, pleasure to the eye and comfort to the soul.


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Form and thought

Mira Schendel :: untitled, from the series Graphic Objects :: 1967














From all the European artists who immigrated to Brazil during or shortly after the Second World War and who contributed significantly to the enrichment of our visual arts, Mira Schendel is undoubtedly the name of greater importance.


Born in Zurich, she also lived in Berlin, Milan, Sarajevo, Zagreb and Rome before immigrating to Brazil in 1949, settling in Porto Alegre. There are no records of any European artwork by her; she is said to have interrupted her philosophy degree in Italy and started her artistic production here in Brazil, as an autodidact.
As explained by Geraldo de Souza Dias in 2001 in the preface of her exhibition catalog at Jeu de Paume in Paris, “her intellectual infrastructure, fed by religious and philosophical questionings, found here a cultural environment which was more favorable to the encouragement of artistic creativity than to the strict scientific nature of philosophical thought.”


Schendel’s writings are essential to understanding the uniqueness of her work. Without engaging in art history, she resorted to psychology, science, knowledge, theology and philosophy to produce her work, always based on her own thoughts and aesthetic principles. Predominant in post-Plato Western philosophy, the idea of splitting, which is inherent to human nature – body versus soul, matter versus spirit –, is central to her work, often permeated with existential questionings or expressions of religious origin.


Mira Schendel quickly evolved from still life forms to abstractionism and then to writings – calligraphy of immense beauty through which she recorded her thoughts and questionings. Without abandoning the word as an expression of thought, Mira later incorporated self-adhesive letters (Letraset) into such writings, not only as vehicles of meaning but as graphical elements of countless artistic possibilities. Experiences with transparencies, which allow the spectator to contemplate the two faces of monotypes, are ultimate displays of the depth and sensitivity found in her quest.


One can’t help recognizing and falling in love with the artwork of Mira Schendel.
No one has ever transmuted the word into art with such elegance, delicacy and personality as she did. Even exceptional artists like Leon Ferrari (who shared with Mira the great retrospective ‘Tangled Alphabets’ at MoMA in 2009) and Marcel Broodthaers failed to unite, with such beauty, form and thought – body and soul, matter and spirit – and thus provide, through the contemplation of a work, deep thoughts combined with infinite pleasures.


To learn more:
‘Mira Schendel’, homonymous exhibition catalog, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, 2001
‘Tangled Alphabets – Leon Ferrari and Mira Schendel’, Luis Peres-Oramas, MoMA & CosacNaif, 2009

Where our eyes are turned to

Arthur Bispo do Rosário :: ‘Manto da Apresentação’ :: sem data












It is assumed that Arthur Bispo do Rosario lived for about 80 years – no one knows the exact year of his birth. He spent 50 of these years as an intern at an old mental hospital in Rio de Janeiro called Juliano Moreira, being 25 continuous years until his death in 1989.


As a black man, grandson of slaves, poor and migrant, he tried to survive in Rio de Janeiro as a janitor, caretaker, building doorman, employee of a public utility company and bodyguard of politicians, until he was considered “a paranoid schizophrenic”. In a context marked by the rise of fascism – including Brazil, where the acting Brazilian League for Mental Hygiene took a hygienist, racist and xenophobic approach – he was subjected to lobotomy, electroshock and punishment by psychiatric methods that mutilated and excluded those who disturbed the order.


His work was made public, as a whole, only after his death – and revealed an immense artistic legacy of originality, profound thematic creativity and diversity of shapes and materials, bringing to light a previously unknown life whose understanding was based on art, not insanity.


Consciously appropriating of his exile as a way of facilitating self-expression, Bispo do Rosario created art out of any material resource he laid his hands on, irrefutably demonstrating man’s innate ability to create – in spite of difficulties of any nature: technical, material, theoretical knowledge or personal history. His hands made bottles, combs, coins, shoes, mugs, spoons, brooms, pieces of fabric (taken from sheets), sewing threads (for embroidery, taken from the inmates’ uniforms) leave their original purpose to become vehicles of his obsessive quest for ordainment, structure and rhythm of time and thought.


In the words of Louise Bourgeois, “Bispo do Rosario had the ability to take an object of his life of confinement and turn it into a symbolic object of his self-expression, mystery, beauty and freedom”. Coming across any of these objects is an experience invariably fraught with great emotion for its astonishing plastic beauty and the possibility of recognizing shapes, words and meanings that silently talk with the human soul, awakening universal feelings and existential questions.


