“Loic dares to take risks and sees obstacles as a sportive challenge to be won. His brain has both a rational business side and a very sensitive artistic side. He is at his best when these two sides are battling one another. Together with his partner, Julien, they are a tour de force, willing to do whatever it takes to realize my ambitious, massive, and crazy projects. I am really grateful for and proud of the work that I do with Loic. He is fearless, passionate, and determined.”
Dutch artist Joep van Lieshout
Collectible contemporary design can be understood as the “antiques of the 21st century.” In just a few decades, this typology of artisanally produced design developed an entirely new path, outside of the arena of mass-market industrial design, and has overtaken out-of-vogue antiques among most contemporary art collectors and upper-tier interior designers. Such success would not be possible without the support of daring, visionary design galleries dedicated to nurturing this body of radical, sculptural, expressive, often handmade works. Each of the world’s five most powerful design galleries has played this role while also developing its own distinctive voice. Together they have defined collectible contemporary design’s DNA.
At Carpenters Workshop Gallery, powerful design is celebrated. Bold works are presented in the most spectacular gallery spaces in New York, Paris, London, and San Francisco; they shine in enormous, beautifully presented, carefully curated booths at the world’s finest fairs, like TEFAF, Design Miami, and The Armory. In short, Carpenters Workshop Gallery epitomizes the notion that contemporary design is as dynamic, glamorous, and alluring as contemporary art.
My guest this week for Collecting Design: The Legends was Loic Le Gaillard, who founded Carpenters Workshop Gallery in 2006, together with his partner Julien Lombrail (whom he met at the age 4). Le Gaillard illuminated us on the role that his gallery has played in the development of collectible contemporary design and the philosophy behind his gallery’s success. The talk was as brilliant and charismatic as the work represented by the gallery.
When Le Gaillard and Lombrail set out to build an influential, global design hub from scratch, the culture of and market for collectible contemporary design was just beginning to take shape, gradually making its way into the mainstream of high-brow interiors. The duo decided to focus a lot on emerging talents, finding artists for the gallery’s program by attending graduation shows at design schools that teach conceptual design. To this day, Le Gaillard told us, the gallery receives daily inquiries from up-and-comers from all over the world who are seeking representation. Le Gaillard and Lombrail read every message with great attention. Yet, they invest in only a handful of artists who make functional sculptures and whose work fits within the framework of their mission statement: to accommodate under one roof craftspeople who create radical design.
The use of traditional, skillful craftsmanship in creating ambitious, museum-quality design stands at the core of Carpenters’ program. This vision is fully practiced at “the atelier,” an enormous workshop in Mitry-Mory, near Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, which was launched in 2016 in order to allow the gallery’s artists the opportunity to work closely with artisans in creating objects of wax, metal, parchment, wood, plating, and upholstery—in the spirit of an historical atelier. At this site, the only one of its kind, artists have a well-equipped testing ground to experiment with a variety of processes and techniques.
As the opening object in our dialog, Le Gaillard selected a coffee table by Joep Van Lieshout of Atelier Van Lieshout, entitled Technocrat Table. Created in 2007 by the multidisciplinary Dutch artist, it exemplifies the contemporary practice of merging art with design, fantasy with function, the conceptual and the utilitarian. This bronze sculptural object—a miniature utopian, self-sufficient city enclosed in a circuit—carries a strong and complex narrative, persistently engaging the spectator, and showcases how Le Gaillard’s eye and critical evaluation are so key to Carpenters’ unique identity.
French artist Ingrid Donat is one of the gallery’s top-performing successes. Starting her career as an artist at age 40, Donat creates magical and sophisticated furniture in bronze, with strong references to Diego Giacometti, Gustav Klimt, and the tradition of French decorative arts in the Art Deco era. Her work is completely original and technically challenging, offered in a variety of colors and unusual patinas as well as her signature black. Donat’s pieces are highly sought after by interior designers worldwide and have been seen in the homes of Yves Saint Laurent, Peter Marino, and Tom Ford, to name a few. She is perhaps the only living designer whose work fetches higher prices in the secondary market than at the gallery. And while Le Gaillard emphasized that people should not think about value when collecting, it is a great consideration to many.
Le Gaillard showed us more: the chandeliers of Dutch artist Frederik Molenschot, bronze lighting structures that evoke city lights and night skies; the rebellious, intellectual, and theatrical work of Dutch designer Maarten Baas; the handcrafted, organism-like lamps of Eindhoven-based Spanish designer Nacho Carbonell; the deconstructed, distorted functional sculpture of French artist Vincent Dubourg. All so wonderful.
“I still clearly remember our first meeting, when Loic and his partner Julien visited me in my Amsterdam studio,” Molenschot begins while summing up the genius of Carpenters Workshop Gallery. “They search for what is not there yet. This is my intention too, to go on adventures in search of a new language of forms, shapes, and materials in the vacuum of the cosmos. With Loic it’s not about shaping a single object, but about shaping the space and the time in which we live to spark a new renaissance.”