Reversed Volumes: Detail shot.

Balanced by Mischer’Traxler at Wait and See

Two years ago, we went to Milan for the annual furniture fair and noticed, to our delight, a very Sight Unseen–appropriate theme: Rather than just presenting their work, designers were using their Salone exhibitions to showcase their process alongside their finished products. Last year was no exception to the trend, and this year, one of the most promising Milan preview emails to come across the transom at Sight Unseen HQ saw the Vienna-based duo mischer'traxler poised to create a new piece from the tools and inspirations used to develop their old ones. For Balanced, an installation opening tomorrow at the Milanese concept shop Wait and See — a kind of next-gen 10 Corso Como tucked inside a former monastery — the machine-obsessed couple dug up artifacts from the creation of four of their most popular projects and envisioned them laid out perfectly on either side of four gigantic homemade scales. Mischer'traxler gave Sight Unseen an exclusive first look at the show, by way of images they shot in their studio earlier this month, and told us a bit more about its genesis.
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Oeuffice’s Ziggurat Tower for Carwan Gallery

The Milan furniture fair starts next Tuesday and, crazy enough, the editors of Sight Unseen are sitting this one out — we've got too much going on at home this year, between our pop-up shop at Creatures of Comfort and the 2012 Noho Design District, which is shaping up to be much bigger and better than ever. We'll still be reporting on Milan via the snapshots of a select group of friends and collaborators, but meanwhile, we figured we'd at least bring you one or two previews of pieces you'll be seeing next week, beginning with the latest offerings from the Beirut-based Carwan Gallery. Founded by architect Pascale Wakim and jetsetter Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte, who's also a partner in Montreal's Samare and the newer Milan-based design outfit Oeuffice, Carwan began its second collection — which technically launched last month at Design Days Dubai — by organizing a field trip of sorts for its designers. Karen Chekerdjian, Khalid Shafar, Lindsey Adelman, Studio mischer'traxler, Nada Debs, Oeuffice, Paul Loebach, Philippe Malouin, and Tamer Nakisci all traveled to the Middle East for a grand tour of artisan's studios, each pairing up with a different craftsperson to produce a new twist on an old archetype or technique. Here, the duo behind Oeuffice, whose work revolves around research into architectural forms, reveal the story behind their contribution to the exhibition, a series of boxes inspired by ancient Middle Eastern structures.
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Nicolas Trembley’s Fat Lava vases in Apartamento 07

If I hadn't taken as long as I did to read issue number 07 of Apartamento, which came out around this time last year, I would never have gone stumbling around the web only to realize that Nicolas Trembley's wonderful Sgrafo vs Fat Lava exhibition — which started in Geneva last year, making stops along the way at Galerie Kreo in Paris and Gisela Capitain in Cologne — will end its world tour this June in my own backyard, at the Zachary Currie gallery in New York. In this excerpt from Apartamento, the Parisian art critic and curator explains how his collection of more than 150 instances of the bizarre German ceramics came to be.
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At the 2012 Stockholm Design Week

Last week, the editors of Sight Unseen toured the former Cooper Square Hotel, which is in the process of blossoming into a gorgeously rendered East Village branch of the Standard. We met with the organizers of Wanted Design to talk about New York Design Week, and a planned alliance between offsite shows including the American Design Club, Model Citizens, and our Noho Design District. We had an ungodly amount of $1 oysters, bought a new pair of Warby Parker glasses, and got into a glaring match with an Apple Genius Bar employee who refused to replace a power adapter that had met an untimely death. What we did not do, however, was attend Stockholm Design Week — we stayed put this year while our friends braved jetlag and below-freezing temperatures to experience the annual unveiling of all things new in Scandinavian design. And yet rather than totally miss out on all the action, we found a willing scout who, while she preferred to remain anonymous for various reasons, was happy to report back on the goings-on in and around the fair — all with a Sight Unseen slant, of course.
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The Bouroullec Brothers in Disegno #1

