When it comes to Ron Arad, only a very thin line distinguishes art from design. The London designer’s most memorable pieces look more like sculptures than furniture, and many of them – made for Moroso, Vitra and Driade among others – are crafted out of nothing but sheets of metal. In fact, the first chair he ever made, in 1981, consisted of an old leather car seat framed in an armature of welded steel. French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier was the first customer to buy the now iconic chair known as Rover.
Thirty years later, Arad has returned to his car-inspired roots, though on a much grander scale. At Tel Aviv’s Design Museum Holon, which Arad himself designed, it looks as though some sort of comical highway pileup has just occurred, with six crushed Fiat 500s hanging on the gallery walls. They are part of In Reverse, which runs until October 19, and includes dozens of furniture pieces by the Israeli designer, including Rover and other classics, such as the Big Easy, originally designed for Moroso.
To flatten the cars, Arad sourced a 500-tonne press in the Netherlands capable of crushing the cars instantly while also keeping them intact. Post-production detailing ensured each Fiat remained a single piece of art.
So why squish a Fiat?
Arad offers a number of reasons, including the idea of shifting a physical object into a flat digital-like form. “Rather than manipulating materials to make them functional,” he says, “here I reverse functional objects and render them useless.” The cars are also endearing symbols, he adds. During a recent talk hosted by Toronto’s Design Exchange, he described this particular brand of automobile as a national emblem of Italy. “Everyone has a story about sex, or their first kiss, happening in a Fiat,” he joked.
On a more personal note, Arad says he has connections to the car since childhood, when his father was in a serious accident while driving a Fiat. He remembers his father telling him he survived because the car was made of metal, not wood. It was a moment that spurred Arad’s life-long passion for the material. Affectionately, he has titled the crushed Fiat 500 installation Pressed Flowers.
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