VISION: Kitschy Cool

Kitschy Cool

COMPILED BY Annemarie Meintjes WORDS Robyn Alexander IMAGES Supplied

Here are a few of our favourite kitsch artworks and designs to inspire you to bring home a spot of bold, brash but tongue-in-cheek style.

Join The Dots


Ninety-two-year-old Yayoi Kusama is one of the world’s most celebrated living artists – and remarkably, she has voluntarily resided in a psychiatric hospital for 45 years. Best known for her “immersive infinity rooms”, she uses lots of borderline-kitsch pop-vegetal imagery, including pumpkins. Her work is mind-bending, witty and wise.

Floral Fantasia


Wide-ranging in expression and commercially successful, Takashi Murakami’s work is frequently read as an ironic commentary on art itself. He has 2.3-million Instagram followers, and uses elements derived from anime, traditional Japanese painting and sci-fi to make his work. Invited to exhibit at the palace of Versailles in France (pictured opposite), he controversially filled its opulent halls with smiley plastic flowers and manga-style characters.

Diamonds Are Forever


One of a group of young British artists who took the art scene by storm in the 1990s, Damien Hirst has always worked with humour and parody. Artworks such as his 2007 piece For the Love of God (pictured above right) are kitsch in the word’s classic definition: “Art, objects or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.”

Wall And All


The art of Vladimir Tretchikoff (1913-2006) was immensely popular during his lifetime – but also derided as vulgar and kitsch. Criticised for mass-producing prints of his works, he responded, “Why should my art only be available to the rich and famous? I want everyone to enjoy it.” Today his work adorns walls around the world.

Wag The Dog


Renowned for his deliberate use of “kitsch”, Jeff Koons is another contemporary artist who combines massive commercial success with critical appreciation. Koons’s instantly recognisable Balloon Dog sculptures are made from stainless steel with a transparent colour coating, and evoke the playful shapes made out of balloons at kids’ parties. The orange version seen here sold at Christie’s in 2013 for $58.4-million – a record price for a living sculptor.

Form And Function


French designer Philippe Starck’s witty take on Kartell’s Componibili storage unit was produced as part of a series of collaborations to mark the iconic piece’s 50th anniversary in 2017. It combines the classic cylinder shape and form of the Componibili with bases that mimic one of the ultimate pieces of middle-class kitsch: the garden gnome. Starck’s comment on his design? “We support good ideas.”

Animal Crackers


Inspired by a street vendor carrying stuffed toys, Brazilian design duo Humberto and Fernando Campana created their first Banquete chair in 2002. They stitched toys together to create the upholstery for an easy chair with a metal frame. The Banquete was an instant hit, and has since been made in multiple variations.

Big Daddy


Also regularly dismissed as a purveyor of “kitsch” during his lifetime, Andy Warhol (1928-1987) is now lauded the world over – and his work commands enormous sums at auction. This screen print of Mick Jagger was produced in 1975; Warhol also designed the famous sleeve for the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album. Fascinated by popular culture, money and celebrity, he now seems more like a visionary artist than a “vulgar” one.

Statement Pieces


“Subversive, ethical, ecological, political, humorous… This is how I see my duty as a designer,” says Philippe Starck. His Gun Collection of lamps, designed in 2005 for Flos, is based on the silhouettes of actual weapons, including a Beretta handgun and the M16 rifle. The provocative designs will always be a talking point: do they provide critical social commentary, or aesthetically glorify the very items they seek to deplore? You decide.

String Theory


Created in 1993, the iconic Vermelha chair was the Campana brothers’ first design. Using 500 metres of rope, the duo initially created each chair by hand, looping and coiling it around a basic frame to create the seat, armrests and back. Manufactured by Italian design company Edra from 1998, the Vermelha is in the permanent collections of many art and design institutions, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

Looking for more on local art? Take a look at these South African abstract artists.