Contemporary Art Market: Designers' wares give a twist to traditional style

A UNIQUE opportunity to see and buy the best in contemporary applied art is offered this week by Decorative Arts Today, an exhibition being staged in London at Bonham's, Knightsbridge.

Until now, it has been nearly impossible to get an overview of what is happening in the 1990s. Bonham's, the auctioneers, have ingeniously plugged this gap with an annual exhibition. Last year was the first, at which the rock musician, Mick Jagger, bought 18 pieces. A lot of the stuff is expensive but it's 'in'.

There are 140 designers this year, including top names and recent college graduates. More than 1,000 pieces are on view, which are replaced by other items when sold.

The big success among the newcomers is Estitxu Garcia, who graduated from the City and Guilds Art School in 1991. Her writing desk made from relief decorated gesso applied with gold leaf found a buyer at pounds 1,520, and two further copies have been commissioned.

The best of the furniture takes traditional designs and embellishes it. Rupert Williamson, a well-established woodworker, has taken the traditional Chippendale chair and tied its ornamental back in knots; a knotted chair and table to match in red oak cost pounds 4,020.

Mark Brazier-Jones, who appeared at Bonham's last year, has taken the Empire style, combined it with Hollywood and come up with a 'Pan' couch made from bronze, steel and many-textured black fabrics ( pounds 3,096). The most expensive chairs come, naturally enough, from famous names. A John Makepiece study chair whose arms turn into pivoting lecterns, is priced at pounds 13,923, while Ron Arad's chair made from woven polished steel costs pounds 14,100.

Some of the most exciting decorative objects are the vessels made from turned wood when the wood is fresh, not seasoned, and often stained with colour, using the patterned graining and natural faults for decorative affect.

Woodworkers began to create this kind of object about 12 years ago, according to Peta Levi, the exhibition's curator. One of the first was Bert Marsh, who has a nine-inch (22cm) vase with a naturally jagged edge at pounds 135; Chris Stott offers Hollow Form at pounds 360, while Stephen Cooper has enigmatically incorporated a quartz crystal egg in a hollowed yew- wood bowl at pounds 390.

At the bottom end of the price range, Chris Stott's wood bangles at pounds 15 are worth considering. The brightly coloured glass jugs by Marianne Buus, who left West Surrey College of Art and Design in 1990, are also value for money at pounds 95.

However, Brenda Taylor's china plates, elegantly decorated in overglaze enamels and gold lustre at pounds 47 a time, have sold out.

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