Lukas Gschwandtner Is in Repose

Lukas Gschwandtner took Design Miami by surprise with his understated, contemplative collaboration with Fendi, “Triclinium.” The Vienna-based artist infused his signature wearable soft sculptures with the spirit of Rome in a tribute to the fashion house, which traces its roots to the Eternal City. Gschwandtner took inspiration from classic Roman paintings of women in repose, translating famous odalisques into chaise lounges arranged in a triclinium, the ancient triad from which the show gets its name. True to the stripped-down aesthetic of his work, Gschwandtner reimagined the Fendi Peekaboo bag as a solid structure, creating a plaster model from its interior and scattering the deconstructed bag around the resulting forms. The quiet, neutral-hued booth is a tranquil escape from the chaos of Art Week, or at least it was for our senior editor Taylore Scarabelli, who joined Gschwandtner for a walk-through to talk iconic clubs, tragic glamor, and the divine struggle of working with silk. —CAITLIN LENT 


SCARABELLI: First, I want to ask you: how is Miami? Are you having fun? 

GSCHWANDTNER: It’s my first time here, it’s intense.

SCARABELLI: A little scary.


SCARABELLI: Did you go to Twist yet? 

GSCHWANDTNER: Yes! We went two days ago. 

SCARABELLI: Fab. How do you feel about the architecture here?

GSCHWANDTNER: I like it a lot, actually. And we stay at the beach, which is super nice. I swim every morning, have a quick dip before the start of the day. But I had to get [“Triclinium”] all up myself. It’s important to me that I do all the work.

SCARABELLI: You installed everything?

GSCHWANDTNER: Yes. The wall treatment and everything was important to me. There’s so many layers.

SCARABELLI: It looks beautiful. The colors are so soothing in here. It’s almost like, not a hospital, but a glam hospital.

GSCHWANDTNER: So many people said that! 

SCARABELLI: It’s like an expensive institution. [Laughs] 


SCARABELLI: So how did this collaboration come about?

GSCHWANDTNER: They called me in the summer. I didn’t didn’t know anyone before, but then immediately I was sent to Rome to meet Silvia [Fendi]. I don’t know if it’s always like this, but I did not have a brief, I could do what I wanted. 

SCARABELLI: Which is amazing. 

GSCHWANDTNER: The only thing was the peekaboo bags, that every year they choose an artist to do something with it.

SCARABELLI: And you destroyed it. 

GSCHWANDTNER: I destroyed it! [Laughs] I didn’t know in the moment that I didn’t need to cut it out. It didn’t occur to me. I just fill it with plaster. I’m like “Oh well, I guess this is different.” And then I find out how much this fucking bag is. 

SCARABELLI: How much does it cost? 

GSCHWANDTNER: Six or seven thousand euros! 

SCARABELLI: Oh my god. Well, that makes it even more exciting. 

GSCHWANDTNER: But I just found out that she’s not offended. 

SCARABELLI: Oh, of course not. It looks beautiful. Deconstructed! 


SCARABELLI: So you were doing these wearable sculptures before?


SCARABELLI: Can we try them on? 

GSCHWANDTNER: Help yourself!

SCARABELLI: Oh, wow, it has finger holes. Ooh. 

GSCHWANDTNER: The initial idea was to try to find a tool to really understand the body language of women that have been portrayed by men historically in paintings or in sculptures. 

SCARABELLI: What drew you to that in the first place? 

GSCHWANDTNER: I really think it’s the dynamic of these women. There’s something so beautiful about them.

SCARABELLI: It’s kind of like a tragic glamor. 

GSCHWANDTNER: It’s so tragic. They look so sad. But super elegant, but also strong. I sense some power in them. And obviously that bourgeoise aspect of it. I wanted to find a tool that makes me understand this more. A contemporary translation, maybe. I just started for myself, I didn’t intend to show it. I was really doing it as a case study for myself at home, to directly translate the painting onto my body on a canvas, I cut it out and stitched it and tried it on, just a bicep in it. So it’s really fully restrictive. I needed to lie like her, which I was obsessed with. And then I wanted to do more and more. Now I have so many, and then a gallery in Brussels asked me to do a show with them. And then we didn’t have much time for this project. So I proposed to Silvia, why don’t why don’t we revisit this project, and we make it Roman, and I only use research that I already have anyway from Roman women? And she really liked that idea. Everything happened extremely naturally.

SCARABELLI: Beautiful. 

GSCHWANDTNER: And also I was physically there to visit them. I wanted to cry. I felt emotional. And then because of the title Triclinium, this was the second response to that. 

SCARABELLI: Can you tell the reader what that means? 

GSCHWANDTNER: In one book in a library in Vienna, I found this beautiful chapter about historical arrangements and compositions of furniture. And there was a Roman part of it that showed a triclinium, which was three pieces, arranged in a U-form in order to make a conversation piece. It’s there to talk, to eat, to communicate.

SCARABELLI: So three different people can lay down and chat at the same time?

GSCHWANDTNER: Yeah, basically. 

SCARABELLI: It’s like the early sectional sofa. 

GSCHWANDTNER: Yes, exactly. Naturally, I was like, perfect. I already have this element, by making it three times, I make it Roman again.

SCARABELLI: So do you want to talk a little bit about the materials you use? Because obviously you have this canvas—

GSCHWANDTNER: I always use canvas. It makes me visually understand my work better. 

SCARABELLI: With no distractions. 

GSCHWANDTNER: I see the lines. I see how I constructed it, how I misconstructed it.

SCARABELLI: Like a fashion designer. 

GSCHWANDTNER: In a way. You see, I dress my chairs. I make all those little dresses for them. I see this as an undergarment, like a chemise. All my women like their underwear and just lounging, but I dress them sometimes. 

SCARABELLI: And then you have this beautiful, almost periwinkle fabric. This is silk?


SCARABELLI: So thick. It’s beautiful. So this came from Fendi?

GSCHWANDTNER: Yeah. So they asked me if I could choose something from the atelier and then of course, I chose silk, which is so fucking difficult to work with, right? Never worked with that before, but I always wanted to. 

SCARABELLI: Did they help you with any of the constructions?

GSCHWANDTNER: I did it all myself, which was important. I really wanted to understand, without any knowledge of the craftsmanship, how my process would be with my background in leather and architecture and welding heavy, dirty materials. I was cutting it with a knife. If people in the atelier could see the raw seam, they would kill me. 

SCARABELLI: That’s okay. It’s not the atelier. It’s your art studio.