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The poetic ceramics of Casey Zablocki exhibited at the Guild Gallery in New York

November 10 2022

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BY SOPHIE BOUCHET

The Guild Gallery of architecture and interior design studio Roman and Williams presents the work of artist Casey Zablocki in a solo exhibition.

Founded by Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, Roman and Williams is an architecture and interior design studio based in New York City . The internationally renowned firm has opened its exhibition space in the same city, the Guild Gallery . Currently, one can discover the work of Casey Zablocki , who presents his ceramics for the first time outside the state of Montana where he officiates. Entitled “Modern Relics”, this curation brings together 70 works from his repertoire, both tableware and more monumental sculptures.

Trained at the University of Montana, Casey Zablocki perfected his apprenticeship in South Korea with the sculptor Lee Hun Chung . On his return to the United States, the ceramist embarked on the creation of his own pieces. His experimentation with materials and cooking gives rise to unique objects. “ My work gives the impression of having been found at the bottom of the ocean or of having been in contact with the lava of a volcano ”, explains Casey Zablocki. Cooked in an anagama kiln using a historical technique, the American's ceramics draw their aesthetics from this demanding method and the precise gesture of the craftsman. The latter can abandon a project for several weeks, even several months, before finalizing its modelling.

10 Questions With… Casey Zablocki

October 25 2022

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BY OSMAN CAN YEREBAKAN

Artist and designer Casey Zablocki’s journey into crafting his own lexicon with stoneware is as fiery as his wood-fueled kiln. Working from a 1,800-square-foot studio with 12-foot-high ceilings in Missoula, Montana, the 40-year-old sculpts forms that are mysterious about their age, resonance, use, and even material. In fact, Zablocki’s goal is to expand the notion of function, particularly within today’s constantly expanding pool of optic abundance. “I think of function in a few different ways—you can drink from an object or sit on it but function can also be an attraction for viewing; seeing the beauty and the energy is also a function,” he tells Interior Design.

This philosophy is evident in his first solo New York exhibition at Guild Gallery, titled “Modern Relics.” On display are 67 stoneware pieces, made over the last decade, that vary in scale yet unite in their laborious and performative origins of extreme heat. Tactility is captured in the artist’s robust objects that reach as high as nine-feet-tall, giving the works an anthropomorphic quality. “The way glazes drip down through in my work is like water running down a mountainside,” he adds. Montana’s rivers and mountains surround Zablocki’s studio as well as aspen trees and broken sculptures spread outside. In New York, Guild Gallery’s scale echoes Zablocki’s studio with a similar open plan and identical pedestals to showcase his vessels, stools, chairs, and sculptures.

Zablocki shares insights on his craft as well as his solo show, which runs through November 26, 2022.

Interior Design: Tell us about working with an ancient anagama kiln, which works differently than a wood-fueled kiln, from your first trial to how you’ve developed a relationship with the enduring process?

Casey Zablocki: The relationship is intense. With a wood-fueled kiln, I have to fire for about eight days, 24 hours a day, non stop. We use about 10 cords of wood in two different types, fir wood and cottonwood, which both give different effects. Cotton is high in potassium, which is ideal for glazing. In Montana, we don’t have hardwoods and I have to use what’s native to the land. Fir is a little denser, ideal for coal beds. I have a crew of around 14 people to fire with, and we fly around the clock. In anagama, the fire is in front of the kiln and the chimney pulls the flame and ash through, causing that ash land on top of my work to create the glaze from melting at high temperature. I control the atmosphere on the way up, so I tend to fire in a neutral carbon atmosphere on the way up and cold for two and a half days at around 200 to 250 degrees. In that stage, I start melting the ash in the work. 

ID: You commit to a physical affair, almost like a ritual. Could you walk us through the basic elements?

CZ: I use a big shovel to push coals on there to create different effects and variations in color. This process is similar to painting, but I don’t have control, except some of the atmosphere. I have to let go and let the kiln do its work. I cool the kiln in a neutral carbon-filled atmosphere to down to about 1600 degrees. As I cool the kiln, I build crystals on top of the glaze. Instead of a clear shining glaze, I have a matte glaze with crystals, which also adds a layer of surface and color to my work. I never really know what’s going on inside the kiln, or what’s going to come out until we open the kiln and hope that it cooperates with me. Think of a little dance or a relationship in which both parties have to trust each other. There is also listening, certain sounds that come from the kiln as well as certain smells that tell me what’s happening inside. If you’re not smelling any carbon, you’re probably burning pretty clean, but if you smell carbon, it is dirt and you’re in a carbon-filled atmosphere. When you throw wood in the kiln when it’s really hot and firing really nice, it sounds like you’re throwing wood onto glass with a melody to it. The relationship is always changing, depending on the mountainside where the wood comes from, as well as the people I fire with, or the surrounding climate.

