100 works to know now: R & Company curates dynamic exhibition

100 works to know now: R & Company curates dynamic exhibition

New York gallery R & Company shows 50 historical and 50 contemporary works by important artists in America. A dynamic snapshot of how design and art intersect today, the exhibition pays tribute to a 1960s show by gallerist Lee Nordness, presented at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, featuring a diverse group of creatives working at the cusp of art, craft and design

Back in 1969, an exhibition curated by the entrepreneurial gallerist Lee Nordness entitled ‘Objects: USA’ opened at what is now the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC. Bringing together a roster of both established and rising artists who used craft techniques to make art, the seminal survey catapulted figures such as Anni Albers, Sheila Hicks, Wendell Castle and George Nakashima to new heights of recognition that subsequently altered the course of design and art in America.

Now, the similarly pioneering New York gallery R & Company builds upon the foundation laid down all those years ago with ‘Objects: USA 2020’ – an expansive exhibition of design objects and a comprehensive accompanying book that add contemporary names to the original roster, thus continuing the first show’s legacy into the 21st century. With historical objects selected by curator and writer Glenn Adamson and R & Company’s curator and director of museum relations James Zemaitis, the new exhibition balances 50 figures from the original show with 50 contemporary artists, selected by Adamson, gallery co-founder Evan Snyderman, and Object & Thing founder Abby Bangser, to form a dynamic snapshot of how design and art intersect today. 

Objects USA exhibition 1969
Exhibition views of the original ‘Objects: USA’ show, presented in 1969 at what is now the Smithsonian American Art Museum, from a photo album from the estate of artist Margret Craver. Image courtesy of R & Company

‘We find it compelling to be revisiting ‘Objects: USA’ in 2020 because so many of the same questions around art, craft and design are still in play,’ says Snyderman. ‘As these worlds continue to coincide, where do they converge today? What is the potential of the handmade object? Have we reached a point of true post-disciplinarity in the arts? We may not have all the answers, but we are adding our voices to this dynamic discussion.’

With certain parallels between the social and cultural changes happening today and in the late 1960s, R & Company’s aim is to showcase as diverse of a range of work, medium, ethnic background, generation and geography as possible. We see the anthropomorphic clay vessels of California-based Ashwini Bhat, who grew up in southern India, together with the vibrant, highly patterned sculptures of Philadelphia-based artist Roberto Lugo, in the same space as the Pop Art painted ceramics of Hong Kong-born artist Ka Kwong Hui, who immigrated to the United States in 1948, and the geometric chequerboard weaving by Lenore Tawney from 1962.

‘Our approach to the exhibition was inspired by the original – its breadth of coverage,’ says Adamson. ‘For the historical selections, it was really a problem of having too few slots for too many great figures. It’s astonishing how capacious that original “Objects: USA” was and how many of the artists included went on to even greater things. For the contemporary group, we were often looking for direct correspondences: figures of today drawing on Funk ceramics or monumental fibre art, for example. We were also concerned to show the breadth of craft practice today; it really escaped the confines of the studio craft movement per se and became an active force across the disciplines of art and design.’

Installed throughout R & Company’s impressive Tribeca space, the show is also a compelling nod to the gallery’s two decades in business. ‘The energy and creativity of today’s object makers for us parallels what was happening in America when the original “Objects: USA” took place,’ says the gallery’s co-founder Zesty Meyers. ‘We strongly believe our exhibition will inspire a new generation of collectors, curators and most importantly emerging talents to redefine art-making.’ §

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