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DESIGNER OF THE DAY: RICK HINTZE

March 05 2022

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By Ryan Waddoups

Centuries of ceramic traditions collapse into the hand-built coiled vessels made by Rick Hintze, whose balanced, statuesque works merge the ancient and the modern. Inspired by the picturesque landscapes surrounding his studio in Johnson Creek, Wisconsin, the esteemed potter animates each piece with imperfections—slight variations in curves, incidental markings—that speak to his kinetic process while evoking memory through the ages.

The most important thing you’ve designed to date: The most unique thing I have come up with is the clay and wood ash surface that varies from dark red brown to cornmeal yellow. The quality of this surface depends on an underlying stain of iron oxide, the thickness of application, and the temperature, atmosphere, and duration of the firing.

Describe the problem your work solves: I am trying to build forms that enclose elementary volumes that energize the surrounding space and that have varied surfaces in terms of color and texture that enhance rather than detract from the basic shapes. The building method I use (coiling) also lends itself to imperfection so that the surface curves are not geometrically perfect. For me this adds a sense of presence and personality to the forms.

Describe the project you are working on now: I am currently working on some large, round forms, concentrating on the sense of volume created by the proportions and the swelling of the curve of the profile from base to the neck of the pot. I am also paying particular attention to the termination of the neck and lip, experimenting with different shapes, sizes and surfaces to find what best enhances the existing form.

I work on more than one problem at a time, so I am also experimenting with some more or less vertical shapes, vaguely tree trunk like, and letting the coiling process express itself more without excessive scraping and paddling to smooth out the irregularities. I will be trying out some new surface treatments for these forms in terms of color and texture.

A new or forthcoming project we should know about: I have no commitment at present to a particular event. I am always working toward trying to create a coherent body of work.

What you absolutely must have in your studio: Solitude, quiet, music sometimes, podcasts occasionally, hot water for tea, good lighting.

What you do when you’re not working: I enjoy time to read, to cook, and exercise. In the summer I bicycle, play golf, and race a sailboat. In the winter I walk when conditions are good, play some indoor tennis, and otherwise ride a bike trainer.

Sources of creative envy: I would not use the word “envy.” I greatly admire ancient pottery as well as the work of many past and present potters and sculptors. If you are asking about inspiration, I think my visual faculties are at work almost constantly, taking in both the natural and man made, occasionally coming across something extraordinary, sometimes fleeting.

The distraction you want to eliminate: Because of the location of the studio, we get a lot of unexpected noises (traffic, sirens, tools or machines). These are the most distracting.

ROBIN STANDEFER AND STEPHEN ALESCH BROKE THE MOLD WITH THEIR REDESIGN OF THE MET’S NEW BRITISH GALLERIES

January 11 2022

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BY NOOR BRARA

Prolific design duo Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch of the New York-based firm Roman and Williams have long conceived some of the most beautifully designed, immersive spaces in hotels, restaurants, and homes, bringing their art backgrounds to bear on many of the city’s beloved cultural institutions and buildings.

But when, in 2014, the two won their most significant commission to date—a reimagining of the British Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a task never before outsourced to an independent design firm—they began to rethink what Roman and Williams could encompass. While falling into a rabbit hole of object research, during which time Standefer admits they became “obsessed” with the history of each treasure in the Met’s collection, the two started to think about what might be next for their own practice.

After the unveiling of the new British Galleries in 2020, Standefer and Alesch began to mull over a new idea: to open Guild Gallery, a natural progression from the RW Guild, their store on Soho’s Canal street that presents small-scale sculptural works and ceramics in a design-meets-restaurant hybrid space where everything is shoppable.

Guild Gallery, which opened in November, is the first “real” gallery from Roman and Williams that seeks to reconsider how the art of the ceramicists and sculptors they’ve worked with could be elevated. Additionally, they sought to reimagine the relationship between artwork and the world in which it lives, which they view as a space that must reflect, in a sense, the materiality and intention of each work.

To discuss their work redesigning the Met’s British Galleries, the opening of Guild Gallery, and why the art world ought to rethink the exhibition experience, we recently spoke to Standefer over Zoom.

To begin, maybe you can tell me a little about how you were selected to re-design the British Galleries at the Met, which as you’ve said is what laid the groundwork for the formation of Guild Gallery.

The Met has never hired a designer that was not in-house to do a suite of permanent galleries. It was an arduous and intensive competition that took two years. We worked with Luke Syson, who is now the director of the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, but who was then the chairman of decorative arts at the Metropolitan Museum, to finalize our vision. We were certainly an unexpected choice because the other candidates were more like Diller Scofidio or Herzog and de Meuron—the usual suspects for redesigning a permanent wing of a museum. But someone had recommended us and we got the call and competed for it.

In the end I think we received the commission because of how devoted to the objects we were. We had a total obsession with them, and an interest in their history, and that’s something that, sadly—and I want to be careful about how I say this—isn’t usually the case because architects tend to be more focused on the space than the objects. And so that’s something for us, even in our own practice, that’s really important: the idea of what goes into a space being central to how we build it, that a space should have a real relationship to what goes in it. These concepts are quite fundamental to what birthed Guild Gallery, too.