ID: How about the work’s timeless effect? The stoneware sculptures look archaic, even excavated from another era, but also contemporary and sleek.

CZ: I take inspiration from the modern world we live in but also sculpt and fire with traditions in mind. I try to add effects of being buried, sunken, even destroyed through sculpting, aging, and firing processes. Sculpting helps to create a sense of past, aging beauty in this modern world where we want things to stay new and young forever. However, as we grow we become like sculptures: things happen to us good or bad, trauma or happiness, and I see similarly for my work. 

ID: How about scale as a tool to communicate with the viewer?

CZ: Scale is very important in determining a show’s installation. As I make work, the way they are installed is always at the back of my head. With variety in scale, the viewer can travel throughout the show. In Modern Relics, I have two different kinds of series, one that is in a way quilted-looking and other series with a Brutalist stick sharp edge. The goal is to create a tension and surprise in experience. With larger scale, it is harder to make a strong piece. There is a nine-foot-tall work at this show’s entrance, which I was really worried about at first. Conveying energy for the viewer at that scale is difficult, but eventually a small vase and a large sculpture can and should both achieve that.

ID: Heat is a strong element throughout the process, both as a source of energy and potential for destruction. Could you explain your relationship with heat? 

CZ: Heat takes the energy out of me. When firing, we have to keep the kiln door open and by the end, I’m somber. In order to create my surface, I have to get up to 250 degrees and hold that temperature for days. What heat does is disruptive. I have to raise the heat to create the sculptural elements. On the other hand, flame is my paintbrush. I achieve the variations on my surface through flames, so I have a tremendous amount of respect for heat. The feeling of being worn out by heat also brings vulnerability and makes me feel present throughout the process. 

ID: How about your idea of collaboration? You work with many people in your studio—how is the distribution of tasks?

CZ: I work solo in my studio right now. My crew comes up to make their own work, but I create my work solo at the moment. After this year, I will start hiring people again. Working with a team creates its own rhythm. I have to sketch everything out and make plans for them to build, and then I sculpt. This process creates opportunities for exploration into other paths. Now though, I have my sketchbook; I start making the work; and that piece leads to another piece. I haven’t been collaborating much since COVID hit. I hunkered down into the studio with 5,000 pounds of clay, and I had fir wood firing already lined up. We fire outside anyway so when COVID first happened, I got a small crew together to fire the kiln. This felt like going back to my old roots.

ID: Could you talk about the alchemist aspect of your practice? Mixing wood, ash, clay, fire, all sounds like an experiment of alchemy as these materials evolve out of your control with their own chemical characteristics?

CZ: Clay at 1,200 degrees is not ceramics yet—at that point, it goes through force inversion and we put it into a reduction. The fires looks for oxygen and starts pulling things out of the clay body to create colors. So I get oranges, whites, and peachy colors. If we don’t fire in the reduction atmosphere but rather an oxidation atmosphere, we tend to have really light whites and lush peaches. I prefer heavier oranges, amber and darker colors in general. Also, in my clay body, I use solar feldspars which flux at lower temperatures. Over the years, I’ve developed probably 30-40 to clay bodies. 

A large portion of my work has glaze dripping down. When you hold a high temperature, the ash eats the clay body to get into the surface. If I just shut down, I’d have shiny transparent-looking drips on there. Cooling the kiln creates crystal growths. If I didn’t cool the kiln, you would be seeing a very shiny glaze, but I prefer the darker almost a little pink lavender color.

ID: Could you also talk about committing to abstraction while maintaining a very strong visual impact?

CZ: Carving is almost painting. I make my work as a solid form without any thought of abstraction. I try to give life to my work through human movements—I want my pieces to feel like they’re almost approaching you. I started out as a painter many years ago before I ceramics. I always contemplate ideas of dancing, movement, and brushstrokes, as well as the negative space in in our environment. As I shape my pieces, I always ask myself what they are going to make after? What is this piece in that future; where is it leading? Making these hard lines and cutting the forms out is another transfer of energy: cutting, slashing, pulling, rebuilding and getting movement…

ID: How does Montana’s nature and its relationship to materials influence your work?

CZ: I don’t know what it is but the energy is amazing, maybe the mega volcanoes in Yellowstone. My wife and I were supposed to stay here for two years, which was almost nine years ago. Montana is full of ceramic artists working from the Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, Stumptown Art Studio in Whitefish, and Red Lodge Clay Center’s residency program. Of course, there is a strong reference to nature in my work through mountains.

