Best of both | Contemporary Art

While you’re admiring the high-end furniture at Clerkenwell Design Week, you might also find yourself getting immersed in contemporary art.

Kate O’Donnell explores how art and design are working together as EC1 showrooms also become galleries…

There’s a cool trend in town. Forward-looking design houses are using their furniture showrooms as a new kind of art gallery, and showing contemporary art – whether sculptural, mark-making, or immersive installation – alongside office, contract and residential furniture. The effects are thrilling, exciting, and open to all.

The pioneer of the showroom-as-art-gallery movement is ArtKapsule, a contemporary art consultancy founded by artist-curator Sirpa Pajunen- Moghissi and former arts editor Elaine Ronson, who seek out artworks to display in spaces “beyond the white cube”. ArtKapsule has worked with furniture company Koleksiyon’s Brewhouse Yard showroom from its launch in May 2012.

‘It is a link for designers and artists to meet each other – a mixed space looks amazing’

“There’s not much contemporary art in design showrooms in London,” observes Sirpa. “People will pay thousands for a beautiful sofa but still have film posters rather than art on the walls. We wanted to marry these two things and Koleksiyon completely got the idea. They give us a free hand and we make their space stand out more.”

Hot on the heels of ArtKapsule’s recent show with abstract artist Ralph Anderson, The Future of Drip Pop, is Double Agent, co-curated for CDW 2015 by ArtKapsule’s in-house artist-curator Juan Bolivar. The exhibition, says Sirpa, will seek to “explore the way in which art and design blur, and asks what is art and what is design?”

“It’s not all on the walls,” adds Sirpa. “Some is on the floor, some on the pillars. It will make a different show because Koleksiyon is not just a gallery.” ArtKapsule has a stable of in-house artists it works with and can draw from many others, including from its new offshoot in New York.

“Sto wanted something that wasn’t just a showroom,” says Amy Croft of Werkstatt, the Woodbridge Street cultural spin-off space of Sto, which manufactures building materials. Last December Werkstatt exhibited Building Images, from the Arcaid Images Architectural Photography Prize. In March, with sound artist Doug Haywood, Amy curated Look & Listen, an examination of how loud noise has infiltrated our interior spaces.

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Image: David Shillinglaw at work on recent exhibition You Are Here

The idea was playful but had a serious subtext: “We are making people think,” says Amy. “It’s not just putting our materials at the forefront.” For CDW 2015 Amy has curated Hypnos: The Architecture of Sleep, a multisensory, immersive installation that explores our 24/7, always-on culture and how design can “aid physical and mental withdrawal.”

Hospitality and contract furniture company Morgan only launched its new showroom a year ago at Clerkenwell Design Week, but right from the start the intention was to make the space more exciting for clients than “just a pile of furniture,” says Morgan’s design director and exhibition curator Katerina McMahon. “We are offering this space as a link for designers and artists to meet each other. A mixed space looks amazing. It’s also fun.”

McMahon seeks out British artists who are not West-End-gallery types but personal favourites. Morgan’s last exhibition, Previously, featured paintings by Remi Rough, who is as comfortable creating street art on buildings as on canvases. For CDW 2015, Morgan is showcasing Black Box Kaleidoscope, an installation by the young British artist David Shillinglaw. “He’s very talented and his sketches are amazing,” says McMahon. “Designers are concerned about function. An artist can just express themselves.”

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Image: Brewhouse Yard Showroom

The idea at both Sto Werkstatt and Morgan is not, initially, to sell or commoditise art, though if an architect, designer or client loves a particular piece they can easily introduce the buyer to the artist. The aim is to raise brand awareness – and also to ask big questions of contemporary culture and of their own materials. Sirpa, Amy and Katerina are buzzing with ideas for what to show next. Watch these spaces.

Check out the showroom websites for CDW events, or head to:

Morgan London
1 Dallington Street

Hypnos: The architecture
of sleep, Werkstatt
7-9 Woodbridge Street

Double Agent
ArtKapsule at Koleksiyon
9 Brewhouse Yard