In the Mix
Let’s Make a Deal
In the world of collectible design, four galleries push boundaries, develop talent, and fuel the world of great connoisseurship
Well before the upheavals of recent years, top galleries of collectible design were evolving, adapting to a digitally oriented, interconnected world in which boundaries between creative disciplines have dissolved. Both makers and collectors have grown more diverse. The winds of change have only intensified, with galleries prioritizing a broader range of creative voices, while finding new ways to connect with audiences through online exhibitions and studio visits, as well as interactive social media programs, pop-ups, and other initiatives. As in-person fairs return this fall and winter—including Design Miami/ this December—uncertainty prevails. These four top galleries are carving out their own enterprising and nimble paths.
The Pioneers: AGO PROJECTS
When former Design Miami / director Rodman Primack and his partner, Rudy Weissenberg, relocated to Mexico City two and a half years ago, it was about wanting to tap into the country’s vibrant ecosystem of artists and makers. Together they launched AGO Projects in a space designed by their friend and sometime collaborator, Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao. The gallery represents a mix of local talents like Fabien Cappello, Daniel Valero, and Pedro Reyes alongside well-known international designers such as David Wiseman and Adam Silverman.
“Our intention is to work with designers in the region to broaden their markets and create opportunities for them, both in Mexico and internationally,” says Primack, who also uses the gallery as a local base for his interior design firm, RP Miller. “At the same time, we want to provide a platform for designers from elsewhere to show their work in Mexico and connect with local craftspeople and artisans, because there’s such incredible handicraft here.”
AGO Projects had barely been open half a year when Covid struck. So last summer, with travel restricted and design fairs on pause, Primack and Weissenberg decided to do a pop-up gallery in Aspen for several weeks—only they wound up staying for nearly nine months.
Back in Mexico City, Primack says they began seeing more European clients visiting in the spring, with Americans following right behind. For Design Miami/, Primack says the gallery is turning its booth over to Cappello, who is known for eye-catching, often playful furnishings and objects that are deeply rooted in materials, process, and place. Cappello recently moved his studio from Mexico City to Guadalajara, Primack says, “so that he could be close to different fabricators and makers there. Exploring some of those traditions is the basis for the show.” Fairs are key for AGO, as the bulk of sales are to international clients. But Primack says interest in Mexico is growing, adding, “It’s kind of a slow burn.”
The Scholars: R & COMPANY
Another longtime model of what an influential collectible design gallery can be is R & Company, the downtown New York stalwart founded by Evan Snyderman and Zesty Meyers. Given their backgrounds as glassmakers and performance artists, the duo brings a keen appreciation for skilled craftsmanship, innovation, and smart ideas. They also have a penchant for the offbeat and the overlooked.
From the outset, R & Company (originally named R 20th Century) has had a hybrid program, presenting first-rate historical pieces—often previously under-recognized—along with works by a varied group of contemporary designers. Meyers and Snyderman played a major role in elevating modern Brazilian furniture makers like Sergio Rodrigues and Joaquim Tenreiro as well as midcentury figures such as Greta Magnusson Grossman and Verner Panton, whose work is the subject of a show that opened this past month at R & Company’s three-story, 8,000-square-foot gallery in Tribeca.
The contemporary roster includes glass artist Jeff Zimmerman, a creator of extraordinary sculptural lighting and objects, Rogan Gregory, who makes captivatingly surreal gypsum furnishings, and the free-spirited Katie Stout, whose improvisational, exuberant pieces subvert and challenge our expectations of everyday objects.
A perfect illustration of Meyers and Snyderman’s dual focus is their “Objects: USA 2020” show, which ran earlier this year. Several years in the making, the celebrated show was a sequel of sorts to the landmark 1969 “Objects: USA” exhibition that featured craft artists from across the country. R & Company’s reboot paired period pieces by makers from the original show with a cross-section of work by contemporary talents.
The exhibition’s extensive research, catalogue, and museum-quality presentation are R & Company hallmarks. “We want to frame things in an academic, institutional but also an engaging way,” says Snyderman. He and Meyers have a history of collaborating with outside specialists, designers and tastemakers as well as other galleries—not to mention doing pop-ups and multiple fairs. As part of “Objects: USA 2020,” they launched a social media program in which makers of all stripes are invited to share their stories in brief videos that are posted on the gallery’s accounts and website. Says Snyderman, “It’s all about building community.”
