During the summer between his second and third years in the industrial design department at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, Ronen Bavli decided to open a store and gallery called Magenta on Emek Refaim Street in the city’s German Colony neighborhood. The store, which opened in 1992, carried items like a toothbrush designed by Philippe Starck, Boy London watches, chairs by Yaakov Kaufman, pitchers by Lydia Zavadsky, jewelry by Deganit Stern Schocken and more.
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“It was pretty naive to try and open such a store at that time, especially in Jerusalem, and in fact, it closed after two years; we couldn’t keep it going. To this day I have the Starck toothbrushes,” says Bavli, 48, with a smile. “The store carried a collection of things that I liked, but not at prices that people could tolerate. People simply didn’t buy.”
A week after his third year of studies commenced, Bavli decided that academia didn’t suit him and he returned to the store. He also set up a studio with the same name, Magenta, on Moshav Aminadav, in an empty space that had previously been used by Snowcrest ice cream. In the studio he planned and produced items, at first for the store, and then, after the store closed, for sale as one-of-a-kind objects or small series.
The breakthrough came in 1998, when Magenta started working with the Castro fashion chain.
“Until then the studio was always in danger of closing,” says Bavli. “Now we have terrific cooperation with Castro. For 14 years we’ve been building them all their metal furnishings for their stores all over the world – in Israel, Kiev, Moscow, Bangkok, Basel and more.”
The studio also works with other companies, and has done projects for McDonald’s stores, an electric appliance store in Bethlehem, a juice bar in New York's Sony Plaza, and more. Magenta now employs 20 people – product designers, graphic artists and various artisans.
What’s it like to work with a big firm like Castro?
“Castro is a leading company that’s run by people who are looking to innovate all the time,” says Bavli. “We are not the chief designers of the stores, but we are involved with everything that goes into them, and that allows us to do lots of things. In the end, the work with Castro enables us to advance conceptually and to do the things that will be displayed in the show.”
The studio's first exhibit, “Making Their Own Rules,” will open Thursday at the Periscope Gallery in Tel Aviv. It will include works that were designed and executed solely by the studio – things like lighting fixtures, stools and bookcases. Construction took place over a period of two years, and, in a nod to the show's name, occurred without anyone else's specifications, constraints, or requests.
“The exhibit raises questions about independence, freedom of choice, pleasure and playfulness, alongside need and logic – which are the building blocks and what define the boundaries of the art of design,” Liora Rosin, who curated the exhibit with Nitsan Debbi, writes in the exhibition catalogue.
One of the light fixtures displayed in the exhibit is called “Didi,” and was created following research conducted by Magenta staffers into the structure of the cone, via the cutting, folding and spreading of elliptical forms, inspired by a pleated skirt. The result is a small and charming lamp, created by laser cutting.
Despite the lamp’s almost miniature dimensions, “Didi” provides strong and steady light, thanks to a thrifty, slender LED bulb. Above the bulb there is a Perspex lens that disperses the light softly and delicately, and also protects the bulb. The lamp shade is made from aluminum, and serves to cool the bulb by diverting the heat it generates with no need to attach any additional cooling fins.
In addition to “Didi,” the exhibit will include five groups of lighting fixtures, three bookcases, stools and other objects. All are characterized by a sense of humor each one pays homage to its industrial origins.
“The final results are very playful, with a touch of humor and irony,” says Bavli. “In terms of materials, it’s clear that our inspiration is not divorced from the environment in which we live.”
Is it important for the objects to be pretty? Once it was forbidden to say “pretty” in design schools.
“I think that the objects in the show stimulate something. ‘Pretty’ is a subjective concept, but I don’t think that everyone has to love our things,” says Bavli. “From an aesthetic perspective we try to produce items that people will want, no matter what materials they’re made of or their size.
“A product is judged by whether people want it,” he concludes. “That’s the question we ask ourselves all the time. I want a lot of things and I’m not embarrassed to say that.”