Who is the next generation of designers? Who are those young talents we are excited to watch—those who will shape the coming decade, and create the new design of the 2020s? This eternal quest stands at the core of a Carpenters Workshop Gallery’s new exhibition called Next Gen: The New Guard, Stories from the New World. Design is everywhere. True. There is a lot of design out there, but how to find those who best capture the moment—those talents on the rise? What does it mean for them to work today and how were their narratives affected by the pandemic? Tracing them requires a special knowledge, not only of design and the market, but also of discovering those who will wind up in the chronicles of history.
The two curators, Wava Carpenter and Anna Carnick, were able to spotlight seven emerging talents, just out of school, all based in the US and the Caribbean. After a lengthy process to identify the emerging voices, they commissioned them both with special pieces for the show under a set budget. The curators also mentored the artists through the process and helped them resolve their work and prepare it for a gallery show. The project, initiated by the gallery’s Director of Americas, Ashlee Harrison, comes to bring a dialogue between this new generation of artists and Carpenters Workshop Gallery’s cutting-edge program.
This morning, I included a visit to the gallery with my program, Collecting Design: History, Collections, Highlights. We met three of the seven participating designers to learn about the personal experiences and perspectives, and to discover the narratives—identity, heritage, and memory—in this work.
Tiarra Bell, newly graduated from RISD, is based in Philadelphia. The story she tells in her objects—lights and mirror crafted in wood—is an attempt to capture the divine nature of God according to her religious belief. The objects, she said, allow the viewers to reflect on themselves. Susannah Weaver, a graduate from Parsons School of Design, has invented a new material by mixing wool fibers with concrete. Working at the material lab at Parsons, she researched raw materials, their chemical processes and their life cycles. Maryam Turkey has created her pieces at an art residency at the World Trade Center. During the pandemic, the empty skyscrapers of lower Manhattan have come to provide the source of inspiration for the lamps and mirrors shaped in architectural silhouette, and crafted of clay mixed with paper and plaster. The abandoned skyscrapers and the daily interaction with them had come to echo her life story as a refugee from Iraq and the memory of buildings that had been destroyed in Baghdad during the War. As a group, the objects in this show embody the complexity that stands at the heart of contemporary design.
For those designers, this exhibition is a dream come true, to be shown in one of the world’s most influential galleries. “We wanted to present emerging talents in and around the US who would, as a group, highlight the nuances that separate American and European design cultures,” co-curator Wava Carpenter told me. “At this moment, when people across the globe are hungry for a feeling of connection, in a time marred by inequity, division, and disruption—the young designers presented here, each in their own way, answer our collective call by relating something of themselves through the objects they create,” she concluded. The exhibition is open at Carpenters Workshop Gallery, 693 Fifth Avenue.