Olek and Todd Merrill Custom Originals, “Swivel Thrones: #You, #Ribcage, #Regret, #Risk” (2015) in the Todd Merrill Studio Contemporary booth at Collective Design
Parsing the Collective Design Fair’s Peculiar Objects
by Benjamin Sutton | May 14, 2015
Visiting Collective Design amid all of Frieze Week‘s art fairs is doubly refreshing: it’s an unabashed celebration of beautiful objects and you can touch (almost) all of them. With 29 exhibitors and about 20 pop-ups and special exhibitions — including a number of functioning temporary studios — the fair covers three large halls and several auxiliary areas at Skylight Clarkson Sq, a raw, Hudson-adjacent warehouse just below Houston Street on Manhattan’s far west side. The mix of showroom-style displays offering up pristine objects and areas given over to makers is a winning combination.
A few exhibitors make the best of the parking lot chic aesthetic, like the Noguchi Museum, whose site-specific installation of Isamu Noguchi sculptures in a loading dock is surprisingly solemn and meditative, the low lighting and utilitarian building materials complementing the works’ rough-hewn surfaces. Tribeca’s Patrick Parrish Gallery has given over its booth to artist Cody Hoyt, who will be making his patterned, trapezoidal ceramic vessels on-site throughout the fair in a pop-up studio. The American Design Club invited artist Liz Collins to present “KNITTING NATION,” her roving textile studio performance and collaboration. In one of the venue’s loft-like mezzanines, white-clad workers are weaving thick and colorful bands of fabric into delightful rug-blanket-tapestries. And near the entrance to the fair, a special presentation of Dana Barnes Studio‘s “Endolith Casts” (2015) — rectilinear blocks of cement poured over bundles of thickly woven exotic textiles whose knots of green and yellow protrude like mold or moss — is ideally sited. The sculptures’ smooth concrete shells match the building’s poured concrete floors perfectly, as if the artworks themselves were some kind of natural outcropping.
The lion’s share of Collective Design exhibitors, however, have gone the showroom route, making for some extremely disjointed booths where oddball handcrafted objects sit beside sleek modern furniture, colorful avant-garde lights, found-object jewelry, and the occasional pre-modern artifact. Among the stainless steel coffee tables and unwieldy floor lamps, you’ll find gems like ornate animal vessels by Ardmore Ceramic Art (at R & Company), Catherine Raben Davidsen‘s terrifying ceramic face jug (at Vance Trimble), and Nucleo‘s “Souvenir of the Last Century” (2015), a stool made out of an old wooden stool encased in clear resin (at Ammann Gallery).
In this context, the exhibitors who specialize in one type or style of object stand out with their comparatively cohesive presentations, foremost among them Paris-Chicago gallery LMD/studio. If you’re furnishing a Brooklyn pied-à-terre for an aggressively hip vampire, you’ll find everything you need among their all-black, gold-accented wood, steel, and leather goods. Looking for faux-medieval sconces topped with flame-like chunks of quartz? You’re in luck! In the market for big game antlers or a sculpture of a human skull? LMD/studio has both, in one object (by Rick Owens), painted all-black. At the completely opposite end of the goth-pixie spectrum, New York’s kinder MODERN, which specializes in furniture for children, is showing objects inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphs (by Material Lust), a desk in the shape of a giant yellow chicken (by Guillaumit), and stools with tiny antlers (by Elements Optimal) in its royal blue booth. Though the objects range vastly in shape, style, and palette, the prevailing kid-friendly proportions and forms make for an agreeably unified presentation. Amid Collective Design’s rewardingly eclectic offerings, such moments of aesthetic coherence are welcome.