To celebrate our seventh year at Salone del Mobile, we have partnered with American artist, PhillipK. Smith III to create Open Sky – a light and reflection-based art installation.
The piece is housed in Palazzo Isimbardi, a building dating back to the 16th century located on Milan’s Corso Monforte. Influenced by this setting, Smith’s inspiration for the installation came from Renaissance architecture, the Milanese sky and the aesthetics of COS.
Designed to respond to its surroundings, Open Sky creates a spatiotemporal experience, with its reflections utilizing light, space, colour and the changing environment as a medium. Upon entering the courtyard of Palazzo Isimbardi, the architectural form of the installation invites visitors to explore a setting that appears to alter all the time. By framing the Milanese sky within mirrors, the outdoor piece captures what would otherwise seem ephemeral.
“Every person’s experience will be unique because the angle of reflection, the changing environment, and the shifting light of the day are all in a constant state of flux.”
- Phillip K. Smith III
What was driving the creative process when designing the installation?
The installation was created in direct response to its location at Palazzo Isimbardi; the changes in the built and the natural environment are manifested through shifts in light and the passage of time.
Open Sky is blurring the lines between art and architecture – it is a carefully designed installation with large-scale proportions, just like the majority of your work. Having a background in both fields, do you see yourself as an artist or as an architect?
I am an artist creating art at the scale of architecture. I have been able to apply my experiences as an architect to my art projects, such as working with engineers, city officials, fabricators and contractors. An important part of my training as an architect was analysing and understanding context – to find inspiration within specific site conditions in order to craft an appropriate response. This has had a profound effect on me and my light-based work.
How did Italy as a location inform your choices for the installation?
Entering and walking through a palazzo was a daily experience during my studies at Rhode Island School of Design’s Palazzo Cenci in Rome. The sense of light, air and volume at the heart of a structure is consistent in the design of Italian residential architecture. The powerful effect is the framing of a square of sky above. This provided me with the inspiration for the project. I wanted to pull the sky to the ground – to make it physically present.
In addition, there is a physical presence of light within Italy as an expected and necessary component of life.
Given the scale of your projects, what aspects do you take into consideration when choosing a location?
I am interested in being challenged by site parameters that I could never recreate in my studio as well as creating works that serve as a tool for redefining one’s relationship with light, colour and the beauty of the surrounding environment.
What do you hope visitors of Open Sky will take away from the experience?
A new understanding of the beauty and subtlety of the shifting Milanese sky. I hope for a renewed awareness of the beauty that exists within the viewer's own natural and built environment. Also, I anticipate a unique understanding for each participant of how the natural and built environment can be seamlessly stitched together and activated through movement.
What projects do you have planned for the future?
I am working on large-scale permanent works in West Hollywood, Bellevue and Scottsdale and I am in conversation with museums and institutions in the United States regarding several site-specific installations. Various scaled projects are being planned for major cities in the US between Los Angeles and New York, where opportunities exist in places of regrowth, renewal and redefinition.