ID: How do you maneuver around the concept of sculpture while creating utilitarian objects?

CZ: I went into furniture for the idea of creating a relationship with the viewer through form of function. I started out as a potter many years ago, and I always liked the idea of people eating or drinking from my art, because it is a form of relationship. Furniture came out of a search to scale up that relationship. After focusing on just making furniture for a long time, I started feeling that my furniture was getting a little away from sculpture and more into function. Now I see it shifting back more towards the sculptural realm.

Montana-Based Artist Casey Zablocki’s Extraordinary Ceramics Go on View in New York

September 23 2022

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BY GEOFFREY MONTES

Perched on a mountainside in Missoula, Montana, a massive East Asian–style “cave kiln” is where artist Casey Zablocki produces monolithic sculptures, statement-making furnishings, and distinctive vessels that have fast caught the attention of collectors around the world. Despite their eroded-concrete appearance, all of Zablocki’s works are hollow ceramics with rugged surfaces that evoke harsh landscapes on a miniature scale. “I want you to see the world in my work,” explains the Michigan-born talent. “I’m trying to reference lake beds and dry rivers, the sky and stars a little bit, and even our universe in a way.”

Known as an anagama, the special type of wood-fire kiln he uses dates back at least 1,500 years in Japan and heats earthenware up to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit for days on end. “It gives my work that aged-in-the-ocean or buried-in-the-ground effect,” says Zablocki, who eschews traditional glazes in favor of the natural wood ash produced by the blaze. “Each piece is totally one-of-a-kind.”

Now, Zablocki’s brutalist-inspired works are the subject of his first solo show in New York, at Soho’s Guild Gallery, the new fine-art platform from Roman and Williams Guild cofounders Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch. On view through November 12, “Casey Zablocki: Modern Relics” encompasses some 66 stoneware pieces made over the last decade, with the “bones” of the exhibition crafted in the last three years. “I had 5,000 pounds of clay and 20 cords of wood at the beginning of COVID,” Zablocki recalls. “It gave me the opportunity to start experimenting not just with function but also more sculptural objects.”

Indeed, one of the first pieces that greets visitors to the space is Zablocki’s largest work to date, a towering monolith with a jagged, vaguely anthropomorphic form. (The 1,200-pound piece is so large, in fact, that it had to be fired in two batches and joined together.) “I’m trying to blur the lines of function and art,” he says. “Function tends to create a relationship with the viewer right away, but sculpture brings a unique personality and energy to the work.” This poetic combination of art and design has has been clearly influenced by artists such as ceramic master Hun Chung Lee, with whom Zablocki apprenticed around eight years ago in South Korea. “I don’t want you as the onlooker to get too comfortable with my work,” he says. “Then you start to expect something from it.”

The idea of rebirth is also a potent theme in the show, since during Zablocki’s labor-intensive process one piece often becomes the progenitor of another. For instance, a statement chair on display lost portions of its sides during firing, but those chunks soon became sculptures in their own right. “It’s like the work is birthing more work,” he says. Other eye-catching pieces include a sculptural bird bath designed to be installed in nature. “My work definitely does well outside,” he laughs. “I have one at home that the birds absolutely love. It’s nice that my work is good enough for the animals.”

Despite his success, however, Zablocki is quick to quell any notion of resting on his laurels. “I want to explore and keep on progressing further and further,” he enthuses. “If I’m stagnant and not childlike with it, I don’t feel like I’m growing. Especially creating this big sculpture, I feel like it’s a new birth for me. I wasn’t ready for a show like this until now. It took 18 years working in clay to get to this point to feel comfortable.”

Designer of the Day: Casey Zablocki

September 19 2022

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BY RYAN WADDOUPS

Casey Zablocki mines nature, artifice, and the memories of his own relationships for inspiration when creating his stoneware pieces, whose ancient appearance and eroded textures are the result of being fired in one of America’s largest anagama kilns for weeks at a time. From monumental sculptures to intimately sized vessels, each piece has its own personality—a reflection of the Missoula-based artist’s fascinations with growth, decay, and pushing his medium to the absolute limit.

Here, we ask designers to take a selfie and give us an inside look at their life.

Age: 40

Occupation: Artist and designer.

Instagram: @zablockiceramics

Hometown: I grew up in Hubbell, MI, and currently live in Missoula, MT.

Studio location: Missoula.

