Balloon is pleased to announce an exhibit of the Chicago based design collective, Object Society, September 30 through October 20 at the Converso Modern showroom, Suite 1709, on the 17th Floor of the Chicago Merchandise Mart. There will be an opening reception Thursday, September 30, from 6-9 pm concurrent with the opening of the Merchandise Mart's International Antique Fair.
Previously, Balloon has examined the critical edge of European design through the exhibition of works by Martino Gamper, Atelier Van Lieshout, Laurent Massaloux, Mario Minale, and Karen Ryan, who was featured earlier this year in a special projects space at the 2010 Chicago NEXT Fair. Now we begin a survey of regional design in the Midwest with an exhibit of projects by members of Object Society. In 2008, I.D. Magazine initiated a conversation about the (ill) health of American design, taking as its starting point an article by design critic Alice Rawsthorne in the New York Times, entitled "Dearth of a Nation". Shortly thereafter, as the recession unfolded, I.D. Magazine, arguably one of the most important organs of the American design community, expired, prematurely ending the debate. With the doctor lying dead in the consulting room, the prognosis looked grim for the patient. However, peering into the open grave of American design and confining oneself to the Midwest alone, Balloon has found a surprisingly strong and vital pulse, evidenced locally by the breadth and energy of initiatives being pursued by Object Society members. Object Society members have involved themselves with Beard Foundation award winning restaurant interiors, have leveraged their rust belt resources into ambitious and wide-ranging industrial exchanges with India, are currently involved in design and production for national retailers, and are embarking on cross collaborations with artists, infusing narrative into rediscovered material technologies and creating compelling contemporary design. All of this is actively framed within highly topical concerns for sustainability, harvesting salvaged urban lumber, for example, while evidencing a strong regional relationship to natural materials like wood and metals.
For this exhibit, a collaboration with Converso Modern, members of the Object Society have chosen historical pieces from the Converso collection that resonate or comment on their own work, admitting to the pervasive role that mid-century design continues to play in their current design strategies: in one instance, Seth Deysbach of Lagomorphic design has contributed a wooden bike and, to stress the joinery techniques used in its construction, cites an important tripod table by George Nakashima, who famously emphasized the beauty and logic of his construction by leaving his joinery details exposed.
One conclusion drawn from this pairing of contemporary and historic design is a suspicion that the original terms of the I.D. Magazine debate were overstated. Rather than uncritically accepting the model of modernist production and mass distribution that continues to function as a central myth of design, by juxtaposing the historical works of Paul Evans or George Nakashima with contemporary practices, one realizes that much of what has recently attained the status of "high american design" was often produced in a studio setting, sometimes, as with Evans, coalescing from small workshop into factory, often not, and this may indeed be the real American model, stretching back to the great 18th century makers of Newport and Philadelphia. Nakashima was known to reserve the rights to produce in his studio pieces that Knoll was manufacturing industrially. This reality, perhaps, sheds some light on current debates within design about limited edition production and design art. The members of the Object Society pursue this same elasticity, producing individual pieces that may be prototypes for serial production, or may be custom commissions, informed by both industrial technique and artisanal craft, inspired by the context of historic modernism, but resolving into the contemporary.