New York Design Week is an annual city-wide gathering of brands, designers, engineers, craftspeople, and artists across industries. It’s a massive meeting of the minds that encompasses panel discussions and lectures, exhibits and trade shows, parties and workshops, held everywhere from independent galleries to the Javits Center. While it is a fertile ground for interdisciplinary discussion, however, Design Week is primarily catered to entities that design commercially viable products. JONALDDUDD, launched in 2015 by artists Lydia Cambronand Chris Held, sprouted from a desire to create space for a wider representation of independent creative perspectives within Design Week.
Each year JONALDDUDD operates out of different spaces and showcases a spectrum of work made by people both within and on the fringes of the industry. Their style is unique; rather than dividing exhibits into sections dedicated to an individual artist, Lydia and Chris layer pieces together to create a multifaceted display of fresh voices.
We spoke with Lydia about JONALDDUDD’s history and plans for their 2019 exhibit, which is open for submissions.
What are your and Chris’ backgrounds and how did you meet and begin collaborating? My background is in industrial design and Chris’ is in Fine Arts. He went to Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland, where I’m from. I was living back in Portland after school, and we met through mutual friends and ended up sharing a studio space. Chris was working independently and I was doing contract work in retail design, but had a side practice and a studio. We shared it for a while and eventually collaborated on furniture. Then he moved to New York and we were working on a furniture project long distance, and I ended up visiting for work and then moved out here too. My education is in design, but from a more conceptual approach and less of a product-driven point of view. There was overlap because Chris came from the other end of the spectrum, with a fine arts background that pulled from design elements. So it was interesting to work together and have a lot of similarities but from a different perspective.
How did designing furniture together turn into creating a Design Week exhibition? We had gone to New York Design Week for several years, both as residents and visitors. It’s mostly about the industry and trends and resources, but we’d seen exhibitions that we considered more fringe and blending into the art territory, and found that really engaging and interesting. It was what we did in our personal practices and what our friends were doing. We wanted to see more of it, so we came up with the idea to facilitate it ourselves and create a platform where we could show that work.
So it was always intended to be part of Design Week versus having the idea and then realizing Design Week could be a home for it? Exactly. Even the fringe exhibits that were already at Design Week were more about bringing products to market, rather than showcasing interesting work with less established exhibitors. That was something we felt like we could bring to the table: a platform that would show the depth and breadth of what we considered design and its crossover with art and craft, but also the spectrum of people working within it. Whether they’re fully established in an art practice and wouldn’t really show in a design atmosphere, or are from a design background but are less established, or just have maybe a one-off piece that they’re not trying to get picked up for production. Or even if they are, that’s fine. We’re just interested in showing the range and people who are using design as a way to explore and self express and are less tied to industry trends and marketability.
For the second year in a row, JONALDDUDD is back to disrupt a few commonly held perceptions regarding New York Design Week. Instead of the big fairs and showcases that define much of the design exhibition landscape, JONALDDUDD focuses on featuring emerging creatives who work in the interstitial territory between art and design—and are unafraid to offer a critical perspective on both disciplines through their exploratory, personal work.
Coordinated by artist/designer trio Chris Held, Lydia Cambron, and Ben Garthus, the show this year features the work of 10 hybrid creatives whose practice uses the language of furniture and housewares to explore formal and conceptual innovations. We sat down with the three on the eve of the show’s opening to find out more about their mission and ideas.
Core77: Give us a little background about JONALDDUDD and how it started for readers who might not be familiar. JONALDDUDD began in 2015 with its first exhibition as part of New York Design week. The show was conceived as a platform to showcase individuals working in art or design, but specifically those whose practices transcend the boundaries between art, design, and craft.
Are there any specific themes or ideas running through this year’s show? The theme is always to bring together works of various intentions that, as a group, become an extremely diverse collection of objects and furniture along the spectrum of art/design/craft. The common thread is the variety in approach and material. We appreciate that the diversity and range of concept allow the works to co-mingle and overlap in presentation. By placing these works in close proximity on a unified foundation/backdrop, the divisions in context are stripped away, and viewers are able to make associations that might not otherwise be seen.
What can we expect to see at this year’s JONALDDUDD Show? Last year we featured the work of 28 artists/designers through open call and some solicitation. This year we selected 10 individuals/studios and invited them to show multiple works. Unlike last year, we sought to exhibit “collections” from each that represented larger bodies of work. Some of the exhibitors identify as designers, and some as artists, while others still lie somewhere in between. This year, as with last year, each exhibitor works with design and furniture––either as their primary subject, or as a point of departure. Our goal is to showcase the variety in practice and approach between individuals, in addition to the form and material diversity among the entire group.
