Légèretés manifestes. François Azambourg, designer

from 9 March to 2 July 2023

From March 9th through July 2nd, 2023, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs will present the exhibition Légèretés manifestes (Lightness), dedicated to the designer François Azambourg. Recognized as one of the greatest figures of French design today, François Azambourg is a creator and a poet, engaged in the pressing ecological issues of our time. Rooted in constant search of lightness, economy of means and simplicity, his approach is open and without constraint. In a world increasingly thirsty for objects and products, it is his long-lasting experimentations that nourish his works.

With nearly 200 works on display, this exhibition invites visitors into Azambourg’s unique creative world, featuring furniture, vases, lighting, and mobiles from his studio, as well as works held by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Centre Pompidou, the CNAP, design manufacturers and private collections. The exhibition will be showcased on the second floor of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs overlooking the Tuileries Garden and will be staged in an ecologically friendly manner, with upcycled materials.

Born in 1963, Francois Azambourg studied at the École Régionale des Beaux- Arts de Caen before joining the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Appliqués et des Métiers d’Art (ENSAAMA). He then founded his own design studio in Paris and has since collaborated with the Centre International d’Art Verrier (CIAV), as well as Hermès, Ligne Roset, the Manufacture de Sèvres, Louis Vuitton, Cappellini, Poltrona Frau, and the Galerie kreo. He has won several important awards throughout his career and was a Musée des Arts Décoratifs laureate in 1985, as well as a laureate of the Fondation de France in 1988, the Fondation de la Vocation in 1993, the Villa Medicis Hors les Murs in 2003, the Grand Prix du Design de la Ville de Paris in 2004, and the Villa Kujoyama in 2015.

François Azambourg, Helical mobile, 2012
L’Atelier d’exercices edition. Samba, piano string, aluminum, latex elastic, granite pebble, lead, heatshrinkable sheath
© Studio L’Atelier du Vin

Azambourg’s works are held in prestigious public collections as well, including the Centre Pompidou, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, and CNAP. In addition to his artistic recognition, Azambourg maintains close ties with the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which has acquired several of his emblematic works in recent years, such as the Split Wood chair in 2015, after his return from a residency at the Villa Kujoyama, as well as blown molded glass vases from his Douglas series.

Azambourg’s prolific work radiates across all fields of design.

François Azambourg, Inga Lamp, 1999 (creation)
Turned Sycomore, LED light source
© Les Arts Décoratifs / Photo: Christophe Dellière

In every project, he works with a sincere approach while questioning and challenging the norm. His design offers a new perspective beyond the work itself, making the structure of the object visible. Azambourg provides absolute transparency, he does not hide anything. Everything is said. Everything is shown.

The show traces back to the very essence of his work, starting from the origins of his approach to the design industry, including artistic expression, craftsmanship, living experience and the notion of context as a source of inspiration.

The world of childhood and imagination are an introduction to the show. The visitor discovers, through the designer’s first creations, his attraction to airplanes, birds, the world of the living, and technique. He is already developing, without knowing it, a methodology of creation and a relationship with material that involves exploration and manipulation. He reads, researches, reproduces, builds models, and dissects mechanical systems. He is interested in the resistance of materials, triangulation, notions that he does not yet understand but that already fascinate him. In this section, the exhibition displays sketches, drawings, models, and documents revealed as testimonies of the worlds he builds as a child. The exhibition revisits another of his passions, music, which is omnipresent. It is in celebration of music that he devotes, as early as 1985, one of his first creations: a lightened saxophone. Thanks to a new mouthpiece, an original truss mechanism inspired by the world of aviation, he revolutionizes the ergonomics of the instrument and thus the mobility of the musician.

François Azambourg, Second prototype research chair Very Nice silk version 2003 (creation), 2022 (model)
Birch plywood structure 9 mm, water jet cut and glued, spruce and balsa reinforcement, cellulosic varnish, silk lining
© Les Arts Décoratifs / Photo: Charlaine Croguennec / Hom project

The exhibition also brings to light the designer’s unique, unprecedented experiments and techniques: lightweight, triangular structures and flexible “sandwiches”. Iconic pieces of furniture such as the Very Nice chair (2003) in Balsa, which only weighs 700 grams, are exhibited. The material here is shaped like the architecture of an airplane wing, based on triangular structures, then covered with polyester film.

The show also reveals, in a separate project, Azambourg’s work on the association and combination of materials. Chairs, tables, armchairs, but also luggage for Hermès, are made from what the designer calls a “soft sandwich”. The latter combines soft foam clamped between two wooden or leather elements, that reveal the smooth quality of the furniture.

From the prototype to the failed attempts, the entire creative process is unveiled here, reaching only eventually its final result. It often leads to what Azambourg calls in French “loupés” or “ratés”, in other words unsuccessful experiments, which ultimately become a source of inspiration that guide him to work the material further and to reveal its lightness.

François Azambourg, La Chaise de Monsieur Bugatti, Blue version, 2006
Prototype 4/10 mm laminated steel sheet, wrinkled and selfwelded, two-component PU foam filling, varnished lacquer
© Les Arts Décoratifs / Photo: Charlaine Croguennec / Hom project

François Azambourg never stops questioning the flexibility of the industry. Produced without molds or in hollow structures, his creations emancipate themselves from traditional techniques such as the Pack textile chair (1998), inflated with polyurethane foam. Design, as a space for reflection, allows him to explore the world and develop new fields of action. Craft becomes, according to him, a laboratory for the industrial world. In 2006, Azambourg used sheet metal and imagined a new pattern, this time made of metal, which he inflated with foam. Over-expanded, the foam invaded the entire inside void, causing the welds to crack and the steel to wrinkle. Thus, the Bugatti chair, also born from a “loupé”, will be adopted in all the colors of the major Italian racing car brands.

Wrinkling and folding, the designer delights in constraining the materials at hand. As in the vein of Serge Mouille and his metal forms, Azambourg designed seats made of mesh in 2008. Much like origami, by choosing to work with mesh through folding, he reinvented its plastic expression.

The next galleries highlight the relationship that François Azambourg builds with the site in which he works. This is precisely the case when he creates the Douglas vase with the Centre International d’Art Verrier de Meisenthal located in the Vosges. Blown into a mold made of Douglas wood, the vase takes on the markings of its grain, expressing the very imprint of the surrounding nature.

François Azambourg, Douglas 153 Vase, 2020
Edition from CIAV (International Center for Glass Art, Meisenthal). Blown and molded glass. Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Purchase thanks to the patronage of the Friends des Arts Décoratifs and Olivier Gabet, 2020
© Les Arts Décoratifs / Photo: Christophe Dellière

The vases are similar but all unique, bearing the trace of the living and the spirit of a place. When, in 2015, he flew to Japan and settled in residence at the Villa Kujoyama, he seized the same spirit of the place and, as in Meisenthal, sought to probe the language of wood. He was interested in manufacturing scraps, especially wood chips, which became his favorite material. Through weaving, braiding, and gluing, Azambourg composed objects of absolute lightness and his creations led him to a new reflection on wood: split wood.

The exhibition ends with the close ties he maintains with the world of the living, an infinite source of inspiration. He observes the lives of termites and bees as well as those of machines. He is a pioneer in this field when he uses the potential of the beehive (2005) as early as the 2000s. The Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which preserves one of the richest and oldest collections of design in France, is happy to present to the public this important monograph dedicated to François Azambourg.

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