NOV 10, 2021



About the Show

As the founders of the architecture and design firm Roman and Williams, Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch have amassed a following with a signature aesthetic that’s dramatic, layered, and lush—sometimes even sensual.

These elements play a central theme in projects like Le Coucou and Veronika in New York, the British galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and residences for many celebrity clients like Gwyneth Paltrow. The firm’s four-year-old Canal Street design boutique and café, Roman and Williams Guild, has a similarly transportive vibe with its textured, abundant displays of furniture and accessories.

Their latest venture, Guild Gallery, has them going the opposite way: Opening November 12 just a few doors down from their Guild storefront, the 2,000-square-foot space has a distinctly pared-back style and will be a venue for ceramists, sculptors, and other artists to showcase their large-scale decorative works. “Objects get to breathe and stand out, which is a contrast to what people know us for. Our shop has the sense of constant activity, while the Gallery is meant to be for contemplation,” Standefer says. “Each work has the room to shine and get attention.”

In a departure from their other outpost, which showcases an eclectic mix of design objects and furniture, the Gallery intends to celebrate individual objects and their artists, prioritizing form over function.

The designers tell AD PRO that they conceived the idea for the Gallery during the Covid lockdown. “We represent artists who work on a large scale, and we love big, heavy objects ourselves,” Alesch says. “While we were at home, we increasingly realized that a separate space to display them made a lot of sense.”

Another factor that inspired the opening is the five years they spent redesigning the British galleries at the Met, where they were steeped in centuries of decorative arts—especially ceramics. “We started thinking about different ways to elevate design objects, which is what the Gallery is meant to do,” Standefer says.

Although the spotlight is on artists, Alesch and Standefer still make their mark in the space: Much of the work will be displayed on articulated oak pedestals that the couple created. And adding a romantic flourish, gauze linen scrims will be integrated throughout.

To start, the Gallery will host between 6 and 8 exhibitions a year and represent 12 artists. It will also be home to a research library, with 1,000 volumes—still being collected by Standefer and Alesch—dedicated to the history of ceramics, sculpture, and archaeology. Both the library and the gallery will be open to the public.

“We want to engage visitors and make the art more accessible,” Alesch says. “We want to drop the velvet ropes and will even give them the opportunity to touch the works, so that they can feel their textures and understand the materials.”

Guild Gallery will open with a show by Akiko Hirai, a Japanese-born ceramist based in London with whom Standefer and Alesch have had a years-long working relationship. Named Container and Content, the show is Hirai’s first solo exhibition in the United States.

The sizable works in the exhibition pay homage to the handmade objects Hirai used growing up in Japan. A highlight among them are her Poppy Pod vases, which are formed on a wheel using Raku clay and then finished by hand to achieve a slightly rough texture—a technique visitors can appreciate up close, thanks to the intimate display. Elsewhere in the show are Hirai’s Moon Jars, which are inspired by those of Korea. (As some of her signature objects, these vessels helped earn her a shortlist position for the Loewe Craft Prize in 2019.)

“Akiko is pushing her medium to its limits with the sizes of her works,” Standefer says. “They’re intense and poetic. Her art, as with many of the Gallery’s shows, are about taking the ancient tradition of decorative objects and reinventing them for modern aesthetics.”

“They make you wonder how big a piece can get before it becomes structurally unstable,” Alesch adds. “They invite the contemplativeness that we’re striving for.”

Works displayed at Guild Gallery will be available for purchase, with prices generally falling between $5,000 and $50,000. Standefer and Alesch hope that the gallery’s Canal Street location will help support the local creative community. “There’s a long history of artists and their galleries being here,” Standefer says. “What more perfect street than this one to share our purpose with the world?”