It’s 10 p.m. in Miami and dozens of Art Basel attendees are lining up to go stand in the rain.
What’s actually drawn this crowd to the Arca showroom in Wynwood is the unveiling of Gravitas, the company’s new 18-piece collection with AD100 architect Vincent Van Duysen—a suite of heroic pieces carved from solid stone. One-of-one pedestals, benches, tables, and chairs populate the interior of the showroom, which has been staged dramatically with a backdrop of black curtains and a looping soundtrack of falling rain.
In this setting, Van Duysen’s pieces feel totemic, like something out of time—2001: A Space Odyssey–like monoliths, ready to be adopted by a collector. “The pieces are very physical,” notes Van Duysen, who points out that the works are meant to toe the line between art objects and sculptures. The Belgian designer isn’t precious about these pieces, precious as they are. (Prices of the items for sale vary depending on the design and stone, but suffice it to say these are for serious aficionados.) He points out that in one column-like work, niches can be used for books or objects.
Whereas Arca’s 2022 collaboration with Kelly Wearstler played into the designer’s idiosyncratic glam aesthetic, Van Duysen’s is elemental and focused heavily on texture. In line with the brutalism and minimalism he is known for, the works experiment with some of the stone supplier’s intricate carving techniques. “I was certainly very interested in the challenge of seeing what I could come up with,” Van Duysen says. “I wanted to have this proposition between the rough and handmade, hammered exterior surfaces versus the high-polished pieces on top or on the insides.”
The designer points to several modern and contemporary sculptors as informants for the collection: Roni Horn, Isamu Noguchi, and James Turrell. “In architecture, light is like a brick,” Van Duysen says. “It’s all about relation with the pieces, nature, and mankind.”
For Arca, partnerships with Van Duysen and Wearstler act as showcases of the Mexican stone supplier’s vast material archive and production capabilities. In Van Duysen’s case, the Arca team was challenged to create a suite of furniture simultaneously across different continents, time zones, and language barriers: The pedestal being created in Europe needed to have the same rough-hewn details as the tower being produced in Mexico.
“In each of these pieces, you have around 50 hours of work,” says Gerardo Cortina Wiechers, the CEO of Arca, who adds that the collection was one of the most complicated projects the company has taken on yet. But one thing, at least, seems to have come easy: “It wasn’t a complicated position for us to work with Vincent. We have always admired his work.”
The collection is a significant one for Van Duysen in that it marks the designer’s first foray into art furniture. Having previously teamed up with Molteni & C, Zara Home, and other commercial outfits, he was able, with Gravitas, to create one-of-a-kind objects.
Arca sources and carves its stone all over the world, and for Gravitas they specified neutral shades, opting for Porfido and Carrara marble from Italy, Cafesina from Spain, and lava stone from Mexico. Like wine, each stone has its own feeling of terroir: Some register as warm and soft when polished, others go more cool and slick. Given their all-stone composition, Van Duysen’s works can be used indoors or out. But Van Duysen isn’t overly deterministic: “I didn’t want to have specific destinations in mind.”
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