Dif­fer­ent di­a­logue

NYCxDe­sign fes­ti­val

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The an­chor event of NYCxDe­sign – the ICFF (In­ter­na­tional Con­tem­po­rary Fur­ni­ture Fair) – is more of a ram­bling mar­ket­place than a de­sign show these days, where an es­tab­lished au­di­ence of in­ter­na­tional buy­ers has turned it into a com­mer­cial en­ter­prise spe­cial­is­ing in sell­ing booth space at the high­est mar­gins. Here, you’ll find Tom Dixon next to dec­o­ra­tive skate­board decks de­signed by a Cal­i­for­nian trust-fun­der or a col­lec­tion of wrought-iron owls.

This year, the New Zealand fur­ni­ture and light­ing brand Res­i­dent, which has pre­vi­ously showed at the ICFF, went in­de­pen­dent, leas­ing a 280-square-me­tre space in Nolita for the month of May to show­case both new and peren­nial pieces by founder Si­mon James, Jamie McLellan, Nat Cheshire and Philippe Malouin, who was si­mul­ta­ne­ously named the 2018 Wall­pa­per* De­signer of the Year. Enor­mously well re­ceived by the Amer­i­can de­sign me­dia, the move laid the ground­work for a US mar­ket, and for James and co-founder Scott Brid­gens to bring back the tightly edited show in 2019.

As im­por­tant as de­sign­ers and their in­ten­tions are, it’s also im­por­tant who cu­rates, and for whom, par­tic­u­larly in this pro­gres­sive city, which is ex­ist­ing in a par­tic­u­larly tense po­lit­i­cal mo­ment fraught with is­sues of money and power. De­sign, like any other cre­ative en­deav­our, rep­re­sents a point of view, with prod­ucts be­com­ing part of our every­day lives.

The work, and the way it’s pre­sented, can change the di­a­logue. Res­i­dent’s dis­tinctly New Zealand aes­thetic looked brac­ingly mod­ern next to the ex­cesses of the goodie-bag-laden events go­ing on around it.

The fol­low­ing five shows were sim­i­larly fo­cused, pos­ing ques­tions about what de­sign might in­sti­gate be­yond a ba­sic shift­ing of units off shelves: the an­swers ranged from com­mu­nity build­ing, ac­tivism and sus­tain­abil­ity, to un­cov­er­ing un­der­val­ued nar­ra­tives and cre­at­ing new di­a­logue within artis­tic and de­sign prac­tices.

De­sign­ing Women II

The sec­ond edi­tion of the De­sign­ing Women show cu­rated by fe­male-ownedand-run stu­dio Egg Col­lec­tive was co-cu­rated by Lora Ap­ple­ton, a ris­ing force in the NYC de­sign world. Ap­ple­ton founded both de­sign stu­dio and gallery Kinder MOD­ERN, and the Fe­male De­sign Coun­cil, with the goal of sup­port­ing women in the still pre­dom­i­nantly male in­dus­try.

‘Mas­ters, Mav­er­icks, Mavens’ was con­ceived as a con­ver­sa­tion across time and space, and ex­panded its scope in 2018 to in­clude his­tor­i­cal fig­ures. The re­sult was a Who’s Who of trail­blaz­ing de­sign­ers and an in­ter­na­tional ros­ter in­clud­ing Swedish mod­ernist Greta Mag­nus­son Grossman, fi­bre artist and Eero Saari­nen col­lab­o­ra­tor Lil­ian Holm, the Tbil­isi-based prod­uct de­sign stu­dio Rooms, Korean-Amer­i­can artist Mimi Jung and ob­ject de­signer Sabine Marcelis, a Rot­ter­dam-based New Zealand ex­pat.

Wanted De­sign

Founded in 2011, Wanted De­sign’s agenda takes a dif­fer­ent tack from most, part­ner­ing with in­ter­na­tional trade or­gan­i­sa­tions and cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions to cu­rate work from de­sign cen­tres around the globe.

This year saw group in­stal­la­tions from Brazil, Istanbul, Shang­hai, Medel­lín and Mex­ico, and the Zero Waste Bistro, a pop-up by Helsinki-based Restau­rant Nolla (nolla means zero), in a space fur­nished with sus­tain­able pieces from Fin­nish De­sign Shop, Iit­tala and Artek.

Solo de­sign­ers in­cluded Brook­lyn-based New Zealan­der Richard Clark­son, who showed an el­e­gant, low-slung new chair along­side his ex­ist­ing col­lec­tion of light­ing and small prod­ucts for the home. And, at Wanted’s sec­ond lo­ca­tion in Sun­set Park, Brook­lyn, French artist Camille Walala painted a seven-storey build­ing with a Mem­phis-in­spired mu­ral.