So how did you realize that mission at the Met, that a space should have a meaningful relationship to what it houses?

We were given the commission after two years of intense presenting to the board and the visitors committee. We had to articulate why we were right and why we thought we could create an experience at the Met that was part of the museum tradition, but also absolutely unique. Finally, we received the commission after that process, and then we embarked for more than five years on actually creating those galleries. Just finding our rhythm required a lot of research and looking—I mean we traveled with the curators to the Rijksmuseum and the Neue Galerie and really got a primer on best-in-class exhibition design. It did strike Stephen and I that many galleries haven’t really embraced this idea of a design language between their objects and installations, whether that was because of cost or the belief many galleries have that it’s about complete austerity to authentically show the work.

The Rijks and the Neue were particularly moving to us and we came back and put our heads down to figure out how to keep the wing’s chronology, its relationship to the rest of the museum, and how its objects were used. At the end of the day, you’re telling a deep, historical story about British history and also world history. The British empire represents the world, and so where does that take us in terms of an object-focused story? Ceramics started to play a huge part in that dialogue.

How did you end up laying all this out? And how did these decisions lead to the formation of RW Guild and then Guild Gallery?

When you think about the history of Britain, you have to think about pottery, pots, containers, and making techniques ancient and modern. We were going from the 15th century to the 19th century. We were so moved by that whole exploration. We were also very interested in sacred geometry and other things that were very core to us and our practice, and in these galleries, we found that there was a tactic of using arches—a Gothic arch, a pointed arch, and so on—to represent the different centuries. We learned a lot about the idea of the threshold and the transition and how that informs your experience. So we worked on the British galleries, and it really propelled us then to open the Guild as well. This is something that we were thinking about, but it was during that journey that we really concretized and made that decision.

So now we’re four years in and the Guild and the Met galleries are opening. For us this relationship of object lust and the power of the utility of the everyday, the sacred in the everyday, the idea of what an object means that gets passed down through centuries and becomes sort of a symbol of family and place and an important cultural relevance to whatever country it’s coming from… it’s all related. We were kind of teasing those ideas out in the RW Guild for a contemporary audience, with the objects that we acquired from the [global roster] of artists [and makers] we were working with. And people started to get very excited about that. But at the same time, we were looking around in the industry and we just weren’t really happy as designers. We were like, “There are so few people who are embracing these techniques, to be able to allow people to actually use things.”

So when I’m thinking about 18th-century Britain and the emergence of the middle class and glassware that was more artisanally made than we have today, I was like, “Whoa, we are going backwards.” We decided to celebrate that and one of the important things was that what we had wasn’t only American-made, or U.K.-made, but it was of global quality. So all of this was percolating for us, and it related to the narrative of the Met’s, which was “creativity in an entrepreneurial society.” That was the brief. So we had to express that in our designs for the galleries, and it was meta, because it was so close to something we were so interested in in our own practice. It felt meant to be.

So then the Met galleries open in 2020 and the museum closes for the first time in 100 years and nobody sees our galleries. Which was sort of… disappointing.

That’s insane.

It was literally open for a week. And then… well, you know.

My god. How did you feel?

It was awfully sad. But now people are going to see the galleries again and, after that, we had an opportunity for us to redefine what art is to us. And so we are really thinking about the power of art, with a capital “A,” as something with intrinsic power, with almost an abstraction but not necessarily—but what defined that to us. In the midst of the pandemic, a lot of the artists at the Guild started to work on a bigger scale and started to really delve into their own practices.

Our restaurant expanded so our store started to become even more about function and a guild of the senses than the mission that it opened with. We always knew it was about flowers, food, utility, and creating a sense of life, and that the accoutrement that goes with

ROMAN AND WILLIAMS’S NEW GALLERY CHAMPIONS CONTEMPORARY DECORATIVE ARTISTS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

November 11 2021

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BY ELISE TAYLOR

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.

ROMAN & WILLIAMS OPENS GUILD GALLERY IN NEW YORK, AND OTHER NEWS

November 11 2021

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BY THE EDITORS

For years the founders behind the New York–based design firm Roman & Williams, Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, have captivated the hospitality world with their sumptuous narrative-driven interiors that pair textural materials with a sense of place. When the RW Guild showroom opened in SoHo, in 2017, the duo combined their rarefied taste for decoration with the experience they’ve gleaned from decades of conceptualizing some of the world’s most revered restaurants and hotels: Le Coucou, Veronika, NoMad London, and more.

Now comes Guild Gallery, the next expression of the Roman & Williams universe. Fans can expect a meticulous curation of ceramics, sculptures, and artworks from past collaborators that hew toward collectible design and decoration over furniture and homewares. The opening show, titled Container and Content, features the work of Akiko Hirai. It’s the ceramicist’s first solo exhibition in the United States and showcases the 2019 Loewe Craft Prize finalist’s handmade objects inspired by her childhood in Japan.

ROMAN AND WILLIAMS TAKE A LESSON FROM THE MET WITH THE LAUNCH OF GUILD GALLERY

November 10 2021

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BY SHIVANI VORA

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?”

