Designer Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil, 1978
“Rio” chaise lounge in imbuia wood, with woven cane
seat and leather headrest. Photo Credit Marcuswell
Maxwell, circa 1924,courtesy of Cosmos Company

The Dangerous Lure of Iconic Design

Let us all agree that the word “curated” has been overused. Nowadays a minor celebrity curates a flash sale on a website or the playlist in a new restaurant. Yes, it can be exhausting, but good curators do so much more than that — they expand our horizons. Their expertise is used for a higher purpose, they make unexpected connections, they offer historical context.

Enter Zesty Meyers and Evan Snyderman, whose R20th Century is a Tribeca gallery in good standing. They’ve sold midcentury furniture since 1997, as tasteful as you’d like, but they have an ongoing flair for surprise. They represent major figures like Wendell Castle and Hugo Franca who work where sculpture and design meet. But refined taste isn’t an end in itself, it’s merely a starting point.

Designer Pedro Petri, Brazil, 2006
Frutiera BI G; carved Eucalyptus bowl.
Photo Credit Marcuswell Maxwell,circa
1924, courtesy of Cosmos Company.
Designer Unknown, Brazil, 1950.
Pair of jacaranda and leather lounge chairs.
Attributed to Liceu de Arte e Oficio.
Photo Credit Marcuswell Maxwell, circa 1924,
courtesy of Cosmos Company.

R20th is not sitting on its reputation waiting to sell a handful of products to hedge fund managers who’ve bought a floor-through in Tribeca. They have a modern program of contemporary artists as well. When they do offer classics they like to do it their own way — a neutral white box would be too simple. For Wild at Art, photographs taken by Anthony Cotsifas, iconic furniture and coveted objects — a Subutzki table, a Niemeyer lounge chair — sit next to animals on the African plains: lions, giraffes, zebras. In this juxtaposed setting — animals grazing next to timeless objects — we are left to appreciate noble beast and noble design.

Designer Lina Bo Bardi, Brazil, 2005 “Girafa” chair in Freijo wood.
Photo Credit Hugo A. Bernatzik,circa 1927.
Courtesy of Throckmorton Fine Art
Trunks courtesy of Mantiques
Designer Louis Vuitton, Giant Leather Travel
Bag. Photo Credit Kenyan Safari image, circa 1950.
Courtesy of Winter Works on Paper.
Trunks courtesy of Mantiques
Designer Louis Vuitton, Steamer Trunks, 1930’s.
Photo Credit Kenyan Safari image,circa 1950.
Courtesy of Winter Works on Paper.

We are at the frontier of design and landscape — a metaphorical location for collectors and artists — where Wendell Castles’ and Oscar Niemeyers’ look perfectly at home. While these objects represent enduring standards of design, the photos are meant to offer a fresh perspective on icons you’ve seen (and wanted) for a long time.

Will you be the owner who meets a grizzly end out of frame? The lesson seems to be twofold. It’s a cautionary tale about devotion to design and pining after not-so-obscure objects of desire. But it also reminds us of the daring vision of designers whose impact is unending.

Wendle Castle, USA, 1976 - Bone Sculpture
dim. 108” tall by 20”
at base African Chieftain, bromide print, circa 1920.
Courtesy of Keith de Lellis Gallery.