Designers around the world owe Johanna Agerman Ross a drink, or perhaps even a hug: Her new project, the biannual magazine Disegno, is devoted to letting their work breathe. “I always found it frustrating working for a monthly, because I couldn’t give a subject enough time or space to make it worthwhile,” says the former Icon editor. “For a project that took 10 or 15 years to make, it felt bizarre to represent it in one image, or four pages.” Founded by her and produced with the help of creative director Daren Ellis, Disegno takes some of the visual tropes of fashion magazines — long pictorial features, single-photo spreads, conceptual photography — and marries them with the format of a textbook* and the investigative-reporting ambitions of The New Yorker. The story about Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec which we’ve excerpted here, for example, fills 22 pages of the new issue and runs to nearly 3,000 words; it’s accompanied by images captured over two full days the photographer spent with the brothers, one in their studio and one at the Centre Pompidou-Metz, where they were installing their latest retrospective, “Bivouac.” And articles on Martin Szekely, Azzedine Alaïa, and Issey Miyake’s Yoshiyuki Miyamae are set either over lunch, or in the subject’s living room. The focus, says Agerman Ross, is on proper storytelling. “The people behind the project, the process of making something, even the process of the writer finding out about the story — that’s all part of it,” she says. “It’s the new journalism.” Obviously, we couldn’t agree more.
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The biggest part of the fair took place at the former gas power plant recently re-christened as 751 D-Park. Next to the city's once-hip 798 arts district, it's dedicated to fostering Beijing's design industry. The wood was part of a larger installation by students from Tsinghua University and the Swiss school EPFL, who went through 600 pallets and 11,500 feet of rope.

At Beijing Design Week

When you live all the way around the globe, visiting China for the first time for any reason — even for work, even for an international design fair, even to a sprawling modern metropolis like Beijing — is going to be mostly about visiting China for the first time. The way the pollution shocks your system, the deliciousness of the food: These are the kinds of experiences you begin eagerly tracking the moment you leave the airport. It's no wonder, then, that I enjoyed Beijing Design Week so much — almost all of the work, whether international or Chinese in origin, was presented in ways that made you feel like you couldn't have been anywhere else.
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Misaki Kawai, Artist

Misaki Kawai's work is insane. In a good way. When Sweden's LOYAL gallery sent us these images from her new solo show, "Wet Shiny Surprise," we were taken with their use of geometry and pattern — not to mention their resemblance to Memphis design — but we had no idea the Japanese-born, New York–based artist also made paintings of weightlifting robots, surfing octopuses, and people pooping in the woods. What unites all of Kawai's art, from the beautiful to the bizarre, is her talent for blending childlike imagery with absurdist humor, a quality she suspects might have something to do with spending her childhood in Osaka, the center of Japan's comedy scene. But to the extent that her pieces seem like windows onto a strange and addictive parallel world, she gets most of her inspiration from navigating this one: After a post-graduate trip to Turkey, Nepal, and Thailand left her "greatly influenced by handmade dolls, textiles, and low-quality manufactured objects," Kawai began traveling regularly, collecting both physical and experiential scraps and incorporating them into her paintings and sculptures. When we interviewed her for this story, she had just finished opening the show at LOYAL and had moved on to Beijing and Mongolia, where she was riding camels and investigating the local dress. What she'll do with that fodder, we can only imagine.
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At the London Design Festival, Via Dan Rubinstein of Surface

We at Sight Unseen are very busy people. We have babies to nurse (congratulations, Jill!), articles to write for other publications, subjects to spend hours and hours interviewing for this publication, and designers to hassle about finishing their submissions for our still top-secret online shop, set to launch in a little over a month (trust us, it's going to be good). Thus, we sometimes don't have the chance to attend events like the London Design Festival, even as we cringe with regret watching invitations roll in for Established & Sons and Phillips de Pury dinners, friends' exhibition openings, and dozens more chances to take the pulse of one of our favorite local design scenes. When that happens, we reach out to folks we trust and ask them to report back on whatever highs, lows, and drunken blurs they may have witnessed on the ground. Here, Dan Rubinstein, the intrepid editor of Surface magazine — both Jill and I are contributing editors — shares some of the details and moments he was privy to during last week's LDF, which he somehow managed to take time out of his own busy schedule to attend. As for us, you know what they say: There's always next year.
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A rack full of Dries van Noten clothing waiting to be registered into MoMu’s digital cataloging system, which keeps track of the nearly 5,000 contemporary and 20,000 historical pieces in the museum’s collection. MoMu was originally based on the contents of a former textile museum in Vrieselhof, Belgium; when Antwerp inherited those items, it decided to parlay them into a fashion museum in 2001. “We retained everything from the old textile museum,” says Wim Mertens, a curator at the museum who specializes in historical dress. “We have floral tapestries which have nothing to do with a fashion museum, but it's an inheritance, and also napkins, tablecloths, bedspreads — you name it in textiles, and we have it.”

