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Behind the Exhibit: Mathieu Lehanneur’s Liquid Dreams

The French iconoclast takes on New York with first U.S. solo exhibition and Maison Kitsuné collaboration

Like one of his “liquid marble” sculptures, design dynamo Mathieu Lehanneur seems to vibrate between categories. Basically a walking, talking dual degree, Lehanneur seamlessly weaves in and out of arts, technology, and commerce, giving Steve Jobs-ian TED Talks, serving as chief designer at telecomm company Huawei, and exhibiting at institutions like Paris’s Centre Pompidou.

This month, Lehanneur is spreading his polymathic genius around New York with two interdisciplinary showcases: one a sculpture-meets-furniture show at Carpenters Workshop Gallery (his first U.S. solo exhibition) and the other a retail concept at the recently unveiled Maison Kitsuné Soho flagship.

Ocean Memories,” on view until October 27, explores the tension between liquid and solid, organic and inorganic with laser-cut marble, bronze, and aluminum pieces that mimic the surface of water – expanding on Lehanneur’s previous, more conceptual liquid marble creations. “From the beginning, [Lehanneur’s] work has been bridging ideas of nature and science,” says the gallery’s U.S. director Ashlee Harrison. “He’s looking at materials and objects found in nature and creating them in a hyper-realistic way through 3D film and graphing technology.” Dynamic in function as well as form, the molten sculptures are half-coffee table, half-existentialist art piece.

Blurring the line between high art and functional design, Lehanneur’s vision transcends genre – which, he says, makes the French-Japanese brand Maison Kitsuné’s store on Lafayette Street the perfect venue for collaboration. “There is in the DNA of Maison Kitsuné and in my work a taste for hybridization,” says Lehanneur of the apparel and music label, which was co-founded by the former manager of Daft Punk. “I like this non-specialized approach to a single area. I work in the same way, in a very wide field of creation.”

Continuing the organic-versus-inorganic theme, Lehanneur’s inspiration for the store’s interior was a Paris apartment that’s been partially reclaimed by nature. “The space takes up the codes of a Parisian apartment that is crossed and inhabited by vine-like metal tubes. I worked here on a very special steel surface treatment,” he says of the storefront’s defining feature, a colorful steel pipe that winds throughout the space and, like all of Lehanneur’s work, combines visual and scientific flair. “By adding a thin layer of zinc, the steel becomes like a rainbow. Its color changes from green to yellow, then from yellow to pink… [It’s] multicolored as a candy!”