Palm Springs–based artist Phillip K. Smith III is best known for making kaleidoscopic works beneath Southern California’s arid, open skies—from the deserts of Joshua Tree and the Coachella Valley to Long Beach’s uninterrupted miles of sand. Mirrors, often installed directly into the ground, capture the vast and nuanced spectrum of desert colors that occur as the light shifts with different times of day, reining in the extraordinary endlessness of land and sky to a human scale.
“Part of my goals are to showcase the beauty of nature,” says Smith, along with elevating the commonalities of the human experience. “The sky is the one thing that unites us no matter where we live.”
He took his art on the road to Milan for Salone del Mobile, the major global launch pad for all things furniture and product design. Our favorite break from Design Week chaos arrived courtesy of Smith, who took over the baroque, 16th-century Palazzo Isimbardi for his reflective installation Open Sky.
Backed by minimalist clothing brand COS, with whom Smith feels he shares “a lot of simpatico thoughts about detailing, of construction, of simplicity of concept,” the minimal installation comprised one sole ingredient—mirrors—but with maximal effects. Upright, accordion-folded reflective panels turned the palazzo’s English garden into a distorted collage of plant life, with the main event taking place in the courtyard.
Among the colonnades of the enclosed space, Smith added a new architectural component to his work by installing a semicircle of mirrors in the center to reflect the courtyard’s perimeter archways back at the viewer. But as in all his works, the experience shifts with the viewer’s movements. As you approach the center of the installation, the reflective panels catch more and more of the sky above, ultimately surrounding you entirely with light.
“The project in Milan is very much about celebrating the sky that is framed above that courtyard and bringing that sky down to the ground,” says Smith. “My hope is that even in the midst of one of the most urban cities in the world, surrounded by nothing but architecture, that people have an intimate experience with the sky and the environment. And when they return home, they’ll have a new vision of their own home and the beauty that exists around them every single day”—not to mention a countless number of selfies. The sky’s the limit.