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5 standout early-spring design shows in New York City

From molten clay furniture to rare French mid-century modern finds, the city’s ever-growing roster of design galleries sees in the spring and closes out the winter season on a high.

Though most attention has been on art and design events in Mexico City and Los Angeles so far this year, New York still has a robust offering of gallery exhibitions on show across the city’s growing roster of platforms in neighbourhoods like Tribeca and West Chelsea. 

Joining a slew of painter solo shows at blue-chip fine art platforms, and Colombian conceptual installation artist Delcy Morelos’ monumental El abrazo installation at Dia Chelsea, are presentations of amphidromous hand-formed furniture, lamps that skew the ever-popular Tiffany typology and uniquely fired ceramics from Japan. 

While traditional materials like glass, plaster and stone are being reinterpreted but also pushed to their limits, conventional forms and functions are being challenged. Craftsmanship is word of the day, as collectors seek out works that not only express personality and introspection but also materiality, experimentation and reconsidered cultural influence. Here are five standout design shows picked out from the eclectic array of quality exhibitions currently on view in New York City.

CLAY by Pieter Maes, at Les Ateliers Courbet

Sculptural furniture pieces by Pieter Maes include the rough-textured Triad console (right), shaped using hand-modelled plaster over welded rebar skeletons

Located in West Chelsea, Les Ateliers Courbet prides itself on representing talents that preserve and give new relevance to tried-and-true artisanal tradition from Europe, Africa and further afield. 

Belgian talent Pieter Maes—a disciple of both Vincent Van Duysen and Ora Ito—is presenting his latest explorations of neolithic and cycladic forms in furniture application. Though monolithic and osseous, even primal, the Triad chairs and console have a rough and deeply-painted texture. First formed by hand-modelled plaster over welded rebar skeletons, the pieces are rendered to an exactitude using the ancient lost-wax technique mastered at Athens foundry Kaparos Fine Art. Every imperfection is evidence of the human, rather than machine, intervention. With careful consideration of the gravity-defying qualities of proportion and weight distribution that this process affords, these seemingly rudimentary one-off designs are an exercise in restraint and distillation—proving that simplicity is never that simple.

On view until 16 March 2024.

Fantasy and Her Fantasies by Autumn Casey, at The Future Perfect

Autumn Casey’s take on Tiffany lamps almost cartoon-ify the original Art Nouveau floral motifs

Fostering the sweet spot between high-end furnishings and collectible design, The Future Perfect is a long-established bicoastal gallery that, as of the past few years, is headquartered in a stunning West Village townhouse refurbished by architect David Chipperfield. Staged in this sumptuous but not ostentatious domestic setting is a diverse selection of experimental, craft-forward and expressive works by an ever-expanding roster of established and emerging talents.

Currently presented against this backdrop is Miami-based up-and-comer Autumn Casey’s irreverent take on the widely revered Tiffany Lamp. Taking her cues from the horror-comedy movie genre and the 1977 Japanese film House, the designer trades in old-school stained glass for acrylic-painted steel frames epoxy clay, painted fabric and resin in a bid to riff-on, even cartoon-ify, the original Art Nouveau floral motifs. The resulting combination—a technique all her own—takes on the visceral qualities of cookies with elaborate frosting. The limited-edition collection comprises five table fixtures, a floor lamp and pendant.

On view through April 2024.

Fill Up Quietly Forever by Yoshimitsu Ishihara, at Guild Gallery

These ceramic vessels by Yoshimitsu Ishihara push traditional techniques and are the artist’s largest works to-date

Canal Street’s Guild Gallery is an offshoot of famed interior design duo Roman & Williams’ high-concept homeware boutique Guild and adjacent La Mercerie restaurant. The platform specialises in the work of emerging and established artists from around the world, with an emphasis on materiality and craft in ceramics, stone, glass, and other mediums. Its programmed solo and group exhibitions highlight mostly unknown or somewhat forgotten talents who are upholding and innovating ancient traditions, many of which founders Stephen Alesch and Robin Standefer uncover during their global scouting missions. 

One such discovery is Japanese ceramicist Yoshimitsu Ishihara, whose hand-shaped, fired and finished vessels are currently on view. Like with Maes’ furniture, these objects might appear straightforward, but actually represent a complex and bespoke process. The master ceramicist pushes the use of all-natural materials and wood-firing techniques to a dizzying scale, and his turned jars, bowls and vases have taken on new proportions, resulting in Ishihara’s largest works to date.

On view until 20 April 2024.

Broomlithic by Sayar & Garibeh, at R & Company

One of New York’s big three design galleries, R & Company maintains an impressive roster of 20th and 21st-century designers with an emphasis placed on historical scholarship and connoisseurship. An ever-changing program of contemporary works join Brazilian mid-century classics and iconic pieces from the Italian Radical period. 

Within the gallery’s sprawling triple-height White Street space, Beirut-based Sayar & Garibeh are making their New York debut. The Broomlithic collection is just that, an homage to the seemingly mundane yet reliable broom; it’s a tool that in many cultures symbolises renewal. The “lithic” quality arises in the studio’s use of heavy stone, carved into primal forms. These weighty, monolithic tables, benches, lamps and planters take on an organic yet constrained vocabulary—reflecting their Lebanese culture—and are adorned with raffia manes.

On view until 19 April 2024.

Droplets by Michiko Sakano, at Heller Gallery 

Michiko Sakano’s Droplets lighting series emancipates glass pendants from their hardware armatures

With a stellar line-up of established and up-and-coming talents from the US, Europe and elsewhere, Heller Gallery has been New York’s authority on art glass for over 50 years. 

Though exhibiting for the first time under her own name, Japanese-American artist and glassblower Michiko Sakano has been a fixture of the New York scene for over two decades. She’s been instrumental in the development of Jorge Pardo and Lindsey Adelman’s highly influential output for much of that time. 

Coming out from behind the curtain, Sakano is currently showcasing her especially haptic yet seemingly effortless Droplets luminaire series at Heller Gallery. The one-off, idiosyncratic pieces reflect her desire to wrestle glass from the hardware armatures that are necessary when creating lighting fixtures. This iterative collection, carefully staged with all-white angular plinths, takes on different colour compositions and sometimes incorporates bold stripes.

On view until 30 March 2024.

Read more: Collectible Design | Design | Furniture | Heller Gallery | Lighting | New York | R & Company | The Future Perfect | USA