What do you hope JONALDDUDD will offer to the New York Design Week landscape? The show offers a collection of work from individuals whose practices blur (or ignore) the traditional boundaries between art, design and craft. We’ve sought out individuals whose practices explore media and subject, but who are seemingly less influenced by commerce and trend driven constraints. Ideally, the show highlights this crossover territory by offering a democratic platform to artists using design language as well as designers exploring the more conceptual niches of their own practices, to work that exhibits those connections, and are intrigued by the processes and influences of the people who create it.”
The braintrust of Jonald Dudd–Lydia Cambron, Ben Garthus, and Chris Held–are on their second year, and third exhibition with the project. The title is a clear twisting up of the famous minimalist sculptor Donald Judd’s name, and it echoes the kind of pot-stirring that this group implements in their curating practice. All three are a mixture of designer and artist, with varied interests and training in both areas. The shows they’ve had thus far have distilled their tastes. What is most interesting about the Dudd crew’s agenda is that I’m not convinced they care about illuminating, redrawing, or even talking about the imaginary lines between design and art. They seem more focused on blurring or completely erasing such distinctions–if not just suggesting that it’s all a bunch of bullshit. If anything, I end up asking myself this: if something is good to look at, who cares what it is?
The most humorous parts of the curators personalities appear in the promotion of their exhibitions–something most artists and galleries are casually concerned with at best. They take the advertising seriously and are thorough with it, though they aren’t necessarily paying out for billboards or Artforum ads (because we don’t need more of either of those). I hope that in ten years they have a retrospective of their Instagram fliers and Facebook invites including funny GIFs, scrolling marshmallow peeps, hot dogs suggestively penetrating Donald Judd sculptures, and short videos that play like vintage credits from Night Court. This is well suited to the age of irony, where digital sarcasm and aloofness reign supreme and are quick and dirty ways to garner attention in an absurd world. However, it also makes light of the previously mentioned division between art and design, takes none of it seriously, and primes the audience to receive the content of the exhibitions. This may well be my favorite aspect of Jonald Dudd.
A cursory glance puts the majority of these things in the design category. It’s always hard for me to articulate exactly why that is because there is so much common ground, but generally there are a lot of furniture and vessel forms. Yes anything can be art, but the functional aspects puts most of them in the design category quickly.
The things that ring out as artworks stump their sense of function, for instance April Childers’ Sometimes, when you're wearing a hat, it's like you have something on your head. I know her work (and am a fan), and her objects definitely resonate in an Oldenburg sort of way; familiar things with scale shifts that make them impractical. Despite it seeming too dumb to have a function, there is in fact a light inside and it therefore works as a lamp.
FPOAFM is a ceramics oriented nomadic arts/crafts collective (I highly recommend visiting their website). Ceramics is a medium that has its own beefs with art, design, the functional, and the sculptural. Here they have the sloppiest, least "designy" moments with their lumpy clay shapes and vessels that slowly leak mystery goo. Ben Godward’s keg sculpture takes the gooey factor up a few more degrees, hiding out in the backyard and serving beer for the opening. Unstable Social Situation reminds me of a drunk frat party where brightly colored candy was fed to the pledges before they threw it up in a vat of resin and turned it upside down to use as a table. Patrick Carmody’s piece Quilt lives on the wall like an artwork, but is suspiciously "designy", making me suspect he sits on the fence between art and design. This is not say it isn’t a beautiful object, but in the context of the show it clearly follows a theme. Following themes too closely doesn’t really force the viewers into critical thought, and for viewers like me just feels to easy.
The Dudds are good at staging their collections of curated objects. The objects fromLIGHHT certainly activate the space. Light objects, which are clearly made by artists, are installed as functional light sources. When you see neon in an art gallery, it’s the artwork, and is the light source in a cursory sense. These lights are hung over the pedestal, taking the place of prescribed track lighting. Last year’s show saw a retail pegboard for hanging the selected works; this year it was a faux-brick laminated pedestal. Both walk the line between kitschy and relevant (not that those things are inherently at odds). Most gallerists and curators tend to rely on the assumed neutrality of white walls for their shows, leaving the redesigning of the space to the occasional installation artist, or sometimes just painting the wall a different color. I’m sure most curators are fearful of having a voice that overpowers the artwork. Jonald Dudd is good at using that voice, but not so loudly you can’t see the works themselves.
Nice Condo is the brainchild of Chris Held and Lydia Cambron. They makes some nice stuff for a condo. And I actually appreciate the curators placing their own work in the show, even though their inclusion might still be an art world faux pas. The idea that curators shouldn’t do it stems from whatever sense of professionalism the art world has developed since academia and MFAs needed to legitimize a standard set of practices for college review boards. Really, at this point if you’re an artist-curator and your work fits, it probably really fits. Not to mention, these guys and many other artists work pro-bono with no true guarantee of sales (even the majority of even the biggest blue chip galleries are underwater most of the time). So why not? Put yourself in the show! You’re probably busting your ass to pay off loan debt while you get continually rejected by some higher class of artists and curators anyway. It’s not like you’re impressing anyone with your politeness. If you’re out in Brooklyn to sew your own oats, you might as well sew them your way.
