Object of My Affection
Espace Établi by Pierre Székely
Lee F Mindel FAIA, architect-extraordinaire, shares the latest on what's catching his eye
Paris in the last century, especially following the two World Wars, was a beacon of creative freedom, a cultural refuge for artists fleeing oppression. Names like Constantin Brâncuși, Alberto and Diego Giacometti, and Max Ernst readily come to mind. Consider also the lesser known Hungarian artist-sculptor Pierre Székely (1923-2001), who arrived in Paris from Budapest around 1946. He lived and worked there for the rest of his life, creating artworks across scales and media—prints, ceramic vessels, furniture, and sculptures, both intimate and massive.
Manhattan's Magen H Gallery is exhibiting a most extraordinary work by this master, one that manages to embody all of the creative expressions that Szekely explored over the course of his long and prolific career. Espace Établi (c. 1971) is at once sculptural object, architectural form, and functional furniture that celebrates the distinct textural qualities of the German basalt from which it is made.
During WWII, before leaving Hungary, Székely was forced into a labor camp, which introduced him to stone cutting and carving techniques. Toward the end of the war, when the opportunity arose, he moved to Paris with the goal of pursuing the Surrealist concept of an “object of poetic functionality.” He believed that art should not reside in galleries; that it should instead be fully integrated into the flow of modern life. Székely, along with his wife Vera, soon earned an international reputation for simple, understated aesthetics and high quality execution. Public and private commissions rolled in.
Székely’s Espace Établi wonderfully illustrates the artist’s lifelong fascination with stone material; his talent for creating freeform shapes; his respect for the rigors of architecture and functionality. Measuring 36” square by 19” high, this sublimely simple form functions as both a coffee table and a plinth supporting an integrated abstract sculpture. The juxtaposition of these two types of expression, of the rectilinear with the organic, of reduction with complexity, bears a poignancy beyond categorization.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as Pierre and Vera’s son, Paris-based designer Martin Székely, continues the legacy of creating robust and alluring works of design. ◆