L'Officiel Art

Artist Phillip K. Smith Creates A Kaleidoscope Sky at Milan Design Far

Smith's reflective installation harnesses architecture and sunlight for Salone del Mobile.
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Phillip K. Smith III brought the sunshine to Milan. The Palm Springs-based installation artist collaborated this year with Swedish clothing brand COS to create one of the most visually intriguing and well-attended installations at the 2018 Salone del Mobile design fair. Smith’s mirror panelled, outdoor installation, titled Open Sky, occupies most of the courtyard of Milan’s 16th century Palazzo Isimbardi. It’s a sort of refuge, as Milan courtyards can be, from the honking horns and bustling comings and goings of what is one of the most exciting design fairs in the world. 

Which makes a lot of sense why COS would want to, and has since 2012, made a splash during Salone, commissioning artists, architects, designers and so on to create installations that wow fair attendees and express their long standing commitment to support the arts. In the past, COS commissioned works by creatives including Japanese architect, Sou Fujimoto and Studio Swine, who won the Milano Design Award for Most Engaging during Milan Design Week last year. Smith, who together with COS, debuted his first major exhibition in Italy last week, working with over 100 different people to complete and install Open Sky. The installation is inspired by Milan’s decorous architecture, specifically and the shape Palazzo Isimbar’s courtyard and the natural light that pours in. 

COS creative director, Karin Gustafsson, left the brief wide open for Smith, commenting that the COS brand stands behind any artist that they are passionate about and believe that the artist’s work will reflect the brand and its values. At the moment, COS is gushing over Smith. Prior to this current commission, his work was referenced on COS mood boards while Gustafsson designed collections. Smith’s work in particular harnesses light, mostly from the desert landscapes where he grew up, and where he noticed the monochromatic solstice that he says happens there twice a day. He wanted to bring that strong and fleeting light to Milan. 

“Using the environment is a material for me,” says Smith. Open Sky’s polished stainless steel, concrete composite structure supports seamlessly assembled sections of 35 mirrored panels angled at a 43-degree slant. The structure sits opened up in the center of the courtyard like a large Japanese fan. Standing at close proximity to Open Sky, reflections of Milanese architecture move by you in fractured and kaleidoscope whips. Other times, the mirrored work appears as if Smith succeeded at pulling the blue sky to the base of the courtyard. “Using reflection is a big part of my practice…and therefore light and your surroundings, have a huge impact on mood. I wanted to convey these feelings and experiences in Milan.”

Beyond the colonnaded courtyard of Palazzo Isimbardi is, for Milano standards, an expansive private garden where Smith positioned a series of smaller scale reflective works. Their corrugated surfaces brilliantly compress reflections of the trees and surrounding landscape onto a single reflective surface. It’s like viewing a collage work of a reconfigured garden and its relationship with the built environment. Similar small scale installations by Smith will be on display at select COS stores internationally. 


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