I meet the occasional painter who criticizes artworks that are too "designy", or the designer that chuckles when you tell them you’re an artist, like we’re all in a race and they took some kind of shortcut and you chose the long way because you are stupid. The art world certainly likes to talk at length about what art is and whether or not something is art, as if there is a gatekeeper and by gaining entry you get to be part of some kind of creative chapter of MENSA. However, I don’t think I am alone in being completely bored with and over that conversation–or at least in having a chip on my shoulder about it.
I’m not sure if the design world has an equivalent qualifier; I don’t spend much time in that end of the pool. My guess would be that designers ask a lot of questions about the usefulness or practicality of an object, and how aesthetics interact. What I like most aboutJonald Dudd is that it forgoes most of this posturing and lets the viewer posit more directly what makes an object interesting. Most of the discussion around these topics often fails to involve this fundamental train of thought, the assumption being that what makes something good is so difficult (or maybe so simple) that it is moot.
Jonald Dudd has now exhibited in three locations: City Bird Gallery at 191 Henry street, an empty artist’s studio on North 6th Street, and most recently at The Parlour Bushwick. My biggest problem with Jonald Dudd thus far is that these three locations are art spaces. In fairness, The Parlour is a bit unusual because it is an unaltered domestic space with a fireplace and plaster walls that one can’t drill into. But for the most part, these shows have stayed on the home turf of artists. Maybe this shouldn’t matter, but I am ready to see Jonald Dudd exhibit within the design world. The idea is theirs to figure out. As it’s only been two years, I suspect we will see that pendulum swing a different way at some point.
All of the objects in Jonald Dudd are good objects. I love them. Some are conceptual and others are pretty. The majority blur boundaries, which is where the best art is often produced. There are some that ask serious questions, some that are just good to look at, and some that are hilarious. It is also nice to see a little less abstract painting, especially in Bushwick. I highly recommend keeping tabs on Lydia Cambron, Ben Garthus, and Chris Held because Jonald Dudd is really, really good.
Nowadays, it seems like everyone and their mom is an artist. In an age where our mobile devices allow us to constantly document our lives and celebrities now design full clothing lines, ideas regarding field specialization and the boundaries of creative territory is quickly fading. We’re living in an world that praises the polymath, and in the professional realm a multitude of skills and talents is not only rewarded, but often demanded.
In a way, the exhibition Jonald Dudd, which took place during New York Design Week, is a cultural commentary on this modern point of view with an optimistic and humorous slant. Coordinated by designer and artist hybrid trio Chris Held, Lydia Cambron, and Ben Garthus, the show consists of a juried collection of objects that blur the edges between art and design. This group of work seems to ask a number of varying questions regarding the relationships between the two fields: Can an artist also be a designer? What constitutes a design as opposed to a work of art? Can a design lack traditional function and still be considered ‘design’? These are all questions that are perfectly valid but not often asked.
Held states that the artists within the show were chosen specifically because of their disregard for traditional boundaries between art and design: “these individuals are exploring materials and processes within design while not being constrained by commercial standards or overly influenced by trends. The collection that came together is a real mixed bag both visually and conceptually. We wanted to promote individuality in design process and approach; the work is tied together by that variation and emphasizes those unique approaches.” Some works in the show offer commentary by utilizing familiar design forms: note “The Home of the Moment” by Ryan Legassicke, a collapsible plywood chair made by the artist out of the necessity of needing something easy to transport during his residency in an abandoned housing complex. Ultimately, the work is a commentary on today’s economic landscape where private spaces are getting smaller and people are constantly changing jobs and living situations.
Other pieces operate under certain design principles while not actually resembling a design object at all. One standout work of this nature was Re-Paint created by Danish artist group PUTPUT. Along the lines of the Exquisite corpse game, PUTPUT took a postcard featuring a cubist still life by Picasso and asked an outside party to create a written report that attempted to describe the scene. An entirely separate painting based on the description was then created by another artist; as a result, the final painting becomes less of an expressive work of art but more of a rigid design, with the written description acting as a kind of blueprint for the designated artist.
The common thread between everything included in Jonald Dudd is careful consideration for how a design object can make you think just as much as a work of art if created with conceptual intention. Held said that the ultimate drive for putting together a show like this was to complicate the idea that design has no room for commentary — which this show does challenge with great effect. “We all work in between art and design ourselves and have found that blending very compelling,” says Held. “We appreciate and are drawn to work that exhibits those connections, and and are intrigued by the processes and influences of the people who create it.” -- Allison Fonder