The brief itself was simple: Design and build something to sit on. It was the execution part that was hard. From April 16–21, four sets of young American furniture designers each took a turn in the open studios at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design, each with a single purpose: to build and assemble a chair from start to finish, between the time the museum opened at 9AM to the minute the last straggler was ushered out the door at 6. The designers could use any materials they chose, and they were allowed to make preliminary design studies or prototypes before arriving at the museum, but the bulk of the construction work had to be executed on the museum’s 6th floor — in full view of school tours, visiting tourists, families, and itinerant design geeks who wanted a peek at the action.
But the exercise wasn’t some reality show–like competition to pit designers against each other or to see whose design would reign supreme. The event was part of The Home Front, a museum project curated by Surface editor Dan Rubinstein, who spearheaded the whole thing in order explore in-depth the business of being a designer in America today. And while the four other events in the series consisted mostly of panels or portfolio reviews, this installment focused more on the performative aspects of a designer’s practice (though it, too, culminated in a panel at the museum led by the editors at this website). Typically squirreled away in warehouse studios in Brooklyn, the participating designers were encouraged to put their jigsaws and beloved tool cases and funny design rituals on view for everyone to see — in effect making the whole enterprise transparent as well as engendering a much-needed sense of community spirit.
In light of all that, it makes sense that the designers involved were all members of the American Design Club, an organization founded in 2009 and run by Brooklynite Kiel Mead as a way for young designers to mount exhibitions and share resources, among other things. Mead was charged with selecting the teams who would have their turn at MAD, and his only requirement was appropriately communist in spirit: “It came down to who was heavily involved in the club and who could benefit most from this experience,” he says. “We wanted designers who have truly been helped by and who want to help the American Design Club.” The chosen four were Fort Standard, a new collaboration between Pratt grads Gregory Buntain, a former woodworker, and Ian Collings, a former welder; Silva/Bradshaw, the year-old jewelry and furniture-making studio of Sergio Silva and Mattew Bradshaw; Kai Tsien-Williams, a designer who works mostly on commission for the likes of Project no. 8 and Tom Sachs; and Stanley Ruiz, the Philippines-born, New York–based designer whose modern aesthetic is informed by a fascination with natural found materials. Each of them offered Sight Unseen a closer look at how their day at the museum unfolded.
To see new works by members of the American Design Club, visit their upcoming “Use Me” show, on view beginning May 13 as part of the Noho Design District. For event details, click here.
Two hundred years ago, when American pioneers were streaming across the country making homes for themselves in the uncharted wilderness, anyone who needed a corn grater or a mouse trap had to knuckle down and make one. “Everyone was a designer,” says Paul Loebach, who’s long been fascinated by such primitive, purpose-built objects, typically hand-carved in wood or crudely forged in metal. “Whereas Europe had a network of goods trading, for the settlers it was like, we’re limited to these five square acres. They had to be really clever to make the most out of what they had, and that kind of ingenuity is inspiring to me.” Already knowing this about the Brooklyn designer after interviewing him last November, Sight Unseen invited him to choose his favorite objects from the 1972 book American Primitives, which we found at an Ohio flea market for $2 and which contains several dozen annotated selections from Norris, Tennessee’s Museum of Appalachia.
As if they didn’t have enough to cry about, London’s young bankers lost a favorite watering hole this year — the seminal Shoreditch nightclub Home, which had lost most of its hipster cachet since it opened in 1997. When local designers Andrew Haythornthwaite and Shai Akram were invited to help transform the space into The Book Club — where the activities include not just eating, drinking, and dancing but also more cerebral pursuits like poetry, storytelling, and workshops — it was a delicate transition. “We didn’t want it to feel like a brand-new bar,” says Haythornthwaite. “We wanted it to be one of those places that seems like it's always been there but you just haven't noticed it.”
It gyrates, it whirs, and it's every bit the mechanically-powered spectacle of a department-store Christmas Village: Italian furniture brand Moroso's New York showroom has been transformed into a jolly urban landscape of brightly colored kinetic skyscrapers, an immersive installation created by the young Italian artist Anna Galtarossa. Woven amongst the shop's Tord Boontje lounge chairs and Front sofas, Galtarossa's fabric buildings were commissioned by company founder Patrizia Moroso as part of a newly launched grant project called the Moroso Award for Contemporary Art. Curated in partnership with the Civic Gallery of Contemporary Art in Monfalcone — along with a guest panel of design-industry talents like Tobias Rehberger, David Adjaye, and Patricia Urquiola — the award will fund not only Galtarossa's New York project but planned installations by additional 2011 recipients Martino Gamper and Christian Frosi. But even more, it serves Moroso's own effort to expand her support to art, a creative discipline that has lost crucial government funding in recent years, by highlighting its potential to impact the practice of design. We recently spoke with both Moroso and Galtarossa about the ways art and design can influence one another, and how Galtarossa's Skyscraper Nursery embodies those ideas.