All Eyes on Rafael de Cárdenas

Photo by Rafael Gamo
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Photo by Rafael Gamo
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Photo by Rafael Gamo
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Photo by Jonathan Savoie
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Photo by Jonathan Savoie
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Photo by Jonathan Savoie
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Photo by Jonathan Savoie
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Photo by Rafael Gamo
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After dazzling the crowds with his seductive nightclub installation at the NYC Makers biennial in New York, the in-demand designer will bring his Print All Over Me beachwear to Art Basel Miami Beach and is at work on a London jewellery boutique.

In NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial, an exhibit that ran until mid-October at the Museum of Arts and Design, Rafael de Cárdenas – who runs the New York studio Architecture at Large – reimagined New York’s legendary nightclub subculture as a trippy mirage. Inspired by CBGB’s, Studio 54 and Limelight, he generated an alternative vision of a dance club, populated by glass-encased plants and centered around an illuminated altar ringed by four glowing steel columns, awash in purple and blue lighting. Cárdenas added to this sense of fantasy by shifting visual perception through forced distortion and horizontal planar shifts.

He laments that if the budget allowed, he would have pushed further, perhaps including smoke machines and darker elements: “I like things a little dark,” he explains, “things that are suggestive of an underbelly, a seduction.” This seduction, however, also included plants to add a twist of “light and energy.” Encased by glass, they were physically separated yet very much a part of the space, circumscribing the room and arranged as stepped pyramidal forms, inset within the mirrored walls.

Roughly 100 New York-based artists formed the first biennial exhibition, which ran for more than three months and was organized under the leadership of MAD director Glenn Adamson. Bringing together the “craftsmanship of the five boroughs,” the show featured a cross-section of artistic disciplines that served to underscore the museum’s interdisciplinary mandate. Other creators included avant-garde musician Laurie Anderson, gem artist John Hatleberg, stained glass artist Joseph Cavalieri and freehand sculptor Chris Pelletieri.

In contrast to his plant-populated nightclub – but still using light, shadow and texture in abundance – some of Cárdenas’ other recent projects are a pop-up Gift&Co display for retail giant Nordstrom and a Tokyo installation for watchmaker Cartier, which celebrated its 110th anniversary this year. While the juxtaposition of brightly wrapped presents for Nordstrom stands in contrast to the refined gallery setting of the Cartier displays, a distinctive flair for extremes permeates Cárdenas’ work, no matter what the subject.

Up next, his prints will be featured in a line of beachwear for Art Basel Miami Beach, by Sight Unseen and Print All Over Me, available exclusively in The Standard Shop this December; and, another retail project is in the works for jewellery designer Delfina Delettrez, who will open her first international boutique in London early next year. With azure marble, malachite green accents, polished metal and mirror finishes, it promises to deliver an ample dose of opulence in classic Cárdenas style.

Written by Effie Bouras & Popi Bowman

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