Výstaviště Praha Holešovice, Prague, Czech Republic, until 31 October.
In the suitably grand, festive, and atmospheric confines of the elegant Průmyslový palác, an art nouveau industrial palace situated in Prague’s Výstaviště exhibition grounds, Europe’s oldest design fair is living out its 18th edition.
Eminently navigable, the building is divided into three main zones, starting with the Central Hall. Inhabited in full by the Designérie, ‘a garden where wishes come true’, this is a conceptual space featuring interactive installations and a relaxation zone. At once lively and gay, there are swings and a duck pond, ginormous ‘sunflower’ lights, a timber structure spanning to the heavens, as well as a stage for fashion shows, theatre performances, and 3D photography. Flanking the space on either side are Openstudio and Superstudio. The latter accommodates the brands, both young and established, Czech and international — from the likes of Vitra to Brokis and Lasvit, all with handsome installations, many of which were devised by Czech designers.
Openstudio, alternatively, is the place for Czech designers and producers/distributors, with far too many remarkable pieces to be able to mention all by name here. Covering furniture, jewellery, fashion, lighting, prototypes, and school projects, the array of inventive wares is impressive. Vrtiška Žák has contrived a very charming baby cradle using only five CNC-milled components and no fixings. Zorya, the jewellery master, presents an especially delicate collection this year with pieces painstakingly produced by hand — as always — over long, intensive periods, with an equally gorgeous installation for their display. Štěpán Růžička’s human-heart-shaped, crafted leather bags of all shapes and sizes, are visually and technically strong as well as entirely original. Kusy is a conceptual play at defining the perceptual limits of conceiving design. Nuancing architecture is Šiška, by Atelier SAD — a gazebo that serves as anything from a garden house to a covered fireplace or sandpit, with just the right amount of dappled light seeping in.
Overall, the most arresting piece of design is the sofa by Tadeáš Podracký. Presented in the Lapidarium, situated next to the palace, it clashes exquisitely with the ancient statues surrounding it. Comprised of a series of flat rectilinear shapes of various sizes arranged at many angles — and including large gaps, it forms a lounge seat that allows the sitter to adopt innumerable positions. In summary, Designblok 2016 deserves an ovation — its repertoire of works is striking, as is the balance of ingenuity and aesthetics in both its presentation and its offerings.