The Zurich Art Prize, awarded annually by Museum Haus Konstruktiv and Zurich Insurance Group Ltd, goes this year to Leonor Antunes (b. 1972 in Lisbon, lives and works in Berlin). This Portuguese artist is the twelfth winner of the internationally renowned award. The prize is endowed with CHF 100,000, of which CHF 20,000 go to the respective winner and the other CHF 80,000 are used for the production of their solo exhibition at Museum Haus Konstruktiv. In particular, Antunes enthused the Zurich Art Prize jury with her sensorial precise pieces, in which she explicitly refers back to the works and ideas of well-known 20th-century cultural workers from the fields of architecture, design and art.
curated by Sabine Schaschl
Leonor Antunes conceives her sculptural works on the basis of research into objects from the history of modernist architecture and design, whereby she is just as interested in the historical objects’ materiality and manner of production, as she is in their former sociopolitical significance. From architectures and pieces of furniture, she borrows forms and motifs, removes these from their original context and combines them as duplicates, enlargements or reductions, to make new sculptural works and environments.
Antunes pays special attention to the place where she presents her works. The space’s architectural and historical givens write themselves into the history of the exhibited objects, much like how these, conversely, recharge the space. Presentation of pre-existing works in new environments and combinations is part of Antunes’s artistic practice. ”I really like the idea of installing previous / existing works in different settings. Each show is a new challenge in that sense, and the sculptures are generous enough to be absorbed by the different situations and contexts.”
At Museum Haus Konstruktiv, this artist now presents pieces that belong to two groups of works from 2017 and 2018. In both series, she primarily addresses female figures who were long neglected by art history and architectural history. The six sculptural objects Clara I–V and VII, placed on a sisal carpet on the first floor, are based on her intense engagement with Cuban furniture designer and interior designer Clara Porset (1895–1981), which began in 2007. From 1911 onward, Porset studied architecture and design in Cuba and New York, e.g. at Manhattanville Academy and Columbia University. At the end of the 1920s, she visited Europe. Here, she met Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius and his successor Hannes Meyer; she long remained in contact with both. From 1928 to 1931, she lived in Paris, where she continued her education in the studio of designer and interior designer Henri Rapin (1873–1939). In 1934, she attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina. With Josef Albers (1888–1976) and his wife Anni (1899–1994), who were teaching there, she maintained a lifelong friendship. Back in Havana, Porset became artistic director at Escuela Técnica Industrial para Mujeres, a technical industrial school for women. In 1935, disappointed by reactionary Cuban politics, she emigrated to Mexico, where she found a creative international milieu. Impressed by Mexican handicraft, she began to integrate folk craft techniques and indigenous materials into her own modernist furniture designs.
When Antunes now uses forms from Clara Porset’s furniture in her sculptures, she does so in a very precise manner: ”This is not a reinterpretation,” says Antunes. ”I am literally translating her work to a much bigger scale by selecting parts.” While some sculptures do strongly resemble Porset’s wicker seats and armchairs, reverence is implemented much more freely in others. The title of the exhibition can also be read in this way: In discrepancies with C. P., Antunes pays homage to her Cuban role model and provides an impressive platform for Porset’s legacy, but at the same time, Porset’s creations have lost their function as seating.
The letters C and P, used in the exhibition’s title, not only represent Clara Porset’s initials, but also those of French designer and architect Charlotte Perriand (1903–1999). Perriand, who studied at École de L’Union central des arts décoratifs in Paris, first became known as a colleague of Le Corbusier. Until recently, not much attention was paid to the fact that, with her revolutionary furniture designs and visionary projects pertaining to collective forms of accommodation, she played a major role in shaping 20th-century architecture and design. Leonor Antunes honors the oeuvre of this French pioneer, giving the title Charlotte to three of her works presented at Haus Konstruktiv. In these pieces, she makes explicit reference to furniture that Perriand designed for a holiday resort in Les Arcs, France.
The other exhibits, Franca I, II, III and Sergio, are homages to Italian designer and architect Franca Helg (1920–1989) and the Brazilian Sergio Rodrigues (1927–2014) respectively. Helg collaborated many times with architect and designer Franco Albini; together, they designed the lamp that Antunes refers to in her sculptures. In turn, Rodrigues’s furniture made from the wood of the jacaranda tree came to epitomize Brazilian design in the 1960s. Like the objects on the first floor, these exhibits also rest on a knotted carpet of sisal fibers. They (together with the Charlottes) are all equipped with various plants, which grow down toward the ground like epiphytes and are thus partly reminiscent of hair.
Like many materials that Antunes uses in her works, these plants do not come from Europe, but from South Africa, the Antilles or South Asia. To no small extent, the artist is thus referring to the colonial history of her own home country, Portugal: ”I was interested in the flux, the immigration of plants rather than looking at them as normal plants. My interest relied on the fact that, by being in Europe but looking outside of it, I have always seen art as something one should take care of. Taking care here meaning in the literal sense. As we take care of ourselves, our bodies and others. If we do not feed the plants, they die. But at the same time, we shouldn’t over care, that’s why those plants don’t need so much attention. Or they might die too! It’s about regulations, priorities, and making precise decisions.”
Zurich Art Prize is a cultural engagement by Zurich Insurance Company Ltd.
Museum Haus Konstruktiv is supported by its patrons, members and