Antwerp’s Mode Museum

If Antwerp’s Mode Museum (MoMu) is desperately seeking a second storage space for its growing permanent collection, at least part of the blame falls on Bernard Willhelm. He may donate his designs each season alongside the likes of Dries van Noten, Martin Margiela, and his onetime mentor Walter van Beirendonck, but inside the museum’s existing archive rooms — which Sight Unseen had the exclusive privilege of touring earlier this year — it’s Willhelm who clearly holds the record for overflowing racks. In fact, MoMu’s curation team rarely turns down a donation from a legitimate source, whether for the historical collection it originally inherited from an old provincial textile museum or for its cache of contemporary fashions by talents born or educated in Antwerp, but Willhelm’s contributions are so generous that the day we visited, there were clothes waiting to be graciously returned to his showroom. It’s not difficult to understand the designer’s enthusiasm, though, or that of his peers: The MoMu’s prestige in Europe far exceeds its diminutive size, and since it opened a decade ago, it’s become the largest repository in the world for contemporary Belgian fashion.
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Irene Alvarez, Artist

Antwerp’s Irene Alvarez was a sculptor and recent Royal Academy art grad when she got the call from the cult concept shop Ra — the city’s version of Opening Ceremony — asking her to design a custom installation. But it was the far less glamorous moment that came next that has since marked a pivotal moment in her nascent career: She discovered the Netherlands' Textile Museum Tilburg, which is not only a museum but also an experimental production lab where creatives can apply for technical assistance on machines capable of knitting, embroidering, lasering, printing, tufting, dyeing, and weaving almost anything the mind can conceive. Despite having no previous experience with textiles, she collaborated with the museum on the half-woven Inti Altar sculpture that’s held court on Ra’s second floor for the last two years, and she’s been addicted to the furry medium ever since. Today marks the opening of her first solo show, at Belgium’s other hallowed retail emporium, Hunting and Collecting, and it demonstrates just how far Alvarez has come in her obsession with knits — it contains no traditional sculpture at all, only a textile teepee (above), a line of t-shirts, and a series of three tapestries woven with a psychedelic clash of pop-culture icons and op-art patterning. Sight Unseen recently spoke with the artist about her work with the museum and the ethnic influences behind her imagery.
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With Matylda Krzykowski, Designer and Curator of The Clash Project

By now we're used to furniture designers making art, artists making furniture, and every possible variation along that spectrum. But in 2009, when three of her friends started the Fashion Clash festival in her hometown of Maastricht, the Netherlands, designer and blogger Matylda Krzykowski was convinced her colleagues outside the fashion industry might have something to contribute. She rounded up 10 furniture, textile, and graphic designers and asked them to modify their work for the catwalk — in most cases having no idea what they would come up with until the final "outfit" was delivered to her door. The first year, artist Tanja Ritterbex donned a glittery pink Barbie dress and asked to be rolled down the catwalk while she waved at the audience like Queen Elizabeth. The second year, a designer-artist couple from London created a massive, wearable Tyvek tote bag and requested it be modeled by an old man. And for the 2011 show, presented last weekend, one of the designers encased her model in a mountainous wooden cake, with only her head poking out at the summit — in other words, nothing you wouldn't expect to see at an actual fashion show. We asked Krzykowski to tell us a little bit more about the project and about five selections from this year's collection which are shown here, alongside the participant's usual work.
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Substitutes at Berlin-Weekly

Peer through the window of the narrow, unassuming storefront space at 160 Linienstrasse in Berlin this week — which, like Maurizio Cattelan's once perpetually shuttered Wrong Gallery, allows for little more than such a glance — and you may feel perplexed at the seemingly disparate objects scattered about its plinths. Toasters, ash trays, broomsticks, plastic spiders: not your typical fare for a gallery like Berlin-Weekly, which normally invites one artist or designer per week to create an elaborate installation piece behind its locked doors for the enjoyment of passersby. During this year's Berlin Design Week, however, owner and curator Stefanie Seidl decided to shift the proposition a bit, partnering with designer Fabian Baumann to ask 40 creatives for two personal objects exploring the theme of "Substitutes"; say, a rolled-up magazine when no fly-swatter is handy, or a spider in lieu of coffee (read on to figure out what we mean by that one). The results will be visible in the Berlin-Weekly space from June 1 to 28, but you can see a portion of its contents in the excerpt below.
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