Ones to Watch
No Risk, No Reward
Objective Gallery takes a 360 degree view of collectible design
It’s been an exciting few years for Objective Gallery. In 2020, interior designer-slash-entrepreneur Chris Shao launched the gallery’s debut space in Shanghai. Less than two years later, Shao and business partner Marc Jebara opened a second outpost in Manhattan’s trendy SoHo neighborhood. In the short time since, the gallery has made a significant splash thanks to a string of buzzworthy exhibitions that celebrate the excitement and energy of this moment’s contemporary design scene—and highlight bold, evocative, boundary-pushing works (no wallflowers allowed).
From Sexy, a group show curated by rising star Eny Lee Parker that invited designers to explore personal definitions of desire; to Cabinet is Me, a solo show of artist Vincent Pocsik’s anthropomorphic wooden works, there is a theatrical, often playful, flair to the gallery’s presentations that is beautifully balanced by the quality of the work on display. At Design Miami/ last December, Objective’s booth featured works by 11 international designers centered around the theme Reincarnation: New Objects, Old Soul. Standout pieces included Nicholas Devlin’s Dawn Black, a surrealist, darkly romantic vanity inspired by memories of watching his mother sit at her vanity preparing for her day; and Charlotte Kingsnorth’s furry, upcycled, bright blue Cookie Monster Chair, among others.
Earlier this month, Shao helped produce the second edition of Design Miami/ Podium x Shanghai, and Objective’s Shanghai location is currently showing Cohabitations, the first international solo exhibition by Brooklyn artist J McDonald that explores “what it means to share space.” In May, Kingsnorth will open her first, eagerly anticipated solo show in the gallery’s New York space.
Throughout its program, Objective espouses a decidedly democratic approach; its very name points to a desire to celebrate emerging and established designers in equal measure, “moving beyond reputation to really look at work”—as well as supporting voices from around the globe. “Great effort is put into elevating design of all heritages,” the founders tell us. “Objective is not just a name.”
We caught up with Jebara and Shao to learn more about the busy duo’s approach. Read on for more in their own words.
What do you think separates Objective from other galleries out there at the moment?
Objective is willing to take risks. We are new to this and in that sense we are liberated from the weight of legacy or institutional norms. We are humbled to have such an incredible space in West Soho to showcase a diverse range of works from renowned artists to those who are just beginning—many of whose work may not be found in a New York gallery otherwise, at least not yet. Perhaps a notable distinction is our desire to spotlight design born outside of traditional origins. Marc being first generation American, his family from Lebanon, and Chris born in China, great effort is put into elevating design of all heritages. Objective is not just a name.
How do you choose the designers with whom you work? And how would you describe the connective thread uniting your program so far?
We are never not looking out for artists and designers. There is such a plethora of talent working today and seemingly a growing appreciation for functional design. Finally design is recognized as fine art’s equal counterpart. In essence there really is no distinction between art and design; it is us who separated the two. The connecting thread is less thematic; [rather] it is an exceptional level of skill and execution combined to tell a story or evoke an emotion. We want all work to be a two sided experience from creator to audience—one of resonance.
Are there a few particular works that you’ve presented so far that you think effectively epitomize Objective’s approach and/or aesthetic?
The approach is objectivity. We approach each work and show with clarity and a broad field of vision, focussing not only on function or aesthetics but on the craft, execution, and artist’s intent. How it came to be, and what it came to say. Objects are a rare tangible expression of civilization, as we live it. Some of the works that best illustrate this are: Charlotte Kingsnorth’s Spidery Hi!breed Chair, Brecht Wright Gander’s Luminous Body series, and J McDonald’s Swarm Credenza.
How would you describe your clientele, broadly speaking?
Rather than targeting a specific demographic, Objective seeks to deconstruct the narratives surrounding art, galleries, and tradition. Since the beginning, Objective’s goal was to be a gallery where designers and artists buy each other's work without qualm. The focus is on bringing objectivity to talented artists’ and designers’ practices, putting less weight on reputation. The gallery is for objects from all parts of the world that evoke an emotional response. Naturally, this has seemed to resonate with a younger clientele as they hunger for creativity outside the confines of existing models and institutions; however, we have a very broad clientele. We best serve those with an open mind and an attunement to art and design’s changing landscapes.
Where would you like to see the gallery five years from now? Ten?
Outside of the white cube! Chris travels a lot, and each trip he thinks “how would I curate a show here?” Disruptions to the traditional spatial environment offer the work a new context. We intend to explore shows outside the four walls of the gallery—initial ideas have [included] a sketchy Los Angeles motel, The Eagle (New York gay BDSM club)… There is no limit, and we intend to rethink the show environment and experience.
Thanks so much, Chris and Marc! ◆