Robert Stadler enjoys the mental gymnastics of exploring ambiguities in the design spectrum and the oscillations between art and design. Zigzagging around and perverting the function of objects, the Vienna-born, Paris-based designer toys with preconceptions and obliterates hierarchies in a tongue-in-cheek way. Putting high and low on a level playing field, he likes combining contrasting materials and can be as fascinated by what he calls ‘ aristocratic design’ as by everyday objects. This lateral way of thinking characterises the exhibition, You May Also Like: Robert Stadler at the Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau in Dresden. The title refers to the algorithm-generated suggestions on websites such as Amazon and the fluidity of online navigation. Stadler is showcasing more than 70 of his own pieces alongside 20 masterpieces and unknown artefacts he has selected from the Dresden State Art Collections (SKD). “All the objects and pieces co-exist without any vertical arrangement – everything is on the same horizontal level, like how we navigate on the internet”, he says.

Stadler has divided the exhibition into five themes: Artificial Intelligence, Morphing of the Natural into the Artificial, Forms of Random/Control and Digital Fragmentation, Instability and Fetishism, and Informed Objects. This is his second curatorial show following Quiz at Galerie Poirel in Nancy, France in 2014, which questioned the status of artists and designers’ work. Stadler collaborated on it with Alexis Vaillant, who curated the Dresden show initiated by museum director Tulga Beyerle. The objects that Stadler has picked from the SKD collections hinge on tension – such as a small, ancient Egyptian stone in the form of a rounded cube. “Is it a cube that became rounder with time or was it created in this precise form?” asks Stadler excitedly. Nearby will be Possible Furniture (2008), formed from stacked elements of irregularly shaped slabs that are faintly geological, and PdT (2015), inspired by the hewn-stone Haussmannien architecture in Paris made from ashlar. They’ re supposed to resemble blocks excavated from buildings, worn down into domestic shapes. Rest in Peace (2004), a revisitation of the Thonet chair, is meant to recall a skeletal relic of the future. “It was about evoking an archaeological piece, as if a plastic chair had decomposed, but obviously the process is artificially created”, clarifies Stadler.

Chest (left) , Japan, late 17th century (Artist unknown) Wood, Urushi-lacquer, brass, iron Kun gewerbemuseum, © Staatliche Kun sammlungen Dresden. cut_paste #4 (right), 2015 Marble, AluCore® Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery
Other inclusions are Pools & Pouf! (2004), based on the fragmentation of an exploded Chesterfield. “I was thinking about that transitional moment when one goes from a carefree to a more settled lifestyle through buying one’ s first sofa”, says the designer. This is juxtaposed with a Lucas Cranach portrait of Martin Luther on his deathbed. “It’ s full of ambiguity, because we don’ t know if he’ s dead or asleep or whether he’ s surrounded by sheets, cushions, or clouds”, Stadler enthuses. A carved sculpture from the Ivory Coast, whose asymmetry reminded him of objects made with 3D printers, is linked with You Name It (2016) – an oak bookshelf with a fibreglass ‘ thing’ , which has veins of wood printed across its skin. Other limited editions are cut_paste, combining composite marble with aluminium honeycomb panels of the sort used for covering façades, inspired by the idea of assembling discarded elements from building sites. A yellow jug and ice tray for Ricard is an example of Stadler’ s industrial design, which he’ s showing together with an e-cigarette and a jar of vitamins. Further shaking things up, he is displaying black-and-white artworks by the likes of Richard Artschwager, Hans-Christian Lotz, Jaya Howey, and Sammy Engramer from his own collection.

We are meeting in Stadler’ s studio near the Place de la République. Stadler has been based in Paris since his industrial design studies at the École nationale supérieure de création industrielle (ENSCI), having previously studied at the Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan. In 1992, he co-founded the design group RADI, which remained active until 2008. Furnishing his studio are the Mood mobile, Chair 107 (the bistro chair for Thonet), and Hatchlight, so-called because the gold adhesive hatches out of the black circumference. Two small dinosaurs from a flea market decorate the windowsill, and a burnt piece of blue adhesive film is stuck onto the window –it’ s from an experiment that went wrong, but Stadler likes its accidental beauty. This intermingling of his own work with ordinary objects is analogous to his Dresden show, suggestive of how Stadler revels in provoking the unexpected.

You Name It. Thing #1, 2016 Courtesy of Robert Stadler / Triple V Photo: André Morin
His critical stance towards design is explored in another exhibition, Solid Doubts: Robert Stadler at The Noguchi Museum, at the New York venue founded and designed by the Japanese-American sculptor. It will feature three gallery installations and one work in the sculpture garden, to reveal how Stadler and Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) have both made work that is functional and sculptural, defying categorisation.“I’ ve always associated Noguchi’ s beautiful and graceful sculptures with the aristocracy of design, but he was tormented with self-doubt”, Stadler says. “This show is about my continual quest, animated by doubt and questioning categories like art and design and our habits in the domestic space. I have a love-hate relationship with design and it interests me to put my finger on certain taboos. If you have an object that is strange or doubtful, manufacturers are hesitant to invest in it. Design is often about positivity, not raising questions about the uncanny.”

