A ‘DYSFUNCTIONAL’ Exhibition by Carpenters Workshop Gallery in Venice Is All About the Usefulness—and Uselessness—of Art and Design

Twenty-two contemporary talents have taken over a grand, old palace on the Grand Canal.

Nacho Carbonell's Inside A Forest Cloud. Photo courtesy Carpenters Workshop Gallery and Lombard Odier.

The international design studio Carpenters Workshop Gallery debuted their massive group exhibition, “DYSFUNCTIONAL,” earlier today during the Venice Biennale, in partnership with Lombard Odier, a leading global wealth and asset manager.

The show, which explores the blurry space between art and design through a series of site-specific projects, takes place at the art-filled Ca’ d’Oro palazzo, one of Venice’s oldest privately owned palaces, set upon the city’s Grand Canal.

Renowned for its gilt and polychrome external architectural features, which have given it the moniker “golden house,” the palazzo is also lauded as an important art museum. For the duration of “DYSFUNCTIONAL,” its permanent art collection—which includes works by Renaissance and Baroque masters such as Jan Van Eyck, Bernini, and Mantegna—will live alongside more than 50 of the exhibition’s contemporary artworks, which are placed strategically about the Ca’ d’Oro’s grounds.

Venice's Ca' d'Oro. Photo courtesy Carpenter's Workshop.

Venice’s Ca’ d’Oro. Photo courtesy Carpenters Workshop Gallery.

The works are conceived by 22 noted talents in the art, design, and fashion spheres, including Virgil Abloh, Studio Drift, Rick Owens, and Maarten Baas, whose installations will form a kind of dialogue with the storied, permanent artworks. Among the central questions to the exhibition are: What defines an artwork? Why don’t artworks have to be functional? And when exactly does design become art? 

For Carpenters Workshop Gallery co-founders Julien Lombrail and Loic Le Gaillard, these ideas were worth exploring, and they ultimately prompted them to conceive an exhibition premised on discussing the purpose and significance of functionality and meaning in art and design.

“The idea of dysfunction, defined as ‘the disruption of normal social relations,’ invites visitors to rethink the conventional relationships between form and function, art and design, and the historical and the modern,” say Lombrail and Le Gaillaird. “We looked to artists whose practices challenge the notions of traditional art and design, and who are interested in discovering where the two can meet. Each of them were selected, also, based on how their works would resonate with the Ca’ d’Oro and with Venice.”

The Verhoeven Twins' "Moments of Happiness" Installation work. Photo courtesy Carptener's Workshop and Lombard Odier.

The Verhoeven Twins’ “Moments of Happiness” Installation work. Photo courtesy Carpenters Workshop Gallery and Lombard Odier.

Lombard Odier, who share with Carpenters Workshop Gallery an ethos of “rethinking everything” and a dedication to innovation, also worked with the design studio to bring the exhibition to life. Of their collaboration, managing partner at Lombard Odier, Frédéric Rochat, noted: “The Carpenters Workshop Gallery partnership is a natural collaboration for Lombard Odier. This exhibition successfully fuses art and design, displaying bespoke works of unique savoir-faire. Innovation and customisation are part of Lombard Odier’s identity, too, having consistently reinvented our business over seven generations and two centuries, to provide innovative and tailored advice to our clients in times of change.”

Among the works on display are a “forest of light” installation in the palazzo’s 15th-century courtyard, constructed by Dutch artist Nacho Carbonell, through which viewers can walk; a constellation of iridescent bubble works by the Verhoeven Twins, suspended in mid-air; and Maarten Baas’s 12-hour video project, Real Time, which portrays Baas as a human timekeeper in his studio, painting and repainting hands on a clock. The project, which pays homage to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Manfocuses also on themes of aging and the changing self. Of all the works present, each connects back to some aesthetic feature of the palazzo itself, or its art. 

Some artists have also addressed Carpenters Workshop Gallery’s prompt more literally than others. Rick Owens’s wife and creative collaborator, Michèle Lamy, for instance, invited a group of artists to create individually produced punching bags that represent what viewers need to challenge, face, and rejoice in during their time on earth, while the Campana Brothers infused their raffia-based installations with functionality by using them to raise awareness for eco-consciousness and sustainability.

Studio Drift's "Fragile Future Chandelier". Photo courtesy Carpenter's Workshop and Lombard Odier.

Studio Drift’s “Fragile Future Chandelier”. Photo courtesy Carpenters Workshop Gallery and Lombard Odier.

An installation consisting of 128 mirrors by RANDOM INTERNATIONAL, and RENEGADE, a performative project by Dutch sculptor Joep van Lieshout—through which Van Lieshout will turn any object, even his own sculptures, into lamps—are other highlights to watch out for.  

“DYSFUNCTIONAL” runs from now through November 24, 2019. Learn more about the exhibition here.

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