Collective 2

Disegno Daily New York

A post office seems an unlikely venue for a design fair. This is not a modern post office either. Rather, it’s the grandiose James A. Farley Post Office built in 1912, a vast neoclassical building with a Corinthian colonnade that runs along Eighth Avenue. But tucked away inside the building earlier this month was Collective 2, a collectible design fair that to some extent picks up where the post office’s Beaux Arts tradition left off, showcasing a selection of 20th and 21st-century interiors and objects.

Collective is a relatively new venture. One year on from its debut at Manhattan’s Pier 57, it has grown to include 36 exhibitors, an impressive figure for a young enterprise – particularly when considered that the long-established Design Miami attracts the same number – a change that is indicative of the growing level of organisation surrounding New York’s nascent design week, NYCxDesign. Combined with the trade-focused ICFF show and more avant-garde events like Sight Unseen’s Offsite, Collective 2 suggests a growing confidence and coherence behind New York’s offering.

The fair itself is reflective of its home city. Around half of its exhibitors are from New York –including 1950, kinder MODERN and Maison Gerard – but the fair’s second iteration displayed a greater international focus than its debut. Exhibiting galleries from further afield included Ammann Gallery from Cologne, Modernity from Stockholm, ADN Galeria from Mexico City and Gallery SEOMI, based in LA and Seoul.

Collective 2 is billed as both a contemporary and 20th-century fair, but its emphasis on mid-century furniture was striking. It seems a populist choice, reflective of strong commercial interest in the period. In the American market Eames furniture is collectible in a fashion typically associated with artwork, while in February Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) reached $5.12m at an auction of Scandinavian furniture. This figure is comparatively low. In 2009 Eileen Grey’s Dragons Armchair sold for $28m.

Yet Collective aspired to be more than a luxury design fair anchored to sales.  As well as the exhibiting galleries, there was a series of six curated domestic installations titled Collective Settings, while a series of talks, Collective Converstations, added intellectual weight to proceedings. Drawing on speakers such as gallerist Murray Moss, curator Ellen Lupton and designer Wendell Castle, the talks tackled themes such as the future of manufacturing, the use of 3D printing in fashion and Scandinavia’s impact on global design. Through such initiatives, the fair elevated itself above its commercial aspect, offering thoughtful reflection on modern and contemporary design.

This desire to establish meaningful design credentials for the fair was evident elsewhere. Glenn Adamson, a respected academic and director of New York’s Museum of Arts and Design (formerly of the V&A), was appointed to curate Collective Focus: Scandinavia, a capsule exhibition that broke from the clean, modernist breed of Scandinavian design evident elsewhere in the fair.

Adamson displayed a gilded cabinet and chairs by Carl Hörvik and intricately painted Gustavian chairs with upholstered seats by Dienst + Dotter Antikviteter, all from the early part of the 20th century. It was a nuanced display that challenged conventional impressions of Nordic design. “What I particularly enjoyed was the chance to include some of the historical pieces, like a pair of elegant white-and-gold neoclassical chairs very much in the then-fashionable Parisian style. It shakes up the organic modern look of the booth, but also is a reminder that this region has always been cosmopolitan.”

The presence of Hella Jongerius, whose work was exhibited in a display curated by Murry Moss and Franklin Getchell, was also telling. Jongerius is a highly recognisable name within her field – serving in an art director capacity for major brands Vitra and Artek – and an international designer who accrues considerable critical acclaim. The work displayed at Collective was essentially an overview of Jongerius’ career. It included her Jackpot Field sofa for Vitra; Softcupboard, a tall, wide cupboard with textile-fronted drawers and doors commissioned by Moss; and Sphere Table, a desk with a spherical hood attached designed for the United Nations buildings in New York, among others. Nonetheless, Jongerius’ presence was a coup for a young event.

Such ambition was matched to that of Collective’s umbrella title, NYCxDesign. The festival was launched in 2013 with the aim of unifying a number of already existent events around the city – Frieze Art Fair and ICFF among them – and it has increased in scope this year. Collective is an important part of this growth, particularly in its acknowledgment of design as a discipline worthy of critical reflection. New York is a city that has its fair share of fairs for consuming art, and Collective should be commended for seeking to extend this to design. We should watch this space as NYCxDesign gathers momentum in the years to come.

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