Cutlery might not necessarily be the collective showpiece of a well-designed restaurant, but at ER Butler & Co., a manufacturing company with a showroom and gallery space in New York's Soho, these humble tools are finally getting their day with ‘Knife/Fork/Spoon’, an exhibition dedicated to modernist flatware.
The objects on display come from the wide-ranging collection of Dung Ngo, publisher of August Editions. Having previously collected plywood furniture (which became the subject of his book, Bent Ply) and Olivetti machines (which he donated to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), Ngo turned his attention to modernist cutlery about 15 years ago. ‘It’s a category that’s completely under the radar,’ he says. There was another advantage, too: ‘Cutlery is small and compact, so you can store a lot of it in a small space.’
The cohort at ER Butler & Co. includes pieces from Gio Ponti, Georg Jensen and Ward Bennett, but as Ngo points out, these designers were more of an exception. ‘None of the modern masters – Mies, Le Corbusier, or Aalto – designed cutlery,’ he observes. Altogether, there are 18 sets on view, culled from his robust collection. ‘This is a highly edited selection,’ he laughs.
Ngo, who curated the exhibition, was able to slip in something else he collects: books. As a way to mediate the scale between a large room with big vitrines and small pieces of cutlery, he staged the utensils on books open to black-and-white photography, creating a dialogue between the lines and forms of each.