Photo-Illustration: Studio Bertjan Pot, Better Things Studio, Sean Davidson, William Jess Laird
At Design Week, the references artists and designers choose, how things are made, and the ideas that are introduced tell us a little bit about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re heading. At this year’s NYCxDesign — New York’s annual citywide festival of furniture, interior design, and architecture (now in its tenth year) — galleries opened their doors and designers unveiled their latest projects to packed parties and excited crowds. This year’s Design Week felt like a triumphant return (given the nearly canceled 2020 edition, which organizers salvaged with self-guided tours and digital exhibitions) and the solemnity of last year’s smaller event held, somewhat awkwardly, in November — as the city braced for a winter COVID surge. This year, a few trends emerged: the stripped-down aesthetics of industrial manufacturing, nature-inspired motifs, and intuitive ways of working — all reflecting a strong desire to hit “reset,” keep moving forward, and just have fun. Even though face masks and hand sanitizer were still within arm’s reach.
Dutch designer Bertjan Pot has been weaving masks out of rope for the past decade. The series started out as a happy accident — he was trying to sew a rug, but the material wouldn’t stay flat, so he coaxed the curves into a face. Over time, the masks have become cartoonish and creature-like, and Pot is now experimenting with weaving them out of natural grass and making them more deranged. “The latest versions feel like masks wearing masks,” Pot writes in his artist statement. “Psychoanalyze that!” They’re on view, along with Pot’s new lighting fixtures, at Patrick Parrish through June 30.
Photo: Joe Kramm, Courtesy R & Company
Serban Ionescu (a designer best known for playful pieces that look like hand-sketched characters that have come to life) has created new large-scale sculptures for “Castle Garden,” an exhibition at R & Company named after the first immigration-entry point in the U.S. To date, Ionescu’s functional objects made from wood and powder-coated metal have mostly been small in scale — in the form of chairs and tables. It’s a delight to walk through an immersive environment (including a 22-foot-tall folly) that feels like a children’s storybook. Through August 12.
In the early 20th century, one of Dana Arbib’s relatives migrated from Libya to Italy and ran a glass furnace in Venice. Arbib, working with expert artisans in Murano, has created a series of glass vessels that pay homage to that family history. The pieces in “Vetro Alga” reference ancient relics from Rome and North Africa. The shapes of the glassware feel organic and painterly, and they look almost as though the material is still slightly molten. By appointment only through May 18.
Photo: Sean Davidson
Emma Scully’s “Anti Chairs” show brings together a few of the most experimental designers working today to consider furniture primarily as a conceptual rather than a functional object: Bradley L. Bowers, who made a puffy, iridescent armchair; Jumbo (the studio run by Justin Donnelly and Monling Lee), which contorted a metal barricade to make a bench; and Chris Wolston, who contributed an abstract carpet — his first-ever rug design. Ilana Harris-Babou, an artist who interrogates design culture, presents collages inspired by sitting down on a subway seat still warm from the previous occupant; the unsettling sensation sparked a hunt for images that show the butt imprints left on a chair and took her on a fascinating journey through, among other spaces, online fetish communities and furniture-repair blogs. I was also mesmerized by the kaleidoscopic surfaces of the recycled plastic chairs from the gallery’s previous exhibition on British designer Jane Atfield, which were on view in the room adjacent to “Anti Chairs.” Atfield was one of the first designers to make furniture out of postconsumer plastic — specifically bottles turned into high-density polyethylene — when she presented her RCP2 Chair for her Royal College of Art grad project in 1992. The chairs have been reissued by Yemm and Hart, the plastic maker she’d worked with in the ’90s. Through July 1.
