Balmain welcomes Villa Balmain at Miami Art Basel 2022, a new web3 version of the renowned architectural wonder designed by Alexandre Arrecha. Opening night: Wednesday, November 30, 2022 6PM – 9PM at Superblue 1101 NW 23rd Street Miami, FL 33127.
The signature elements that together form the equation for Pierre Balmain’s iconic New French Style—the strict tailoring, cinched waists, strong shoulders, perfect pleating, and elaborate volumes—can all be traced back to the designer’s early training as an architect.
Pierre Balmain often stressed the connection between the two arts, noting that “there is definitely a close relationship between the work of an architect and that of the couturier. The fact that one builds in stone and the other relies on muslin, that one aims to last for centuries and the other plans for only one season—these do not constitute essential differences.”
Balmain summed up his incomparable talent by ensuring that his perfectly tailored Balmain creations closely follow the curves of a moving body by proclaiming la couture est l’architecture du movement (dressmaking is the architecture of movement).
It’s clear that Pierre Balmain never abandoned the lessons of the architectural training of his youth—and his lifelong passion for engineering and construction stands out in both his professional and personal lives. Inside his eponymous house’s historic flagship, at 44 rue François Premier, Pierre Balmain expertly melded together familiar Haussmannien codes with Baroque elements and the latest innovations in postwar design. And in his personal life, although the designer inhabited many different addresses over the years, none better reflects his obsession with architecture than Villa Balmain.
Villa Balmain was constructed on the Italian island of Elba in the late ‘50s by the famed Italian architect Leonardo Ricci. Working closely with Balmain, Ricci conceived of an extraordinary spaceship-like structure perched high atop the island’s lush green hills. First setting down three superimposed elliptical shapes that rotate along the same pivot, Ricci then attached his space capsule to earth with the addition of one perfectly arched tie rod that springs from Villa Balmain and plants itself squarely in the surrounding artificial moat. Ricci and Balmain’s astounding creation has been compared to a handful of other legendary 20th-century modern homes: Lina Bo Bardi’s Glass House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robert Llewellyn Wright House, and Capri’s Villa Malaparte, with each of the remarkable edifices notably engaging in a dialogue with the beauty of the surrounding nature.
And it’s Villa Balmain’s unique blending together of its exterior and interior spaces that inspired Cuban artist Alexandre Arrechea for his Miami Art Week installation. For “Hexagon Garden,” a site-specific virtual and physical commission shown at Superblue Miami, Arrechea has transported Villa Balmain to the Web3 universe, relying on LITO’s proprietary technology to create a large-scale, immersive environment enveloping Ricci’s construction. After slipping on their headsets, metaverse visitors will first spy an enormous golden ring floating around Arrechea’s reimagination of Ricci’s one-of-a-kind structure—and, as they approach, the ring reveals the precise geometric pattern of a honeycomb.
A digital honeycomb
Arrechea allows his digital honeycomb to make very clear the connection between the luxuriant gardens and sleek interior spaces of Balmain’s island retreat. Pierre Balmain grew a multitude of exotic plants and flowers on his grounds—flora that he had gathered during his many travels to all corners of the world. The honeycomb that Arrechea has crafted is pollinated by the bees working in Villa Balmain’s fruitful garden. Constantly buzzing between the vegetation, the golden ring and the Villa’s interior, Arrechea’s bees work to transport an entirely new type of pollen—an array of precious stones—depositing the gems inside the Villa’s new honeycombs, creating impressive patterns that echo the distinctive lines and curves of Villa Balmain’s silhouette and which eventually coalesce into a series of jeweled masks.
“The idea of these precious masks builds directly upon previous work that I created in Cuba,” explains Arrechea. “In Havana, I was constantly taking photos of the city’s different corners— aged façades that were exposed to bright light or set deep in the shadows. After I built up a vast collection of photos, I began to combine portions of the different photos to compose my masks. That process of creating entirely new images from a series of unconnected city details reflected a concept that has always fascinated me—that of generating completely new meanings via the assemblage of many different fragments. So, for this project, I’ve returned to that original inspiration, selecting an array of Villa Balmain architectural pieces and tying them to the many journeys of the garden’s bees—and those bees eventually assemble this entirely new bejeweled image from that series of fragmented perspectives of the Villa Balmain.”
Metaverse and materiality
Masks have been a recurring theme in Arrechea’s recent work. He often turns to them to construct urban visages that reflect both the Caribbean’s original aboriginal culture and its strong African heritage. For this project, Arrechea’s metaverse masks are completed by the surprising “pollen” carried by the bees—pollen transformed into emeralds, pearls, and onyx— for these are powerful gems that possess their own distinct spirituality while also holding a strong significance for Balmain’s luxury heritage.
