If you’ve ever been to the Miami Airport, then you know that, in certain respects, the city departs from the sometime cookie-cutter culture that occasionally afflicts large swaths of our United States. Not to say that the U.S. isn’t multi-cultural, but that we’re sometimes plagued by an insularity that likes to pretend we’re the sun and the rest of the world’s countries and cultures are mere planets in orbit around our magnanimous brilliance (as regards that, hopefully, the times are a’ changin’…).
Poltrona Suave Lounge Chair. Designed by Julia Krantz. Exhibited via R 20th Century. Modeled with Julie MacKay.
But Miami gives the lie to this mind-set. A hefty slice of international in America’s domestic pie, Miami has a populace of divergent cultures and distinct languages. A stroll through the airport puts you in arm’s length and earshot of Spanish (in its multiple dialectical variations, including Cuban, Castilian, Argentinian, Chilean, and Honduran), Portuguese, French, Haitian and German. The place is in many ways a cultural crossroads, facilitating an environment of exposure and exchange that has given the city an expansive artistic palette. So it’s small wonder that Design Miami seems to be a nexus for international influence in art and design. We’ve already seen this exotic bent in the work of the Campana Brothers, Shiro Kuramata, Pieke Bermans, Nils Frederking, Hoda Baroudi, Maria Hibri, Gonçalo Mabunda, Max Lamb, Boris Berlin, Poul Christiansen, Tom Dixon, and Sebastian E. Add another name to this illustrious company, Brazil’s Julia Krantz.
Sao Paolo-based Krantz, one of a cadre of visionary Brazilian artists/designers invested in an interplay between Brazil’s Portuguese/African roots and the great natural abundance of the Brazilian landscape, is a sculptress of wood. Working with the ecologically-sensitive mode of stack-laminated plywood— she’s an associate of the Certified Forestry Products Buyers Group and has a Forest Stewardship Council seal of certification—Krantz manipulates ultra-thin wooden laminates into sensuous curvilinear forms, then polishes these forms to an enticing smoothness. The result is work that effaces process. Pieces such as the “Poltrona Suave Lounge Chair” and the “Sofa Guell” (both at Design Miami through December 6) are aptly characterized by the designer herself: “un amigo dice que mis diseños son como la forma del agua cuando cae. Nunca habría pensado una imagen así, pero creo que encaja.” (Translation: “a friend of mine says that my designs take the form of falling water. I never would have thought of such an image, but it fits…”).
The pieces also embody what Krantz calls “the search”: “a continuous quest for ways to manipulate wood with more precision, a better understanding of the material possibilities and a more conscious connection to the environment and emerging opportunities for sustainable design.” Krantz’s work—and the way she speaks of her work—reminds me of the sculptor’s old saw about the idealized Platonic form hidden in the impenetrable recesses of the solid block of marble. Like Michelangelo, Krantz whittles away at her imagination until her idealized form is revealed; though, given her exacting standards and her artist’s sense of striving, one imagines she’s never quite satisfied. I, on the other hand, remain rather impressed. Krantz’s laminate sculptures are like the corollary to Longfellow’s poem about Michelangelo: her pieces are so seamless that they appear to have emerged from the tree entire.