Next Level

Tak­ing ad­van­tage of the en­ergy around the de­sign fes­ti­val – and a mas­sive 550-square-me­tre re­tail space cur­rently stand­ing empty on Broad­way – Next Level was a self-cu­rated group show by 16 of the city’s lead­ing in­de­pen­dent de­sign­ers and stu­dios.

Or­gan­ised by Asher Is­raelow Stu­dio, Pa­trick Weder De­sign, Hart tex­tiles, Here Projects and Eskayel on a dime and al­most spon­ta­neously when the space be­came avail­able, the in­stal­la­tion was none­the­less one of the most seam­less and vis­ually co­her­ent shows of the whole fes­ti­val, which is per­haps to be ex­pected when de­sign­ers be­come cu­ra­tors.

It shone a light on the al­ready strong re­la­tion­ships, friend­ships and col­lab­o­ra­tions that un­der­pin NYC’s cre­ative ecosys­tem, where de­sign­ers share re­sources, sources, sup­pli­ers and some­times workspaces. Stand­out mo­ments in­cluded Eskayel’s gi­ant silk-and-merino hand-knot­ted rugs with sym­met­ri­cal pat­terns rem­i­nis­cent of a Rorschach test, and artist Molly Find­lay’s ‘Mrs. Noo­dle Pil­low’, a gi­ant, yel­low, sus­tain­able-kapok filled noo­dle that can be in­fin­itely con­fig­ured for use as a comfy piece of fur­ni­ture.

Sight Un­seen Off­site

Ev­ery year since its in­cep­tion in 2014, Sight Un­seen Off­site has be­come more uniquely it­self: an en­thu­si­as­tic rein­ven­tion of ev­ery pre­vi­ously un­pop­u­lar de­sign era and colour imag­in­able (this year it was the turn of del­i­cate co­ral pink and for­est green), like a liv­ing In­sta­gram feed where trend-led de­sign, ac­tivism and brands cheer­fully co-ex­ist.

An ex­ten­sion of the on­line mag­a­zine founded by for­mer i-D ed­i­tors Mon­ica Khem­surov and Jill Singer, the show has waxed and waned in size to be­come ever more idio­syn­cratic, with its own highly spe­cific aes­thetic and a niche for youth­ful, con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can de­sign tal­ent.

This year fea­tured in­stal­la­tions spon­sored by mil­len­nial ‘It’ brands such as Glossier, and a pas­tel-pink-and­white mini pi­ano co-de­signed by ac­tor Ja­son Schwartz­man with Los An­ge­les stu­dio Wall for Apri­cots, one of 13 new prod­ucts de­vel­oped for Sight Un­seen’s ‘Field Stud­ies’ project, which raises money for pro­gres­sive causes in the United States.

Fur­nish­ing Utopia

Fur­nish­ing Utopia be­gan when 11 de­sign­ers spent a week at a work­shop at two Shaker vil­lages in up­state New York and Mas­sachusetts, re­sult­ing in a range of el­e­gantly min­i­mal prod­ucts. Two years on, the col­lec­tive in­cludes 26 stu­dios and the show has moved on from a purely Shaker aes­thetic, yet re­tains its core phi­los­o­phy.

‘Hands to Work’ fo­cused on the realm of or­di­nary house­hold chores and tools, ex­plor­ing the virtues of fo­cused work and clean­li­ness that Shak­ers con­sid­ered the path to en­light­en­ment. Cu­rated by orig­i­nal Fur­nish­ing Utopia mem­bers Stu­dio Gorm, Ladies & Gen­tle­men Stu­dio and Christo­pher Specce, the ex­hi­bi­tion con­tained 50 ob­jects by in­ter­na­tional de­sign­ers that turn do­mes­tic labour into some­thing phys­i­cally sat­is­fy­ing and pure.

Also wor­thy of note: Ladies & Gen­tle­men Stu­dio was the first Amer­i­can de­signer to col­lab­o­rate with Ja­panese brand Muji, cre­at­ing the Muji Ma­te­ri­als Gar­den for a SoHo pop-up. Con­nected by hap­tic stone path­ways, the gar­den dis­played prod­ucts with the raw ma­te­ri­als used to make them.

Above left Zero Waste Bistro, a pop-up by Helsinki’s Restau­rant Nolla, was fur­nished with sus­tain­able pieces from Fin­nish De­sign Shop, Iit­talla and Artek.

Top An ex­hi­bi­tion by Here Projects at Next Level.

Above ‘Mrs. Noo­dle Pil­low’ by Molly Find­lay is a play­ful re­sponse to the con­ven­tional sofa.

Top Funds raised by the sale of the mini pi­ano, a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Ja­son Schwartz­man and Wall for Apri­cots; the mir­ror (cen­tre) by Christo­pher Stu­art and Ju­lia Dault; and the mir­ror by Seth Ro­gen (right), were do­nated to var­i­ous causes.

Above A dis­play by Fur­nish­ing Utopia in ‘Hands to Work’, a fo­cus on hum­ble house­hold chores and tools.

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