Maria Cristina Didero, Design Curator.
I can think of no better moment than Election Day, November 3rd, to celebrate contemporary American design. In this week’s Collecting Design: The Legends program, I hosted a brilliant discussion with Evan Snyderman, owner and co-founder of New York gallery R & Company. Snyderman taught us that American design today is a direct extension of its legacy; that it is charged with identity, experimentation, and playfulness; and that it is as American as Coca Cola—if we know how to read it.
The theme of the talk, Objects USA, references two points on the design history timeline, one from 50 years ago and one from today. The exhibition Objects: USA of 1969 was a seminal event that consolidated and defined a uniquely American expression, the Studio Craft Movement, the proponents of which challenged the traditional boundaries between art, craft, and design. In the 1960s and ‘70s, this American art subculture was advanced by numerous artist-makers whose work was supported by dedicated galleries, magazines, a national organization, and the Museum of Contemporary Crafts (now the Museum of Arts and Design), with an impact that continues to be felt today.
To mark the exhibition’s 50th anniversary, Snyderman has co-curated—along with Abby Bangser, James Zemaitis, and Glenn Adamson—the upcoming show Objects: USA 2020, which presents the work of today’s hands-on, boundary-breaking American designers, artists, and craftspeople alongside pieces from the generation that contributed to the 1969 show. The exhibition will open at R & Company in January, and the catalog is already available.
Just as 1969 was the year of the historic Woodstock concert and the first moon landing—concluding a decade of radical cultural change in America—the original Objects: USA marked a key moment in the history of American design. Opening at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, the exhibition traveled to 22 art museums in the US and 11 more in Europe over four years. It showcased the best of the genre and cemented the image of America as a leading force in unique and sophisticated studio-made works that defy easy categorization. No less than 308 artists-makers were presented in this show, some of which were already well known and accomplished, such as Anni Albers, Sheila Hicks, Wharton Esherick, and Wendell Castle, while others were at the onset of their careers, like Dale Chihuly, Michele Oka Doner, J. B. Blunk, and Ron Nagle.
In Objects: USA 2020—R & Company’s most ambitious undertaking since launching nearly 25 years ago—50 of the original artists will be presented along with 50 of the newest generation of American designers, who, just like their predecessors, celebrate an energetic intersection of art, design, and craft while practicing traditional methods and using traditional materials.
Snyderman's talk focused on five artists: Dana Barnes, the Haas Brothers, Rogan Gregory, Katie Stout, and Serban Ionescu. He illuminated and analyzed their work, while explaining what makes it contemporary, innovative, and collectible. He knows them all well, because since launching the contemporary program at R & Company, now the gallery's primary focus, he has guided and advanced the career of all of them. Working with living artists is at the heart of his passion, he said.
Growing up in Philadelphia, Snyderman's keen eye and expertise were shaped early on at his parents' gallery Snyderman-Works. Founded in 1965, its focus was, you guessed it, the American Studio Craft Movement. “Evan is a visionary and natural born dealer with a unique understanding of the confluence between art and design,” Rogan Gregory once told me. “His encyclopedic historical knowledge paired with the easy rapport, trust, and friendship that he cultivates with his artists enables him to realize quixotic potential that few others could access.” Indeed, we were all impressed and inspired by the way Snyderman used his knowledge of vintage design to understand and explain the contemporary.
This article was published this morning in the Forum, the magazine of Design Miami. Above:
Rogan Gregory. Custom commission of a Unique "Fertility Form" illuminated sculpture, 2020. Gypsum. Courtesy of R & Company.