The Conversation Starters: FRIEDMAN BENDA
Launched a decade and a half ago as a partnership between now-retired New York dealer Barry Friedman and Swiss-born design specialist Marc Benda, Friedman Benda has always projected an adventurous, convention-bending spirit. The Chelsea gallery spearheaded a reappreciation of Memphis mavericks Ettore Sottsass and Gaetano Pesce, and boosted the profiles of global stars like Ron Arad, the Campana brothers, Joris Laarman, and Nendo (creator of the Tokyo Olympic cauldron).
As Friedman Benda has continued to expand its roster, the through line is ingenuity—with form, material, and conceptual ideas. A pop-up exhibition the gallery staged in the Design District earlier this year highlighted the diversity of the work it shows, from Misha Kahn’s whimsical, irresistibly original furniture assemblages to Andile Dyalvane’s spiritual ceramic sculptures rooted in traditional Xhosa culture to artist Daniel Arsham’s Pop-inflected furnishings and objects that draw on a mix of modern aesthetics and personal memory.
This fall has seen a succession of first-time solo shows at the gallery—including spotlights on Daniel Arsham and Ini Archibong. The latter’s exquisitely crafted, futuristic furnishings and objects are infused with references to Pop culture, fantasy, and his own history. “Ini’s process is about finding the mindset that defines the object, before three-dimensional form-giving or material research happen,” says Marc Benda, who describes Archibong’s work as “both elegant and substantial, a rare synthesis of mindfulness and high-end material choices.”
This month, the gallery debuts a collaboration with Michael Anastassiades, featuring handmade studio pieces, and its booth at next month’s Design Miami/ will present a group show with a selection of new pieces by multi-hyphenate creative Samuel Ross. Meanwhile, Friedman Benda’s hugely successful Design in Dialogue initiative, a series of weekly online talks with designers and artists started during the pandemic lockdowns, is transitioning to in-person events. For those who missed them, the recordings are available on YouTube and Vimeo for viewing at any time.
The Power Players: CARPENTERS WORKSHOP GALLERY
Founded in 2006 by childhood friends Loïc Le Gaillard and Julien Lombrail, Carpenters Workshop Gallery is the closest thing in the collectible design world to a mega-gallery. After starting in London, the French business partners have since added locations in Paris, New York, and San Francisco (on an upper level of a decommissioned church), showcasing a European-heavy roster of today’s leading artist-designers. Work ranges from the whimsical sculptural creations of Joep van Lieshout, the industrial-organic lighting of Nacho Carbonell, the fantastical exploding credenzas of Vincent Dubourg, and the exquisite material mashups of Vincenzo De Cotiis to the Deco-refined bronze furnishings of Ingrid Donat (who is Lombrail’s mother). There’s also dazzling technology-meets-nature experimental work by Random International (of Rain Room fame) and Studio Drift.
Projects are typically conceived and executed in close collaboration with artists and designers, who have access to the gallery’s own 86,000-square-foot research and production facility in the Paris suburb of Roissy. Carpenters Workshop is a regular at numerous fairs (Lombrail and Le Gaillard were instrumental in the creation of London’s PAD fair), and, particularly since the start of the pandemic, have invested heavily in online exhibitions, short films on gallery artists, and other digital content.
As part of efforts to expand and diversify its roster, Carpenters Workshop is putting more focus on up-and-coming talents, the most visible example of which is a recently opened show in its New York space, guest-curated by creative partners Anna Carnick and Wava Carpenter of Anava Projects and Design Miami/ —alongside Ashlee Harrison, Carpenters’ Director of Americas. Entitled The New Guard: Stories From the New World, the show features new commissions from seven emerging design studios, whose narrative-driven work addresses identity and place.
“For so long, the design canon has been framed almost exclusively through a Eurocentric lens,” says Carnick. “The emerging talents presented here offer a fresh perspective on design coming out of this place in this pivotal moment.” Elodie Dérond and Tania Doumbe Fines, founders of the studio IbiyanƐ, for example, handcraft idiosyncratic furnishings they describe as “a dialogue between Sub-Saharan African reflections of physicality and comfort and Eurocentric perspectives of ergonomics,” while Maryam Turkey, an Iraqi-American designer and artist based in Brooklyn, presents autobiographical, sculptural works that create an imaginary cityscape inspired by her experiences as a child in Baghdad and as a young adult in New York. “Carpenters Workshop’s artists are known for breaking boundaries between art and design,” says Harrison. “And this group of young artists represents some of the most exciting emerging voices in design today.” ◆
This story was written by Stephen Wallis, and first appeared in Design District Magazine’s Fall 2021 issue. It has been slightly edited.