Shawn Maximo X Pierre Paulin

Shawn Maximo is a Canadian artist, architect and designer who lives and works in New York. His flexible practice has led him to produce theatrical sets, sculpture, wallpaper, furniture, interactive exhibition design, architectural renderings and stock imagery, all positing “what if” scenarios that depict familiar yet incomprehensible scenes. What if we had psychics in outer space? What if CEOs had luxury treadmill desks made of tortoise shell? What if bougie restaurants that serve drinks from mason jars had adjacent shooting ranges for the full farm-to-table experience? What if we had beds replace chairs in conference rooms? These are all questions addressed in Maximo’s ongoing “Neighboring Interest” series, which places functional design (high and low) in discordant settings.


Extending a tradition of ideas behind utopian architecture, the uncanny hybrid spaces question our assumptions of comfort, luxury, health, consumerism, productivity and convenience. More often than not, these environments exist as 2D digital renderings. But for the 9th Berlin Biennial, curated by DIS (a collective with whom he often collaborates), Maximo reconfigured a restroom in the KW Institute of Contemporary Art with a functioning squat toilet on the floor, a kitchenette, a large-scale monitor screening Biennial content, floor cushions and light box “windows” looking out onto a wooded forest. The idea is for the restroom to potentially become a social space where people can hang out, watch videos, eat, drink and even defecate. The piece, titled #3 (2016), suggests that besides going Number One or Number Two, perhaps this third mode could challenge expectations of a bathroom and, as Maximo explains in an interview for the biennial, “confront taboos that prevent evolution.”


With the project published here, created for KALEIDOSCOPE as a continuation of the “Neighboring Interest” series, Maximo considers the work of the late Pierre Paulin, the iconic French designer who was recently the subject of a retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. But instead of the museum gallery, Maximo sets Paulin’s Tongue Chair, Dos à Dos sofa and La Déclive lounge in an invented nursing home. The furniture’s biomorphic shapes, bound in colorful stretch jersey, were designed to cradle the body and make convincing replacements for the dreary, generic hospital beds and wheelchairs to which we have grown accustomed. As the population over age 65 continues to grow exponentially, there seems to be potential in drastically reconsidering geriatric design. Perhaps we will have to wait for the next biennial to invite Maximo to realize a nursing home for the future that confronts a few more taboos.


Shawn Maximo (Canadian, b. 1975) is an artist and architect working in sculpture, digital media and design. He currently lives and works in Queens, New York. Maximo’s contribution for the 9th Berlin Biennale, #3, will have an extended installation at KW, Berlin, through 2017. His work will be featured in “Election Renewal,” a group show curated by Katerina Llanes accompanied by a special issue of DIS magazine; and in “Hello Robot: Design Between Human and Machine,” opening in February 2017 at Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein.

Pierre Paulin (French, 1927–2009) is widely considered one of France's most influential 20th-century furniture and interior designers. His work is circulated, developed and preserved by Paulin, Paulin, Paulin®, a family business revolving around Maia Paulin, his wife and business partner for over forty years. Last summer, Pierre Paulin was the subject of two solo exhibitions in Paris, held at Centre Pompidou and Galerie Perrotin, respectively.

Julia Trotta is an art advisor based in New York. She is currently working on a documentary on her grandmother, the art historian Linda Nochlin.