Tuesday, January 10, 2017

...about setting sail, stirring the paint, and art and architecture, hand in hand: the design best of 2016, part 2.

Come aboard! We're expecting you! Let's continue our wandering walk through the weird year that was, as I recap some of the design highlights of 2016. 
Design on a Dime... Hey, Sailor! 
It’s always a highlight, and this year was absolutely no exception: Design on a Dime, the annual designer vignette event to benefit Housing Works, where over 50 designers create vignettes from generously donated furnishings, artwork, lighting, antiques, rugs and accessories, all then sold off for up to 70% off retail value during one of New York’s most frenzied and high-brow shopping events. It was my sixth consecutive year participating, in one of the most fun years yet. 

The year prior, I had tried to launch a nautical-themed vignette (the theme helps me run everything through a filter, when no client parameters exist to help edit and steer the ship) based on a Dan Romer sailor drawing (“Rocky Seas,” above). I’d fallen in love with Rocky at Dan’s two-man show with Chuck Nitzberg at the Leslie Lohman Annex in SoHo a few years back, and wanted to use it as the jumping off point for my 10 x 12 booth... but none of my go-to vendors had anything nice and nautical in their offerings (and so that year, The Adventurer’s Lair debuted in its stead.)
But the NEXT year, all ship broke loose, and suddenly, it seemed, every vendor had something blue and white, roped up, shell encrusted or brass plated they were willing to part with (every inch of every booth is donated)... and “Hey, Sailor!” was born.

As fun as it was (after several months of a staggering amount of work behind the scenes, as there always is) it was a real nail-biter in the final hours. Two BIG vendors (who shall remain nameless) failed to get promised merchandise to the less-than-two-day set-up in time. One of those vendors did come through with a near-miraculous same-day replacement, and the other ended up donating nearly (NEARLY) the promised amount to Housing Works after the event, so Housing Works was still the beneficiary even if my booth was a little less layered.
Good thing I always try to pack the booth (since everything’s for sale, this is no time for minimalism, sweety darling!), so the gaps weren’t super noticeable. But it was the most divine intervention of the wondrous and wonderful Yetta Banks (of MTV Networks) whose staggering generosity and surplus of Crate & Barrel brass etageres filled the two spots mine would have been in (keeping a treasure trove of accents off the floor!). 

And that’s the real reason I love doing Design on a Dime so much: an overwhelming sense of community, hands-on effort, almost-instant gratification, a necessary “make it work” mentality, incredible generosity of vendors (and Yetta!!) and the Housing Works team I’ve come to love like family (most notably, Mel Alvarez, the event’s even-keeled and deceptively calm ringleader.)

As always, and in addition to Yetta and Mel, I have an incredible number of people to thank for my own success with the event, but I’d place writer, director, and activist Alan Bounville and Matthew Kusniar at the absolute top of the list for their set-up help, along with contractor Vlad Tomasevic of TGC Contracting who provided me crew (this year, a paper-hanger), and a new addition this year: my very own Dutchman, who rolled up his sleeves and pitched in without ever losing his cool, his adorable smile or seemingly unending sense of joy. And once again, I was thrilled to have the wonderful volunteer Chris Ann Paternostro staffing my vignette on the night of the sale, keeping things in order, and keeping me calm as shoppers stormed the gates, cocktails and credit cards in hand.
I could NOT have been more proud, too, to feature as my anchoring image a moving and enigmantic portrait by artist/documentarian/photographer/statesman and pale-sapphire-eyed Stanley Stellar. Plus, I added new vendors like 2Modern, Caskata, Areaware, Taschen, CuratedKravet, and Dan Schneiger to a long list of returning folks like Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Bernhardt, Thibaut, Jayson Home, Room & Board, Circa Lighting, Currey & Company, Oly, Xylem/Pedestal Source, Steven Amedee Custom Framing, The Shade Store and more. 

2016 was also a banner year for the Housing Works DOAD family, who for the first time ever took the event outside its Manhattan confines, with successful events this past year in Brooklyn and Miami.

