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Sight Unseen and HTC: A New York Design Tour

As you may have noticed, Sight Unseen isn’t just a web magazine: Considering all the time we’ve spent getting up close and personal with designers, we’ve become intimately involved in the design scene over the years — particularly on our home turf. What that means is that we’re frequently asked to bring the Sight Unseen experience to life for other brands and institutions, like with the pop-up shop we curated for Creatures of Comfort, the book launch we hosted with Rizzoli, and the panels we’ve led for the likes of DWR and the Museum of Arts & Design. Last month, we were approached by the London tour agency Urban Gentry with a new kind of proposal: to craft an insider’s journey through the New York design world for a group of international journalists, in town for the launch of HTC’s new 8X and 8S phones. After a bit of brainstorming and a flurry of phone calls, we managed to line up a two-day itinerary that would make any design lover swoon. Read on to follow our trek from the now-private Johnson Trading Gallery showroom in Queens to the Noho headquarters of Roman & Williams, and beyond.
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The back office’s showpiece is the large plywood-covered wall pictured here, which Grajales put up a decade ago when she first moved in, and which forms the backdrop for the bulk of her art collection — from the Nan Golden photo in the center to works by Ross Bleckner, Pierre Molinier, and Tom Sachs. “It’s a funny story,” she says. “I wanted to use the cheapest wood I could find, but the lumber guy sent me beautiful plywood sheets, to do something nice for me. I returned them and said I don’t want your perfect plywood! I wanted the ones with character. I wanted to see the knots, and the grain of the wood.”

Cristina Grajales Gallery

At the Armory Show this past November, Cristina Grajales had an original Jean Royère Polar Bear sofa in her booth, which sold for “half a million in minutes,” she recalls. Grajales has had plenty of experience dealing in 20th-century masterpieces like these — both in her decade-long stint directing 1950 for Delorenzo and at the helm of her 12-year-old eponymous gallery in Soho — and yet her own most cherished piece isn’t some icon of modernism at all. It’s not even a design object, but a 19th-century Naga warrior costume she bought at the Tribal Art Fair, and as a mainstay of the large office and presentation room she keeps behind her gallery, only her clients and artists ever get to see it. Of course it’s they, if any, who understand Grajales’s working methods best; they come to her precisely because she looks at objects “as sculptures, for what they are,” and says she’s “not afraid to put together, say, an 18th-century Portuguese table with a contemporary silver tray.” Which is why we figured a privileged peek inside her back room, captured earlier this year by our trusty photographer Mike Vorrasi, might be the ideal way for our readers to get to know her, too.
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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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The Making of Tom Price’s Meltdown Chairs on Tales of the Hunt

Sighted on the new design-art documentary website Tales of the Hunt, a video chronicling the making of Tom Price's Meltdown Series, for which the London talent employs inventive heating methods to transform commonplace objects like PVC pipes, polypropylene rope, and even polyester clothing into dramatic chairs and tables. The site itself is the creation of the precocious young Belgian design-art dealer Victor Hunt, whose interests lie particularly in objects that are created by hand using highly experimental processes; his collection contains not only finished products but prototypes, failures, and abandoned one-offs that further highlight those processes. It was only natural that Hunt would launch a video series dedicated to showing his clients and the design-art world at large the stories behind the works he supports, and likewise that Sight Unseen would want to become a partner in the endeavor. From time to time we'll share with you new videos posted on the site, starting with Price's. Watch it after the jump, then head to Tales from the Hunt to view the other offerings so far, including a behind-the-scenes look at how Maarten de Ceulaer's Balloon Bowls are created.
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"I was surprised by how many people asked if I was planning on showing anything, as I’ve never thought of the trade fair as platform for international galleries," says Sellers, whose most recent show, pictured above and featuring a series by Dick van Hoff, stretched across both London Design Week and the Frieze Art Fair, affording her crucial access to collectors. "But this year there were noticeable challenges to that convention, with more galleries springing up in new areas like Lambrate and international dealers using the Salone to give further air time to their stable of designers. Given that the entire city gives itself over to one great big pop-up event, perhaps I could reconsider."

Libby Sellers, Design Gallerist

Had you peeked into London gallerist Libby Sellers's diary for the week of the Milan Furniture Fair earlier this month, you would have seen all the requisite stops on the circuit: Rossana Orlandi one afternoon, Lambrate and Tortona the next, plus a stop at Satellite and a time out for breakfast at the Four Seasons with Alice Rawsthorn, her former boss. There was time made for shopping — Sellers is a self-admitted clothes horse, having transformed most of her London apartment into a walk-in closet — and for a visit to the 10 Corso Como gallery and bookstore. But despite what you'd expect from one of the world's most respected supporters of emerging design, who for the past two years has commissioned work from and produced pop-up exhibitions with talents like Max Lamb and Julia Lohmann, Sellers did not walk away from the fair with an arsenal of new relationships to pursue. Her scouting is done before she even gets there, in graduate degree shows and over the internet, so that in Milan — unlike the rest of us — she gets to relax and enjoy the show.
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