Questions, yes. Because by looking inward, listening to his own soul and allowing himself to give vent to his creative essence even in the face of immense adversity, Bispo do Rosário yielded beauty and put himself in a time in history psychiatry will never reach. We then wonder where our eyes are turned to, what our ears are listening to and why, even when there is no adversity, we find ourselves reluctant to let forth the creative essence that each one of us carries, in a unique and singular way, inside of us.


In 1982, the Bispo do Rosario Museum of Contemporary Art was inaugurated in Rio de Janeiro – http://www.rioecultura.com.br/instituicao/instituicao.asp?local_cod=119


In 2007, CosacNaify published the beautiful book named “Arthur Bispo do Rosario – Seculo XX”, put together by Wilson Lazaro, with texts by Emanuel Araujo, Louise Bourgeois, Paulo Herkenhoff and Ricardo Aquino, currently out of print.

Silent understanding

Issey Miyake by Irving Penn

Issey Miyake by Irving Penn :: 1990














The American Irving Penn was one of the key people in building the image of Western women in the second half of the twentieth century. He joined Vogue in the late 1940s through Alexander Liberman (his job was to “come up with ideas for the covers”), and eventually established himself as a talented creator of fashion images, full of glamour and sensuality to which the post-war American society aspired.


While on the one hand his near aristocratic view privileged poses of rigid formalism – which made reference to photos of previous decades – on the other hand the minimalism and the plainness perceived in his images showed, undoubtedly, the innovative nature of his work. Even when fashion itself was built on excesses, the sensitive eye of Penn filtered out the superfluous, and the resulting images were always of great elegance and sophisticated simplicity.


Born in Hiroshima seven years before the city was destroyed by war, Issey Miyake is undoubtedly one of the most creative clothing designers of the last century. Far beyond the “Japanese designer” label usually assigned by the international press, Miyake was never restricted to national identity, and always sought balance between tradition and innovation to create universal designs. “I do not create to express my ego or personality, but rather to get answers to those who are wondering about our era and how we should live it.”


From a simple and minimalist concept – “making clothes from a piece of cloth” – Miyake’s work is a result from the old principle of mixing a three-dimensional figure with two-dimensional material by means of folding. By combining Japanese fabric with western patterns, new technology and functionality, his “less is more” concept builds forms which are architecturally simple, elegant and of exquisite beauty.
For over 20 years, between 1975 and 1998, Irving Penn portrayed Issey Miyake’s work. The merger of these two artists from such diverse cultural backgrounds was registered in 1999 in the wonderful book “Irving Penn regards the works of Issey Miyake”, by Midori Kitamura and Mark Holborn, which will be the subject of an exhibition at 21-21 Design Sight in Tokyo, Japan, starting in September.


This union, which at first seemed unusual, has produced hundreds of stunning images, in that their work turned out to be a mirror to each other’s work. Under Penn’s influence, the models’ poses turned Miyake’s clothes into true sculptures, portraying scenes that look more like fragments of dance moves; Miyake, in turn, gave Penn a chance to exercise his formal rigor with textures, shapes and masks from another culture. And the union of these two “masters of reduction,” as defined by Holborn in the foreword of the book, yielded images of a dry, sharp and accurate nature, which offer no room for anything beyond the essentials. The result of this beautiful partnership, which Miyake poetically called “silent understanding”, proves that the concepts of beauty and elegance can indeed be universal – and can gently touch the most unique souls throughout eternity.

The strength and beauty of words

Xenon on Berlin’s Matthäikirche, 2001 © Jenny Holzer













Born in Ohio in 1950, Jenny Holzer is an artist who, over the past three decades, has been consolidating a beautiful and impressive work in the visual arts. In spite of her flirting with the abstract arts at the beginning of her career in the late 70’s, when she moved to New York, Holzer chose the word as the driving force of her work, and began to use non-conventional media such as billboards, LED panels and lighting projections to convey both dimensions that make up a word: form and content.


The texts used have different origins: many of them are her own writings, others are internationally known poems, others are even extracted from governmental documents. But Holzer uses this diversity to work in a single line, which speaks of universal values and establishes counterpoints that deeply touch us all: the public and the private, the political body and the physical body, the universal and particular.


More impressive, however, is Holzer’s counterpoint between form and content: we see, at one time, sensitivity and strength, gigantism and fluidity, frailty and perennity – all with a plastic result of unarguable beauty.


