Let´s recap on what I have written so far in my previous 5 posts about Mexican modernism concerning furniture design and the categories we are now able to define:

1) Early work influenced by neoclassicism, which catered to the Mexican bourgeoisie with Arturo Pani and the French-born brothers Roberto and Mito Block as the main players. These highly successful interior decorators became famous for their ironwork with a very clear French influence, mostly produced during the ’40s and ’50s. (Part #3)

2) The austere Bauhaus and International Style influenced furniture that appealed to intellectuals and a young entrepreneurial class, coming from modern designers like Luis Barragán and Clara Porset, Michael van Beuren and architects Pedro Ramírez Vázquez and Francisco Artigas. (Part #1 + Part #5)

3) Furniture designers that developed their very own style, see Pepe Mendoza, William Spratling, Don S. Shoemaker (Part #4) and idiosyncratic figures like Pedro Friedeberg – to be discussed in this post in the Surrealist movement.

4) Outstanding glass mosaic furniture pieces designed by painters and Muralists like Juan O’Gorman with the flowering of the Mexican Muralist movement in the 40’s and 50’s. (Part #2)

One artist that was recognized for his mosaic furniture creations is Genaro Alvarez. The Genaro Alvarez Studio, (located in Mexico City) was known for its mosaic work in murals and floor designs as well as decorative furnishings such as lamps, trays and furniture using various types of natural rocks, semi-precious stones and glass mosaic, and his work is all hand-made. Genaro’s claim to fame was that he had developed a new concept on the manipulation of glass mosaic as an art expression. In the late 1950’s Alvarez was awarded the commission for the mosaic floor for the Hallmark Gift & Card Shop in Kansas City, Missouri. He became very popular and well-known among American collectors.

5) Unique furniture creations coming from the Surrealist movement in Mexico like José Horna’s work; a painter and sculptor of Spanish origin, who migrated with his wife, photographer Kati Horna to Mexico in 1939, after the fall of the Spanish Republic. Both, José and his wife Kati were active in the Surrealist movement in Mexico. José became a disciple of renowned Surrealist painter Remedios Varo, (of Spanish origin as well) and he also collaborated with famous British-Mexican Surrealist painter Leonora Carrington on several projects. Horna left us a legacy of fantastic wood carved sculptures, some furniture pieces, marionettes and toy houses.

Of course, I have to mention within the Surrealist movement our “enfant terrible” Pedro Friedeberg. Friedeberg was born in Italy as the son of German-Jewish parents, who migrated to Mexico when he was 3 years old. He began studying architecture but did not complete his studies as he started to draw designs against the conventional forms of the 1950’s, even completely implausible ones such as houses with artichoke roofs! However, his work caught the attention of German sculptor Mathias Goeritz who encouraged him to continue a career as an artist. Although his work finds echoes in two of the most exciting artistic movements of the 1960’s, POP and Op Art, it is more closely related to late Surrealism. In particular, it reveals his close contacts with the leading European surrealists who had also found refuge in Mexico: Leonora Carrington, Kati Horna, Edward James, Alice Rahon and Remedios Varo, who were irreverent, rejecting the social and political art which was dominant at the time. Friedeberg was also deeply inspired by Goeritz, especially his Dadaist tendencies, which found expression in the avantgarde group known as “The Fed-Up Ones” of the early 1960’s. The work of Friedeberg recombines all these influences into something completely, uniquely, and unmistakably his own.

Although Friedeberg is an accomplished painter, he is famous for his iconic furniture designs, notably the “Butterfly Chair” and the “Hand Chair”. Both pieces were originally designed in the 1960’s, a rejection of the International/Modernist aesthetic and functionalism.

After designing his first chair, Friedeberg went on to design tables, couches, and love seats. This body of work, along with Friedeberg’s obsessively crowded and meticulously detailed canvases, often included references to Tantric scriptures, Aztec codices, Catholicism, Hinduism, and symbols of the occult. By 1963 Friedeberg had also begun making entirely sculptural works of perversely distorted bodies with appendages taken from religious statuary found in antique shops and flea markets. Today, Pedro continues to produce the “Hand Chair” and the “Butterfly Chair” along with other furniture pieces. Regrettably, Friedeberg’s furniture work is plagued with copycats and replicas.

to be continued in part # 7

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