IKEA Artist in Residence

Making an impact in Milan

PeopleJune 13 min read

“I learned very early on in my portrait work that you should always start with the subject at home,” Annie Leibovitz told a flock of press gathered at the IKEA Assembling the Future exhibition during Milan design week. “They’re going to sit in a chair a certain way; they’re going to be comfortable. You’re going to get to see who they are in the comfort of their home. And we all know that our homes really on some level are mirrors of ourselves.”

It was a fitting introduction to the world premiere of the American photographer’s tenure as the first IKEA Artist in Residence.

For the duration of the project, which was announced in January and will culminate in a visual presentation in the autumn, Leibovitz will travel the world with her camera, stepping into the homes of people in seven countries to document the reality of their lives at home.

Anchored in and inspired by the findings of the annual IKEA Life at Home Report, which gathers data from 37,000 people across the globe, the resulting photographic series will offer a diverse and inclusive portrait of the way we live today.

“There’s a typical idea of what a home is these days,” Leibovitz added. “We’ve opened up to all sorts of ways of living and I think there’s a difference between being at home and feeling at home.”

On view inside the industrial space at Via Tortona 58, an enclosed, lie-down cinema space framed by metallic curtains offered a glimpse of behind-the-scenes footage from Leibovitz’s first photoshoots in Italy, which was projected on the ceiling.

As members of the international design world, journalists and the public filtered in over the course of the day, the cinema became a focal point. Guests continuously peeked their heads between the curtains before stepping inside.

“I am very impressed; this whole thing is mind-blowingly beautiful – a kind of artistic nucleus within this whole wonderful exhibition,” said David Johnston, founder of London’s Accept & Proceed Agency.

“There’s a huge responsibility for organisations like IKEA to learn from art, collaborate with artists, think like artists. So, there’s a lot you can unpack about what IKEA is doing here with Annie that’s necessary, and really powerful.”

According to initial impressions expressed by visitors, the project was received with great excitement, and IKEA’s choice to invite a photographer of Leibovitz’s calibre to represent life at home was celebrated across the board.

“It’s lovely to see people in their everyday lives being so passionate and emotional about their own homes, or their own spaces they’ve created, whether that’s the campervan, or the guy with the bonsai trees all around him,” said Rose Abdollahzadeh, Director of Public and Social Impact for the London Design Festival. “Having Annie Leibovitz there to capture that, the best of fashion photography combining with these people’s everyday lives – it’s a lovely combination.”

A group of marketing students, meanwhile, found the installation calming and innovative, a masterpiece of branding and design that sets IKEA apart.

“I think it’s definitely a trend right now to be more transparent about our lives, and to show all the different sides of people – not just the polished parts of life,” reflected Caroline Bendixen, 24. “So this project taps very nicely into the trend and what people want to see now. It’s very exciting to see what Annie will create in the end.”

For each shoot, Leibovitz prefers to avoid too much scouting ahead of time, letting her onsite impressions and her interaction with the people guide the direction of her photos: “a portrait photographer’s dream,” in her words.

“I’ve already decided that some of these may not be one picture, they may be two. You know, there’s a whole kind of encyclopedia of styles that I’m going to draw from depending on the person,” she concluded. “And I really believe in the series. These photographs would stand OK by themselves, but the fact that they are created alongside their brothers and sisters – I’m hoping that’s going to be really powerful.”