Roman and Williams open gallery in New York dedicated to crafts

New NYC gallery by Roman and Williams pays tribute to the creators

The design studio Roman and Williams unveils the Guild Gallery in New York, an exhibition space that highlights new creators and artists, and opens with the work of London-based ceramicist Akiko Hirai (until December 23, 2021)

A confluence of forces lies behind the opening of the Guild Gallery in New York, the latest venture from local design studio Roman and Williams. Guild Gallery, located along Canal Street’s lively main road, is a lighthouse for immersion dedicated to showcasing applied art.

A celebration of individual creators and artists, many of whom have never had solo exhibitions before, the gallery opens with a year-long list of 12 performers from around the globe – each a true force in their chosen medium, be it ceramics, glass or wood. First out is an exhibition featuring ships by London-based ceramic artist Akiko Hirai (until December 23, 2021), with future programming to include urushi-lacquer pieces by Japanese artist Kenta Anzai and stone sculptures by Dutch artist Mirjam de Nijs.

Roman and Williams’ founders Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch are no strangers to this part of Manhattan. Their groundbreaking retail, the Roman and Williams Guild, which royally occupies the corner of Mercer and Canal Streets, just a few doors down from the new Guild Gallery, has brought a stream of well-heeled visitors to this cultural crossroads since it opened in 2017 Known for its impeccable collection of furniture, tableware and accessories, the Guild heralded the resurgence of Canal Street as a hub for art, design and creativity – a reputation that it continues to strengthen despite the impact of the global pandemic.

Guild Gallery by Roman and Williams pays tribute to creators and artists

Akiko Hirai, ‘Container and Content’, Exhibition View, at Guild Gallery, New York

The idea of ​​creating an even more elevated platform began for Standefer and Alesch, after the firm was tasked with re-envisioning the permanent British galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The six-year commitment culminated in the unveiling and opening of the new 11,000-square-foot space in early 2020 – just seven days before New York City went into lockdown. The forced period of loneliness that followed gave Standefer and Alesch time to let their personal pursuits and dialogues with artists and creators in their orbit merge.

“Stephen and I have been very devoted to creators around the world, and that conversation became more present while we were working on The Met,” Standefer says. ‘In the middle of trying to survive [during the pandemic], we began to see a shift in the cultural dialogue and revival of ceramic crafts as applied art, ‘says Standefer. ‘Ceramics have been celebrated, however [mostly] in an environment that was contextual. At the guild, people are able to experience these objects in the context of their home, their lives and how they are used. From there, a dozen artists began to emerge, which I saw was already on the way, they had credibility and goals and aspirations that were greater on a physical scale. They had training and focus that required us to start focusing on them for their form. ‘

Canal Street facades

She continues: ‘If you look at Roman and Williams’ core practice, we have basically been a kind of maximalist, always about creating context and relationships and interactions between objects. We saw these 12 people and said we need to consider isolating them. The practice of these artists requires a focused and heightened attention. I say this because it all happened very organically. We wanted to celebrate them in a more profound and focused way. We wanted to celebrate the handmade. ‘

The debut exhibition by Akiko Hirai is entitled ‘Container and content’. Highly varied in scale and elusive classification with their idiosyncratic surface textures, Hirai’s poppy pods and irregular moon pot shapes are deliberately ambiguous, some seemingly semi-formed and others on the verge of bursting to life. Shown on specially designed oak pedestals, which are accompanied by matching benches and translucent screens to allow for moments of introspection for visitors, the complex and monumental aspects of Hirai’s practice are evident.

Akiko Hirai, ‘Container and Content’, Exhibition View, at Guild Gallery, New York

‘Galleries rarely create immersion and travel. Scrims is about not giving it all away right away. The gallery is modest, it is not that big, but we wanted to create a feeling of the journey, says Standefer. ‘Everything is in a mono-material of oak, with a single handshake in the details of the woodwork and joinery. These are all things you recognize when you look at surface and texture. ‘

She concludes: ‘I see ceramics as an incredible, almost semiotic study of human history. It’s old, it’s global, it’s part of every culture. It is part of our basic nature. I think people in the pandemic started looking at nature and recognizing the land we live on. ‘ §


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