Feature: exhibitIKEA thinks outside the cardboard box


Took this picture, too.

From August 18 to 21, King Street West was home to an art exhibit with a less-than-conventional theme: IKEA.

About two months prior, the popular lifestyle store approached four local artists with a bizarre proposition: put together a piece inspired by IKEA products. The result was four large-scale works as unique and creative as the artists who made them.

Bruno Billio, a sculptor with a penchant for displacing found objects, graced the gallery’s lobby with his piece: two curved, vertebrae-like columns of black-and-white IKEA chairs, stacked 60-high each, with mirrors underneath to accentuate the height. “It’s a very stunning shape,” he said, “[It] comes in and out of itself.”

Thrush Holmes, a painter whose rise in the art world was stunningly quick, did not limit himself to his own medium. While he did paint something specifically for the exhibit — potted flowers inspired by IKEA tapestries, in neon colours with a bright yellow frame — his contribution was a neon-and-graffiti-covered shack constructed out of the store’s brown cardboard boxes. Inside was a bedroom, quaint and “romantic” in nature. Holmes said that he was trying to convey that “[the boxes the products came in] don’t adequately represent the possibilities of the content.”

David Dixon, a 1993 Ryerson alumni and popular designer of contemporary women’s clothing, not only created a clothing line for the event, but also took part in the designing of his exhibit’s stage: a dream closet. An enormous PAX wardrobe, with inspirational sayings written along the top, covered the side wall, and the rest of the room was adorned with cushy couches and chairs in neutral tones that matched his line’s colour scheme.

Dixon said his inspiration for his line, which followed his usual M.O. of quiet, timeless silhouettes and playful patterns, came from Twiggy and the “early 70s, Scandinavian movement.” His fabrics were picked from IKEA’s large selection — though, usually, their purpose is to cover pillows.

George Whiteside, a renowned fashion and design photographer and self-proclaimed “collector,” adorned the walls of his room in the gallery with 52 photographs of IKEA vases, all with faded and written-on notebook paper as their background. Whiteside’s inspiration came from still-life painter Giorgio Morandi, and he titled the exhibit “Morandi Notes.”

The theme of his exhibit seemed to be monochromaticity: every photo had a colour scheme — usually a neutral shade, or occasionally a pop of blue or pink vases — and Whiteside even admitted to painting the vases that weren’t the right colour. “I like matchy-match, as you can tell,” he said, chuckling.

Though there was a large chance an exhibit of this kind could flop — or look like product shots for the IKEA catalogue — it was an unquestionable success. When given a challenge as unusual as this, all four artists shone. And, on IKEA’s part, it was a clever marketing ploy.

Don’t tell me you thought this was only about art.

(This article was published in the Sept. 2011 issue of the Ryerson Free Press.)

– Kelsey

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