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Reviews

An Accelerated Culture

A show of ‘Generation X’ designers highlights their originality and self-expressive energy.

Friedman Benda, New York
3rd May – 8th June 2019

By Judith Gura / 6th June 2019

FOR THE PROVOCATIVE new exhibition at Friedman Benda gallery in New York, guest curators Libby Sellers and Brent Dzekciorius studied the designs of Generation X, the Baby-Boomer successors born between the 1960s and the 1980s, and drew some interesting conclusions. Contradicting the stereotype of apathetic and cynical “slackers” depicted in Douglas Coupland’s 1991 book, “Generation X: Tales for An Accelerated Culture” (which gave the exhibition its name), they found a cohort of enthusiastic, entrepreneurial designers who challenged established practice with work that is innovative, provocative, and refreshingly varied. Proving their point, the exhibition, ‘An Accelerated Culture’, presents 52 dynamic, expressive designs of furniture and objects that have nothing in common except originality.

Installation view, ‘Accelerated Culture’ exhibition COURTESY: Friedman Benda / PHOTOGRAPH: Timothy Doyon

Installation view, ‘Accelerated Culture’ exhibition
COURTESY: Friedman Benda / PHOTOGRAPH: Timothy Doyon

According to the curators, they found the Generation X designers to be fiercely independent and open to new ideas — a view shared by recent sociological studies that reject the negative stereotype. Instead, the group was shaped by the world around them: an unstable economy that encouraged resourcefulness, and advanced digital technology that led them to explore new means of fabrication. The works in the exhibition illustrate the diversity of materials, techniques and approaches of designers who, like their creations, resist easy classification.

Installation view, ‘Accelerated Culture’ exhibition COURTESY: Friedman Benda / PHOTOGRAPH: Timothy Doyon

Joris Laarman, ‘Bone Chair’, 2006 (foreground); Nacho Carbonell, ‘Evolution One Man Chair’, 2008 (midground); Bertjan Pot masks, 2016-2019 (background)
COURTESY: Friedman Benda / PHOTOGRAPH: Timothy Doyon

Two dozen individuals are represented; 20 studios or partnerships from eight countries. One third are Dutch, reflecting the influence of Design Academy Eindhoven as a training-ground, and several are alumni of London’s prestigious Royal College of Art. Marquee names like Studio Job (Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagel) , Joris Laarman and Maarten Baas are represented, along with Aldo Bakker, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Nacho Carbonell, Matali Crasset, Martino Gamper, Konstantin Grcic, Max Lamb, Julia Lohmann, Raw Edges (Yael Mer and Shay Alkalay), and Studio Wieki Somers (Wieki Somers and Dylan van den Berg).

Installation view, ‘Accelerated Culture’ exhibition COURTESY: Friedman Benda / PHOTOGRAPH: Timothy Doyon

Tord Boontje, ‘Rough and Ready’, 2004 (foreground); Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, ‘Triple Black Light’, 2008 (above); Tord Boonjte, ‘Perforated metal table, large, red,’ 2001 (midground); Joris Laarman, ‘”Heatwave” Radiator’, 2003 (background)
COURTESY: Friedman Benda / PHOTOGRAPH: Timothy Doyon

All of the objects were unique or limited editions, made within the past two decades. They can be challenging, like Michael Anastassiades’ mushroom-cloud-shaped toy; provocative, like Paul Cocksedge’s table of rolled steel; deftly balanced on one edge; elegant, like Tord Boontje’s floral-etched stainless-steel table; or witty, like Bertjan Pot’s sewing-machine-made masks of rope and yarn; but most prioritise concept or technique over eye appeal. Several are well-known to design followers: Joris Laarman’s aluminium ‘Bone Chair’ (2006), Studio Job’s gilded bronze ‘Robber Baron’ armoire (2007), Nendo’s white ‘Cabbage Chair’ (2006), and Maarten Baas’ ‘Where There’s Smoke ZigZag chair’ (2004). A graphic mural by Studio Frith provides historical context, inserting the designers’ names into a random arrangement of events and people evoking Generation X’s formative years (Tianamen Square, Hubble Telescope, Nelson Mandela, John Galliano, etc.)

Raw-Edges, ‘Endgrain Bench’, 2015; Aldo Bakker, ‘Tonus “Fume”’ COURTESY: Friedman Benda / PHOTOGRAPH: Timothy Doyon

Raw-Edges, ‘Endgrain Bench’, 2015; Aldo Bakker, ‘Tonus “Fume”’
COURTESY: Friedman Benda / PHOTOGRAPH: Timothy Doyon

Asked what all the designers in the exhibition have in common, Libby Sellers instantly replies, “Energy.” Not in terms of rebelliousness, she explains: “It’s the idea that ‘I need to do something to express myself, and how do I do it through design?” Viewing the exhibition, a visitor will conclude that self-expression is precisely what these Generation X designers have done, and done well.

Friedman Benda – presenting an international, multi-generational roster of established and emerging designers.

Article By

Judith Gura
Judith Gura is a New York-based writer and lecturer with a special focus on contemporary design. She has been covering the design market for the past two decades, and has published a number of books on modern design, furniture and interiors.