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Words Laura Bannister

Notes on chance encounters

Presented at LOEWE’s celebrated Design District store—a space built entirely around an 18th-century granary from Portugal—is the LOEWE FOUNDATION’s third Chance Encounters exhibition, a cross-pollination of different art forms.

It was wet in Miami, the tropical capital of America: sticky-drizzling in the morning (a ‘monkey’s wedding’ my father used to say, the South African phrase borrowed from the Zulu umshado wezinkawu); by afternoon it was pouring and blustery and grey. En route to Miami’s design district, my cheap umbrella had twice flipped inside-out; a taxi honked in delight at the comedic sidewalk scene. When I reached the LOEWE store—the Spanish house’s first in North America—it was quiet and calm and there was no one inside yet; Basel fever had enveloped the city, and gallerists, curators, artists and others were still jostling around Convention Center booths. I shook the ocean spray and heavenly rains from my umbrella and left it in a corner to dry out.

If you have not been to LOEWE’s boutique in Miami, it looks something like this: high ceilings, white walls, stone floors, a wall-sized sheet of glass at the very back, behind which sit a small cluster of racks with black garments on generous hangers. And in the very middle of the store—so colossal that it’s impossible to consider the space without it—is an 18th-century granary, once used for threshed grain or animal feed, transported from a small town on the border between Portugal and Galicia, then rebuilt here, stone by stone. In a former life, the structure was a rural edifice, built above ground to keep food away from mice and other critters. In this reflective half-gallery, half-retail space, it feels noble and primitive, sacred and mundane. The granary becomes an otherworldly shrine, as well as a functional plinth or table.

Here, today, and running until 4 February, is LOEWE FOUNDATION‘s third edition of ‘Chance Encounters.’ The project unites disparate artists in unexpected manners by enabling their work—detached by time, culture, disciplines—to coexist in a single space, creating new through-lines and dialogues. This year’s show involves three artists and is curated by the house’s creative director, Jonathan Anderson.

First: running along two walls are twenty-something vintage bromide and silver gelatin prints by the late Sri Lankan artist Lionel Wendt. They are imprints of 1930s Ceylon. There is the curve of a female breast pressed against a glistening pole and shots of male nudes charged with homoerotic tenderness; there are formal, staged portraits of figures behind palm fronds or before patterned wall hangings. Suspended from the ceiling, above the granary, and overlooking Wendt’s quiet images, are seven of Richard Smith’s off-wall ‘kite’ paintings from 1975, cast in the sort of deep rich blue that must have been plumbed from the depths of the sea.

Esker vessel, 2017

And then, arranged on the granary’s rough-hewn stone slabs in small groupings, are fragile porcelain forms by the Irish potter Sara Flynn: sculptural vessels licked with glossy black glaze, squat, auburn-hued basins, objects that are pure and white with a small opening on top, then expand out into an abstract shape reminiscent of a genie lamp, pots with small, deliberate dents, like the first mark made on an egg when you crack it, pots that look so paper-thin they might crumple in the rain, sculptures that blossom with speckles.

Following my visit to the show, I spoke with Flynn over email—this body of work is, as it happens, her largest commission to date. When creating it, she allowed the material itself to suggest new and more complicated forms: the breadth of gestures and motifs here, developed over years (and presented in this dry, holy sanctuary, away from Miami’s endless wet), is as ambitious and expansive as the ancient granary itself.

LAURA BANNISTER Tell me how your relationship developed with LOEWE FOUNDATION. I’m interested in the genesis of your discussions with them, and how the idea to make these site-specific pieces—that are presented quietly in small groupings, in neutral palettes—how that came about.

SARA FLYNN My first interaction with the LOEWE FOUNDATION was through the World Craft Prize, for which I was shortlisted in its inaugural year—2017. This year I am on the Experts Panel to decide on the shortlist of nominees. The involvement has been an honour.

A discussion with Jonathan Anderson followed on from the Craft Prize with the brief to make work for the granary in the Loewe store in Miami. I began my research into the space itself—the materials used for the granary, the architecture, the scale of the space around it. By now, my understanding of the goals and core principles of Loewe and the Foundation were also clear: the importance of history, quality of craftsmanship, materials, cultural placing and grounding. I was incredibly excited to take on the challenge of making pieces that would justify their placing in such a context.

Installation view of Sara Flynn ceramics atop the stone granary

BANNISTER There’s a huge architectural feature that bisects the site, and it interacts with the pieces like an extended plinth. I wonder if, as you moulded these pieces on the wheel, and made your knife-like intrusions into their form, the final resting place of them was important?

FLYNN I must admit I was both excited and somewhat intimidated by the scale and beauty of the structure of the granary. It is a stunning object on its own. However, I was also acutely aware that this was an incredible opportunity to make a body of work to be viewed in a unique way—as one body but, as you mention, in quite clear sub-groups which move intentionally from one to the other.  The placing of the pieces relates to many things: the granary and columns, and also my making process and variety of forms and thinking.

The palette occurred naturally from my studio and glaze research. For instance, in one group there are three different yellow glazes featured with black and white also, but the tones shift and the surfaces move from glassy through to matte. The differences are subtle but really important. The placing of the pieces in relation to each other and the granary in terms of forms, silhouette, colour, surface and tones are entirely intentional and considered.

BANNISTER I wonder, do you see these sculptures as functional vessels?

FLYNN No, they are entirely sculptural in their intent. However, they are open vessels and the glazes are water-tight, so if they are filled with beautiful flowers or stems they can function that way too.

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