Just What Is It?

New York

25 October 2016

“My generation doesn't want to possess anything,” says the curator and designer Matylda Krzykowski, “I don’t own anything. Well, I own a few pieces that were given to me, because I work with design all the time, but I never intentionally go out and buy a piece of furniture.”

This statement might make Krzykowski a curious choice to organise a series of shows at Chamber, a private design gallery nestled under the High Line in Chelsea, New York. As co-founder and co-director of the creative organisation Depot Basel, she mounts exhibitions that are avowedly non-commercial, often pivoting around design’s societal reverence. Forum for an Attitude (2015) at the Vitra Design Museum even dispensed with design objects themselves, instead exhibiting graphic representations of chosen projects on vinyl.

“I was initially unsure,” Krzykowski recounts, “that I was the person Chamber needed.” Nevertheless, she accepted the commission from Chamber’s proprietor Juan Garcia Mosqueda, and set about gathering objects to furnish a series of shows. In doing so, she follows in the footsteps of Studio Job and Andrew Zuckerman, who have both presented a collection of objects at the gallery over the course of a year. Krzykowski’s collection differs from the first two iterations, however, in that it will be divided into four shows rather than two, instilling a seasonal rhythm. A collage, created by Krzykowski alongside an artist or designer, is to be fabricated for every instalment, crystallising each show.

Krzykowski’s collection at Chamber will begin on 25 October with Just What Is It, followed in December by the Le Corbusier-referencing A House is a Machine for Living in. Both will consist of around 25 pieces of new and existing art and design work from the likes of Martino Gamper, Mischer’Traxler and Studio Swine. The third show, Domestic Wildcats, will launch in March and display five new objects each from five designers including Phil Cuttance and Hilda Hellström, while the final instalment in May will be largely composed of new pieces.

In late-summer, Disegno interviewed Krzykowski while she was engaged in collecting and commissioning works for her Chamber collection. An edited version of the resulting interview is published below.

What was your reaction when you first saw the space?

The gallery is quite interesting because it’s like a Tetris block. It’s a proper white cube, and its called Chamber because Juan intends it to be connected to the idea of wonder cabinets. It’s still quite clinical for my tastes, but in a good way, because it allows you to put some sort of identity into it yourself.

Since the beginning of the year, there has been a white marble platform at the centre of the space. My instant reaction when I saw it was it was "this is perfect – I’m going to create a space within a space." So we’re building stairs on either side, and the visitor will be allowed to walk through the platform into a constructed living space.

The first two year-long collections at Chamber featured around 100 objects, divided into two shows. How does one initiate such a task?

The first two collections were just two shows. But for me, the brief of constructing or collecting 100 objects begged the question: how can you devote one show to 50 products? It’s just too much for Chamber’s space. So I decided to do four shows, throughout the year, allowing for some sort of rhythm between them.

The initial show, Just What Is It, is named for the British pop artist Richard Hamilton’s collage Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? (1956). Where did this inspiration come from, and how does it manifest itself in your show?

When I started to talk to all the designers, I kept referring to collage and assemblage, methodologies that are more properly used in the art world. A friend of mine said "you love Richard Hamilton, and you love that iconic collage that he did in the 50s. Why don’t you use that?"

Sixty years ago, mass consumerism was on the high. After the war people were reconstructing everything, and you had new possibilities to mass manufacture. It created its own ideology as to how living should be. Hamilton created the collage for an exhibition called This Is Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Gallery, and it was criticism, a complete critique of mass consumerism. He was looking towards America from a British perspective, and laughing about it, being ironic about it. And it became the icon of the whole show.

Exactly 60 years after Hamilton, I wanted to ask what it was that we desire? And that’s why the title of the show is Just What Is It. I don’t want to criticise the system, but I want to point out that 60 years later, from a standpoint of mass consumerism, everyone wants to have the one-off. That’s also the shift in design, which has become something artistic, almost expressionistic. Because we don’t produce simple furniture anymore. We think about sitting and then we produce some weird-looking sculpture that is meant to be sat on. There’s this extreme shift where we don’t know what these things actually are. I mean, look at Studio Swine’s Prism Cabinet. It opens up and you can put something in there. But it’s not about storing something – instead, it’s an object of delight.

With this move away from functionalism, do you think design has moved closer to visual art?

There's some sort of complexity in art that can't be compared to design, not at all. I think art is extremely layered, while design can be very obvious. Good art is not.

Your collections nevertheless mix design objects with those from the realm of art. How did you go about acquiring items?

The nice thing is that when you're a curator of something, people decide to be part of it also because of you. So I have collected or selected a very diverse group of people. On two occasions, though, I asked someone and they said no – "I’ve been shown in New York before in this hardcore art gallery." Most artists are connected to a gallery, which then wants a share, and it gets so complicated and difficult to negotiate. I think that’s why, for shows three and four next year, I mainly want to commission things. Plus, when you show older objects in a gallery context, there’s the connotation of thinking that you haven’t sold it.

Depot Basel’s first manifesto declared that it was not a gallery. How did you adapt to working within the commercial realm?

I was initially unsure that I was the person Chamber needed, because I’m not naturally part of this commercial context. I’m not someone who thinks about the most flamboyant pieces. I don’t choose anything by price. I can imagine that if you run a gallery you would be strategic: "I’ll take this one because I think it’ll make me a nice margin." I don’t do that.

One thing is, at Chamber and most galleries in Chelsea, they don't show the name or the title. So you come in and look at a bunch of things and don't know where they're from. My idea is to use mechanisms that you have in a museum or a gallery, so you would actually enter and you would have the title and an exhibition text, relating to Hamilton's collage. And what my objectives are in showing these objects together.

Will there be a reoccurring thread through the whole year?

It's the collage. For each show, I will produce a collage with a visual artist or graphic designer, which incorporates the objects in the exhibition, so at the end you have four collages that function as a sociological report. The exhibition will disappear, but the collage will still exist: a monument to the exhibition.