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A Minimal Furniture Collection, Following in the Footsteps of Judd

Architect, sculptor, and designer Umberto Bellardi Ricci’s debut collection of furniture and lighting — which launched late this summer with the Manhattan gallery Matter — is an exercise in form-finding. A professor at London’s prestigious Architecture Association, his practice has long centered on what he describes as “delineating the void.” “Teaching at the AA is like a playground,” he says of his time at the school, which sent him to the Mexican jungle to lead courses in the Las Pozas sculpture garden in San Luis Potosi. There, he and his students would study form among the Surrealist follies commissioned by the English writer Edward James in the 1940s, an experience he credits with laying the foundation for his current practice: “It really allowed for a kind of free experimentation,” he says.

For the collection, called Dawn, Bellardi Ricci worked primarily with brass and steel sheets, which he folded to create a series of sconces and floor lamps — a cross between the materiality of Richard Serra and the minimal forms of Donald Judd. In addition to the lighting, Bellardi Ricci also designed stools and tables that pair industrial steel I-beams with luxurious materials like mohair, bouclé wool, and marble. “It’s interesting how you can manipulate flat planes into geometries,” he explains of how he arrives at his seemingly abstracted forms. “It’s a beautiful process, like origami. You have a 2D plane — which could be quite clumsy and floppy — but the moment you start folding, it becomes structural as well. They start to have a life of their own.”

In fabricating the collection, Bellardi Ricci called on manufacturers located around his studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “I managed to find these amazing steel seat metal fabricators,” he says of the process, which he came to learn has a distinct precedent in the annals of the New York art scene. “New York has a whole history of sheet metal fabrication, which was central to the practice of artists like Donald Judd. What we are doing is essentially very simple processes, but we just needed to be lucky enough to find people that are happy to use these tools in different ways.”

The title of the collection, Bellardi Ricci says, is a nod to both the physical experience of his lighting — which was designed to emit a soft orange glow from within the metal structure, not dissimilar to the experience of the sun rising over the horizon — and the fact that this was the first proper show Matter had held following pandemic closures. “It’s a fresh start and a new day after these long nights that we’ve all been through,” he muses. “A new beginning.”

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