Wednesday, 31 May 2023

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The futile pursuit of good taste

The futile pursuit of good taste

What is good taste? And who decides it? It’s a question I discussed last weekend with the architect and designer Harry Nuriev, museum director Melissa Chiu and Net-a-Porter president Alison Loehnis: three arbiters of style. But the only real agreement we could come to on the subject is that there are no longer any rules.

Until about 20 years ago there remained fairly static ideas about what passed as de rigueur. In a world in which opinions were decided by a small cabal of voices, the number of “serious” art collectors numbered in the low hundreds and the major markets were assumed to be in Paris, London and New York, there was an easy consensus about the kind of furniture one should sit on, the brand of bag you carried or the art you hung on your walls.

Trends were cyclical and ever shifting — but the things representing “good taste” remained quite fixed in people’s minds. If your chairs were Le Corbusier, you owned a Giacometti, or you swung an Hermès Birkin handbag, you were part of an elite group whose taste was aspired to and admired. Today, however, taste has become more fluid and subjective. Its arbitration is less clear cut. The internet has made everyone a critic, new markets have mushroomed outside the traditional centres and consensus has largely broken down.

Where once good taste was seen as a mark of privilege and education, today’s tastemakers are a far more reactive crowd. And the things that emerge as barometers of our cultural standing are less likely the product of explicit connoisseurship than they are the result of a collective, internet-fed, hive mind.

Nuriev was born in Russia: earlier this month he worked with the culinary studio We Are Ona to create a pop-up restaurant that was the talk of art week in New York. When not creating happenings in one of the world’s most notoriously unimpressible communities, he makes eiderdowns from old boxer shorts and bespoke wallpaper with a trompe l’oeil effect to look like mould: he’s currently crushing plastic Evian bottles to create a bespoke chandelier. His work treads the line between the tasteless and the transcendent and the classic and the crass, but his bold “transformer” vision has made him one of the most in-demand designers of today.

© Julien Lienard

Asked what good taste is, he shrugs and says he…

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