Notes From a College Dropout's Design Dialogues

Hans Ulrich Obrist, Jacques Herzog, and Kanye West

(Photo by Janelle Zara)

Who is Jacques Herzog?

“I don’t know, he’s on the cover of that magazine,” one woman told ARTINFO last night, pointing to a picture of Serpentine Gallery co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist on the December issue of Surface. “He’s like, an artist or something.”


Herzog is actually half of Pritzker-winning design team Herzog & de Meuron (which designed the just-opened Perez Art Museum Wednesday), and he participated in a conversation moderated by Obrist with Kanye West last night in Miami’s Design District. Among the throngs that packed the Moore Building atrium, “Zaj Zherzhoj? I don’t know, ask my friend,” was the general consensus of about half (probably more) of the attendees. A smartly dressed crowd had bided its time eating the catered Shake Shack burgers as they waited on West, and time and again security struggled to push the restless masses back away from the stage. After more than an hour past schedule (allegedly due to weather-related flight delays coming out of New Jersey) West took the stage with Obrist and Herzog, with a white sequin-studded Kim Kardashian waiting in the wings.

Was he going to wil’ out the way he's done recently? Anxious for a live installment of West’s now-standard stream of consciousness, the back half of the room expressed their palpable disappointment at the seriousness of the design-focused conversation that evolved instead. As their din grew to a dull roar, Surface editor Spencer Bailey made a plain offer: “If you don't want to listen, leave.” And people left — about half of them. By night’s end the size of the crowd was probably a third of what it had been.

Those who left missed out. Herzog’s half of the conversation lent it its gravitas; Kanye’s token Westisms provided the candy-coated sprinkles on top. Through the veneer of his characteristic austerity, Herzog expressed a genuine interest in West’s pursuits, offering him advice on the downfalls of putting your name on crossover product lines (“After a few seasons, it ends up in the $2 bin, and then you feel very bad,” he said, woefully recalling Herzog & de Meuron’s 2004 Rotterdam perfume); casually throwing shade at Miami’s misguided Art Deco architecture, and applauding Kanye's heartfelt sentiments on trying to make it as a modernist: “What Kanye just said about Le Corbusier is better than what I have to say.”

The ones that stayed ’til the bitter end were the kind of die-hard architecture fans who explode in cheers at the mention of 1111 Lincoln Road, the Herzog & de Meuron-designed Miami parking garage that somehow became a major cultural destination. They witnessed some beautiful things: a genuine dialogue between two rapt individuals that made apparent their mutual respect; a live demonstration of that architectural fanaticism West is always talking about but no one actually believed was genuine; Herzog suggesting that at some point, he and Kanye “do something together.” (Speculations on a Herzog cameo on West’s next album, go.)

There were, of course, a decent number of Kanye-isms. Here are our favorites:

“You’re seeing a reality show of my thoughts right now.”

On how former SoHo design shopkeeper Murray Moss taught him to stand up to dealer price-gouging: “I started to learn about the furniture market, and to go to the galleries. There was a guy, a bit of a rogue character, a bit of Kanye West himself in the furniture market that said, Hey, I know how you can get this Jeanneret […] out of Paris for 50 percent off. That gave me another level of power. I would go back to the galleries and say, I know you think I’m this new black hip-hop client that’s going to help you sell Warhols and tell my friends that art is cool and shit, but.”

“Hans is like one of the least, like, bigot-type people in the art world.”

“I like that the Le Corbusier lamp cost so much to me as a rich person."

“Watches are outdated […] sorry to anyone in the audience wearing a watch, but you know you checked the time on your iPhone.”

“I don’t know if I answered the question exactly or just went into a stream of consciousness… you can sift through that thrift store of ideas and if you find something worthwhile.”

Originally posted here.