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International Women's Day Spotlight: Between Craft and Industry

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is home to visionary Partricia Urquiola’s first solo U.S. exhibit.

03.09.2018 by Jenna Lippin

Patricia Urquiola’s first solo exhibition in the United States, “Patricia Urquiola: Between Craft and Industry,” opened in November at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The exhibit highlights her monumental work in product and interior design in addition to architecture, with pieces she designed on display in the Alter Gallery.

“Urquiola is part of a new generation of designers who take a humanistic approach to their work,” said Donna Corbin, curator of the exhibit. “She is known for exploring the possibilities of the artisanal through new technologies, to achieve something that feels familiar and evokes a sense of comfort.”

There is a variety of products featured in “Between Craft and Industry,” including unique seating elements like the Antibodi Chaise designed in 2006 for Moroso S.p.A. and the Husk Armchair made by B&B Italia in 2012, in addition to displays of flooring, from rugs to wood to onyx. The exhibit highlights working elements of some of Urquiola’s designs as well, such as small models and sketches.

Design from Spanish Heritage

Born in Oviedo, Spain, Urquiola trained as an architect in Madrid and graduated from the Politecnico di Milano, where she studied with Achille Castiglioni, one of the leading lighting designers of the late 20th century. In 2001, Urquiola opened a studio in Milan and has since collaborated with numerous manufacturers worldwide, including Alessi, B&B Italia, BMW, Flos, Kartell, and Moroso, in addition to designing various interiors. In September 2015, Urquiola was appointed art director of the iconic Italian company Cassina. Over the years, she has received a variety of awards and honors, including the Order of Isabella the Catholic, presented by King Juan Carlos I of Spain.

“[Urquiola] doesn’t just create pieces, she fosters a truly collaborative approach, harnessing the strengths of all involved to realize her visions,” said Michael Markert, director of business development at Haworth, one of the companies for which Urquiola has designed products. “The exhibition and listening to her explanations leaves an indelible mark. I like that she questions. There is no status quo. Patricia and Haworth work well together because we believe we can create environments that stir the spirit and enrich lives and businesses around the world. The future of art, craft, and industry is affected by Patricia. It’s not just about aesthetic; it’s about her holistic approach. She takes into consideration the full process and even improves the lives and ecosystems of those involved in each stage. When you view her pieces on display at the museum or in situ with a customer, you feel the strength and passion she brings to the product.” 

Mohawk Group’s Royce Epstein, who sits on the board of The Collab, a volunteer committee dedicated to supporting modern and contemporary art collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and beyond, noted that the exhibit gives Urquiola’s breadth of talent the exposure it deserves. “The exhibit does a wonderful job showing the range of Urquiola’s work in this realm; there are process photos, sketches, models, and of course beautiful objects such as furniture, lighting, textiles, rugs, and small tabletop goods,” she said. “In my professional role as design director for Mohawk Group (and a giant materials nerd), I was really excited to see some of the materials that Urquiola has designed included in the exhibit. The museum did an amazing job displaying Kvadrat textiles and GAN rugs on the walls, and they installed her wood and porcelain tiles on the display platform. I think this really helps to foster the notion that Urquiola is working in many media and is thinking about design at many scales and how people interact with texture, pattern, and product on every level of their lives.”

Collab Design Excellence

Urquiola continues to inspire both established and budding designers. To that end, Collab partnered with the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the recent Collab Student Design Competition. This year’s challenge tasked college students with creating an object inspired by Urquiola’s exhibition. The goal was to conceptualize a piece of storage furniture or another functional object that acts as the focal point of a space. Student designs were on display in the museum through November 15 and visitors were able to vote for the People’s Choice Award. 

Liad Yemin, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, was announced as the first-place winner at the Collab Design Excellence Award lecture—where Urquiola was also honored—on November 18. Yemin’s integrated product design, TBD, is an innovative combination of a hamper and a hanger that lets users hold off on deciding whether to wash or hang up worn clothes. Ala Felemban of Drexel University conceptualized the People’s Choice winning design, the AF Partition. 

“Between Craft and Industry” will run through March 4, 2018. For more information about the exhibit, visit philamuseum.org/exhibitions/865.html. 

Update: The exhibition has been extended through March 18, 2018.