The primary point of going to NEOCON is seeing new product, and this year was no exception.
Joel Berman, the glass designer, had a high impact installation of his new product, “Olivia” and its visual quality is just one of those things that simple snapshot photography cannot convey.
That said, I really liked the pieces inside the space, which, as it turns out, were the One Point Five collection from the Japanese manufacturer Okamura [whose sales collateral - which I picked up in their showroom space on the same floor - is entirely in Japanese.]
Laste year at NEOCON one of my fave new products was a perforated metal bench from Magnusson Co. This year they showed a variation on the piece, with the addition of colored LED lights. Appropriately kitschy for an outdoor garden installation.
Again, I had a problem with the salespeople at certain vendors who couldn’t offer me any details about their newest lines. KI had a new line called Blu Sky with a couple of nice pieces like this bench that makes me think of a kind of severe version of a fainting couch. The surface is covered in fabric but not upholstered.
Also liked these stools
The salespeople couldn’t tell me who designed them or where they were made.
The people at VS, on the other hand, were happy to tell me about their line of furniture manufactured according to designs of Richard Neutra which his son Dion has licensed. If I remember correctly, neither the lounge chair and ottoman nor the table ever went into production.
Neutra designed the “boomerang” chair in the second picture for a now-demolished early 1940s housing project in San Pedro, which was produced. There’s an original in LACMA’s collection.
I always enjoy passing the Leland showroom, partly because - like my passion for ROYGBIV displays - I really have a thing for poured acrylic floors, which are a bitch to keep clean, particularly white ones. So I admire anybody who uses them.
Leland is introducing a slick, minimalist collection of lounge furniture designed by Jess Sorel that they call Palomino
Davis, a manufacturer I associate with seating, introduced a line of accessories, including a coatrack they call Sticks. Michael Schwebius designed it.
I enjoyed looking at a series of models on display of the accessory collection. One of the salespeople told me that students from Savannah College of Art and Design fabricated them.
Probably the most interesting product I saw at the whole show was a series of wall-coverings at Designtex featuring imagery of the great illustrator Charley Harper. I had forgotten that Todd Oldham had assembled a book about him shortly after Harper’s death in 2007, and appeared at the showroom to give away copies of his Harper book [a miniaturized version of the gigantic [12 x 18] coffee-table size.
Oldham told me that his interest in Harper goes all the way back to his childhood adoration of The Golden Book of Biology [first published in 1962] - a book that similarly resonates with a huge chunk of the late Baby Boom through Millennial demographic. I didn’t press him for details, but apparently Oldham has acquired the rights to Harper’s images - or at the very least has discretion to license them on behalf of his estate.
The centerpiece of the collection is a reproduction of a mosaic mural Harper had done for the Federal Building in Cincinnati, which Oldham says is in an area to which the public no longer has access.
TO’s connection here is interesting, to me at least, because the big revelation to me at last year’s NEOCON was the Alexander Girard display at Herman Miller - and not coincidentally, Oldham had published a book about Girard the previous year. I forgot to ask him which esteemed design star his next project would be about, but I’m guessing that, whoever it is, it will find its way to NEOCON.
I remain amused at how little the general public knows about NEOCon.
[I’m also a little amused at how the Merchandise Mart positions the show. They spell it NeoCon, which doesn’t make any sense. I’m wondering whether anyone who works at the place even remembers that it stands for National Exposition of Contract Furnishings, which is why I insist on styling it NEOCon.]
Those who don’t assume it’s a reference to the ex-Democrat-apostates-now-absorbed-by-the-Religious-Right may have some vague notion that it’s a big event taking place at the Merchandise Mart. Most, though, don’t recognize it as the conceptual granddaddy of all modern trade shows [although the national hardware show, the restaurant show and the consumer electronic show all claim to be older].
As such, it’s tempting to look for deeper meaning. I used to try to draw some kind of parallel between the mood at NEOCon and the state of the American economy, because I thought you could use it as a gauge for the vitality of the commercial real estate industry, which itself should act like a barometer for the business community [more office furniture = more corporate growth]. But I think it was last year that I discovered what a tiny industry [in terms of dollar volume] contract furnishings really is, and how skewed the numbers are anyway, because so much of the market is healthcare and education-related as opposed to office. So instead I’ve just tried to look at it as a big show and tell for an intriguing industry.
As I do every year, I have to remind myself that NEOCon isn’t really about design. It’s unabashedly about selling product. That said, the organizers and participants want you to think it’s more about the former — about creativity and innovation. And in so doing, they’ve helped organize any number of activities and events that almost convince you it’s so.