Describe what you make: I create ceramic sculptures and furniture. I fire these pieces in a large wood-fired kiln for eight days around the clock, which gives the work a unique, one-of-a-kind surface. During my sculpting process, I reference past and present—time and decay. I make a wide range of work in size, scale, and forms, with a heavy influence from brutalist architecture. I hope to constantly be evolving but there are definitely forms that I keep coming back to, like my vases and jars.

The most important thing you’ve designed to date: I don’t know if there’s necessarily one thing that’s more important than the other. All of my pieces—from large to small–hold the same energy for me. If I had to choose one thing specific, seeing my first ceramic chair emerge from the wood kiln was pretty powerful.

Describe the problem your work solves: I don’t think of it as a problem, but more how I’m contributing to the world. I’m not really changing or solving any of the (many) issues in this world, but maybe I’m adding some unexpected beauty into someone’s daily lives. 

Describe the project you are working on now: My show “Modern Relics” with Roman and Williams’s Guild Gallery in New York, which opened on Sept. 15. It’s a huge body of work I’ve worked on for the past 1.5 years—pieces ranging in size from an ambitious nine-foot-tall sculpture to a small six-inch sculpture.

A new or forthcoming project we should know about: I’m in the development of my next body of work. I’m hoping to explore more large-scale sculptures and monolithic forms. Stay tuned!

What you absolutely must have in your studio: Music, plants, my photographer (who’s also my wife), and our dog Ingrid.

What you do when you’re not working: Remodeling our 1910 shotgun home, spending time in the garden, and riding/tinkering with my 77 shovelhead custom build motorcycle. 

Sources of creative envy: Woof, this list could be so long! David Smith, Franz Kline, Shiro Tsujimura, Suzuki Goro, Richard Serra, Peter Voulkos… it could go on and on. I was influenced early on by my uncle Tim Zablocki. I had the incredible pleasure to work alongside Hun Chung Lee and Ty Best—both amazing designers and makers. I’d also be remiss to not mention Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch of Roman and Williams. Their vision is outstanding.

The distraction you want to eliminate: Maybe they’re welcome distractions? I get a lot of wonderful friends and neighbors that stop by the studio, but honestly I don’t know what I’d do without the love and support from my community. Maybe my work is a bit of a distraction from spending more time with these people. I tend to get absorbed by my studio practice and get tunnel vision at times. The mountains are also a bit of a welcomed distraction. There are only so many hours in a day and days in a week before seasons change. I try to get out as much as possible, whether running the trails, enjoying the rivers, or snowboarding.

Concrete or marble? A year ago I’d say concrete! But currently I’m obsessed with the idea of seeing my forms in marble.

High-rise or townhouse? Cabin in the woods?! Townhouse if I have to choose.

Remember or forget? Remember.

Aliens or ghosts? Aliens.

Dark or light? Dark.

Montana-Based Ceramic Artist Casey Zablocki Fires Up His Most Ambitious Work Yet

July 05 2022

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BY HANNAH MARTIN

Casey Zablocki is sleep-deprived. It’s mid-April; his ceramics studio has been running 24 hours a day for the past week; and he’s working the night shift, firing the wood-burning kiln from midnight to six in the morning. “It’s a physical and mental marathon, like running up a mountain,” Zablocki says by Zoom. After the call he’ll doze a little, chop more wood, and do it all over again. 

This is how the artist works. Due to the risk of forest fires in his home base of Missoula, Montana, he limits himself to just two main batches a year, once in April and again in December. At the time of our conversation there was even more heat as he prepared for his September solo show at New York’s Guild Gallery, the fine-art extension of Roman and Williams Guild. 

Zablocki fell in love with wood-fired pottery as an undergrad, attracted to the richly textured, at times crystallized surfaces he could achieve using the age-old method. After apprenticing for masters like Hun Chung Lee in South Korea, the Michigan-born talent found himself at the Clay Studio of Missoula, where he still rents a cave-like anagama kiln. “I don’t use any glaze,” he explains. “It’s all wood ash from the fire being pulled through the kiln, landing on my work, and melting at a high, high heat.” Temperatures regularly reach up to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit.

His latest creations—his most ambitious yet—are big. Fired in two parts, one piece stands nearly nine feet tall and weighs roughly 1,200 pounds. (Zablocki wants to go bigger, but he’d need a new kiln for that.) Over the course of a year, he’ll go through some five tons of clay, sculpting chairs, benches, tables, and nonfunctional artworks in an intuitive, almost spiritual process. “There has to be some kind of energy transfer between the kiln and me,” Zablocki reflects. “I have to read what’s going on—the color of the flame, the smell of the atmosphere, the sound of the wood burning. These all tell me different things.”

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.”