Art or furniture? Serban Ionescu’s new book is an ambiguous (and playful) take on form and function

The Romanian-born, Brooklyn-based artist talks us through his new sculptural board book, published by Apartamento and featuring works from the past five years.

19 October 2021


In a similar fashion to when life imitates art, Serban Ionescu’s new publication is an apt replication of his physical sculptural works. With curved edges, cut-out parts and brash primary colours abound, the book is an almost exact replica of his art – only now we’re seeing it in flattened form and printed onto paper.

Born in Romania and raised in New York, Serban studied architecture at the Pratt Institute and now lives in Red Hook, Brooklyn. He’s built a mammoth archive of sculpture, painting, design and architecture, employing a distinguished use of colour and a distinctive, rough-and-ready drawing style; the type that’s playful, fun and free. He’s known to merge anthropomorphism with geometric shapes, in turn producing playful artworks that bounce with energy and show a critical eye for scale and form. To date, his works have been exhibited widely at the likes of New York’s R & Company and Larrie, plus internationally at Antwerp’s Everyday Gallery. Not only this but he’s been published in the pages of The New York Times, Dwell, Wallpaper, Apartamento, Elle Decor and Architectural Digest.

“I am constantly growing and evolving the direction of the studio,” he tells us of his practice. “The work stems primarily from the act of drawing and has many tributaries such as painting, sculpture, furniture and architecture.”

And now, Apartamento has published his latest endeavour, a 68-page book entitled A Thing On A Table In A House. Oversized and positively in your face, the publication has been designed in board book style, which is reminiscent of a children’s book that’s been printed on thick paperboard. It’s also been die-cut to resemble the forms of his sculptures, that of which are predominantly made of steel. The book’s alternative function is that it serves as a play, featuring three acts by Serban’s friend and artist James English Leary who’s produced a series of events and set of characters, including Hatchet Face, Happy Lattice, Blonde Demon, Hinged Ghost, Block of Duck and more. So when you flick through the book (most likely with both hands in tow), you’ll come across a scripted narrative that sees dialogue between some of the characters – personifying them with real-life conversations, issues and purpose. “Why would you be ringing me up when you’re in my store,” states Happy Lattice in Scene 1 of the book. Hatchet Face responds: “Did you say ‘your store’?” – and so on.


Serban Ionescu: A Thing On A Table In A House. Published by Apartamento (Copyright © Serban Ionescu, 2021)

The works involved are accumulated from 2017 to 2021, serving as a comprehensive guide to his sculpting works over the past five years. Meander through the pages and you’ll notice how there’s a very fine line separating the works from being art and something that’s functional; do you sit on these pieces, or are they more to be observed? Giving somewhat of less than obsolete answer, Serban says: “My sculptural and functional works are almost like shrines for my drawings. It’s all about drawing.”

In fact, when asked what he likes most about his book, he responds by saying that the book itself is a U.B.O.: “an Unidentified Book Object, we don’t know what this thing is.” He continues: “The book acts in three different ways; it acts like an object, as you see, it’s a die-cut object of one of my pieces. Secondly, it’s a picture book of my steelwork for the last five years, the pages are thick resembling the steel-like quality of the pieces and, thirdly, it is an abstract play by my friend and artist James English Leary. The play is the pulse of the book and was written in the spirit of my work. The people at Apartamento are wizards and we had a blast putting this book together, lots of back and forth, and trusting the organic nature of collaboration.”

Serban’s pieces are wonderfully animalistic, elevated with smiley faces, elongated limbs and funny postures. Take Roni (2019), for instance, which appears like a half horse-half human type of table or chair. It’s not obvious what it is, really, nor what its purpose is; but that's exactly the point. Serban points out Peter Sellers as his all-time favourite – a piece infused in baby pink and composed in an almost octopus-like manner. “It’s a perfect border object,” he adds, “in function, humour and motion.” With spindly legs keeping the base in balance, the seat is lopsided as it slopes towards the front. Is it art? Is it furniture? We’ll leave that for you to decide.

GallerySerban Ionescu: A Thing On A Table In A House. Published by Apartamento (Copyright © Serban Ionescu, 2021)

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Serban Ionescu: A Thing On A Table In A House. Published by Apartamento (Copyright © Serban Ionescu, 2021)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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