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Contemporary Rugs: Art & Design

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review

By Christopher Farr et al.Merell, 2002. 208pp. £30.

By placing a rug on the floor, the dweller is establishing a kind of ritual space, writes Edwin Heathcote.A rug in the middle of a room creates a centre, a focus; a rug by the fireside or by the bed creates a warmer, cosier area; a rug beneath a dining-room table establishes the significance of communal dining.

Middle Eastern nomads used rugs to create a home.Both on the floors and the walls of their tents, the rug established a familiar pattern of dwelling within a temporary shelter.What people now do in lofts or corporate lobbies is a very similar thing.The cool, alienating space of Modernity is like the desert, constantly threatening to overwhelm everyday existence.

Just like abstract art, cheerful rugs are a bit of colour, exuberance and decoration not frowned upon by corporate Modernism.As such, they represent modern mankind's meek attempt to personalise space, using the single tool officially sanctioned from the Bauhaus onwards.This book is the story of these desperate efforts to soften the hard edges of Modernism with an abstract splash of colour.

The authors ('influential pioneers in the recent renaissance in contemporary rugs', according to the sleeve notes) have brought together a superb collection of designs including examples by Fernand Leger, Gunta Stölzl (pictured left), Francis Bacon, Joan Miro, Verner Panton and others.

But these are all in the introduction, a concise, well-written overview of 20th-century rug design.The survey of contemporary rugs, which makes up the bulk of the book, is less convincing.These are pretty designs but they come without the grounding in a folk tradition of their Middle-Eastern predecessors, or the pioneering Modernist rigour and Klee-like colourings of Stolzl's rugs which adorned Gropius's study.They are, frankly, a little bland, although the book looks as pleasing on a coffee table as its contents would beneath it.And not a stain to be seen on all those rugs!

Edwin Heathcote is architecture correspondent for the Financial Times

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