For his ambitious installation Port Sunlight Richard Woods has created nine decorative patterns that clad many areas of the Lever House lobby and outdoor area, transforming the modernist landmark with a multitude of graphic designs and high intensity colors. Each pattern is rendered as a set of woodprint blocks that encase sections of the Lever House and its grounds, including all of the forty structural steel columns, the eight Isamu Noguchi marble benches on the exterior plazas, the interior and exterior planter, and sections of the floor inside the glass-enclosed lobby.
Richard Woods is known for meshing art and design, history and humor, and highbrow aesthetics with pop culture. His site-specific projects use basic materials—wood and paint—to create vividly different graphic surroundings. As the artist stated: "The installation for the Lever House uses a multitude of commonplace, 19th century patterns, including William Morris inspired graphic depictions of nature and mock Tudor architectural surfacing so common during the early 20th century. The patterns are woodblock printed onto wood fiberboard or aluminum sheets. The effect is to impose high Victorian decoration onto the elegant minimal language of the modernist building."
In addition to the structural columns and public furniture, the artist has also created two floor based, wood block printed works, using the same tile system. The works are placed on the floor of the lobby and are designed to be walked on and to appear as grand dining room carpets. The aluminum panels are laid side to side on the floor, both referencing the modernist grid, which is so vital in Gordon Bunshaffs Lever House building, and the visual nature of Victorian repeat patterning.
The hand printed tiles present a Victorian veneer that is the complete architectural and decorative antithesis of its modernist host of Lever House. As well as drawing attention to the two stylistic opposites of high Victoriana and Modernism, Part Suftlightalso draws parallels with the contemporary nature of the Lever House Art Collection and the collecting style of William Lever in late 19th century England.
In 1878, William Lever bought two porcelain Derby figurines, and they were the first works of art he would buy for a collection that would amount to 20,000 pieces. The collection included mostly British Victorian art, including Pre-Raphaelites painting, Wedgwood ceramics, the finest 18th century furniture, and would become one of the largest collections of decorative tapestries. The Lady Lever Gallery, named after his late wife, was built to house the enormous collection and opened in 1922. It was the first art gallery that Richard Woods visited as a child, located only about 4 miles from his parent's house, on the mouth of the river Mersey in northwest England.
The Gallery itself was located in the model village of Port Sunlight ("Sunlight" was Lever's first soap product), that was built by Lever and was intended to house all his company's employees. The mock Tudor styling of these houses reveal the fascination with decoration that Mr. Lever possessed, and that permeated all areas of his art collecting. The continual success of Lever's products led to further expansion in the United States, where in 1950 Lever Brother's President Charles Luckman would commission Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Ownings 9 Merrill to design the building which stands at 390 Park Avenue.
Richard Woods was born in Chester, England, in 1B98 and lives and works in London. He received his M.A. at the Slade School of fine Art, London, in 1990. Woods has had exhibitions in London, Athens, Rome, Paris, Berlin, and Turin since 1994. The artist is represented by Perry Rubenstein Gallery, New York.
Richard D. Marshall, Curator
Part Sunlight, 2009
Acrylic paint woodblock prints on medium-density fiberboard and aluminum, dimensions variable