Pablo Reinoso is known, among many other things, for his spectacular Spaghetti Benches. With two exhibitions in Paris, he’s busier than ever. Portrait of a designer who brings out the poetry in nature.
Pablo Reinoso is known, among many other things, for his spectacular Spaghetti Benches. With two exhibitions in Paris, a new hotel interior and a public commission in London to be unveiled this November, he’s busier than ever. Portrait of a designer who brings out the poetry in nature.
What do French author Boris Vian and a motorway have in common? Answer: Pablo Reinoso. The Franco-Argentine sculptor and designer, who is fascinated by nature, makes the connection during preparations for the exhibition My Buenos Aires in which he’s taking part (on show at Paris’s Maison Rouge until 20 September). “In one of Boris Vian’s novels, there’s a dog looking for a home. He replies to an advert written by people who are looking for a cat. They end up making a deal: during the day, the dog will impersonate a cat, but in the evening, at 8.00 o’clock, he can become a dog again. In the book, the dog describes the suffering he goes through having to be a cat and denying his true nature,” explains Reinoso, with his consummate flair for storytelling. “In the 1990s, there was a huge lorry strike that blocked France’s roads for months. I was hopping up and down with impatience because I had to go to a foundry in Senlis to finish a piece and patinate it. In the end the conflict was resolved. I immediately hit the road and suddenly found myself entirely alone on a stretch of motorway that was filled with animals – rabbits, birds and even a deer. Plants had cracked the tarmac. In such a short space of time, life had come back, nature had reclaimed its rights. I hadn’t yet begun my work on the return of the vegetal, but that day I told myself, ‘One day I’ll have to sculpt that.’”
Back in Buenos Aires, in 1970, when he was just 15 years old, Reinoso was already expressing his fascination with nature in a series of works entitled Tronc Articulé, which featured partially sculpted tree trunks that were articulated in such a way that they could be combined in various forms, including as benches. The series was no doubt a secret homage to his French-born émigré grandfather, who was a passionate woodwork enthusiast with his own small workshop. But in these very early pieces, all of Reinoso’s obsessions are already apparent: nature, wood and their poetry, but also the idea of the chair, something which he collects in great number (among the magnificent examples he owns are Gerrit Rietveld’s Zig‑Zag chair and pieces by the designer duo Charles and Ray Eames).
Reinoso is particularly fascinated by the power of nature, a force that is totally uncontrollable, and it’s a theme that runs throughout his entire oeuvre. One remarkable example of this is Paysage d’Eau (“waterscape,” 1982), a long rectangular sculpture in 10-cm-thick black marble that, laid flat on the ground, represents a stretch of water rippling with wavelets. The illusion is achieved through the meticulous sculpting and polishing of the stone, so that the waves dance with sparkling reflection. The piece is brilliantly exhibited in the Reinoso show at Paris’s Maison de l’Amérique Latine, where it has been placed in a room full of coal so that all the different blacks come into play like a painting by Pierre Soulages. Another emblematic Reinoso work is his Respirants (1995), two squares of parachute silk into which small fans have been inserted so that they inflate like a pair of lungs. It’s yet another of the visual metaphors that are so dear to him. “This work evokes a garment worn by a man who breathes because the humanity that is in him is breathing,” he explains. “It represents, below the surface, a natural function that is indispensable to life: breathing.”
From 2004 on, it was nature’s phenomenal propensity for reclaiming power over civilization that inspired his reinterpretations of the iconic No. 14 bentwood chair by Austrian manufacturer Thonet. “The No. 14 chair was the first design object in history because it was mass produced,” declares Reinoso who, in his many reworkings of the piece, deformed and distended it, removed its functionality, transformed it into a garment, wrapped it in bread dough or made it dance with Blanca Li… “This chair has been put through all its semantic possibilities, just as Thonet himself did with the original when he tested out all its formal properties with different models.” A little later, in 2006, Reinoso turned his attention to the common or garden wooden bench, which in his hands transformed into the flamboyant Spaghetti Bench, whose slats are liable to undertake the most improbable and extravagant convolutions, as though they had come to life and were reverting to their natural behaviour. Reinoso explains that he speaks to the materials he works with, telling them that, though they’re often regarded as simple materials, they have a soul, an essence, an immutable nature. “When making a bench, I ask it first to become a seat, then I give it free rein and it returns to nature. It goes off to live its life, and that’s where the volutes come from. This is why I like Boris Vian’s metaphor, because it perfectly expresses what I feel with respect to the Spaghetti Bench: that it will continue its life and reassume its natural form.” Whatever thier nature, Reinoso’s benches are just as happy outside (at the Château de Chaumont, for example) as in the gallery.
It’s in a new hotel in Lyon that Reinoso will be unveiling some of his latest work in October. For the refurbishment of this former convent, he has conceived a whole series of sculptures that punctuate the space, such as a Spaghetti Bench whose tendrils enter the deconsecrated chapel through its openings. Come November, he’ll be in London to inaugurate two large-scale bench sculptures on the opposite bank to Tate Britain. “MI6 is just nearby. The first sculpture is entitled We Watch You, You Too, and the other, Only Children Bench,” he reveals, with deadpan humour.
Reinoso is both artist and designer. His work has been exhibited by the world’s foremost art museums (among them the Centre Pompidou and the Kunst Haus Wien), he’s represented by prestigious art galleries (Baró Galeria, Xippas, Maison Particulière, etc.), but he has also created perfume bottles and cosmetics packaging for Givenchy. Whatever he touches, his true nature always comes out, funny, poetic and off-beat.
By Yves Mirande
Pablo Reinoso – Un Monde Renversé is on show at Paris’s Maison de l’Amérique Latine until 5 September, www.mal217.org
My Buenos Aires – La Scène Artistique de Buenos Aires is on show at Paris’s Maison Rouge until 20 September, www.lamaisonrouge.org