Think about incredible natural rock formations, colorful pebbles, geological fragments of mineral crystals and fossils; or about the substance of earth, the processes that shape the rocks, their oxidation, pigmentation, and evolution. This is the point of departure for Israeli designer Raphael Navot: his passion for geology. Now, in his first solo show entitled On the Same Subject at Friedman Benda, Navot’s oeuvre—which he has developed over the last 20 years—is fully realized and illuminated. The exhibition presents a series of furniture crafted in concrete, soft red resin, bronze, stone, aged wood, fiberglass, cashmere, and velvets; a rich symphony of sensual materials which are synthesized into beautiful proportions and abstract designs. The title of the show—On the Same Subject—refers to our primal beginning, to ancient civilizations where the first pieces of furniture were created with religious or symbolic purpose and often made by piling pebbles and rocks.
Born in Jerusalem in 1977, Navot attended the Dutch design school Design Academy Eindhoven during its heyday, when it was a utopia where design was given a new identity. He graduated with the legendary class of 2003, which produced some of the most influential designers of the postmillennial years. It is under the leadership of Li Edelkoort at Eindhoven that the academy flourished and made an impact on the market of design-art, training students who shined in Milan while bringing a fresh approach to the furniture industry. The class of 2003—which included Maarten Baas, Jeroen Verhoeven, Frederik Molenschot, and Joris Laarman—put the Academy on the map by demonstrating the power of conceptual design paired with handcraftsmanship as the winning formula of the moment. Like his peers, Navot learned to abandon the principles of the past by creating new narratives for the new century. On the Same Subject is not only based on a crafted story, but also on the current need for the bespoke and the quest to return to traditional ways of crafting furniture into the absolute luxury.
After graduating, Navot established his own studio in Paris and began creating interiors, gradually specializing in hospitality and always making the furniture for his own projects. David Lynch’s Club Silencio, the Hôtel National des Arts et Métiers, the Le 39V restaurant in Paris, the Belle Plage hotel in Cannes, as well as the library and art gallery at the Domaine des Etangs estate in Massignac, France are some of his recent notable projects. While working with such brands as Alessi, Cappellini, Venini, Loro Piana, and Roche Bobois he came to learn the secrets and methods of furniture production, construction, and materials.
Since Marc Benda has taken him under his wing, Novot has cemented himself in the arena of design galleries. Unlike the furniture pieces he creates for his interiors, which are typically produced in large quantities, those presented in the exhibition are produced in small editions. They require a lengthy process of research and experimentations, and their complexities challenge the designer as well as the craftspeople who create them. His most recognizable piece, and the best in my view, is the sofa; Navot’s cloud-shaped sofas are contemporary, super comfortable, and made with traditional techniques and incredibly luxurious materials. They may be expensive, but they have adorned some of the world’s best interiors, with the power to transform spaces. They are formed of pebble-shaped components brilliantly put together into an unusual composition, and exquisitely crafted. In addition, they are extremely comfortable because they are the product of a designer who is experienced in hospitality. Navot began working with Friedman Benda five years ago, and it took Marc Benda that long to give him a solo show. He is clearly ready and mature, with the knowledge of aerodynamics and what it takes to create a good seat. This is an excellent show that brings you to the forefront of contemporary design.
Friedman Benda until December 22nd. All images courtesy Friedman Benda.