NOV 11, 2021
ROMAN AND WILLIAMS’S NEW GALLERY CHAMPIONS CONTEMPORARY DECORATIVE ARTISTS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
About the Show
Decorative arts—or the design of high-quality objects that are both beautiful and useful—don’t have as many dedicated show spaces as their visual counterparts. An exceptional contemporary painting can be snapped up and shown by a gallery during a flashy opening or fair for purchase or perhaps even acquired by a modern art museum for their ever-expanding collection. Crafts not designated as “antiques,” however, have often been devalued as objects that solely belong in the domestic sphere since traditionally, most of their makers have been women. (Take an example from the Bauhaus movement—while Josef Albers achieved international acclaim for his abstract paintings, textiles made by his wife, Anni, actually made the most money for the German school.)
The Guild Gallery, opening in New York City on Friday, wants to change that.
Robin Standefer, one half of interior design firm Roman and Williams, has long been championing contemporary ceramicists and object makers through the her Soho shop, RW Guild. However, RW Guild was, well, just that—a shop. Customers came in looking for everyday things like dinnerware, candlesticks, and vases. “We worked with these artists on a smaller scale,” Standefer says. “But we weren’t able to fully show their potential.”
While visiting Japanese-born ceramicist Akiko Hirai in London, Standefer was transfixed by her Moon Jar. An immense object made from porcelain and ash from an apple tree, the Moon Jar required great physical—and intellectual—labor to complete. Standefer desperately wanted to show Hirai’s works to the world, but wondered how. “It was art at a level that really wasn’t the purpose of the shop,” she admitted. But then, a eureka moment: “They need a proper exhibition,” she thought.
And that’s something she could execute: Standefer and her husband, Stephen Alesch, had renovated the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s British Galleries, which opened in February 2020 to critical acclaim. So when a space opened up right next to RW Guild, Standefer knew exactly what she wanted to do with it.
At a base level, the Guild Gallery is a display space for contemporary design masters. Its inaugural exhibition, “Container and Content,” is of Hirai’s vases and jars. Each piece is useable, but the point is to demonstrate the object's artistry. “While the Guild celebrates a beauty that derives from function, the Gallery focuses purely on form,” explains Standefer.
Standefer and Alesch also hope to change the stagnant belief that art and functional craftwork are mutually exclusive. The Guild now represents 12 artists (”we call them ‘artists’ because that’s who they are,” says Standefer) who work in mediums such as marble, wood, and glass. They will show, sell, and promote their works much like a blue-chip gallery in Chelsea does. Everything will be *au courant—*not antique.
Most of all, they will try to educate everyone who walks in that contemporary decorative art is, well, exactly that: an artform. “Objects like these contain profound stories about nature, culture, domesticity and craft,” says Standefer.