Photo: Sean Davidson/seandavidson
Jill Singer and Monica Khemsurov, founders of Sight Unseen, have helped launch the careers of hundreds of designers — by publishing stories or exhibiting their work early in their careers. For many of these designers, that publicity has led to orders and commissions, and they took the next step of developing their own lines with a manufacturer. Singer and Khemsurov felt they were missing out on helping to develop this part of designers’ careers. (Plus, manufacturers were getting free talent scouting.) The two had experimented with selling vintage furniture through 1stDibs, then thought, Why not produce furniture ourselves? They partnered with Bestcase (a manufacturer on Long Island) and a few of their favorite designers on a new line of fully customizable home goods made from metal: An Art Deco–inspired mirror by Home Studios, the architecture firm behind Elsa and The Spaniard; a wavy screen and plinth-like chair by Charles Constantine, Bestcase’s founder; thin-framed glass tables by Swiss studio Thévoz-Choquet; and a bar cart with a resin handle by Studio Anansi. I enjoyed how simple yet sophisticated the pieces look — refreshing to the eyes after the latest wave of raucous maximalism.
As the show’s name suggests, a lot of the pieces in “Melt,” curated by the design platform Adorno, look like they’re dripping and oozing — a marker of an aesthetic unruliness that has defined home goods recently. The warm, organic feeling of woodworker Luke Malaney’s wavy console drew me to it, and I was charmed by the details in the piece: the rich reddish stain, dimpled chisel markings on a catchall that sprouts out of the tabletop, berrylike drawer pull, and a drawer lined with hammered metal. You can’t see many of these details from afar; it’s only by using the console that you uncover the different materials and textures.
Photo: William Jess Laird
I was struck by the richness of the Terra Series update from Danny Kaplan (a Brooklyn-based ceramic artist) and In Common With (a Brooklyn maker of minimalist lighting). The two had collaborated on a series a couple of years ago, and these new ceramic pieces — a sconce, table lamp, floor lamp, and pendant — are made in dark hues inspired by natural materials like anthracite, terra-cotta, and lapis lazuli. The surface-mount light is like an elegant ceramic vessel hovering on your ceiling. The pieces are on view at Kaplan’s studio through May 20 and will be featured at the new Brooklyn design shop Assembly Line in June.
Cuban American designer Jocelyne Cabada is on a mission to “smother” the world in felt — a material she’s attracted to for its softness and tactility. She started by making accessories and handbags but has scaled up to furniture and home goods. I was drawn to the painterly wisps of color in her stools, which are on view at “Radiator,” a showcase of emerging designers at Art Cake through May 17.
Photo: Sarah Yao-Rishea
Presented at WantedDesign’s Launch Pad, the Alcove vases from emerging Toronto-based designer Sarah Yao-Rishea are designed to make flower arranging a little bit less daunting. They’re composed of a couple dozen tubes welded together — each wide enough for a single stem. I adore their simplicity and how the pieces reflect two trends from this year: minimalist industrialism and florals. While these are still prototypes, I would have happily taken one home were they available for sale.
During the pandemic lockdown, Irina Flore wasn’t able to go to her studio, so she started making paper collages of tableware — imagining vibrant alternatives to the monotonous cups and dishes she was using every day. The Portland, Oregon–based artist liked the conceptual designs so much that she decided to fabricate them. Working with glassblowers in Istanbul, Flore created this asymmetrical, color-block series, which was exhibited at WantedDesign. I enjoy the playfulness of the sculptural silhouettes as well as the depth of texture in the blown glass. They cost $350 each and are available at irinaflore.com/shop.
Photo: Courtesy of Pink Essay/Skilset
David Eardley, founder of Pink Essay (an online magazine), has created a singular community of emerging artists and designers through his group shows: “Open Studio” (2020), “Home Around You” (2021), and “Physical Education: Parallax 101” (2021). He invited artists who’ve previously exhibited in his shows to create work for “Physical Education II: Design for All,” which celebrates an intuitive approach to crafting furniture and objects. It’s a philosophy that dovetails with Skilset’s belief that anyone can be a designer and you can make what you need with the materials you have at hand. It’s a little bit Enzo Mari and Victor Papanek — updated with a contemporary sensibility. I admire Isabel Rower’s The Sky Contained My Garden (a ceramic chair and side table — minimalist pieces adorned with hand-glazed, surrealist flowers) and Yuki Gray’s How to Find the Right Pebble Table, a CNC-milled wooden piece that, as its name suggests, references the designer’s obsession with finding the perfect skipping stone. Through May 20.