Lights, Camera... Benjamin Moore! 
Blame it on a sailor hat. During set-up for DOAD, (and probably at the urging of Alan or Matthew) we playfully donned sailor hats intended as giveaways the night of the grand opening, to (pardon the pun) buoy our spirits and start to generate a little thematic buzz. Our shipshape white hats caught the eye of the Benjamin Moore people, roaming the not-nearly-ready halls creating videos to continue to tout “Simply White,” their inaugural Color of the (prior) Year, polling the likes of Alessandra Branca in their video series.
With sweat on my brow and incredible chaos around me, cameras rolled and I got to sing the praises for my love of not only their Simply White, but for my own oft-touted “intentional white:” when white is carefully chosen to brighten or buffer, and not just because a bored builder or lazy landlord said so. Those hats were a not-so-bad investment.
Art and Architecture, Hand in Hand 
New York stepped up its architectural game, above and below ground, and at the connections in between, in long-awaited and much ballyhooed boldface-named projects which blurred the lines between architecture and art, revived a Beaux Arts masterpiece and took contemporary art underground. From Santiago Calatrava's temple to transport, to the rejuvenation of the New York Public Library's Rose Main Reading Room, New York got a high profile, art-infused public works facelift, while private developers pushed the envelope in some successful and not-so ways. And although our much-anticipated 2nd Avenue Subway Station officially opened in 2017, its artworks were revealed in a stunning photo essay by the New York Times just as 2016 drew to a close... so I'm including those, too. 
I’m not sure how they’ll keep it clean, but the Santiago Calatrava Transportation Hub in downtown Manhattan has given the stone-and-steely area surrounding One World Trade a spiny, biomorphic, sculptural destination in an otherwise rectilinear landscape. It just begs to be photographed in any light, from any angle, and is a blinding example of the lofty power of “intentional white” when everything else is glass, gray and concrete. 
I’m not fully sure the form’s or architect’s intention, from some angles it’s stubby and almost comical in a Flintstones-meets-Jetsons kind of way, and not everyone is a fan... and I couldn’t care less. It’s startling, breathtaking, elevates the commuter experience, and looks like the future has landed in FiDi. Above all, it looks like a risk, in a city where architecture has played it safe in recent years.
It’s not the only place where Manhattan architecture has taken a more aggressive stylistic role. One of the most ambitious, interesting and successful: the new Via 57 West apartment building, an eye-catching riverside form that looks like it was 3-D printed right from the CAD drawings and just skipped the construction step altogether.
Not to be outdone by the colossal sculptures above ground, the just-opened 2nd Avenue subway station, itself an artful feat, has assembled a near-museum's worth of art, built right in, in the city's latest wave (and dare I say most successfully striking?) subway tile murals and mosaics. From Chuck Close (with several pieces, including his portrait of Kara Walker, above, and his own self-portrait, and composer Phillip Glass, below) to Vik Muniz, who's added an army of life-size but static commuters in his "Perfect Strangers" series (those two guys a little further above), the art is a destination in its own right, and has the potential to stop traffic faster than a sick passenger at Monday rush hour. Both the scale of the pieces and the overall undertaking are herculean, in a WPA kind of way, and it marks the first time in decades art was integrated from the beginning, not slapped up at the end. (See more of these amazing work-in-progress shots by George Etheridge for the New York Times, illustrating an article by Randy Kennedy.)
Two years ago and slightly across town, in the New York Public Library's Rose Reading Room, a giant plaster wreath decorating the ceiling came crashing down, and became the martyr to a stunning makeover (which spilled over into the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room) in the Beaux Arts gem at the east edge of Bryant Park. Over the next 24 months, painters, gilders, woodworkers and engineers (overseen by the library's in-house architects and WJE Architects and Engineers) restored the room to its rightful place of the world's best library spaces (and I'm even including Trinity College AND Hogwarts in that list.)

But perhaps the most noticeable architectural additions to Manhattan above or below are the ones waaaay above: the brand new crop of pencil-thin residences for the Russian oligarchs, Chinese elite and domestic ├╝ber wealthy, some popping up at the south edge of Central Park like exaggerated milk carton periscopes. Love them or hate them (the buildings, that is, not the oligarchs), these gravity defiers have already made an indelible mark on the city’s skyline, a living bar chart of the city's pockets of extreme wealth

Through art and architecture, finally suddenly it seems at least in Manhattan, the future looks like the future.

Hang in there! We’re half way through! Part 3, up next! (And if you missed it, Part 1.)

Photos: Design on a Dime: Peter Kubilis; Calatrava Hub: NY Times and Dezeen; Via 57 West: CityRealty.com; 2nd Avenue Subway: George Etheridge for the NY Times; NYPL Rose Reading Room: Ty Cole, for Architectural Digest.

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