The Campana Brothers at Friedman Benda

If you’re a longtime reader of Sight Unseen, you know it’s rare that we write about a big-name designer. In part, it’s a question of access — it’s far easier to get an RCA grad on the phone than, say, Hella Jongerius. But it’s also a question of ubiquity: If you read a bunch of design blogs, you’re going to hear about something like Yves Behar’s new Smart Lock until your face falls off. But the Campana Brothers — despite being one of the biggest names in design — have somehow always eluded that extreme ubiquity.

Furniture 2013 at Johnson Trading Gallery

We suppose a lot could be made of the fact that Paul Johnson’s usually private Johnson Trading Gallery is finally opening its doors for an exhibition at the same time that both the Collective Design Fair and the Frieze Art Fair descend on New York City — and of the fact that Johnson’s former cinema­–turned–gallery space is located in Nowheresville, Queens, pretty much smack in the middle between Collective’s Chelsea pier and Frieze’s takeover of Roosevelt Island. After all, the gallery has always been on the fringes of both design and art, what with its carefully groomed roster of young talent making things that sometimes count as furniture in name only (Aranda/Lasch’s industrial rubber–sprayed Modern Primitives chair comes to mind). But to tell the truth, we’re pretty tired of the whole design vs. art debate at this point. It’s been nearly two years since Johnson hosted an exhibition in New York, and considering this one’s meant to celebrate four young designers who’ve barely yet made a blip on the scene, we were more interested to see what exactly Johnson’s been up to in his far-out lair and who he’s been scouting in the interim.

5 Platonic Objects by Christian Wassmann at R 20th Century

Swiss architect Christian Wassmann is quite the chameleon: Not only does he seem to float effortlessly between every important New York fashion party, design talk, and art opening, equally at home in every crowd, his work also spans myriad scenes and disciplines — from the interior of a scrappy East Village radio station, to a massive installation with fashion darlings threeASFOUR at the Arnhem Mode Biennale, to his latest project, a suite of transformable furniture for the high-end Tribeca design gallery R20th Century. While we're not sure how to explain his social gifts, his professional versatility comes down to something we here at Sight Unseen can certainly appreciate: Wassmann's longtime appreciation for geometric forms permeates everything he does, and those shapes by their very nature happen to work just as well on a small scale as they do on a larger one. In honor of his first small-scale effort, we did a little interview with him, which we've posted after the jump.

Figures & Routines by Eva Berendes at Jacky Strenz Gallery

Plenty of great artists and art historians have pondered the idea of painting leaving behind or transcending the canvas, but when I visited the Berlin studio of Eva Berendes last winter and heard her talk about her own work's gradual journey beyond frames and stretchers, the first person who came to mind was Bruno Munari. In his amazing little book Design As Art, the Italian icon describes the idea behind his hanging mobiles — aka "Useless Machines" — as an attempt to liberate painting from its fundamentally static nature and give it movement and dimension; Berendes describes her own pieces in much the same way. Despite focusing almost entirely on painting during her graduate studies, she decided to create a free-flowing curtain for her thesis project because she found it somehow liberating, and she's kept dipping her toes into the world of design and objects ever since, blurring the line between two dimensions and three. For her latest project, on view at Berlin's Jacky Strenz Gallery through April 8, she's ventured even further into that world, mounting a jumble of vintage objects, packing materials, and hand-painted silk swatches onto hand-welded black metal grids, thus "abolishing any distinction between the inimitable and the mass-produced."

Alley-Oop by Will Bryant and Eric Trine at Poketo

Before the show Alley-Oop opens at L.A.'s Poketo store this coming Saturday, you should take a moment to thoroughly examine the portfolios of its two Portland-based collaborators, illustrator Will Bryant and furniture designer Eric Trine. Because think about it: How easy is it to picture the results of a collaboration spanning the two disciplines? Especially when Bryant's work is so crazy vibrant — full of squiggles and anthropomorphized hot dogs wearing neon sunglasses — and Trine's is so very understated, albeit with a lot of cool geometries in the mix. Alley-Oop is like one of those software programs that lets you crudely merge the faces of two people to find out what their child might look like at age 5, though perhaps a better metaphor would be that it's like what would happen if you pumped two designers full of methamphetamine and locked them in a room together for 48 hours with nothing but some spray paint and a welding gun. Actually, that's not too far off from how Bryant and Trine describe it themselves. See our interview with the pair after the jump, along with the first preview images of their collaborative work — which hopefully won't be the last.
2_Peter Shire Cherry Blossom

Peter Shire’s “Tea for Two Hundred”

We have some pretty fantastic subjects coming your way next week, but before we take off for the weekend, we felt it our civic duty to alert Los Angeles readers to an opening tonight at the Santa Monica Museum of Art for one of our favorite designers, Peter Shire. When we first visited Shire two summers ago for Paper View, we were well aware of his work for Memphis, his public art, and his too-hot-to-keep-in-stock ceramic cups. But it wasn’t until we were touring his actual studio and came upon a massive sculpture made from metal, wood, and other found objects, that we were introduced to his "teapots." Shire swears that each one is functional, though his wife jokes that though you can send water through them, it might not get to the spout. But function in these pieces is beside the point; the eight pots on view at the museum’s “Tea for Two Hundred” exhibition tonight range in height from two to six feet tall. Shire approaches the cartoonishly large teapots in a way that other designers usually reserve for more practical objects like chairs: “Throughout his career,” writes curator Elsa Longhauser, “he has continually reinvented the object, using it as an armature to experiment with material, scale, and function.”

