Art You Can Wipe Your Feet On

James Welling's Tibetan wool and silk creation, "New Abstraction #1A" (2009), 108 x 72 inches (image via

The owners of BravinLee aren’t satisfied with simply selling art to hang on the walls. In a new initiative, they’re expanding their inventory to include art to put underneath the coffee table.

Organized by John Lee in association with Meredith Rosenberg, the Chelsea gallery began recruiting their artists to design hand-knotted silk and wool rugs manufactured in Nepal. In conjunction with GoodWeave (which certifies the rugs were not knotted by the tender hands of child slaves), the rugs draw upon the designs of BravinLee staples, including Thomas Nozkowski, Valerie Hegarty, Jonathan Lasker and James Welling.

Jonathan Lasker, "Untitled" (2011) Tibetan wool and silk 45 x 60 inches (image via (click to enlarge)

The project cleverly integrates art and practical design, lending some semblance of function to form in one creative endeavor. The genesis of these rugs formed during Rosenberg’s graduate studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Under the tutelage of her thesis adviser, Lee, they worked on new marketing techniques for contemporary art. The result was a transformation of contemporary artists’ works into accessible commodities.

The crux of this line owes much to Walter Gropius’s effort to marry fine art into daily life during the Bauhaus movement. Whereas the German design school explicitly created products through a fine arts lens, in BravinLee’s project there seems to be little transition in terms of the picture plane from painting to carpet. These exist as rugs and not as paintings from a purely commercial standpoint rather than a conceptual one.

The rugs speak largely to a current trend in interior design: bold, abstract and graphic accent pieces. James Welling’s energetic black and white composition “New Abstraction #1A” or Jonathan Lasker’s untitled blurred red helices set against a blue and back foreground are a decent compromise between the aesthetic of contemporary art and the aesthetic of contemporary decoration.

It’s an unfortunate proposition that art today is valued, at times, for how nice it looks above the couch in a millionaire’s penthouse. So how does this impact the reading of these rugs? Are they just more of an illustration of how consumer-driven the art market is, how the boundaries of what is an art product is ever-expanding or are they a suitable substitute for dilettantes wishing to decorate their pens with “high art”?

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