The American Design Club at MAD

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.