Le Corbusier’s Secret Laboratory

They had us at the title: "Le Corbusier's Secret Laboratory," aka the painting studio where the architect took a pause from buildings and furniture to create expressive artworks like the sculpture above, many of which will be on view at Stockholm's Moderna Museet starting this Saturday. Though his work has been under the microscope for so long now, obviously, that it would be silly to consider any part of his oeuvre truly a secret, the museum claims to have some rarely shown pieces up its sleeve, and a thesis that puts his career in something of a new perspective: "A central theme of this exhibition is Le Corbusier’s oscillation between two seemingly disparate pursuits — his celebration of mechanical objects and his search for poetic forms," its curators write.
Benten Clay, "Fever Ray," object.

Das Wilde Denken: Depot Basel in Berlin

There's an easy way to tell whether or not you were born to be a maker: sit down at a table piled with random junk and scraps of material, and see how long it takes you to conjure something useful and/or beautiful. For the Das Wilde Denken workshop last month, Matylda Krzykowski and the team behind Depot Basel joined forces with my favorite design/fashion boutique in Berlin, Baerck, and invited a handful of local designers to spend two days doing just that. The results, of course, were amazing — where an observer like myself couldn't really make the mental leap past a jumble of discarded trolley wheels and wooden boards, this group envisioned lamps, sculptural table mirrors, jewelry trays, and stationery sets. The curators saw it as a chance for the designers to get back to basics and enjoy the simplicity of an open-ended crafting session, but they also likened the experience to reconnecting with childhood, when making wasn't goal-oriented but immediate and spontaneous — hence the name Das Wilde Denken, which means "wild thinking." (Momentary flashback to Malin Gabriela Nordin's children's workshop, which we featured last month.) All of the pieces created during the session, a selection of which are featured in the slideshow after the jump, will be on view and for sale at Baerck through February 2.

Phantom: Mies as Rendered Society by Andrés Jaque

Considering Mies van der Rohe designed the 1929 Barcelona Pavilion to emphasize transparency and freedom of movement, you've got to hand it to the Spanish architect Andrés Jaque for his genius new exhibition "Phantom: Mies as Rendered Society," which plumbs the one part of the building that's always been both hidden and completely off limits to the public: its basement. When we spotted these images of the show on Dezeen last week, complete with broken window panes in the reflecting pool and an industrial vacuum on the patio, we kind of lost it — talk about sights unseen! Jaque's installation, the latest in a series of Barcelona Pavilion interventions by designers like SANAA and Ai Weiwei, takes what's basically an overlooked yet significant refuse pile and transforms it into something unmistakably gorgeous.
De Intuitiefabriek's slipcast tableware sets played with pigmentation (the cobalt pigment being the most expensive) as well as finishing techniques like glazing and hand-applied decorative touches.

Objects for Sale, at Dutch Design Week

In our recap of the most recent Dutch Design Week on Monday, we alluded to the economic quagmire that’s been enveloping the Netherlands' insanely prolific creative class. But one of the week’s exhibitions actually addressed the crisis head-on: Objects for Sale, which asked eight designers to create products within three price brackets (<€50, €50-500, >€500) and to explain how choices within their design and production processes affected the bottom line.
Alex Valder

Reflections on Form at Helmrinderknecht

Last week, while we were muddling through a natural disaster that sent one of us to live in a hotel for two weeks (destroying a four-year archive of I.D. magazines in the process) and the other one out to Queens to try to help other storm victims who are still in the dark, we found a small and welcome ray of sunshine in our inboxes. The "Reflections on Form" exhibition that opened at Europe's roving Helmrinderknecht gallery on Friday is a kind of coincidental corollary to the Moss auction at Phillips we featured two weeks ago: Both exhibits make simple, formal comparisons between great works of design and great works of art, with the only difference we can see being Helmrinderknecht's skew towards younger, newer talents.
Tomáš Král, Spring Mirror. "Shaped by a colored cord, Spring is a series of flexible mirrors that are thin like a sheet of paper."

Zrcadlo: The Mirror by Okolo

If you go strictly by the numbers, nearly any product typology could be said to be having a moment at the Milan Furniture Fair each year. Sofas? There are always hundreds. Cabinets? Wall clocks? Yup, those too. But scan the recent fairs not just for mirrors but for amazing mirrors, and you might be inclined to agree with Adam Štěch and Klára Šumová, curators of a show at this week's Prague's Designblok festival that reflects on the genre's recent creative uptick. (These three hand mirrors alone totally slay us.) "The exhibition not only brings together our friends from the design world but also tries to define the typology of a mirror based on quite varied styles and design approaches," says Štěch, one of three co-founders behind the creative agency and online magazine OKOLO. He and Šumová comissioned 30 designers — 15 of them international and 15 Czech — to design a new mirror for the installation, from Maxim Velčovský's wall mirror bordered by cheap plastic store-bought varieties to Marco Dessí's mirror that doubles as the top for a jewelry box.