This month’s all about design in the Belgian capital and we’ve picked some standout shows from a vast and eclectic Design September programme for some extra special attention. Today we’re introducing Ampersand House and their fascinating and ambitious expo of Brazilian design, where we got a first glance during the prep sessions of this showcase of rarely seen creations.
Ampersand House is much more than just a gallery. As with all exhibitions held here, Brazilian Modern is spread out over several floors and rooms in a gorgeous old Brussels townhouse that is also the private home of Ike and Kathryn, the creative brains behind the concept. “We are a living gallery” Ike explains, “…everything is arranged as if people were living with the pieces we exhibit.”
Brazilian Modern is an exhibition, not only of mid-century furniture, but also of contemporary photographs, paintings and fashion from Brazil, giving a very complete picture of the state of the country’s art and design scene while recreating a harmonious living quarters. “The pieces on show come from very different times and have very disparate styles, but we try to arrange everything in a way so that they naturally blend in with each other”, Kathryn says, adding: “The contemporary textiles, for example, recall ideas from the 40’s and 50’s – in the end they’re all connected with each other”.
Visitors can actually sit in the chairs, or touch the rosewood tables, a concept that’s at odds with most museums or galleries that prefer to put creations on a pedestal, behind a barrier. “A painting is to be looked at, but what is a chair made for? To sit on of course,” Ike adds, laughing. The viewers are not only allowed, but even encouraged, to try out the pieces. “This morning we actually had breakfast on one of the exhibition pieces, a table.”
This table in question, the most valuable piece in the exhibition, is a creation by Joaquin Tenreiro and is made out of rare black glass and rosewood, and only two of its kind exist in the world (the other is housed in a museum in New York), which was why it was surprising to be served coffee on it. “This table, together with the chairs, is probably worth a new Porsche”, Ike tells me. The couple’s personal favourite is a black, super comfortable lounge chair by Sergio Rodrigues. On the opposite wall hangs another jewel, a striking photograph by young Brazilian photographer Felipe Morozini – no doubt a name to watch out for.
Is there something all the pieces have in common? A characteristic unique to Brazilian design? One recurring feature is the highly-patterned Brazilian rosewood that can be found on many of the furniture creations. “It tells the story of a certain time, though”, Ike explains. “Today, it’s not allowed to cut rosewood trees anymore”. Another characteristic is the use of traditional materials and methods. There’s a lot of leather, glass and steel, as well as evidence of a special way of joining pieces together, and wood carvings. And, references to the iconic architect Oscar Niemeyer can be found almost everywhere, as Kathryn, an art historian, points out. The more contemporary pieces, on the other hand, tend to include political commentary and references to poverty and the favelas – much more so than today’s European counterparts. This is partly due to the dark political past of the country and being cut off from the rest of the world during the dictatorship. “There was a time when designers didn’t have access to a lot of materials, they just had to work with what they found”, Kathryn says.
This is a rare opportunity to get introduced to Brazilian furniture design – and art – in a thoroughly original setting. The exhibition not only gives an overview of the craft over the course of the past few decades, but also mixes highly established artists with young newcomers. A highly deserving pit stop on your Design September circuit this year.