Curious Trends


Musical instruments: icons of modern design art

In the age of digital music, traditional and vintage musical instruments are increasingly viewed as something of a curiosity. Handmade by artisans working in small, independent workshops, musical instruments are the epitome of slow style. Their unique design and distinctive style has inspired artists throughout the centuries, but now musical instruments are being conferred the status of pieces of design art in their own right.

One of the key influences behind the current fascination with musical instruments is Cubist artwork, especially paintings by Picasso and Braque. Many sources cite Braque as being surrounded by musical instruments in his studio. Anne Gantefuhrer-Trier credits Braque with being the "first Cubist artist to integrate musical instruments into his compositions" from the early 20th century.

Cubist style was popularized in the 1950s and early ‘60s, when it featured widely on pieces of furniture and decorative objets d’art - as in the case of this 1950s cocktail cabinet. Retro pieces like this are now much sought after at vintage fairs and auctions.

The Cubist style seems to have inspired Bill Woodrow in a series of artworks featuring musical instruments he created during the 1980s.

In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Sue Timney’s colourful prints also featured Cubist style musical instruments – her designs are also experiencing something of a revival.

Vintage musical instruments are also being displayed as pieces of art, or upcycled into pieces of furniture and design art in homes and at museums.

Catherine Videlaine’s arty accordion sculptures turn old instruments into modern mobiles and unique lamps.

Kitsch retro holiday souvenirs featuring musical instruments are also becoming popular, along with old sheet music, inventively upcycled (by means of decoupage) to adorn home furnishings and luggage. Pieces of newspaper and sheet music were often included in collages created by the Synthetic Cubist movement developed by Picasso, Braque and Juan Gris between 1912 and 1919.

Recently musical instruments are also reappearing in contemporary art – as in Jim Lambe’s ‘found flowers’ series, currently available at Other Critera. Lambe says the portraits of musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Chuck Berry, are “in keeping with my usual practice of using found or thrift-shop objects and especially music memorabilia.” He combines pop posters with cut up flower paintings to create his collages.

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