ENCOUNTERS: A First Guest Curated Show at Cristina Grajales Gallery
Ever since opening her eponymous New York gallery in 2001, Cristina Grajales has been instrumental in the careers of designers like Alexandra Agudelo, Pedro Barrail, Gloria Cortina, and Jorge Lizarazo (of the Colombian design workshop Hechizoo), making her one of the few dealers of 20th- and 21st-century Latin-American design in the United States. But earlier this year, in an unprecedented move, Grajales passed on the curatorial baton to someone else — temporarily, at least. In her recently expanded gallery space on 25th street, Grajales invited longtime client and friend Stephanie Ingrassia to initiate Encounters I, the first iteration of a guest-curated exhibition series.
Ingrassia is a contemporary art collector, vice president of the board of the Brooklyn Museum, and, like Grajales, a long-standing member of the board of the non-profit arts organization Creative Time. After traveling to Mexico and Colombia to visit artists’ studios and workshops along with Ingrassia, Grajales felt the urge to bring a new perspective into her gallery.“It all began with Gloria's cabinet,” says Grajales of Mexican designer Gloria Cortina’s North and South, a cabinet clad in feathers made of white porcelain. “The feathers represent birds that travel north and south — a comment on what is happening right now with our immigration policy. It’s an encounter of ideas, an encounter of cultures, and an encounter of disciplines. And we thought: ‘what a beautiful name for the show!’”
Ingrassia organized the group exhibition into several vignettes, which suggest domestic spaces, transforming the gallery into an unfamiliar yet sociable setting. As Grajales puts it, “I think people are getting tired of looking at art in a white box. That’s not how people live. We live with stuff. We have things in our homes. The idea for us was how do we present pieces that create a human environment.”
Encounters I brings together many of Ingrassia’s longtime friends, like collage artist Rebecca J. Stevens, a teacher at Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn, with newly discovered talent like ceramicist John Born (Humble Matter). Most of the works coexist without one overshadowing the next, though there are a few exceptions that steal the spotlight due to their scale, like Julia von Eichel’s Chamber sculpture hanging above a splattered milk-like table by Stephan Bishop, or Santi Moix’s oversized vessel made from recycled tires.
To the north of the gallery, a leafy living room area brings together some of the exhibition’s best-known designers, showcasing works like Betil Dagdelen’s marine rope-coiled aluminum pipe bench, Stefan Bishop’s deodar cedar table, and Sang Hoon Kim’s irresistible-to-touch memory foam sofas. More intimately, at the other end of the gallery, in a tucked-away corner, there is a monumental bamboo chair and ottoman by Mike and Doug Starn.
Encounters I is an exhibition best absorbed over several visits. I discovered some of the most intriguing works my second time seeing the show like Dean Tavoularis’s paintings reminiscent of the Russian avant-garde. The architectural oil-on-wood panels from 2016 suggest a lineage to 86-year-old Tavoularis’s former career as a production designer for filmmakers Francis Ford Coppola and Michelangelo Antonioni.
The show has now been extended until August 30, 2019, and Grajales is already looking toward Encounters II, bringing new guest curators into the gallery to make connections with young emerging artists and expand the gallery’s creative community. No small task, the gallerist admits: “Stephanie put the bar pretty high.”
Text by Natalia Torija Nieto.
Photography by Dora Somosi unless otherwise noted.
Encounters I is on view at Cristina Grajales Gallery until June 28, 2019.