Antoine + Manuel

Mars from the Gods series, 2008

Finding Perfection in Pandemonium

After over two prolific decades of provocative, indulgent work, Antoine+Manuel are finally arriving at center stage.

One might wonder why such a clearly talented Parisian art and design duo (consisting of Antoine Audiau and Manuel Warosz) could have been overlooked for so long. Maybe their dexterous aesthetic made it difficult for critics to place them in one artistic category? Perhaps the playful nature of their approach rubbed stuffy arbiters of taste the wrong way? Whatever the case might be, it is clear that recent international acknowledgment and critical buzz is paying off, and Antoine+Manuel is fast becoming the design team of the moment. Audiau is quick to note that their first recognition came through a foreign magazine from the Netherlands, followed by Great Britain, then Germany and finally in their home base in France. “It was so amazing when someone from the Louvre’s Decorative Arts Museum in Paris rang our door and asked us if we’d like to exhibit at the museum last year,” Audiau says. “We were stunned and almost thought it was a joke! But it happened and it was a big success.”

The newfound interest is certainly not unfounded. In a day and age when the fields of art and design increasingly blur and overlap, Antoine+Manuel represent a truly open-minded and contemporary artistic spirit—one that uses a variety of mediums to convey an inspired voice. It is not unusual for their work to feature precise geometric graphics one moment, then find them using crayons and magic markers the next. “I like to use paint, ink, felt tips, collage and photography as well. Every drawing or photo is always related to a personal feeling,” Audiau says. Referring to a recent show  Gods at the Graphic Design Museum in Breda, Netherlands Warosz says, “We used a lot of symmetry for that series. It seemed to be a good way to express the divine essence, as well as something human (since humans and most animals are symmetrical). We also wanted to link tol Rorschach style. And I suppose that we like viewers to interpret our work with their own references and sensations.”

While Audiau’s and Warosz’s dichotomy of styles might be relativity new to most, there is an entirely traceable and inextricable thread that connects their collaborations. Each project holds an attention-deficit dogma, and at times, Audiau may intrinsically adopt a “Manuel-style” or Warosz borrows an “Antoine-style.”

“It’s more a question of appropriation. We’ll take elements we like from each other,” Audiau says. “We’ve known each other for such a long time that we have no ego problems, it’s more a matter of play.”

It should be mentioned that the pair, who dated for years, found their footing as artists in their own personal relationship. Warosz adds, “Since we met very early, I was 19, I’ve learned a lot with Antoine. He was my first lover. It’s difficult to separate our work and our private life, but I think I’ve learned to free myself.”

The dynamic of this duo is all too appropriate for a distracted audience of the new millennium and Audiau and Warosz boast an adaptable portfolio that encompasses childlike innocence and a hedonistic maturity.

Audiau says, “Sometimes I pass my work to Manuel and let him free to improve it, and sometimes I do the same with his work. I think it’s kind of hard for anybody to see his own work in perspective, and sometimes you need the help of another to be detached from your own production.” As unhinged as this approach might sound, Audiau and Warosz have found direction in their dichotomy—a unique concept in what is traditionally such a solitary and personal endeavor.

While the pair is often categorized as graphic designers, the Antoine+Manuel portfolio also extends to interior design. Minimalist floral wallpaper, bold colors, and smooth edges mark their territory in the decor ring, while a more human, “ordered chaos” sentiment illuminates their gallery pieces. Yet, their innovations for fashion houses and home furnishings retain a playful spirit that easily accessible to the general public. There are no premeditated judgments regarding their viewers and it is as if they have an open invite policy for anyone interested. When redecorating rooms at the Hotel Fox in Copenhagen, for example, the duo’s overall aesthetic was reticent of their paintings, yet elegantly toned down to suit the modern traveler. Their work done for Christian Lacroix might have evoked a different tone of collage and color, but again the approach to the high-end fashion designer remained simple and down to earth. “We felt free working with Lacroix because he was our only contact, so we just make what we like,” Warosz says. “We try to find the exact point where his universe and ours meet.

For many underground art aficionados, Antoine+Manuel are the ultimate crush of the contemporary art world, yet when asked what their favorite movement happening in the artistic world today, Warosz says, “Well, we think that art helps people to free themselves from sexual, gender, traditional morals. That’s not really new, but I think we still need it.” It’s a fitting ideology for a duo that has variety of upcoming projects, gallery shows and a new list of clients on their roster.

A short time ago, the probability that an Antoine+Manuel show coming to the states would have been about as unlikely as Prince Charming walking over to Cinderella’s house pre-Royal Ball. While Audiau and Warosz have been traversing the avenues of art and design for quite some time, it seems that the real journey is just about to take off. And if the journey is anything like the journeymen, the possibilities are limitless.

– Jen Snyder