Phillip Smith's Mirrored Installation Was a Must-See at Salone Del Mobile

Titled 'Open Sky,' It left crowds looking towards the heavens.
Reading time 5 minutes

With each passing year, Salone del Mobile, and Milano for that matter grow more vibrant and popular. It’s one of the world’s premier design fairs, where established designers, fashion houses, and emerging talents have a week to flex their muscles and exhibit new work and collaborations. It’s impossible to see everything here in a week, but hitting the highlights is favored among veteran fairgoers, both to meet and rub elbows with new and familiar faces of the design world. Without a doubt, every year the Salone highlights get bigger.

Among this year’s standouts was a collaboration between Palm Springs-based installation artist, Phillip K. Smith III and Swedish clothing brand COS. Smith’s mirror-paneled outdoor installation titled, Open Sky, occupied the porticoed courtyard of Milan’s 16th-century Palazzo Isimbardi. It’s a sort of refuge, as Milan courtyards can be, from the honking horns and bustling comings and goings of what is one of the most exciting design fairs in the world. Smith used the reflective surfaces to bring the sky down to the courtyard and play with the light and architecture of the serene space. In the garden beyond the colonnaded courtyard of Palazzo Isimbardi, Smith positioned a series of smaller reflective works with corrugated surfaces that brilliantly compressed reflections of the trees and the surrounding landscape onto a single reflective surface. The effect was like viewing a collage work of reconfigured garden space and its relationship with the built environment. Similar small-scale installations by Smith will be on display at select COS stores internationally.

"Using reflection is a big part of my practice…light and your surroundings have a huge impact on mood. I wanted to convey these feelings and experiences in Milan."

“Using the environment is a material for me,” says Smith. Open Sky’s polished stainless steel, concrete composite structure supports seamlessly assembled sections of 35 mirrored panels angled at 43-degree slants. The structure sits in the center of the courtyard opening up like a large Japanese fan. Standing in close proximity to Open Sky, reflections of Milanese architecture move by you in fractured and kaleidoscope whips. Other times, the mirrored work appears as if Smith succeeded at pulling the blue sky to the base of the courtyard. “Using reflection is a big part of my practice…light and your surroundings have a huge impact on mood. I wanted to convey these feelings and experiences in Milan.”

COS creative director, Karin Gustafsson, left the brief wide open for Smith, commenting that the COS brand stands behind any artist that they are passionate about and believe that the artist’s work will reflect the brand and its values. At the moment, COS is gushing over Smith. Prior to this current commission, his work was referenced on COS mood boards as Gustafsson designed collections for the brand. She said that COS is inspired by the way Smith’s works interact with their natural surroundings, allowing viewers to experience spaces in new and unique ways. Smith’s work in particular harnesses light, mostly from the desert landscapes where he grew up, he says, and the monochromatic solstice that happens there twice a day. He wanted to bring that strong and fleeting light to Milan.

COS has been making a splash at Salone Since 2012 by commissioning artists, architects, designers and so on to create installations that wow fair attendees and convey their long-standing commitment to supporting the arts. In the past, COS commissioned works by creatives like Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto and his Studio Swine, which won the Milano Design Award for Most Engaging Exhibition during Milan Design Week last year. Smith, who together with COS, debuted his first major exhibition in Italy last week, working with over 100 different people to complete and install Open Sky. The installation is inspired by Milan’s decorous architecture and the natural light that pours into Palazzo Isimbar’s courtyard. 

There were, of course, other things to see. A favorite among them was an exhibition by Czech glass designers, LASVIT, titled, Monster Cabaret, which won the Milano Design Award for Best Installation, interpreting a contemporary design and a conceptual vision for the future. Half the delight of that exhibition was the location: the tiny Teatro Gerolamo, constructed in 1868, was once home to Milano’s marionette performers. LASVIT took the theater over to display their glass pieces while burlesque dancers from Prague twirled around the space. Dolce & Gabanna teamed up with Smeg appliances for the collaborative project, Sicily is my Love. The design house created a range of appliances—such as refrigerators, stoves, kettles—all tattooed with D&G’s signature fanciful prints inspired by iconic southern Italy imagery.

Then there was Maison Hermès. The design house took over Milan’s La Permanente museum, filling it with 150,000 muted hues of zellige tiles created by Mosaic del Sur and imported from Morocco. The seven pavilions hosted different objects, like lacquered boxes by Gianpaolo Pagni, or leather accessories, wallpapers, and blankets by Irish artist, Nigel Peake. What truly stole the show was something that was always on the fringe of Milano; the Italian modernist home of Osvaldo Borsani. Borsani was a co-founder of Milan-based design firm Tecno, which brought elegant Italian modern design to the masses during the 1950s and beyond. The home is a masterpiece, and the designer’s daughter, Valeria Borsani, and grandson, Tommaso Fantoni, opened its doors to the public for this year’s Salone. Villa Borsani, like Salone del Mobile, is a testament to brilliant design, and a reason why designers keep trying.

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