The latest from Paris-based designer Robert Stadler

Next Level

By Wava Carpenter

With nearly 25 years under his belt, Robert Stadler has established himself as a designer’s designer and a darling of design collectors. To wit, his provocative work is most appreciated by those who closely follow developments at the cutting edge of the field. Despite his expansive take on the definition of “function” and the role of artistic expression in design practice, Stadler counts uber-rationalists like Konstantin Grcic and the duo behind Barber Osgerby among his closest professional pals.

That’s not to say that the Vienna-born, Paris-based designer only produces luxurious, outré art pieces—far from it. After studying at Milan’s Istituto Europeo di Design and Paris’s École Nationale Supérieure de Creation Industrielle, he cofounded the influential, counterculture-driven design collective RADI in 1992. While pushing the discourse with experimental installations and prototypes, the group also attracted major clients like Air France, Marlboro, Moulinex, and Schweppes, to name a few. Since around 2008, Stadler has been working on his own, but he continues to cross boundaries with uniquely striking forms that confound accepted notions of high and low, serious and absurd.

His designs are regularly featured in institutions and galleries around the world. And as of today, he has launched some super cool, small-batch production pieces on Pamono and his new website, The Whatness. To honor the occasion, we reached out to Stadler for a quick Q&A. Read on to learn more about one of the most sincerely enjoyable (and enjoyably sincere) voices in design today.


WC: What made you want to study design originally?

RS: First I was interested in the domestic space—interior architecture—but then I discovered that I prefer design because it I thought it was more straightforward. It had to be architecture or design but not in between.

WC: How did RADI DESIGNERS originate? What was the mission?

RS: We started RADI at school in response to the minimalist design that was hot back then. The idea was to propose a new aesthetic—sort of surreal but seriously designed objects that challenged the look of our homes while at the same time replying to typical industrial design commissions.

WC: What led you to work more independently over the years?

RS: Just the need for change. RADI lasted for 16 years, which I would call a success. But with time, I got more and more curious about what I would come up with all by myself, what my stuff would look like without going through the RADI filter.

WC: So what did you discover, or what changed, after striking out on your own?

RS: Seen from a distance today, I think that maybe I discovered my Austrian origins, which naturally surfaced working on my own. With RADI we definitely had a critical approach to design but our outcome, our language, was always a charmingly surreal and humoristicly subtle one. Not that I think my own designs are brutal, but I guess maybe they’re sometimes more challenging to the user. I like it when objects speak back, when they push the user in an active position, either through their aesthetics because he is confronted with a challenging shape or when they are vectors for re-considering certain habits he has adopted in the domestic space. To me beauty doesn’t exist without paradox.

WC: What’s unique about working as an Austrian designer in Paris?

That I have to speak French all the time!

WC: How do you approach working with corporate clients versus galleries, like Carpenters Workshop? Do you prefer one type of work to the other?

RS: Carpenters IS a corporate client! No, I have no preference here. You would be surprised how sometimes an industrial client can be more audacious then a hyped contemporary art gallery. And sometimes it's just the other way round. All that matters is the people behind the structures.

Designer Robert Stadler Photo © Jacques Gavard
Can you tell us about the project that won you the “Prix Liliane Bettencourt pour l’Intelligence de la main” in 2012?

RS: The piece is called Irregular Bomb, part of a series called Tephra Formations. It combines different types of seats that seem to have melted together, inspired by what vulcanologists call tephra ("ash" in Greek), which are fragments of solid rock thrown into the air during an eruption. When a volcano ejects different types of material, large fragments of lava called “bombs” solidify as they fly through the air. They are still viscous when they land, and this gives them their characteristic [blobby] shapes. The starting point for this project—anchored in a series of initiatives challenging the status of the creator of an object—is a fictional scenario about a volcano that might have given birth to these pieces of furniture.

WC: What led you to launch TheWhatness website?

RS: My main motivation for building our online shop was to shift the perception of my work. People often associate me with gallery pieces that they might like but cannot afford. But in fact I have always had a production of various works that exist outside of the gallery context. The online shop particularly makes sense, as I don't have tons of chairs and lamps distributed by various producers. And I have to say—after having worked for so long with galleries, brands, and industry—it's a great feeling to be totally autonomous for once!

WC: You have three big exhibitions planned already for 2017. Can you tell us some highlights and what you’re looking forward to with these exhibitions?

RS: Yes, these are very important projects for me, so it’s not easy to sum up in a few words. First in March, there is You May Also Like—Robert Stadler at the Museum of Applied Arts, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. It is my first institutional survey, initiated by Tulga Beyerle and curated by Alexis Vaillant. A large bilingual catalogue will accompany the exhibition published by Walther König. The exhibition is particularly special as I was invited to select objects and artworks from the SKD collections—which are amazing—and present them together with my works.

Then in April, there is Solid Doubts–Robert Stadler at The Noguchi Museum in New York, curated by Dakin Hart and also accompanied by a catalogue. The Noguchi Museum is a place I love and have visited for many years. I am especially honored because the institution invited me to establish a dialogue between my pieces and those of Isamu Noguchi.  This is the museum’s first exhibition to feature a contemporary designer’s work in dialogue with Noguchi’s sculptures and designs.

And finally, also in April, I will have my first solo show at Carpenters Workshop in New York.

WC: As we approach the end of the year, can you share some thoughts about where you think the design world is now and where you think it’s going? What’s right that you hope to see more of, and what’s wrong that you hope will change?

RS: The design world is extremely facetted. That's what makes it fascinating. But it is therefore almost impossible to answer your question. Design is also becoming increasingly borderless and entropic, which potentially is a good thing. I would just like to see it acquiring more culture, sharpness, and self-confidence.


Be sure to watch out for Stadler’s upcoming exhibitions in 2017:

You May Also Like—Robert Stadler at the Museum of Applied Arts, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD) in the Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau, Dresden from 18 March to 25 June, 2017

Solid Doubts–Robert Stadler at The Noguchi Museum in New York from 25 April to 3 September, 2017 

Robert Stadler solo show at Carpenters Workshop Gallery in New York from April to May, 2017

  • Text by

    • Wava Carpenter

      Wava Carpenter

      After studying Design History, Wava has worn many hats in support of design culture: teaching design studies, curating exhibitions, overseeing commissions, organizing talks, writing articles—all of which informs her work now as Pamono’s Editor-in-Chief.