Welcome to So Courant!, deputy editor Sean Santiago’s column spotlighting emerging makers, the newest launches, and the latest design destinations in the world of ELLE DECOR.
(Above, from left to right: EWE Studio, Hollie Bowden [foreground], and Frida Escobedo at the MASA exhibition.)
Before descending to the subterranean MASA show at Rockefeller Center, “Intervención/Intersección,” I found myself inadvertently camped out among tourists nested on site-agnostic EWE Studio stone benches, taking selfies and a break from the heat. The benches were part of the show, and the show was one of many off-site activations for last week’s 10th annual edition of New York Design Week.
As I waited for a friend to show up, I contemplated the sculptural seating and if this kind of interaction was reductive or ultimately democratic. Did the tourists understand the works as art, or did they take them for granted, maybe assuming they were always there? How would a tourist know, anyway? And did it matter, if they got the chance to rest their feet?
These questions felt apropos for an exhibition described as a “recombinatory canon” that took as its mission nothing less than dismantling our notions of the monumental, bringing together contemporary and historical works from Mexican and Mexico-based artists in an abandoned post office. Curator Su Wu executed the installation with care and compassion, and the works—from a chain-link bench by the architect Frida Escobedo to erotic drawings by the artist Adolfo Riestra—could feel revelatory in their idiosyncrasy, so deeply situated in a sense of time and place that it was quietly thrilling to witness them conjoined, conversing, and, dare I say, “recombinated.”
But this wouldn’t be the first time the vacancies of the city itself, the disuse of so much square footage in the wake of Covid-19, lingered eerily at the fringes of every poignant tableau. What does it mean to activate a decommissioned post office when the U.S. Postal Service has to be legislated to solvency? I consistently struggled with the lived “New York” in “New York Design Week.” With so many showrooms, galleries, and appointment-only spaces, requesting a price list at each one could leave you in a Bal Harbour–inflected fugue state. How much can a dining table cost, Michael? Ten thousand dollars?
This might be more of a complicated thing than a necessarily bad thing—or maybe it’s just life in New York. Oftentimes at events, I wound up in conversation with peers wondering who the audience for one work or another was presumed to be, or supposed to be. We appreciate it, we share it, and if we are lucky, for some fleeting moments we live with it. The Apparatus party, Mums, christened the studio’s new Act IV collection with three days of in-office jazz. The pieces—all of which evince, as ever, a commitment to beauty, craft, and imagination—drew direct inspiration from the “cultural touchstones and scientific innovations” of the 1960s.
At Love House, the San Antonio-based artist Sunshine Thacker debuted her first upholstered furniture, in conversation with pieces from her established ceramics practice, also drawn partly from “nostalgia for the Space Age.” And the designer Kouros Maghsoudi installed Go-Go Age at the Public Hotel, a collection divined from "the attitudes of the Space Age design movement" made contemporary in execution with recycled aluminum and corn plastic. I couldn’t stop an Anthropocenic monologue in my head—what does it mean to hark back to an era of space exploration when Elon Musk is trying to colonize Mars? (To clarify, none of these shows were actually in response or reaction to the current state of proposed interplanetary domination by billionaires.)
I found the past was present for many other makers throughout the week. Dana Arbib for Tiwa Select at Galerie Michael Bargo and Sophie Lou Jacobsen at Assembly Line each showed collections of glass vessels that explored legacies of process and place, produced by master glassblowers. Tariq Dixon’s TRNK mined the tension between industrialization and craft with Earthen Luminaries, a collection of stoneware and porcelain lamps that seemed at once culled from some Martian mine shaft (et tu, Elon?) and deeply, appreciably human.
Ben & Aja Blanc created works that similarly contemplated modernity and materiality. Their show at the Future Perfect, “Kingdom for a Horse,” was as witty as it was exacting, the result of hours and hours of manual labor (Aja herself ended up the only person able to weave the delicate horsehair used throughout) and years of technical refinement and collaborative finesse.
On the flip side, the L.A.-based curatorial platform Sized presented “Industrialism,” an immersive showcase for art and design that proposed the question: At a time when it is especially fraught to acquire the necessities for production, how does our relationship to what we can access shift? This was most successfully and succinctly expounded upon by the designer and former Hood By Air collaborator Rich Aybar, whose rubber and construction debris lamps were shown discretely in a white-walled room. (The rest of the site had been painted black.) The work was grotesquely beautiful and perversely hopeful—a startling melding of cyberpunk and craft influences that felt at once precarious and totemic.
It is exciting, as ever, to see the ingenuity of the design industry on display, thoughtfully woven throughout the fabric of the city itself. As we all continue to analyze our own patterns of ownership and consumption, New York Design Week at its best offers a moment to reflect on what is being made, and by whom, and for what purpose. While it can be hard to situate yourself in the present moment, at least we know that we are all in this together. Unless, of course, you’re headed for Mars.