It is impossible to stand indifferent when faced with one of Holzer’s pieces of artwork. The strength of her words beautifully invades our eyes, our minds and our souls.


To learn more: www.jennyholzer.com
“ProtectProtect”, Jenny Holzer Exhibition at Whitney Museum, NYC, 2009 (video)

Multiple choices









Sample books have been used since the sixteenth century as working tools for all areas of the decorative arts. With the purpose of experimentation, documentation, marketing or distribution, they are endowed with refined beauty since it offers countless possibilities of colors, shapes, forms or textures, and provide the perception of variety – and by doing so in an orderly fashion, they allow understanding and pleasure. (Quoting Montesquieu: “It does not suffice it to show many things to the soul: we must do it in order, to be able to remember what we saw and begin to imagine what we will see; the soul thus rejoices for its extent and its ability to penetrate”.)


On this theme, in 2008 the Cooper-Hewitt Museum held a wonderful exhibition called “Multiple Choices – From Sample to Product”. The samples ranged from sales catalogs with replica buttons of the French industry of the eighteenth century to tiles resembling the porcelain colors of Sèvres, to the latest Pantone® Guides notebooks, books and objects of unparalleled beauty, capable of filling our eyes and taking our breath away.


The contact with such universe of colors, shapes and their infinite associations results in a sensory experience able to provide our soul with different and infinite pleasures. A beautiful example is the PantoneHotel, inaugurated almost a year ago in Brussels. By inviting people to “experience Brussels through the lens of colors”, the hotel assigned to each of its seven floors different color palettes, thus aiming to provide its guests with different sensations – and therefore, different pleasures.

Why Chanel

Photo :: Gabrielle Chanel


Almost 100 years after her first creations, Chanel is still revered in the fashion world – and outside as well. In an era when products, thoughts and relationships are increasingly ephemeral, one should wonder why such a long stay.


Freeing the woman from rigid attires at the end of the nineteenth century (which favored ostentation at the expense of comfort), Chanel reproduced, on an industrial scale, her own image – a distinctive image in absolute harmony with her personality and the historical moment in which she lived. And here lies the secret of her stay in the collective imagination for so long: we are not fascinated by her clothes, necklaces or perfumes – we are fascinated by her identity both strong and unique, which is revealed to us through the objects she used and (re)produced.


Some say that the intensity of Chanel’s presence annulled those of her rivals. It doesn’t seem to me, however, that this fascination came from the objects she chose to wear… On the contrary, such objects were personal and conscious choices, result of the intensity of her thinking – and of the understanding that, also by dressing, she expressed her own identity.


Ironically, the industrial production of a unique personal style has become a paradox – to the point when Chanel herself stated: “I am no longer what I once was: I must be what I have become.” The desire for a socially recognized and valued image combined with the lack of knowledge and reflection on oneself make thousands of people seek in bags, shoes and clothes the ability to grant them personality and identity, in a total reversal of roles.


As I once wrote in the text ‘About dressing’ (Jan, 2011), beauty lies in being and perceiving ourselves as unique. Beautiful, therefore, is not to own Chanel – beautiful is to be Chanel.

The borders of design

Olive Street nº1 :: byHenzel















There are objects that, even if produced with high technology, according to a specific project and on an industrial scale, are displayed before our eyes with the power of artwork, unique and manufactured. They take on a “subject” role before the observer rather than mere “objects”, surprising for their originality, touching for their unique beauty and tempting for the ability to subvert existing standards. These objects drive us out of our comfort zones and demand from us a new perspective and a new reflection on what we thought we knew.


The rugs created by Henzel Studio are like this – they question, test and transcend boundaries that often persist between design (in this case, interior) and art. The starting point is a fresh look at this object, so familiar (?) to all of us… And the result is invariably stunning.


There is no doubt that, without technical excellence and high quality materials, it would be impossible to materialize in wool traits and colors that seem to have come out of paintings, graffiti and watercolors. But if these rugs speak to our soul, it’s because behind the technical excellence and quality materials, another soul is released to them, willing to turn them into a new medium of expression. To do so, it questioned the conventions, overthrew patterns, uses and purposes, and thus redefined not only a new world of colors, images and treatments for this object, but also the relationship we establish with it.


Restlessness, nonconformism and passion are key tools to open our minds and our hearts, allowing us to break free to the new. And our soul needs the new – (re)discovering shapes, colors, uses and relationships, we can create and enjoy, every day, new sources of beauty and pleasure.


To learn more: www.byhenzel.com