What does it look like when designers take the helm of a design exhibition? That’s one of the questions at the core of "Next Level," a convention-bending group show that opens to the public on Saturday, May 18, in a Broadway storefront in NoHo.
Now in its second year, "Next Level" is a polished show with a DIY zeal cofounded by a group of New York creatives—including Shanan Campanaro of Eskayel, designer Asher Israelow, Jamie Israelow of Hart Textiles, artist and designer Patrick Weder, and Tamika Rivera of social justice art platform Here Projects—who came together with the goal of making a community-led forum for their peers.
“We tried to create a space where designers could experiment a little more with their designs, that didn’t have such high stakes as an expensive trade show,” says textile designer Campanaro, who brought her own large-scale installation to the exhibition. “It’s not a profit-led endeavor; it’s more about our community and how we can work together to do something more extraordinary and inspired during NYCxDesign.”
That spirit has struck a chord with designers, 35 of whom have taken part in the exhibition. This year, the organizers were able to push participants to propose adventurous new expressions, and the resulting pieces range from a glowing credenza by Dane Co. to O&G Studio’s “studio fresh” asymmetrical Inlet daybed, plus a lineup of talks, music, art, and performances that transform the event into “an interactive happening.”
The approach means that "Next Level" can offer a wider-ranging view of design, Asher Israelow explains. “This year we sought out studios and work that blurs the lines between art and design,” he says. “To see artists and designers who push their own practice into uncharted realms has been really inspiring.”
And the participating designers agree. “Being able to exhibit my work at an off-site, designer-led show like 'Next Level' has been a massive boon to my creativity,” says Robert Sukrachand, who brought a collection of seating and tables inspired by the terrazzo of Bangkok to the show. “I see the independent design community as a cohort of interconnected small businesses that derive creative energy and practical support from one another, and 'Next Level' is as pure an expression of that I can think of.”
For Birnam Wood Studio designer Brecht Gander, who’s showing a coffee table created in collaboration with jeweler Suna Bonometti, the ability to participate in such a designer-centric show is part of a wider “sea change” toward artistic autonomy in the industry. “Design is entering more clearly into the public consciousness on multiple fronts. And that’s making it more possible for designers to take the reins of their public visibility,” he explains.
The show’s commitment to community doesn’t end with its impressive lineup. The basement of the space offers a glowing counterpoint to the dark and moody setup above with "Divercity," an exhibition of some 70 paper lanterns created by a mix of artists and designers. It’s an exhibition created in partnership with the legendary downtown shopping destination Pearl River Mart, with donated light bulbs from Next Level exhibitor Tala, and 50 percent of proceeds benefiting Robin Hood Foundation, a group that works to alleviate poverty-related issues in New York City.
“Not only is 'Next Level' a designer-led exhibition, it’s an artist- and socially conscious–led exhibition,” says Rivera. In spirit, "Next Level" taps into something thats feels like it’s been missing in Manhattan for a while. As Rivera puts it, the exhibition “pays homage to the old New York way—if you don’t see it out there, create it yourself!”
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest