Pris­matic ex­per­i­ments

The ma­nip­u­la­tion of colour to an­i­mate spa­ces and in­vig­o­rate sur­faces is yield­ing vi­brant re­sults

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“Colour has been stud­ied for cen­turies and yet there is still much to learn about its prop­er­ties,” says Caroline Bau­mann, di­rec­tor of New York’s Cooper Hewitt de­sign mu­seum, where an ex­hi­bi­tion on “the elu­sive, com­plex phe­nom­e­non of colour per­cep­tion” is on view un­til Jan­uary. It’s an es­pe­cially timely show. Called Sat­u­rated: The Al­lure and Sci­ence of Color, the ex­hi­bi­tion ex­plores what can be achieved when artists, de­sign­ers, sci­en­tists and philoso­phers ex­per­i­ment and in­no­vate with colour. The cu­ra­tors would have had plenty to draw on over the past while alone. Ex­plo­rations of colour – par­tic­u­larly its re­flec­tive, re­frac­tive and in­flec­tive qual­i­ties – has driven some of the most in­no­va­tive de­sign of late and prom­ises to con­tinue do­ing so. Un­veiled last year, Seoul-based Stu­dio Ori­jeen’s Color Flow cab­i­nets, for in­stance, fea­ture lentic­u­lar sur­faces that change colour depend­ing on the ob­server’s po­si­tion and move­ment, while Pa­tri­cia Urquiola’s Slinkie rugs for Cc-tapis con­sist of he­li­cal spi­rals in grad­u­at­ing shades of colour; the lat­ter’s shapes are drawn dig­i­tally, al­low­ing ev­ery rug to as­sume a dif­fer­ent tonal pat­tern. One of the past year’s most in­no­va­tive spec­tral ex­per­i­ments is the late artist Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, his fi­nal work and only ed­i­fice: a 252-square-me­tre, dou­ble-bar­rel–vaulted struc­ture con­structed next to the Blan­ton Mu­seum of Art on the cam­pus of the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin. Con­ceived decades ago but not built un­til late in Kelly’s life, the white lime­stone build­ing fea­tures three fa­cades punc­tu­ated by stained­glass win­dows ar­ranged in var­i­ous con­fig­u­ra­tions. When light passes through the win­dows, shim­mer­ing flashes of colour dance on the floors and ceil­ings, giv­ing on­look­ers the sen­sa­tion of be­ing in­side a prism or kalei­do­scope. For Kelly, colour and light were phys­i­cal ma­te­ri­als, like lime­stone and glass. They’re now trans­fix­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of cre­atives with equal in­ten­sity.

LEFT: Pa­tri­cia Urquiola’s vivid Slinkie rug for Cc-tapis is only one of the car­pet brand’s tonal ex­plo­rations.

ABOVE: The lentic­u­lar sur­faces of Stu­dio Ori­jeen’s Color Flow cab­i­nets change colour as you walk past them.

BE­LOW: Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, at the Blan­ton Mu­seum of Art, fea­tures coloured glass win­dows that fil­ter light like a prism.

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