The dialogue with Noguchi continues at the Collective Design Fair in New York in May, where Carpenters Workshop Gallery is unveiling Waiting Room: Noguchi/Stadler. It’ s a forest-like installation of nine of Stadler’ s Anywhere lighting devices, onto which are hung the same number of Noguchi's Akari paper lamp sculptures. Stadler conceived Anywhere – a carbon fibre arm that enables a ceiling lamp to be hung from it at any position in its rotation – in 2011, but has reworked it. This and his cut_paste pieces are being presented concurrently in asolo show at Carpenters Workshop Gallery in New York. Meanwhile, Stadler’ s newest You Name It shelving unit, with a 3D-printed UFO sliding across it like a collision of craftsmanship and digital innovation, ison Triple V’ s stand at Frieze New York.

Possible Low Table #2, 2011 Corian® / 40 x 159.5 x 96.3 cm Courtesy of Rober Stadler and Carpenters Workshop Gallery Photo: Byron Slater
Pools & Pouf!, 2004 Black leather, plywood, synthetic fabric Large element: 94 x 245 x 90 cm Large pool: 108 x 70 cm Small pool: 48 x 37 cm Stool: 40 x 33 x 33 cm Part of the permanent colle ion of the FRAC Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France Photo: Patrick Gries
Stadler has been venturing into new domains, too. Last year, Le Grand Musée du Parfum – a recently inaugurated, privately owned perfume museum in Paris – invited him to make an off-site project at the Gare Saint-Lazare train station. Stadler created 100% Illusion, an open-air laboratory beckoning passers-by to sniff at four scents diffused in suspended cones. None of them hints at the fact that collectively they produce the smell of lavender, which is diffused in the fifth, large cone. “Smell is so different from colour, which, when mixed together, gets comprehensibly darker until you reach black, because each of these ingredients gives no indication that it could be an ingredient of lavender”, says Stadler.

What else would he like to do? “I’ d like to work on a film”, replies Stadler, who created Tephra Formations (2013), furniture for a musical and theatrical performance about the life of a sofa at the Centre Pompidou. “Cinema interests me because it mixes reality and fiction and is subjected to a constraint of objects.” Indeed, Stadler is a cerebral individual who carves his way using willpower, curiosity, and imagination.

You May Also Like: Robert Stadler is at the Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau in Dresden, Germany, 18 March – 25 June 2017.

Robert Stadler: Solid Doubts at The Noguchi Museum is at the Noguchi Museum in New York, 26 April – 03 September 2017.

Robert Stadler: Weight Class is at Carpenters Workshop Gallery in New York, 27 April –18 June 2017.

Robert Stadler’ s work is on view at the Collective Design Fair 05-07 May 2017 and at Frieze 03-07 May 2017, in New York.

Robert Stadler: Invasive Shifting Absurd Exercise is published by Editions de La Martinière.

This article appeared in DAM61. Order your personal copy.
Aymeric, 2014 AluCore©, aluminium 52 x 37 x 37 cm Courtesy of Robert Stadler © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York / ARS Photo: Martin Argyroglo
Anywhere #2 , 2017 Carbon Fibre, polypropylene cord, polyester resin, eel 200 x 2 cm Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery / Robert Stadler Photo: Fabrice Gousset
Anywhere #2 , 2017 Carbon Fibre, polypropylene cord, polyester resin, eel 200 x 2 cm Courtesy of Carpenters Workshop Gallery / Robert Stadler Photo: Fabrice Gousset
Akari VB13-P, 1986 Isamu Noguchi Handmade washi paper, bamboo, metal frame 50.8 x 36.8 cm © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York / ARS Photo: Kevin Noble
Pentaphone, 2016 Santos wood, steel, polyurethane foam, synthetic fabric 70 x 75 x 70 cm Limited edition of 8 Courtesy of Robert Stadler Photo: Patrick Gries
Rest in Peace #2, 2010 Cast aluminium, epoxy paint 87.8 x 45.5 x 48.3 cm Courtesy of Robert Stadler Photo: Patrick Gries
100% Illusion, 2016 Commissioned by Le Grand Musée du Parfum and SNCF Gares & Connexions Courtesy of Robert Stadler Photo: David Paquin - SNCF
Irregular cube-shaped stone Alexandrian Sculpture Collection 3.4 x 3.9 x 3.8 cm © Staatliche Kun sammlungen Dresden
Robert Stadler Photo: Jacques Gavard