“The Next Wave” At Artipshere to May 19 “No Longer Presidents But Prophets” At Delicious Spectacle to April 5 An exhibit that makes its case with furniture, and one that goes without.

“Mangas Rug” designed by Patricia Urquiola, Spain, 2009

Let’s get this out of the way now: “The Next Wave” at Artisphere is hardly more than product placement. It’s a giveaway from Apartment Zero, the luxury furniture retailer whose co-owner Douglas Burton has curated the show. The exhibit aims to introduce viewers to the next wave of designers from across the globe, but also to the latest furniture lines available at stores like Burton’s. Some art galleries will try to sell you on art that looks good over your couch; this show wants you to think that the couch you crave is the better artwork.

And crave you will. It may not be Joel D’Orazio’s 2010 “Sculptura Blow Chair” that ropes you in; the 1950s wire mesh patio chair threaded through with polyethylene tubes and pipe cleaners represents the bleeding edge of design in this show. Perhaps you prefer the crystal-cool latticework of Konstantin Grcic’s 2003 anodized and die-cast aluminum “Chair One.”

The star of the exhibit, meanwhile, might be “Ploum,” a vast 2012 plush foam sofa by French designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. Plump and comfy enough to disappear a person, “Ploum” is something that fans of kitschy Mad Men modern may not soon forget. No matter your taste, resistance is futile.

“The Next Wave” anchors D.C.’s inaugural International Design Festival, but the exhibit’s approach to design is more showroom floor than global biennial. By arranging design work roughly into living areas—a Jaime Hayon outdoor chair with a Sybilla rug, Stephen Burks lamp, and Antonio Citterio ottoman—the show gives context to pieces that might otherwise seem inaccessible. Hayon’s “Showtime Armchair With Hood,” for example, is a take on the canopied wicker beach chair you’d find in Northern Europe, but made with orange playground-equipment plastic. That’s harder design than the more conventional Philippe Starck stuff on view, but Hayon doesn’t need the living-room tableau to get his point across.

It might have been more educational to group the designers’ work by national origin—and to vary the league of nations a bit. Most of the design on view at Artisphere/Apartment Zero (or any other gallery that shows 21st-century design) hails from Denmark and broader Scandinavia. The exceptions, while powerful, would inevitably stand alone. The “Bicicleta Rug” by Spanish designers Nani Marquina and Ariadna Miquel—a squishy floor covering made of recycled bicycle innertubes that transmits the unmistakable texture of a deflated tire—might not have as many peers in the exhibit were it not for the exhibition support from Spain Arts & Culture, the Embassy of Spain, and the Spain USA Foundation. Italian designers are also well represented, courtesy of the Embassy of Italy, the Italian Cultural Institute, and several centuries of Italian design tradition.

So is the Dyson company. “The Next Wave” does not discriminate against deserving corporate entries, and Dyson’s bladeless “Air Multiplier” fan certainly qualifies. It’s neat to see a Dyson product alongside Cordula Kehrer’s “Bow Bins”—junked plastic laundry hampers rescued and remade with rattan by the indigenous Aeta people from the Philippines. Nothing’s off the table. While the show misses an opportunity to dig into, say, contemporary Mexican design or new materials from innovative nonprofits, it is at least unapologetic about its posture as a mall’s worth of new stuff.

“No Longer Presidents But Prophets” At Delicious Spectacle to April 5

Graem Whyte, “New Systemic Components,” 2013

While Apartment Zero was busy arranging furniture in Artisphere’s Terrace Gallery, Delicious Spectacle never bothered with it in the first place. All five artists who live in the Columbia Heights gallery/house came from single-room apartments, says resident Megan Mueller, so there was nothing for them to stash away before it opened its ongoing show, “No Longer Presidents But Prophets.” “We have no furniture,” Mueller says.

Their lack of basic comfort is a boon for the rest of us, since Delicious Spectacle is poised to show the riskier art that commercial galleries don’t take chances on. Consider any of the artworks in this group show curated by former D.C. artist Lauren Rice and her husband, artist Brian Barr, who both now live in Detroit. Many if not most of them are experimental, in the sense that they feel unfinished, fresh from the studio. Sometimes riskier works need a safer space, like a home.

So where Mueller and her roommates might have put a bookcase or a piano, Jesse Harrod installed “Late Bloomer (1)” instead. The sculpture pours from the wall, an arc of cloth, spangles, and knickknacks that culminates in a pretty pool of flowery textiles on the hardwood floor. It looks like a studio draft for a project TBD. The same could be said of the sequined-foam sculptures that Harrod calls “Pride Floats”: excellent sketches, and consistent with Harrod’s pop-sculptural Alexander McQueen approach to composition, but they’re more a thesis than a fully finished work.

A video game by Esteban Garcia about high-fructose corn syrup is goofy—for its corn-stalk console as well as the incomplete-feeling corn fields that the corn-on-the-cob avatar navigates. Goofy, but not corny, an important distinction: Almost everything in “No Longer Presidents” works in spite of itself. The quirky contrast between a ceramic column and the laminate pedestal on which is stands is enough to lock in a sculpture by Laith Karmo that otherwise might have read as too earnest and modern.

There’s nothing unfunny in the exhibit, which gives the show a homey feel to match its circumstances. The one exception might be “The Rest,” a mixed-media sculpture by Katie Bell. Made with plaster, foam, and carpet, the piece uses some fugitive materials but aims for Modernist presence—like a laugh-out-loud Isamu Noguchi. It’s a bit more refined than other works in the show. But that’s OK—this is an exhibit where everything feels welcome.

Our Readers Say

Thanks Kriston for the review of "No Longer Presidents but Prophets"! It is a testament to what the folks at Delicious Spectacle are doing and how important it is! With the middle of the art market disappearing, alternative and artist run spaces are essential to ensuring a broader critical dialogue.

Though I have to disagree with your assessing the work as feeling unfinished. You acknowledge that Delicious Spectacle is able "to show the riskier art that commercial galleries don’t take chances on." However, I don't think you fully acknowledge that your system of evaluation is still rooted in the expectations of that system of commercial galleries. I would argue that rather than unfinished, the artists in No Longer Presidents but Prophets are exploring the space between experimentation and resolution; both supporting and subverting expectations of craft and aesthetics.

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