‘Midtown’: That Chair’s Charming, but Can I Sit in It?

New York Times

May 25, 2017

If you skipped New York’s grittier art fairs this season and now regret it, compensation awaits in a scruffy food fight of an exhibition at a relatively swank address: Lever House, the first glass-curtain-wall skyscraper on Park Avenue.

The show is “Midtown,” a contentious mix of art, design, craft and various hybrids by more than 60 artists from around the world. A pop-up affair, it has been organized by the New York art dealers Jeanne Greenberg Rohatynand Michele Maccarone, and the contemporary design dealer Paul Johnson, with help from the independent curator Ali Subotnick. It sprawls throughout the denuded second floor of Lever House, the ever-elegant International Style gem designed by Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie de Blois (for Skidmore, Owings and Merrill) and completed in 1952.

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The works by the South African ceramic sculptor Andile Dyalvane are notable for their combination of topographical ruggedness and refinement, even though they can sometimes verge on fussiness. Aneta Regel, a Polish sculptor who makes simplified animal forms encrusted with bright colored glazes that seem descended from African Baule, is another talent worth watching. And Kenzi Shiokava, a professional gardener from Los Angeles, and a breakout star of the Hammer Museum’s 2016 biennial, is an older newcomer represented here by five delicate and totemic forms dating to the 1980s and made in carefully carved and burned wood. They are both indebted to Isamu Noguchi and Louise Nevelson — and free of them.

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Amid the clash of sensibilities and amusing sights this show fruitfully unleashes, I realized, once more, my preference for design that is functional, affordable and capable of mass production. Sadly, there seems to be only one candidate here: a metal tubing armchair by Mr. Fischer that looks back to modernist masters like Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, but adds extra curves. It’s a bit of a Surrealist joke, a bit of an abstract sculpture and comfortable to sit in. Perhaps there will be many more like it, reasonably priced.

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