A Room with Many Views

New York's Chamber Gallery and Collection #2

By Allison Krier

Humankind continuously contemplates and redefines its place within the natural world. As civilizations evolved and cities began to flourish, heightened pomp and artifice ensued. Daily lives became increasingly complicated and intertwined with synthetic invention. Nowadays it’s difficult to consider a day absent from some sort of electronic interface, a portal for which most view and learn about the world. As curiosity and yearning exist at the core of human nature, there is always the allure for that which was disconnected. A rarity is a marvel indeed, as is the ingeniousness and mastery of creation. Occupying a smallish space on West 23rd Street, just beneath a staircase to the High Line’s composed, idyllic, yet naturalistic, promenade, is Chamber, a newer addition to New York’s Chelsea gallery district. Chamber sets forth a model that is provocative in its presentation of art and design. At the crux of the concept is a look back to the kunsthammers (art rooms) and curiosity cabinets of the 17th and 18th centuries that began to flourish among the princely elite during the dawn of humanism in the early modern era. Artifacts of wonder, novelty and exceptional artistic accomplishment were amassed, exalted, displayed, and catalogued. With Chamber, a reflection on this cultural history and narrative provides the basis in which to create and exhibit objects of a contemporary ethos.

Established just over a year ago, Chamber launched this past October its Collection #2, “Human | Nature” curated by Andrew Zuckerman. The collaboration encompasses a selection of designers spanning the globe and a process that evolves over a year. Just as those historic rooms of splendor and amazement attempted to bring together the world’s most astonishing examples of artistic production and the natural world, Chamber astutely assembles the extraordinary as it successfully promulgates new perspectives and experimentation in design, as well as an attitude toward collecting that reconciles past precedent within New York’s contemporary gallery scenario. The collections include customized designs and commissioned unique editions that fuzzy the line between objet d’art and functionality. This singularity inspires wonder as it fosters speculation. The resulting model injects aspects of a concept boutique into a fine art gallery. The Collections persist for a year with additions keeping the it vital, and alongside are a series of shorter, small supplementary exhibitions called “Capsules” providing additional opportunities to showcase visionary and/or distinctive work. “This is Not a Duet,” shown this past spring into summer, paired the meticulous work of Mexican designer Gala Fernández Montero and the refined forms of Chicago-based Sung Jang.

View of Collection #2. Courtesy of Chamber. Photograph by Fran Parente. 

View of Collection #2. Courtesy of Chamber. Photograph by Fran Parente. 

As a renowned photographer and filmmaker, Andrew Zuckerman’s artistic approach is evident in Collection #2. His curatorial perspective reveals thoughtful consideration of contemporary humanity’s anxiety, or at least negotiation, between modernity and society’s progress, and that of the natural environment; thus making him an ideal choice. Zuckerman’s photographs and films, including “Flower,” “Bird,” and “Creature,” are keen investigations of these other earthly inhabitants. His depictions, in their starkly eloquent simplicity, lie somewhere between romantic portrait and scientific specimen – not purely an objective observer, but perhaps more a passionate purveyor who relishes the beauty in such sublime miracles. In his conceptual films, Zuckerman visually renders the details and movements of a single subject. Birds flutter, scamper, flap often with staccato gestures, as well as gaze back at us. They draw the viewer into the creature’s personality peaking our fascination. A mode that has undoubtedly shaped his curatorial eye for “Human | Nature.”

"Bavarian Triptych Mirror" by Studio Job. Courtesy Chamber. Photograph by Fran Parente.

"Bavarian Triptych Mirror" by Studio Job. Courtesy Chamber. Photograph by Fran Parente.

Zuckerman tackled the thematic concept as a conversation between the natural and built environments, and chiefly by distilling our own personal milieus and notions of home. His curation was a quest for designed pieces that emulate naturals forms and/or incorporate organic or environmentally judicious materials. “Pastizal,” an area rug by Argentine designer Alexandra Keyayoglou, especially embodies this premise. Its composition is a topographical impression of the grassy pastures around Buenos Aires as Keyayaglou draws upon her remembrance of home and place. And, materially, the rug is compiled of repurposed and surplus pieces from commercial production.  Zuckerman also included a work by Studio Job, the Antwerp-based design duo of Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagel who curated Collection #1. Their “Bavarian Triptych Mirror” is a droll modern musing of 17th and 18th century naïvely painted folk furniture from the namesake region by using the traditional technique of marquetry. The colorful storybook-like scene is characteristic of their methodology that relishes craftsmanship and pattern-packed surfaces often interweaving social, cultural and personal references. Individual reminiscing filters through historical archetypes.

Provoking existential contemplation typically sparks a heaviness rather than charm. Particularly curious is “Common Chimpanzee” a life-sized sculpture by Kiyoshi Moni. With powerfully realistic features articulated via an industrial needle felting process, this beguiling and expressive likeness of our closest primate relative is endearing as it challenges us to consider our ancestry and rapport with our physical environments.

More than merely staging beautiful designs of good taste and the next spectacle, which would be a sufficient delight, Chamber is a gallery that offers us evocative objects that are imbued with contemporary preoccupations and personal associations. And beyond Post Modern quotation and pastiche, this discriminating redux propels the dialogue regarding not only modernity, but also the value of cultural heritage, and with Collection #2, our own selves in respect to the phenomenon of the planet. Recalling the past is not the same as being caught in its web, or necessarily an act of trite nostalgia. The vitality of variation in both the natural world and in the imagined are imbedded in the artifacts carefully displayed at Chamber, and as we take pleasure in and scrutinize the artistry, we reckon the world’s progress.

Collection #2. Courtesy Chamber. Photograph by Fran Parente.

Collection #2. Courtesy Chamber. Photograph by Fran Parente.