The “Escalator Canopy” is a pretty spectacular piece of installation art. Fabricated with fabrics, wall coverings and mirrors, the company that underwrote it — the Wolf-Gordon textile distributor, worked with Hjalti Karlsson and Jan Wilker of New York design studio karlssonwilker, along with The Guild of Brooklyn, to make it happen. And it’s pretty impressive. I hope it stays in the Mart for a while after the show is over.
Each year NEOCon provide the chance to rub shoulders with genuine Design Stars. Michael Graves, who has continued working despite his paralysis [now focusing all of his design efforts on making healthcare environments more appealing and productive], signed posters at the CF Stinson showroom to promote his new line of vinyls.
Graves has been doing work for Stinson for a couple of years — 2 years ago I cadged a couple of samples from his line and created this “installation” that hangs in my bedroom. I think it’s pretty cool.
Roger Thomas, Steve Wynn’s Las Vegas design guru — who was admiringly profiled in an issue of the New Yorker some months ago — came to hype his wallcovering line for Maya Romanoff. He is charming, affable and dapper — he was wearing a great purple/white striped shirt and I was not at all surprised when he took out his glasses to look at something and they had purple frames. [I cannot imagine he doesn’t have dozens of pairs that match everything he wears.]
I asked him about Fiori di Como, the Dale Chihuly installation on the ceiling of the Bellagio lobby, which is really one of the world’s great public art works, and he was in the middle of telling me how he and Elaine Wynn had seen a grouping of Chihuly spirals at the bottom of a pool when they came over to tell him it was time to address those assembled and toast the Romanoffs, so I didn’t get to hear the end of the story.
Yes, NEOCon is about selling. But there is salesmanship and there is salesmanship, and to be sold to by the peerless Barbara Barry is much more. It is to be cajoled, lured, caressed, serenaded, and — more or less unabashedly —seduced.
It’s not just the soothing yet energized radiance she projects. It’s her conviction: her confidence in the certitude and sincerity of what she is selling and her total immersion in every aspect of the items she designs. The whole package is so compelling that I defy you — gay/straight, male/female — to resist succumbing to her.
Oh all right, I confess to a crush. But her product is so carefully conceived and well-executed that the pitch is almost unnecessary. Her new Ski line for HBF incorporates more metal components than we’re used to seeing from her; unsurprisingly, it’s crisply elegant. I especially like the circular tables in Corian, a material of which she is particularly fond [“like a Necco wafer,” she offers]. It’s another fine collection.
Visiting certain of the showroom spaces at the Merchandise Mart each year during the show feels like cruising an art gallery district. Maharam is a perfect example, and while it hasn’t changed its display technique [unadorned lengths of fabric suspended from the ceiling] in years, it still seems bold and fresh.
Maybe it’s because the fabrics are so fantastic. I love that Paul Smith horizontal stripe.
And it’s also great to see what they’ve introduced in their Digital Projects series of supergraphics: I love this offering from Jacob Hashimoto [one of my favorite artists]
and was really pleased to discover this interesting map-related image from Joost Grootens [who I’ve never heard of.]
My biggest surprise — and greatest pleasure — at the show was the tribute to Alexander Girard that Herman Miller has assembled, to help hype five of his textile designs the company is re-introducing [although I think there are others they’ve produced continuously]. “An Uncommon Vision,” as they call it, is a museum-quality exhibition of his textiles, graphics, tabletop items, furniture and a selection of the folk art he collected.
Some fantastic graphic panels
Girard established Herman Miller’s textile division in 1952, was Creative Director until 1973 and died in 1993. Even though he did most of his most important work in the 1950s and 60s, he’s still relevant. I met his grandson Alexander, a painter who goes by the name Kori; [apparently everyone called the grandfather “Sandro”]
The ties are a trip.
As is the line of tableware for Fonda del Sol restaurant
I haven’t sprung for the 600-plus page, $200 [list price on publisher’s website] Todd Oldham monograph, but after seeing the show, I may do it. I didn’t realize how much he’d produced or what an influence he’d had on the Eameses, and how much his aesthetic shaped a particularly New York-centric, midcentury style that made its way from the Herman Miller showrooms to retailers like Design Research, Paraphernalia and Charivari, and thence at least somewhat into the mainstream
I think you can see his influence best in the vignette of the only furniture grouping he designed, in the mid-1960s, for Braniff Airlines [who I actually associate with Emilio Pucci] The aesthetic was eagerly co-opted by Hollywood art directors, particularly as color production became standard. If I were a real design historian, I would do an in-depth analysis of how Girard’s ideas permeated the look of contemporary movie and tv shows, but I’m not. If you think of the Doris Day/ Rock Hudson pictures or shows like Love American Style, you should see what I mean.