Design Dialogues No. 57

In a discussion moderated by Surface senior editor Ryan Waddoups, curator Stephen Harrison and artists Alex Trochut and Michael Murphy discuss the enduring appeal of Art Deco design through the lens of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s seminal Reverso timepiece.

Design Dialogues No. 57 featuring Michael Murphy, Alex Trochut, Stephen Harrison, and Ryan Waddoups. Photography courtesy of Jaeger-LeCoultre

On Nov. 3, Surface hosted the 57th installment of our Design Dialogues series in partnership with Jaeger-LeCoultre to celebrate the heritage Swiss horology brand’s newly opened Reverso 1931 Cafe on Manhattan’s Upper East Side—and the 90th anniversary of its namesake timepiece. This edition, moderated by Surface senior editor Ryan Waddoups, featured Stephen Harrison, the chief curator of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, lettering artist Alex Trochut, and perceptual artist Michael Murphy.

The conversation celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Reverso timepiece, a hallmark of Art Deco design and the main focus of the Reverso 1931 Cafe. Harrison, author of “The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s” and curator of Jazz Age exhibitions at the Cooper Hewitt and the Cleveland Museum of Art, explained why the Reverso was so crucial to Machine Age horology, design, and art through the lens of the New York and Paris World’s Fairs and Gerald Murphy’s 1925 painting Watch. “The Reverso is an iconic example of Machine Age design, which means that it really took its inspiration from technology and machinery from that era,” he said. “I knew the Reverso as a work of art—I had no idea whether it even worked as a timepiece!”

After the audience refreshed their memory about the Reverso’s historical significance, the conversation pivoted to Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Made of Makers program, which invites world-class artists to collaborate with the brand’s expert artisans to explore the connections between the creative industries and horology.

For the program, the heritage brand tapped Barcelona-born lettering artist Alex Trochut to create a custom typography, the 1931 Alphabet, to commemorate the Reverso. It was a full-circle moment for Trochut, whose grandfather worked as a typographer in the 1940s and created SuperVeloz, a modular type system for digital letterpress comprising 250 symbols. Art Deco served as a stylistic springboard for Trochut’s new typography, which marked the first time he’d seen his graphic design work enter the third dimension. “I aim to make the readers look and then understand, but mostly feel more than have just comprehension and communication,” Trochut says. “I’d like them to feel some emotions.”

Another participant was Michael Murphy, who spoke about his artwork Spacetime, which he describes as a “three-dimensional explosion” of an image of the Reverso. “Like all of my artwork, it has an element of time. The viewer has to walk around the artwork to set the animation in motion and make the experiential part happen.” 

When the conversation wrapped up, guests enjoyed pastries with ingredients from the Vallée de Joux specially designed by Paris-based chef Nina Métier. Notable guests in attendance included Arielle Assouline-Lichten, David Weeks, Ara Thorose, and Anne-Laure Ritter. 

Video by Alejandro Medina.

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