New York Dispatch / June 2022
Diverse work to entice dreamers and collectors – from Misha Kahn at Friedman Benda, to rising talents REM Atelier and Pierre Castignola at Objective Gallery.
Friedman Benda Gallery: ‘Misha Kahn: Style Without Substance’
Until 1st July
Matter Projects: ‘MyoungAe Lee in conversation with Minjae Kim’
Until 29th July
Emma Scully Gallery: ‘Anti Chairs’
Until 1st July
Objective Gallery: ‘Self Made’
Until 12th August
WITH MUCH OF the hurried pace of spring easing off, as the baton passes to major art and design events in Europe, New York is settling into a particularly tranquil yet balmy summer. Setting the tone for the season is a selection of well-curated, thought-provoking gallery exhibitions that can be experienced in depth and enjoyed without the pressure to see and do a million other things.
These recently opened solo, duo and group shows together showcase design that offers visitors highly contrasting insights into the exploration of form as a means of self-expression, the mastery of certain unconventional materials and bespoke processes, and the clever reappraisal of specific archetypes.
Friedman Benda Gallery: Misha Kahn: Style Without Substance
In a recent Instagram post about Misha Kahn, noted curator and writer Glenn Adamson remarked: “It’s been fascinating to watch him over the past few years, as he’s gone from DIY bricolage to sophisticated techniques both digital and analogue.” A new solo show at Friedman Benda highlights this evolution. Far more contained than past exhibitions dedicated to the Brooklyn-based maverick and his influential practice, ‘Style Without Substance’ incorporates a diverse yet somehow connected selection of new pieces that seamlessly blend the worlds of bespoke craft and digital fabrication.
The designer’s unabashed approach to amorphous form-making and three-dimensional collage remains evident in works created using the latest 3D-printing technology, virtual reality, artificial reality, precision upholstery and aluminium casting. The coalescing of these disparate techniques is entirely futuristic, yet Kahn is adamant that these almost psychedelic creations don’t need to be rooted in heavy conceptual thinking. For him, these designs are portals into his reflections and self-expressions. Rather than focus on recognisable object typologies, he is more concerned with the inherent value of material, shape and techniques.
Throughout the exhibition, cast glass takes on gel-like quality. At the same time, chromed ceramics and stainless steel appear malleable. As Kahn puts it: “There should be a term for material trickery, when you expect a different touch to what it actually is.”
Matter Projects: MyoungAe Lee in conversation with Minjae Kim
“I spent my childhood surrounded by her paintings – I was taught by her how to see and draw and watched her agonise for days over the same surface to get it right,” Brooklyn-based up-and-comer Minjae Kim reflects, considering the influence of his mother’s artistic career on his own design practice. “The influence of her work on mine was always clear, but I was curious if I could actually tap into that somehow.” A new show at Matter Projects does the revelatory job of placing new works by mother and son side by side.
Kim’s emphatically expressive yet restrained furnishings take on a haptic quality, showcasing the plasticity of fibreglass, textile and solid wood. Evoking personal relationships but also exploring shape, new pieces like ‘Plaster Floor Lamp’, ‘Writing Desk’, ‘Shaped Fiberglass Chair II’ and ‘Upholstered Armoire’ have a painterly quality, in that the designer has left the human imprint of making exposed – the gestured brushstroke, if you will. The juxtaposition of seemingly archaic constructions of massed material with textured appendages reveals a deft understanding of composition.
A similar sensibility can be detected in his mother MyoungAe Lee’s abstract and patterned painting. Viscerality is explored in two-dimensional shapes and reliefs. The works, in various sizes, abut the furnishings in a cohesive interplay that makes the parallels between parent and child surprisingly evident.
Emma Scully Gallery: Anti Chairs
It’s often said that there are too many chair designs out there, but all that this expression proves is that there are few iterations that truly break the mould. A new exhibition at Emma Scully Gallery on the Upper East Side seeks to challenge this perception by questioning certain societal norms. A select, intergenerational group of designers – Justin Donnelly and Monling Lee of Jumbo, Bradley L. Bowers, Illana Harris-Babou, Chris Wolston, Ellen Pong and Louis Bressolles (formerly of the OrtaMiklos studio) – were commissioned to create their own interpretations of what an anti chair might be. The results include everything from a bent steel street barricade – like those used for crowd control during protests – to collages that riff on the products featured in standard furniture catalogues. The typologies on view extend far beyond the traditional settee as these six distinct stand-alone works and series are strikingly staged together in front of the gallery’s historic wood-panelled walls.
The provocative perspective draws its influence from the Museum of Modern Art’s seminal 1972 exhibition ‘The New Domestic Landscape’, in which the many movements of postmodern Radical Italian design were brought together for the first time. What was revealed was an overall push to change social, political and cultural behaviour by questioning the function of everyday design objects and spaces. These works take a similarly satirical stance, poking fun at as much as tackling the serious issues of the day.
“Design is the planned form of material culture, a physical expression – but can this be backwards-engineered?” asks gallery principal Emma Scully. “If so, design can become less about solving a problem of physical provision [in the present] and instead answer the questions around how we want to live [in the future].”
Objective Gallery: Self Made
By presenting in juxtaposition new works by Pierre Castagnola, James Shaw, Rem Atelier, Tim Teven, Brecht Wright Gander and Brent Warr, New York newcomer platform Objective Gallery creates a dynamic picture of these recognised talents’ self-determination. Their often alchemical transformation of standard material into otherworldly objects is representative of an intrepid approach that has re-emerged as a driving force in collectible design over the past few years. Translating abstract concepts into physical form, these designers rely on bespoke processes and thinking that is not dictated by common standards or trends.
This new exhibition, mounted at the recently opened outpost of the Shanghai-based gallery, captures the moment by taking a closer look at these six practices. “The works on display enable us to peel back the layers of creativity and craftsmanship behind their remarkable works, offering [to view] the pride of making and the power of autonomy as an artist,” says gallery co-principal Chris Shao. “Each work reflects an uncompromising selection of materials, tools and techniques.” Tying together the eclectic array of designs is a sense of craftsmanship, sincerity, integrity and mutual respect.