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Soap Opera: An Artist Lathers the Lever House With History

lever house

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The New York headquarters of global soap corporation Unilever is a work of art itself. The Lever House, one of the most famous Modernist structures in the
world, was designed with a brilliant blue-glass curtain wall by Gordon
Bunshaft in 1952 to showcase the company’s squeaky-clean products. But the building has also been home to many art exhibitions that take place in its lobby and plaza. The latest, by Richard Woods, is integrated directly into the famous architecture and references the global corporation’s history, beginning as a family-owned plant in London that was founded in 1885.

lever house

Woods’s installation, named “Port Sunlight”, is inspired by his own personal narrative intertwining with Lever Brothers history. The Lever Brothers were the first to use glycerine and vegetable oils
instead of animal fat, manufacturing a clear, high-lathering soap they
named Sunlight Soap. Ever the empire-builders, the Levers constructed a model village for their operations–Port Sunlight–that contained the Lady Lever Gallery, which Woods visited often as he grew up nearby. It was also at the Lady Lever Gallery that Woods discovered the textiles of British designer William Morris, which inform and shape the patterns Woods created for the installation.

lever house

Nine patterns with Victorian and Tudor inspirations are temporarily
cladding portions of the Lever House lobby and outdoor area, including
40 of the square steel columns and the benches in the famous outdoor
plaza area of the building. Two large floor pieces are printed on aluminum
and laid directly onto the Lever House lobby floor. The contrast between the sleek modern lines and ornamented Victorian patterns is a delicious, intriguing combination. The installation is up until January 31, 2010.

[Perry Rubenstein Gallery]

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