On View: Design Week '09
Art & Culture
by Jill Singer, 05/11/2009
For four days each spring, during New York's annual International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), the City becomes the best place in America to survey current design—a playground for design lovers from here and abroad. Held this year from May 16 to 19, ICFF is headquartered at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, where 552 exhibitors of furniture, lighting, textiles and housewares—hailing from 32 countries, from Senegal to Sweden—will set up shop. But for the more than 25,000 attendees, there's something to see in nearly every corner of the City, with exhibitions, installations, panel discussions and parties spinning out from Columbus Circle to Brooklyn.
Design Week officially kicks off on May 14. The Meatpacking District has anchored ICFF's downtown happenings for four years running, and this year, a Welcome Center at the Standard hotel serves as the neighborhood's hub. Pick up a free guide there, and spend the afternoon touring the posh boutiques and ad hoc exhibition spaces, like an outdoor plaza at Gansevoort Street and Ninth Avenue, where a group of shipping containers is being erected to showcase new Finnish designs. Or head uptown for opening day of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum's Design for a Living World exhibition, for which curators asked 10 top designers to find new uses for sustainably harvested materials from remote locales.
The Cooper-Hewitt isn't the only museum that's scheduled design-related programming to coincide with the fair. On view at the Museum of Arts and Design is a survey of contemporary industrial ceramics and a screening of a new documentary on Dutch designer Hella Jongerius (May 16). At the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, a major Frank Lloyd Wright retrospective opens in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the architect's famed spiral structure (May 15–August 23). And at the New Museum, an installation in the Sky Room by the Italian design lab Fabrica will examine the convergence of craft and technology (May 18–21). The official ICFF party takes place Saturday night in the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) sculpture garden. Tickets are available to the general public for $60, and partygoers are invited to browse the museum's architecture and design galleries, which will stay open late for the occasion.
ICFF might have "international" in its title, but local designers like to use the fair as an excuse to stake out their turf, and a slew of exhibitions opening around town offer a bird's-eye view of the City's best young talent. At the new Ace Hotel on 29th Street and Broadway, McMasterpieces will showcase objects created by local designers using only materials purchased from McMaster-Carr, an industrial parts supplier in New Jersey. A few blocks south, the windows of Design Within Reach’s Flatiron location will be filled with furniture, lighting and jewelry curated by members of the American Design Club, a young product-design collective. Check out InDisposed at Studio-X, a new exhibition space in the West Village, where a group of mostly designers, many of them New York based, will exhibit products addressing new conceptions of sustainability. And nearby, at the 414 Gallery in the Meatpacking District, the online magazine Designboom is teaming up with 11 designers to curate NY Local.
Designboom also curates Designboom Mart, an annual retail outlet at the Javits Center where designers who can't afford booth space are invited to sell souvenirs for anywhere from $10 to $100. The mart, like the fair, doesn't open to the public until May 19, but there are plenty of places around town to indulge in retail therapy before then, and most of the City's best design shops are smart enough to mount exhibitions to entice those who can only afford to browse. Start in SoHo, where the best stores can be found within a four-block radius. At Matter on Broome Street, British manufacturer Established & Sons will exhibit the collection it debuted at the Milan Furniture Fair in April, filled with designs by heavy hitters like the Bouroullec brothers from France and the Swedish all-girl collective Front. At the MoMA Design Store's SoHo outpost, browse the shop's new Destination: Brazil collection, and check out recent or never-before-seen Dutch designs at CITE or the new Droog store, both on Greene Street. Eternal rivals Moss, in SoHo, and the Future Perfect, in Brooklyn, will each feature three exhibits: Moss presents highlights from Milan and December's Design Miami/Basel fair; the Future Perfect is showing a collection of design souvenirs, another of limited editions and, at A&G Merch, its sister shop next door, wares from Brooklyn craftspeople, furniture makers and artists.
Sunday evening is a night for cocktails at most venues in the Meatpacking District, and Monday night, the streets of SoHo are packed with revelers. If you've any energy left in you by Tuesday, the fair finally opens to the general public from 10am to 4pm. Highlights this year include a materials library, on-site bookstore and country-specific pavilions, like the 3,500-square-foot exhibition space designed by Italian architect Michele de Lucchi for the Italian Trade Commission, as well as Japan by Design, an exhibit featuring products by 121 Japanese companies, including Muji, an eco-aware and innovative maker of household and work items, and the toilet company Toto.
There's always a mix of established companies and promising upstarts at ICFF: it's a great place to find out what's new from companies like Vitra and Blu Dot, and where many new designers get their first shot at stardom. The fair's organizers put out a call for entries for ICFF Studio, which selects nine participants to exhibit prototypes in hopes of finding a manufacturer. They also set aside five 200-square-foot booths for design schools. This year the Rhode Island School of Design, Detroit's Cranbrook Academy of Art, the Maryland Institute of Contemporary Art, New York's Pratt Institute and San Diego State will be on hand.
Fill out the week with a tour of the High Line Building, or view architectural models for Renzo Piano's planned Whitney Museum of American Art on Gansevoort Street. Take in a window installation by the Campana brothers at the Alessi shop in SoHo. There's so much to do during New York Design Week, if you only know where to look.