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November 4, 2011
Ron Gilad - Creations of Poetry and Chaos
By ALICE RAWSTHORN from the New York Times
NEW YORK — It wasn’t quite the response he was expecting. When Piero Gandini visits young designers in their studios and invites them to work for his company, they generally say yes, very quickly and very enthusiastically — but not Ron Gilad.
“Ron’s studio was inspiring, filled with precious little things he had made with incredible details: poetic and subversive,” said Mr. Gandini, who is president of Flos, the Italian lighting company that has championed a succession of great designers in the past 50 years, starting with Achille Castiglioni.
“So I said: ‘Don’t you want to turn these fabulous ideas into real products?’ And Ron said: ‘I’m not interested in doing real products.’ ‘But if you don’t do real products, how can you be a real designer?’ ‘I don’t care about being a real designer.’ ‘But surely you need money.’ ‘I don’t care about money.’ So we sat on the floor and talked. There was something so precious about the place and about him, that I had to try to do something.”
Eventually Mr. Gilad relented. The visually stunning, technologically ingenious lights he has designed for Flos were among the most talked-about products at the Milan Furniture Fair last year and at the one last month. He has since been bombarded with offers from other companies, but his reaction seems equally ambivalent.
“I am a little bit confused about it all,” he said. “I don’t want to take on too many projects. I work with two assistants three days a week and really need to be by myself the rest of the time. I don’t want to do the same thing for this company and that company with minor changes, as some designers do. Unless I have a good personal relationship with the people, I just don’t care.”
All of this could sound coy coming from anyone else, but Mr. Gilad is only willing to work on his own terms. A 38-year-old Israeli with long hair bundled into a ponytail, he sits in his Brooklyn studio smoking cigarette after cigarette, and stubbing them out in a broken wine glass. “It’s very hard for me to get rid of things,” he explained. “When the glass broke, it could no longer contain liquid, but it could contain ash, so I kept it. And everything breaks around here.”
“Here” is the eighth floor of an old warehouse where he lives and works with panoramic views across the industrial rubble of the Brooklyn Navy Yard to downtown Manhattan. Mr. Gilad spends almost all of his time there, except for work trips to Italy and a month in Israel each winter.
“It’s really, really hard for me to leave,” he said. “Once a week I go out to buy cigarettes and food. Once every three months I go to Chelsea to see exhibitions. And that’s it. I’ve never liked New York. I want to leave as soon as possible. But I’ve been saying that for 10 years. This space and the things in it are who I am — living on the edge of everything.”
The studio is filled with models, sketches, prototypes and finished objects. There are splashes of surrealism in his work — notably in the mirrors shaped like brushstrokes — but the dominant style is minimalism. Chairs, tables, bowls, even model houses have been reduced to linear silhouettes of archetypal versions of themselves. The contents of his studio act as a diary of his life there, down to the three planks of wood standing beside a pile of glass shards. The planks were shelves, which held his prototypes until they collapsed one night. The broken glasses were among the casualties.
Having studied design at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem, Mr. Gilad moved to the United States in 2001 to start a company, Designfenzider, with a friend. They manufactured his furniture and objects, until he quit last year. “There were too many responsibilities,” he groaned. “Design. Development. Production. Sales. Marketing. You need to take care of all these things. It took all my energy and every little bit of happiness. Never ever again.”
His work caught the eye of Paola Antonelli, senior curator of design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “It is so perfectly balanced and surprising,” she said. “Wry sense of humor and killer elegance. Very close to sublime.” It was she who suggested that Mr. Gandini consider commissioning him for Flos.
The timing was perfect. Lighting is being transformed by developments in energy-efficient sources, such as the tiny spots produced by light-emitting diodes or, LEDs. These new technologies offer opportunities for designers and manufacturers to produce radically different new forms of lighting, which Mr. Gilad has exploited with relish.
“As a super-minimalist by nature,” he said, “the reduction of the light source to something so small was heaven. You can do whatever you want with shape. It’s like being a kid in a candy shop. But there are limitations. As much as the technology has evolved, the light it provides is not as romantic as the old incandescent bulb. For me, it was crucial to keep some kind of poetry.”
For the Wallpiercing lighting panels he developed for Flos last year, Mr. Gilad created small circles of LEDs and positioned them super-precisely, but seemingly randomly, to create delicate layers of light. He produced a series of larger LED circles for 2620, a chandelier unveiled by Flos in Milan last month, and clustered them together in what looks like a vortex.
“It’s based on a childhood memory of a window display in a Tel Aviv flower shop,” Mr. Gilad said. “The plant pots were placed inside rings, which were connected to pedestals at single points, and positioned at angles so they seemed to be dancing. For me, seeing it as a child, it was magic. If you look at the 2620 from the bottom, you see a perfect flower, but from any other angle it seems chaotic. Complete chaos from perfect order.”