Guest curators Pembrooke and Ives unpack the archive at R & Company.
26th June – 22nd August
R & Company, 64 White Street, New York
FOR THE LATEST in their annual series of exhibitions guest-curated by designers or architects, R & Company invited design firm Pembrooke and Ives to create a presentation in the firm’s gallery in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighbourhood. The result, which opened on the 26th of June, is ‘Uncrated’, an exhibition that evokes the process of designing an interior: from finding furniture and objects; unpacking and unwrapping them; to then finally assembling them into a cohesive finished space.
‘Uncrated’ is the first curatorial project for Pembrooke and Ives, a residential-design firm with offices in Los Angeles and New York, but that wasn’t the biggest challenge for the designers. “The hardest thing,” explains communications director Alexia Sheinman, “was coming up with a concept we felt comfortable with.”
According to Pembrooke and Ives design director Nathan Thomas, who put together the exhibition with designer Letesha Brown, the concept came with their first visit to R & Company’s facility in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where the 20-year-old firm recently consolidated its warehouse, restoration workshop and photography studio. They encountered a profusion of treasures, many of which had never been shown in the gallery, spread out and stacked up in the 8,000-square-foot space. R & Company principal Evan Snyderman remembers, “They found things we didn’t remember we had.”
Inspired by the industrial feel of the space, and by the idea of going behind the scenes of the gallery’s collections, Thomas and Brown decided to recreate that experience in their design for the exhibition. ‘Uncrated’ seemed an appropriate name to make the point. “There are few things more entertaining than raiding someone’s closet to see what treasures emerge,” says Thomas. Having found a theme, Sheinman adds, “We just ran with it.” Their well-chosen theme allowed the designers to include objects with nothing in common except individuality and design merit. “We picked pieces that we would want to use for our clients,” Thomas explains. The objects they chose, more than 100 of them, are exceptionally varied – ranging from 1950s furniture made in Brazil and Denmark, to avant-garde contemporary pieces from America, France and Africa – and are made from a variety of materials from natural wood to metal, ceramic, glass, plastics and fibre.
‘Uncrated’ begins at the gallery’s street-front windows, with bold signage on vinyl strips set diagonally to suggest packing-crate labels. The entry foyer is framed to resemble a crate, with a participatory wall on which visitors are encouraged to emboss their own personal graffiti (etching tools are provided on a handy shelf). From there, the exhibition develops in three stages, progressing from wrapped and crated merchandise to finished dining room. The results are visually appealing, and consistently surprising. An exhibition in which Wendell Castle’s idiosyncratic 1970s plastic furniture can share space with Ole Wanscher’s spare rosewood chairs, Jeff Zimmerman’s elegant hand-blown glass and witty pieces like Serban Ionescu’s colourful tongue-in-cheek steel chairs and Katie Stout’s girly lamps, makes for provocative viewing.
Just past the entrance, three giant shipping crates serve as display platforms and enclosures for groupings of objects like Haas Brothers’s stools and benches, Jeff Zimmerman glass vessels, Rogan Gregory bronzes and animal figures, and Kelly Lamb ceramic objects. Scattered wrappings suggest the process of unpacking objects as they arrive at a client’s home, before they are sorted out and arranged in place.
In the next area, pallet racks were borrowed from the warehouse to hold larger pieces of furniture, like an elegant Brazilian rosewood daybed by Joaquim Tenreiro, curvy upholstered chair by Pierre Yovanovitch and a bright green Wendell Castle plastic light fixture, opposite a wall-hung organic-shaped carpet by David Wiseman. Along the way, the designers have placed ‘design moments’ in the gallery’s glass-walled offices: small objects set on packing crates, and clusters of mirrors are lively punctuation marks on the white walls. The coda to the exhibition is a traffic-stopping dining room setting, starring a monumental Wendell Castle white plastic table, a swooping four-section curve almost 18 feet long, beneath a blobby illuminated sculpture by Rogan Gregory, and a pièce-de-resistance 3,000-pound hand-carved marble fireplace by The Haas Brothers that resembles a friendly open-mouthed animal. In using objects that are both complementary and contrasting, the designers have told their story with considerable flair.
Pembrooke and Ives (there are no such persons) was founded in 1987, and has a staff of around 60 people working out of offices in New York and Los Angeles. Most of the practice is in residential design. The project was put together in relatively record time … just a couple of months, but with a “well-organised team”. The only tense moment, the designers report, was waiting for the last piece to arrive (the marble fireplace) and getting it in the door before the grand opening.
R & Company – represent a distinguished group of 20th and 21st century designers, whose work is among the most innovative and finely crafted of their time.