Ji Lee is an artist, a graphic designer, an illustrator, a teacher, and a full-time creative director at Google’s advertising unit The Creative Lab, but he’s probably best known as “the guy with the bubbles.” In 2002, bored by an ad gig, the Korean-born, São Paulo–bred designer launched a public art intervention on the city of New York, slapping blank cartoon speech bubbles next to the actors and models in ads and movie posters around town and waiting for passersby to fill them in. Lee made the project open source, creating a downloadable bubble template, and it soon took on a life of its own, popping up everywhere from San Francisco to Lausanne, Switzerland.
Lee calls his portfolio website ‘Please Enjoy,’ and it is his professional motto; each new project is an open invitation to the public to come along and play. For a recent series, Lee placed replicas of Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel at random intersections in New York, explaining: “In 1913, Marcel Duchamp took found objects from the streets and placed them in museums. 96 years later, if Duchamp were alive, he may want to do the very opposite.”
So how might a guy who’s a master at transforming public space decorate his own home? We decided to find out. For 10 years, Lee has lived in New York’s East Village with his wife, Clarina Bezzola, and their two cats Martin and Oskar in a sunny duplex apartment that formerly housed a crack addict. Lee explains: “The apartment had been owned by a junkie for more than 20 years when we first saw the place. Needles all over, mountains of cat shit on the corners, furniture everywhere, a nightmare. The smell was so intense we couldn’t stay there for more than a few minutes. I didn’t want to take it at first. But then when we started to look around other apartments for sale, we realize this place was a real bargain. So we decided to go ahead. We ripped the whole place out and built the whole thing up from scratch.”
Francesca Gavin is a London-based writer, editor, and blogger, and, like you and me, she’s a major voyeur. For her book Creative Space: Urban Homes of Artists and Innovators, she traveled the world, slipping inside the studios, apartments, and houses of designers, artists, photographers, stylists, curators, writers, and filmmakers to document the chaotic interiors she found there.
There are more than 20,000 instances of great graphic design housed in the AIGA’s online archives, but for every Pushpin or Chiat\Day, there’s a Swatek Romanoff — a firm that churned out loads of wonderful work in its ’70s/’80s heyday but that isn’t the subject of much chatter among today’s design circles. When we were first putting together ideas for this site, it was Randall Swatek and David Romanoff’s whimsical 1979 “In a Box” series that inspired this column.
This story was originally published on November 3, 2009. A year and a half later, Dror Benshetrit unveiled at the New Museum a simple, scalable structural joint system called QuaDror, which just may turn out to be his magnum opus. It takes obvious inspiration from the kinds of toys he shared with Sight Unseen here. // Some furniture expands if you’re having extra dinner guests, or folds if you’re schlepping it to a picnic. But most of it just sits there, content to be rather than do. This drives New York–based designer Dror Benshetrit crazy. “Static freaks me out,” he’s said, and so the Design Academy Eindhoven graduate has spent the entirety of his young career making things that either capture a state of transformation (his progressively shattered series of vases for Rosenthal) or actually transform themselves (the Pick Chair and Folding Sofa that flatten using simple mechanics). When I first saw Dror’s latest project, a trivet for Alessi whose concentric metal arcs are magnetized so they can be reconfigured endlessly — and even, the designer enthusiasticaly suggests, worn as a necklace — I thought: If he can’t even let a trivet sit still then his fascination with movement must be more than a design philosophy, it’s probably coded in his DNA. I was right. Dror has been obsessed with kinetic toys since he was a child.