Bees and gems are important ingredients in the legacy of Pierre Balmain. Since the late ‘40s, the bee, often set inside a circle, was a favorite symbol for his jewelry designs—and the designer also incorporated that same image for his own distinctive ex-libris mark. In addition, many of his couture designs incorporated the precise and eye-catching hexagonal pattern of the honeycomb. And, after 1960, once he had finished his new retreat on the isle of Elba, bees began to assume even more importance in the life of Pierre Balmain. More than 150 years earlier, during his short, forced exile on the island, Napoleon Bonaparte had translated his own fascination with the symbol of the bee into an original and bold official symbol for the island principality that he ruled over: a white background crossed by a single red band decorated with three golden bees. That fascinating pattern remains a familiar emblem of the island today, decorating flags, coats of arms and public spaces—and it’s certain that Pierre Balmain spotted those symbols often during his Elba stays.
Precious stones, due to their dazzling shapes, brilliance and tones, have always provided inspiration for Parisian couture designers—including Pierre Balmain. His love for rich and sparkling stones can be witnessed in the many gemstone names that he selected for his evening designs, including offerings entitled Sapphire, Ruby, Emerald, Onyx, Black Diamond and Ocean Pearl. Additionally, gemstones have a particularly strong connection to Elba—the island is known for possessing an extraordinary richness in quartz, hematite, tourmaline, pyrite, azurite and malachite.
To help create Arrechea’s immersive virtual experience, Balmain first turned to LITO, which used its high-resolution topographic scanning techniques to digitize the entirety of Villa Balmain and its lush surroundings. After Alexandre Arrechea had been introduced to every part of Pierre Balmain’s vacation home through that multi-dimensional art experience, he began working closely with LITO to situate his boldly re-imagined vision of the island retreat inside the metaverse.
“Hexagon Garden” also displays four large-scale physical interpretations of the artist’s signature masks. Two of the exhibition partners were key to helping Arrechea craft those striking artworks. Swarovski—which has long played an important role in the history of Balmain, with both Pierre Balmain and Olivier Rousteing relying on Swarovski’s dazzling crystals for some of their more memorable designs—contributed thousands of shimmering Swarovski pearls and beads, which were then handset into Arrechea’s distinctive “honeycombs.” Those honeycombs—one-of-a-kind 3D-printed hexagonal grids—were expertly crafted by LITO, utilizing the company’s advanced proprietary technology.
Each precious mask has also been paired with its own unique NFT. Those NFTs, echoing the special garden journeys that form the starting point for Arrechea’s creations, are available for purchase on MintNFT.com. The special Alexandre Arrechea-Villa Balmain NFTs will be minted on the fast and energy-efficient XRP Ledger—which in 2020, became the first carbon-neutral blockchain.
“Alexandre Arrechea’s exceptional creation for Miami Art Week allows Balmain to highlight its singular history in an unexpected, innovative and beautiful manner,” notes Balmain Chief Marketing Officer Txampi Diz. “By taking full advantage of the remarkable new possibilities that Web3 offers us, we’ve actually been able to create Balmain’s first exhibit venue in the metaverse—and we’ve done that while remaining squarely focused on the living heritage of this historic French house. That is why we are very pleased to showcase both Pierre Balmain’s passion for architecture and Alexandre Arrechea’s impressive digital and physical artwork at Superblue Gallery.”
Alexandre Arrechea’s “Hexagon Garden” At Superblue Miami
December 1st and 2nd
110 NW23rd Street
Curated by Direlia Lazo
Music and Sound Design by Alí Alvarez Produced by Liaisons
About Alexandre Arrechea
Alexandre Arrechea (1970, Trinidad, Cuba) is a Cuban contemporary artist, living and working between Madrid and Miami. Arrechea was one of the founding members of the Cuban3 collective Los Carpinteros, working with his Los Carpintero partners from 1991 until 2003, when he began his solo career.
Arrechea’s work focuses on large-scale installations, with the artist working with a multitude of art forms—sculpture, watercolors, drawings and videos—in order to center his focus on issues of history, memory, politics and the power relationship existing in today’s urban spaces. Arrechea’s preference for site-specific creations allows him to explore the ideological and philosophical legacy of the surrounding context, creating an enhanced engagement with the audience.
Although wide-ranging, Arrechea’s work is often specifically dedicated to investigating the cultural resonances implicit in architecture—from design to social value—and how those impact its distinct receptions. Arrechea’s unique approach reflects his aim to dissect structural anatomies and spaces via his creations and installations, exploring the multiple conflicts embedded in much of today’s architecture, while highlighting the many decisions and legacies that often lie, hidden-away, inside constructions and histories.
Alexandre Arrechea’s work forms a part of the collections of MoMA, LACMA, the Reina Sofia Museum and ArtYard. He has previously participated in Miami Art Basel and The Havana Biennial and his temporary monumental projects have been constructed along Park Avenue in Manhattan (“Nolimits” 2013), as well as the Coachella Festival (“Katrina Chairs” 2016).
Alexandre Arrechea’s solo show “Hierarchies and Landscapes” is currently on view at the ArtYard Center in Frenchtown, New Jersey. Among Arrechea’s other recent solo exhibitions and projects are “Dreaming with Lions” (Faena Art, Miami 2020), “Corners” (Galeria Nara Roesler, New York, 2019), “Higienopolis” (Casado Santapau Gallery, Madrid, 2018)