JOURNEY TO A CENTER OF THE EARTH

October 28 2021

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BY TED LOOS

The married founders of the architecture and design firm Roman and Williams, Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, are known for their dramatic room schemes that often use saturated colors and layers of objects to communicate richness and depth.

Their work includes the restaurant Le Coucou at the edge of Chinatown in Manhattan; the Ace Hotel in New York’s NoMad neighborhood; the British Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and an indoor-outdoor dining hall for Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters. They designed many projects for the actor Ben Stiller, who made the introduction when they won a 2014 National Design Award, regarded as the highest honor in their field. They also did two Goop stores.

Their latest project has them coming down to earth: They are opening the ceramics-focused Guild Gallery on Canal Street in New York that will exhibit works by a dozen artists. The gallery opens on Nov. 11 with a show of the London-based ceramist Akiko Hirai.

The project grew out of Roman and Williams Guild, the couple’s four-year-old design boutique and cafe just a few steps away from the new gallery, though the true source may be “our total object lust,” Ms. Standefer said.

As they worked with ceramists to stock the Guild, where vases and dishes are mixed with furniture, lighting and many other items, the duo started to see the pieces in a new way.

“We realized there weren’t that many places that really housed, really supported these artists, especially in the U.S.,” Ms. Standefer said.

She added, “This is about isolating form, taking it out of context and really experiencing the object.”

Guild Gallery will have six to eight shows a year and may include artists who work with materials other than clay. The space itself, with mostly off-white walls, is restrained in a way that is fairly new for Roman and Williams.

“We’ve been asking, ‘What does it mean to be more distilled?’” Ms. Standefer said, noting that the downtime of the coronavirus pandemic encouraged a new approach. “It took a while to get to a different level of quiet.”

The oak plinths that will hold objects will be a pared-back version of the firm’s signature retro-industrial style, but they will still have details aplenty. Long discussions went into the shadow line, or three-dimensional appearance, of the plinth’s edges, Mr. Alesch said; ditto for the delicate linen scrims that will separate the works.

The gallery’s opening comes at a time of renewed interest in ceramics, as evidenced by exhibitions like the recently opened “Ceramics in the Expanded Field,” at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Mass., until April 2023.

“The revival has been happening for a decade or more,” said Luke Syson, the director of the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge, in England, and formerly the Met’s curator in charge of European sculpture and decorative arts.

“As we get further into the digital age, those aspects of craft that depend on contact between material and hand have become more prized,” Mr. Syson said.

He added: “There’s always been a connection between pots and people. Just think of the terms we use to describe them, like shoulder, belly and neck.”

Mr. Syson was part of the Met team that worked with Roman and Williams on the British Galleries, which opened in March 2020, only to be temporarily closed a week later because of the pandemic.

“As things evolved, we realized certain artists just required, and deserved, to be seen with more space — and I think the British Galleries had a lot to do with it,” Ms. Standefer said.

The couple received tips on compensating artists and other dynamics from the international art dealer David Zwirner, who operates multiple galleries and is a friend and client. (Mr. Alesch and Ms. Standefer are working on a project for him in Montauk, N.Y., where they also have a home.)

“I egged them on a little,” Mr. Zwirner said. “I warned Robin, be careful what you wish for. Artists tend to be complicated.”

In particular, he thought that Guild could fill a gap in the gallery scene.

“We’re always talking about inclusivity in the art world, and we mean that sociologically,” Mr. Zwirner said. “But we have to be inclusive making-wise, too. We have a brutal hierarchy” — one that tends to devalue craft.

“It’s a diss at Art Basel to say something is decorative,” Mr. Zwirner said.

As Mr. Alesch put it, “It’s a little old-fashioned to think of fine art as always of painting.”

He and Ms. Standefer are known for digging deeply into their interests. They have a kiln in Montauk and have experimented with firing clay there. When their travels over the past few years took them to Tokyo on business more than a dozen times, they explored Japanese ceramics.

“Our recreation on a Tokyo weekend was to walk around and see all the exhibits, all the small galleries with these poetic, perfect shows,” Mr. Alesch said. He noted that the robust British tradition of clay will also be reflected in the gallery’s program.

Ms. Hirai, born in Japan and educated in England, reflects both influences. She will be showing about 40 works, including large “moon jars” standing more than two feet tall. The jars, whose surfaces are covered with cracks, speckles and heaps of messy accretions, are inspired by a Korean example in the British Museum.

As they discussed how to arrange such objects, the newly minted gallerists noted that they had some early résumé qualifications. Ms. Standefer worked reception for the legendary dealer Leo Castelli and as an assistant for the Pop artist James Rosenquist; Mr. Alesch was once a guard at what is now MoMA PS1 in Queens.

Their more recent history with design projects has taught them that people are seeking tactile experiences, an urge that Guild Gallery may be able to satisfy, at least for some collectors (prices will range from $5,000 to $50,000).

“I think people are really interested in material now,” Ms. Standefer said. “With ceramics and clay, it’s from the earth, and there’s a purity. I think people love that tradition and that story.”