Seven Standouts From the New York Design Festival
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Seven Standouts From the New York Design Festival

Sep 11, 2023


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Bees, seeds, metal and stone all made appearances for the event that makes the city a design hub.

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By Aileen Kwun

NYCxDesign, a design festival held each May in New York City, wrapped up its 11th edition last week with a strong array of group shows across boroughs — in Soho showrooms, artist studios and backyards in Brooklyn, vacant office spaces in Chinatown and galleries in between.

Though officially billed as a weeklong festival beginning May 19 and anchored by the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) and WantedDesign at the Javits Center, the event circuit seemed to begin in earnest a week before, with a packed roster of adjacent art and design fairs in town — including The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF), Frieze New York and the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA). Below are a few highlights from this year's edition.

Though modern steel furniture and lighting have been around at least since the Machine Age, sleek chrome finishes, polished stainless steel and brushed aluminum surfaces were especially popular across both categories this year.

Jialun Xiong, a rising talent, presented Default, her debut showing at WantedDesign, in a monochrome palette of silvers and grays meant to evoke "walking into a render of a 3-D modeling program," she said. A few stalls down, Simon Johns shared aluminum tables from his foreboding Future Fossils series, which imagines today's designs as future artifacts excavated from stone.

At Sight Unseen's pop-up show at the Voltz Clarke gallery, Kouros Maghsoudi's cylindrical Neo-Lounge seat, made from hand-welded aluminum, nodded to the space age. So did Luft Tanaka's new Tenfold pendant sconces, which were part of a group show he staged in the backyard of the restaurant Chino Grande. The independent, women-run studio Egg Collective released a set of polished stainless steel side tables with wavy silhouettes and small illustrative inlays of snakes and eyes. And the month's most Instagrammed pop-up restaurant, We Are Ona, designed by Crosby Studios, featured confetti-covered floors and a silvery, photogenic table service tailor-made for the metaverse.

If necessity is one mother of invention, constraint is another. "Make-Do," a pop-up exhibition in Chinatown organized by the auction house Catalog Sale and the Los Angeles gallery Marta, offered a tongue-in-cheek paean to improvisation and instinct.

Avi Kovacevich, a "picker" for vintage galleries and a co-founder of Catalog Sale, showed 12 idiosyncratic chairs from his collection — objects made from carpet, car tires and wheelbarrow parts — alongside new commissions from a dozen New York designers, including Minjae Kim and Nifemi Ogunro, who were tasked with creating a new chair in three days.

"The spirit of ‘just try it’ is the most important aspect of this," Mr. Kovacevich said. "The final product is the sketch and the prototype and the adjustments, all at once."

Several design galleries presented solo exhibitions that emphasized the heft and beauty of stone and concrete. In Chelsea, the Friedman Benda gallery presented "Coarse" by Samuel Ross, a British product and fashion designer and founder of the label A-COLD-WALL*, who cut his teeth working for Virgil Abloh. For his new works, Mr. Ross glazed and embalmed stone surfaces with turmeric and honey in a ritual gesture and joined them with contrasting accents of industrial materials colored in bright neon hues.

At Carpenters Workshop Gallery, Wonmin Park, a South Korean designer, presented a new collection that joined precise planes of steel with raw, sculpted hunks of stone. And a highlight at Rafael Prieto's debut solo show, "Together Over Time," at Emma Scully Gallery, was a lighting sculpture that joined a lantern and a stone with knotted rope. At a Soho pop-up, Arielle Assouline-Lichten showed her growing body of furniture and lighting made from found pieces of stone slabs, highlighting irregularities and surprising translucent qualities.

Where do you draw the line between an original and a fake?

At the design co-op and gallery Colony, on Canal Street, the founder, Jean Lin, turned the industry bugbear of counterfeits on its head by instructing members to find inspiration from existing designs for "The Knockoff Show." In a visual game of telephone, Bec Brittain lifted a few details from Lindsey Adelman, a fellow lighting designer and former employer. ("A sanctioned copy," Ms. Lin joked.) The most Instagram-famous piece of the group, by Ben Erickson, presented a replica of the tubular 1984 Ekstrem chair, cheekily remade with sewer pipe parts finished in chrome-mirror enamel.

Dealing with knockoffs is a tough reality for every designer, Ms. Lin said. But turning a point of frustration into one of creativity "can change the narrative a bit and also talk about the fact that nothing exists in a vacuum."

At the 3.1 Phillip Lim flagship showroom, Andrea Hill, owner of Tortuga Forma, and Lora Appleton, founder of Kinder Modern and the Female Design Council, teamed with the Asian American Pacific Islander Design Alliance to present "Upon Further Reflection," an exhibition featuring works by 20 female-identifying Asian designers and artists based in the U.S.

"All of us within the community have been rethinking our personal journeys to becoming who we are," said Ms. Hill, who is first-generation Chinese American. She described that journey as "painful, fascinating, important work." Standout works — including by the ceramist Jane Yang-D’Haene, the textile artist Windy Chien and the design studio Soft-Geometry — turned that act of self-reflection into a joyful celebration of diverse perspectives and talents.

Some of the most memorable handcrafted works also had a story to tell.

For her new series of coral-inspired glassware with La Romaine Editions, Sophie Lou Jacobsen, a French American designer, employed the rustic "bullicante" method, which creates bubbles in the glass for a watery effect. And at the Future Perfect showroom in the West Village, Chris Wolston, a Colombia-based artist, drew upon the beauty and symbolism of local plant life with "Flower Power," a new set of terra cotta chairs and lamps accented with little bronze ants, bees and other critters. At Sight Unseen, the South Korean designer Sohyun Yun's Tone side tables featured translucent acrylic panels hand-dyed in a palette inspired by traditional hanbok fabrics.

The itinerant Loewe Foundation Craft Prize exhibition, hosted this year by the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, featured stunning, one-of-a-kind work by 30 finalists, including Liam Lee and this year's winner, Eriko Inazaki.

Bee habitats, rain water collectors, a seed library and a community fridge were among the 35 projects featured in the thoughtful exhibition "Public Access," curated by Jean Lee, a designer, at the Head Hi bookshop and the Naval Cemetery Landscape, an oasis of public green space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Ms. Lee, who put out a global open call for public installations that provoke an act of sharing, said she began planning the show during the coronavirus pandemic, at a time when she felt "the need to connect, but also care for one another." A manifesto for the show espoused values including "authorship over ownership," "diversity over homogenization" and "sharing over commoditizing." In a welcome counterpoint to the private luxuries shaping much of the week, nothing was for sale — all of the featured designs are open-source and available online.


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