Beyond Buildings


Baroccabilly: Nigel Coates Sexes Up Design

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Nigel Coates always brings the sexy back into design. It is a particular kind of sensuality—even raunchiness, I dare say. It is also not necessarily for everyone, as it revolves around a gay sensibility, but the effect is always to evoke the presence of the body in a mesmerizing manner. His recent “Baroccabilly” line and the exhibition that went with it at New York’s Cristina Grajales Gallery involved couches that promote canoodling, tables with phallic supports, and a saddle that perhaps would be useful for acts of which you would not want to think in a polite blog. I do think it is worth mentioning in a world in which so much design is either bland or merely about the possibilities of form itself. Here is a story about that most human of drivers: sex.


Coates first made a name for himself in the 1970s with NATO (Narrative Architecture Today), a magazine and then collective that argued for a popular, associative architecture to write the city back alive, but whose drawings and designs might have been the inspiration for the Pirates of Caribbean series. Now a respected teacher who heads the Royal College of Art’s architectural program, Coates has not become any calmer.


The Baroccabilly; courtesy


The “baroccabilly” is, according to Coates, “an existential rebel outsider” in the long line of such punk heroes. This one, however, looks for “opulence in materials and simplicity of form.” What he gets are objects that have an “animalistic nature: they’re friendly enough to be stroked, but just might bite back.” This is one Bronco Billy who must feel at home in the wilds of Soho or Shinjuku.


The most recognizable pieces in the collection are the Pompadour Chair, whose silk bottom blossoms below a more abstract back, and the Aviator Sofa, a love seat merged with a single easy chair into piano curve that warps the traditional sofa. Both could hold their own in any heavily decorated room, such as a hotel planned by Ian Schrager. The other pieces get a bit kinkier. The Hypneterosphere Saddle, based on work Coates did on an actual saddle, might be a perch for somebody who got excited by seeing a production of Equus. The Castellieri Chandeliers hide whole cities above their dripping crystals. The Aviator Mirror is half of a pair of sunglasses blown up to Pop Art proportions.


Aviator Mirror, in which we see a Castellieri Chandelier and the Pompadour Chair; courtesy


There is a delicious silliness about this work, so that you take the whole collection as a spoof on both traditional furniture and the attempts to stretch conventions into more expressive forms in places like Italy. You can also take is both a homage and a satire of gay clichés. What makes the collection worth looking at, at least for me, is the way in which it brings out those pretentions, which are all intertwined into a kind of S&M embrace of barely articulated sources and sensibilities in the upper echelon’s of the interior design world.


We know how to make comfortable chairs and sofas. We can create simple interiors. All that is left now is to embellish on what we know to be the right forms to do something deviant, and to do so in such a manner that it connects us to each other and a shared history. Coates chooses to do so in a corporeal fashion, and one that perhaps drags such a program down to its most animalistic form. I enjoy his leering, lascivious project exactly because of its straightforward sexiness.







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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.