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Ralph Pucci: Artistic License

October 2016 - By Zoe Settle, Interiors Magazine

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"I wanted to do something to bring even more life to the Koga sculptures,” Ralph Pucci explains, standing in his eponymous New York gallery amid an exhibition of works by Pratt photography students. It’s a fitting partnership, now in its fifth incarnation, between the family business considered among the premiere design galleries in the world, and the equally renowned Brooklyn-based university. This time, photography students, both current and last year’s senior classes, were invited to submit a new work, “a commission, so to speak, to capture the Koga show,” says Stephen Hilger, chair of the Pratt Photography department.

Koga is John Koga, a highly influential modern sculptor from Hawaii, known for his ebullient rounded forms. As Pucci confesses, “I didn’t want to tell the students too, too much about what they should do, because that would have skewed their creativity.” In all, there were seven Pratt students whose work was chosen: Eliza Child, Arturo Olmos, Michelle Tartarotti, Nika De Carlo, Emily Ercolini, Elijah Majeski, and TJ Elias, who was voted Best of Show in the juried competition. Majeski claimed second place and De Carlo won third. Tartarotti’s homage was bisected, while De Carlo employed a still-life approach. The jury, including celebrated photographers Diego Uchitel and Antoine Bootz, chose Elias’ piece that references the cutouts of Matisse, “something very original, almost historical in approach - a great departure from his typical straightforward, documentary style,” says Hilger. “It was a great opportunity for students to creatively express themselves, to be exhibited in a new context, especially one of the caliber of Pucci, and to step up to the requisite professionalism.” As Elias said of the experience, “It was an opportunity to experiment with a new way of making work, and a lesson that as an artist sometimes it’s necessary to step out of your comfort zone, regardless of how it might turn out.” The show, both the photography and the sculptures that inspired them, is on view through October.

Tom Schotte is the most unique person you can get in academia,” Pucci says of the President of Pratt. “I call him up to suggest something and he just says ‘yes’, - no hesitation. We’re very similar that way; if you don’t do something when you have an idea, someone else will beat you to it.” It was with equivalent gumption that Pucci entered the high-end design market, encouraged by the legend Andrée Putman, expanding the mannequin fabrication company his parents started in the 1950s. This relationship with Pratt started in 2010, with an exhibition of fashion students’ works created from paper, displayed on the Pucci mannequins. “What we’re about at Pratt - creativity, new ideas, culture and how the visual arts interrelate - those are part of Ralph’s very essence,” says Schutte. The Koga/Pratt show overlapped Pucci’s celebration of Jens Risom’s 100th birthday and Vladimir Kagan’s last chair, so it spanned all generations and gave students a seriously impressive audience. As photography chair Hilger puts it, “Ralph is very good at putting people together and letting alchemy take place.”

The surprise element revealed in such collaborations, whether between students or established designers in his cadre, not knowing what may come about, is part of the thrill of art. A decade after Pucci opened a bright, expansive Los Angeles gallery in the Pacific Design Center, in January he will unveil a new, 12,000-square-foot location, a former dance studio dating from the 1920s, fresh with new possibilities and opportunities. “I was at one of the Pucci parties, where I met Philippe Anthonioz,” says Schutte of the French sculptor who worked with Diego Giacometti. “One of my goals at Pratt has been to put art on our campus and I’m very proud of the sculpture garden, the largest in New York City, which now has 73 pieces.” La Méditerranée by Anthonioz is the most recent to arrive, an indefinite loan from a client in Dallas, which sounds simple after the fact but certainly required a great deal of negotiating. “All of this came about because of attending a Pucci opening,” says Schutte. “When Ralph and I are together, we can’t stop thinking about possibility, and what boundaries we can break down.”

Images from Interiors Magazine