Ali Tayar may not have been a household name the world over, but there is no doubt that the Turkish born and New York based architect was wildly respected for his experimental designs and avant-garde sensibilities by his design peers, well before his untimely death last year.
Tayar’s life’s work is rightly the focus of R & Company’s newest exhibition, ‘Systems and One-Offs’, a comprehensive survey of his work, in particular his furniture designs, that serves as a fitting tribute to his accomplished career. The show has been co-curated by design editor Dung Ngo, who was close friends with Tayar and also working on a book of his ideas with him when he passed away.
‘[Ali’s] estate [had originally] asked me to help figure out what to do with his archive. We were able to place pieces of his designs into the permanent design collections at MoMA, Vitra, Chicago Art Institute, SFMOMA, Denver Art Museum, the Carnegie, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – a few of these institutions already had pieces by Ali,’ Ngo recalls. ‘The idea of the exhibition came about when we realised there are still a number of Ali's unique designs in the estate. We wanted to have a selling exhibition that would further enhance his design reputation, but also raise funds to start a fellowship in his name at the Parsons School of Design, where he taught.’
Backed by his training as an architectural engineer in Stuttgart and then as an architect at MIT, Tayar’s signature style manifests itself in poetic forms made from industrial materials – a dynamic juxtaposition of principles that flowed through everything from his residential projects, restaurant interiors, furniture and objects. ‘I was very taken with his design methodology, which treats all projects, regardless of size or scale, the same way,’ says Ngo. ‘The results are buildings and houses that can be seen as oversized furniture, and furniture that is designed and engineered with the same effort and attention to detail as buildings.’
R & Company curator James Zemaitis adds, ‘He was a dedicated modernist whose inspirations were the pioneers of the modern movement – Prouvé, Eames, Aalto, and the Swiss architect Fritz Haller. For furniture collectors, his designs were popularised through his association with the legendary Gansevoort Gallery in the Meatpacking District, whose perforated aluminium security gate was Ali's most famous facade, and which remains in situ today in a neighbourhood which has completely lost its original identity.’
‘Systems and One-Offs’ showcases an array of Tayar’s furniture creations, which were often produced in extremely limited numbers or simply as one-offs. From his eye-catching ‘Icon’ workstation that was produced for his own office at his firm Parallel Design, to a bracket shelving system that became ubiquitous in the mid-90s, the ‘Plaza Screen’ which began its life as the aforementioned Meatpacking District security gate, and his iconic ‘NEA Table, Version 1’, made from a moulded recomposed wood pallet, cast aluminium and glass, seeing Tayar’s designs together truly hammers home what a design luminary he truly was.
The show includes nearly all of the designer’s most important pieces, plucked from his apartment and studio. ‘Some of the pieces were briefly mass-produced by ICF, while others were done as extremely limited editions, usually originating as commissions for specific residential interiors,’ explains Zemaitis. 'Ali might be one of the few designers who has more work in museum collections than in private hands, and this is literally the only opportunity to acquire a piece.’