In Our “Return to Heritage,” Have We Forsaken the New?

Are we evolving to a new, innovative future or returning to a comfortable past?

I was discussing minimalism with a well known New York architect when he asked me, “What do you think is more minimal: a hypermodern, completely concealed light source in a ceiling or an old-school standard light bulb sticking out of a socket?” Is the core of minimalism to be found in the act of disappearance or in the purity of function?

It’s no secret to anyone who observes our designed environment that we have moved away from embracing a revived minimalism and its efficient attributes to what I call a “return to heritage,” and an appreciation for honest artisan craft. Today we hastily fuse, remix, and reassemble new elements to go with the old in hopes of finding individuality.

I think the attempt to mix the old with the new is predictable and unsatisfying at best, and lacks the audacity and excitement of a radical new vision. All this raises another question: Are we returning or arriving? Today it’s hard to say that we’ve returned to anywhere or moved away from something and arrived somewhere.

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Yet in all the opposing currents of high-tech futurism and rugged primitivism, we can find works that chart an exciting, new territory. One crucial ingredient is what Hans Ulrich Obrist calls “Post Hastism,” the idea of slowing down and no longer embracing speed and efficiency of technology but reclaiming the act of delay as value in art and design. Rather than polarizing the past and the future, this suggests stopping and considering the present. Contemplation, room for discovery, and self-finding are in order, before we express ourselves, rather than posting 20 images on Tumbler each day without giving a thought to values of self definition. Once again, we need to learn what it means to become a “master” at a skill and to develop patience.

Historically a defining trait in art has always been self-management of expression: How do I want to say it and when? Do I choose to say nothing? Constant, impulsive self-expression leads to a lack of direction. So before we get to create, we need to relearn to restrain ourselves.

We also need to train our intuition to extract permanence out of a fleeting moment. This means moving away from impulsive judgments and starting to edit our choices closely. I’m thinking of the brilliant sculptural works of Julia Dault. She is one of the most important sculptors today, as I see it. Her work is akin to Donald Judd’s and Richard Chamberlain’s in the ways she uses space architecturally, yet she is sculpting with the balance of existence and non-existence. Her bundled sheets are always at the verge of being undone. They are manifesting a fleeting moment, forever a bundled second, not a monolithic constant but an intuitive moment preserved.

Julia Dault, Untitled 23, 2012

Sketch by Junya Ishigami

The winning method of this work uses immediacy and impulsive action (the signature trait of our time) and freezes them at the right moment. It stops before it arrives and breaks new ground by being completely OPEN ENDED. It never comes to a conclusion or clarity. It never arrives to be minimal, raw or timeless. It has no temperature, no color, no voice. It is as much “green” as it is industrial. From Junya Ishigami’s visionary building sketches to Christian Winjants current fashion work; to Katharina Grosse’s wall art and Akiko Tsuji’s clay jewelry these artists have managed to outdo the magnetic forces of old and new by carefully stopping the present. We can find this in other media as well, i.e. in music Liz Harris’ Grouper project and Helmut Lachenmann’s recent compositions.

Christian Wijnants, Fall 2013

Katharina Grosse, Untitled, 2003

Jewelry by Akiko Tsuji

I’m looking at a vase I recently purchased by Decha Archjananun. It makes great effort to support a single flower standing in a heavy concrete container held in place by a steel frame, keeping the flower upright as long as possible. Its hopeless goal is to freeze the passing of a moment. The flower makes the vase just like light makes a light bulb–naturally leaping from yesterday, forever supporting a moment, always stopping before tomorrow comes.

Vases by Decha Archjananun

Marc Hohmann is a design partner and creative director at Lippincott’s New York office, with over 20 years of experience in designing identities and creating campaigns for leading global brands. Previously, with his own firm Konstruktur, he designed the symbol for Amtrak’s Acela bullet train, numerous watches for Swatch, the current logo for the City of London. His clients and projects have included Ainnia Dubai, Citi, Akzo Nobel, City of London, Espré Japan Publishing, Lift Ecru Japan, SGH (Sunglass Hut), Sony BMG, J Brand, Yohji Yamamoto, Swiss Re, Telefónica, and Yahoo!, BB. Marc is also the chief editor of Famous Aspect, a style / art magazine; the second issue is currently available at

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