Campanas Prove Capable, Charismatic Curators at Cooper-Hewitt

(Andrew Garn).jpg

If you showed 100 people a piece of furniture created by the Campana Brothers and asked them to describe who made it, chances are they would come up with such adjectives as “happy,” “excited,” “kooky,” “colorful,” and “unique.” Based upon the discussion with Fernando and Humberto Campana held on opening day of the exhibition curated by the brothers at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, all of these words apply. The duo won over the standing-room-only crowd with joyful banter about everything from an Edra employee named Giuseppe who does the weaving for their iconic rope chairs (“Whenever we go to the Edra factory, we say ‘Giuseppe, we love you!'”) to how they almost missed the opportunity to exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art when curator Paola Antonelli‘s faxed invitation failed to reach them (their fax machine was out of paper).

Through September 28, a room on Cooper-Hewitt’s ground floor is given over to “Campana Brothers Select,” a quirky, vibrant collection of objects that range from the sixteenth century to just last year. How did they go about choosing the objects? “We didn’t want to be pretentious,” said Fernando at the Cooper-Hewitt talk, before his younger brother effortlessly finished the thought. “To make the choices, I tried to put my eyes like a child when my father took me to Sao Paulo to buy Christmas presents,” said Humberto, making rare us of the first person singular. “I say ‘we’ because we’re just one sometimes,” said Fernando later in the discussion. “One begins, another one finishes.”

But don’t be fooled by their charming Brazilian modesty. The brothers culled the Cooper-Hewitt collection to assemble an exhibition that brings together diverse objects that relate to one another through their use of weaving processes and references to nature, with a set of dyed horsehair jewelry from 1830s Europe a delicate cousin of the brothers’ woven Vermelha chair (the one Giuseppe works on). The Trans… chair, created by the Campanas for Cooper-Hewitt’s permanent collection, is a plastic cafe chair encased in wicker and studded with plastic detritus. “Working with wicker recuperates traditions that are dying,” said Humberto. “The Trans… chair is a battle of nature with plastic. It’s the revenge of wicker!”

In the video below from Cooper-Hewitt, the Campanas discuss the exhibition and their approach to design: