Brazil has been a center of the global design scene for decades, thanks to the prolific and groundbreaking output of the Campana brothers. The duo rose to prominence during the 1990s and early 2000s with often whimsical designs that defied formal, aesthetic, and material norms.
Working across mediums such as furnishings, scenography, and jewelry, Humberto and Fernando Campana took the design world by storm. Notable concepts include the loose cotton rope —produced for Italian manufacturer Edra in 1993—and the 2003 , created from wood offcuts, not unlike the makeshift dwellings that define these urban areas. Weaving plush stuffed animals—dolphins and KAWS characters—into overflowing armchairs became their calling card in later years.
The studio distinguished itself with postmodern humor and pastiche—as well as responsibility and resourcefulness, upcycling materials before the term was coined. Campana Studio was one of the first practices to incorporate narrative in its work; the idea of imbuing objects with stories has since come to define much of the collectible design market.
The duo has been a staple of New York—especially Friedman Benda ever since the gallery’s inception in the 2010s. From February 15 through April 15, the gallery is honoring Fernando—who died last November at age 61—with a comprehensive retrospective at its new Los Angeles outpost, during Frieze Los Angeles.
As tributes from prominent figures such as MoMA senior curator of architecture and design Paola Antonnelli prove, he was beloved and revered by many. Antonnelli helped bring the duo international acclaim with a dedicated exhibition in the late 1990s.
Milan-based writer and Design Miami curatorial director Maria Cristina Didero said recently, “Estúdio Campana has always attributed several meanings to the word ‘transformation,’ converting ordinary objects into precious ones. [Fernando] deeply loved his work and together with his brother Humberto, conceived it as a mission to help other people through creativity and fun.”
The “Cine São José” exhibition surveys a significant amount of work produced during the studio’s first 15 years, but also reveals a few never-before-seen pieces that form the Campana brothers’s ethos. The title refers to their hometown cinema, where films allowed them to dream an auspicious future.
On view in the showcase, the rare (1989), is part of the seminal, 20 piece-strong “Desconfortáveis” (“Uncomfortable”) collection, in which Humberto and Fernando forged designs into iron using blowtorches. The (1995) was created by layering sheets of bubble wrap.
Other pieces include the “Sushi” series (early 2000s) and the collaged “Detonado” series (in production since 2013). Through the clever elevation and seamless integration of cheap, everyday materials that might otherwise be discarded, the duo created otherworldly designs and imbued them with healthy doses of color and levity.
Here’s a look at the duo’s more fanciful designs.