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A bold new design show – or is it really art?

Mark Humphrey’s interiors exhibition challenges the artistic divide

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A bold new design show – or is it really art?

October 08 2012
Nicole Swengley

Pop into the new St James’s theatre on Palace Street – the first central London theatre to open for 30 years – and you can’t help but be wowed by its dramatic, gleaming Carrara marble staircase. It was commissioned as a work of public art by the City of Westminster from artist-designer Mark Humphrey, and as you ascend its sculptural sweep, you may wonder at what point its design transcends practical purpose and becomes sculpture. Such a conundrum has also been teasing the contemporary-art market of late as artist-designers increasingly apply their talents to functional objects.

With a portfolio embracing fashion, furniture, sculpture and household objects, Humphrey is well-versed in blurring artistic boundaries. What unites his work is a fascination with high-quality materials, fine craftsmanship and cutting-edge manufacturing technology. The glamorous results can be seen at his first solo show, Art in Life, at the Mayfair gallery Osborne Samuel, from October 10.

Here, the design-as-art dilemma is manifest. One might not consider a bath to be art, however, the elegant shape of Humphrey’s Cleopatra Once Bathed Here (second picture, £48,000; edition of two) and its loving construction in teak, brass and red agate – not to mention its glorious title; how many baths have those? – surpass its functional aspect. Diamond Seat, an illuminated rock crystal and Belgian black marble bench (£230,400; unique piece), wouldn’t look out of place in a museum’s contemporary sculpture gallery. A toilet-roll holder is elevated to the semi-sublime, made as it is from amber, onyx and rock crystal and named Romeo & Juliet (£9,600; unique piece), while Handles for the Virgin and Rock are finely crafted from Paduk, ebony, semi-precious stones, painted glass and stainless steel (£7,200; unique piece).

Grander scale works include The Sun Shines on Our Dining Table, an interactive cocktail table made from Carrara marble, Caramello onyx, glass, walnut and ostrich leather (£84,000; edition of four), Layers, a monumental Perspex desk-cum-table (third picture, £48,000; edition of nine) and Engaged, an illuminated basin in rock crystal and Belgian black marble (first picture, £72,000; edition of two). As the show’s name suggests, art really is life in Mark Humphrey’s artistic hands.

See also

Tables, Baths