Tag Archives: exhibits

Exhibition Review: NEXT at the Corcoran

The Corcoran Gallery of Art is a unique institution in the primarily Smithsonian-dominated museum landscape of Washington DC. There are a number of factors that differentiate it from the government museums – it is one of the oldest art museums in the US dedicated to American art, and has an extensive collection of classical and contemporary art.  Perhaps most importantly, however, the Corcoran is also a place where art, and artists, are born.

NEXT exhibition exterior graphics and window installations


Since the late 19th century the Corcoran has also been educating artists at its connected museum school. It’s the only art scool in Washington, DC, and is one of the few schools that also gives its graduating class the chance to exhibit their work at one of the leading art museums in the US.

The exhibition theme used neon strings tied around the entire exhibition
to form the show’s signage and identity.

The Corcoran recently updated its exhibition plan a couple of years ago, giving more importance to the work of contemporary, living artists, as well as the emerging artists that are a product of its school. NEXT is the student show that allows the graduating class to display their work in the same space that often sees the works of iconic artists such as Andy Warhol, Ellsworth Kelly, and Ann Truitt. This year was the second installation of NEXT.

This year for the first time, the graduating graduate students also got a chance to showcase some of their work – using a touch screen interactive gallery that visitors could see in the museum rotunda. It fit the format of the graduate students’ work, which is mostly digital, but some of the works could have had their own display as well.

The actual works on display were mostly the undergraduate class’ work, which included quite a few interesting pieces in different mediums, such as performance, a combination of digital media and three dimensional modeling, as well as sand art.

Juliann Holloway, “Dont let go of 333 and hold on to 444”

Noha Kasshogi, “The evolution of Kong”

Another unique thing about the exhibition this year was the alumni juried show, called Crossing the Line. It was a nice touch to the exhibition, showing the dynamism and growth of the students after leaving the school. In the context of the exhibition, it showed the breadth and depth, and also the maturity of the artists in relation to the experimental and slightly raw student works.

I think it was rather smart on the part of the Corcoran to move in this direction of showing student works in the museum. As a major art institution, it is probably one of the most significant gestures it could give to the students. For any artist, a museum exhibition is a significant credential, and it means even more just as you graduate.

Exhibitions can be a significant medium for conveying the role of arts and cutlure in contemporary society. In the case of NEXT, it also gives a voice to some of the future generation of artists that will define how we perceive the world. Congratulations to the new artists of 2012!

All images by Renee Alfonso


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Musings of a Design School Graduate



Three years ago I stepped into the design world for the first time after a long but familiar journey from the Philippines. I started the Master of Arts in Exhibition Design program at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC in the Fall of 2009, and will finally be hooded this Saturday.

Looking back I can really say that design school has changed me and opened my eyes to a world I only ever dreamed existed before I had started. It has transformed me in so many ways, from my work methods, my aesthetic, how I deal with people, and of course how all of these (and other elements as well, I could go on and on) have informed my design process.

If there is one thing that design school has done for me that I am extremely thankful for, it would be that it really opened my eyes to design in multiple dimensions and really, how design thrives in everything we do, not just as designers, but as people who live in a world of objects, art, and experiences.

Conservation class in the Corcoran Museum’s art storage rooms

When I started the program I came with a very art-museum kind of mindset, thinking what I would learn would be solely for the purpose of exhibiting art. As time passed however, I came to realize that what I was exhibiting or designing for wasn’t as important so much as how I was able to communicate the stories behind them. As I interacted with students from other disciplines, I also realized that it was this communicative power of collaborative design was what made what I do so exciting.

Thanks to my experiences in design school I’ve really become interested in learning more about anything and everything — because being immersed in the content or concern of your design can really help you get good ideas out. I believe this applies to all areas of design as well — by completely empathizing or living the basis for your design, your ideas can begin to take shape in a way that will respect both your abilities and creative integrity whilst satisfying a client or need.

That isn’t to say however that design school is all self-affirming and enlightening discovery — there are times when I seriously doubted my abilities and wondered how what I would do would ever make a difference. Or if my ideas were unique yet viable enough to make someone want to hire me. I plateaued more than once and it drove me nuts. But somehow, experience makes you suck it up and get through it — especially if there is a deadline and a grade on the line.

Last weekend I finally finished my thesis presentation — which was my final requirement for my Master’s degree. For the past year I was working on an exhibition about kendo — the martial art and sport of Japanese sword fighting. This topic was a no-brainer for me as I’ve been practicing kendo for over 10 years and am still absolutely in love with it.

I designed an exhibition that would travel not just an exhibit but a practice hall as well, in a structure made from repurposed shipping containers. I wanted not just to convey information about kendo, but also have a dialogue between the actual practice of it and the exhibition in order to give the displays a real-world context. In the exhibition I included information about other Japanese martial arts, the history of kendo and its modernization, the practice and techniques, and the community.

The point of the exhibition was not just to give information but to provide and experience of the world of kendo — and how a traditional practice that is so intrinsically linked to a national identity and culture can also be a platform for inter-cultural exchange and understanding. My experience of it really led me to believe that the beauty of practicing martial arts today lies in this specific intersection of culture and community, and I worked very hard to try to convey that as best as I could through my design.

The design thesis process was certainly a grueling but incredibly enriching experience. It was something that really defined my grad school experience and definitely made me appreciate different ideas and techniques to a different degree. Especially since everyone in our class had almost radically different ideas but really presented fantastic ideas.

Simply put — design school changed my life, and was the best decision I’ve ever made for myself thus far. I’m proud to be a product of my program, and most of all, a product of my experiences.

All images in this post by Renee Alfonso


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A Love of All Things Asian: The Freer Gallery’s Peacock Room

I tend to think of the influence of Asian art on Western design as being a recent trend but in fact it has had a significant impact for over 150 years.

by Japanese painter Katsushika Hokusai

Katsushika Hokusai, South Wind, Clear Sky (1830-1833)
Photo: The British Museum

In the 1860’s, Japan opened up to international trade, which provided Europe with greater access to the Ukiyo-e woodblock prints that were gaining popularity in France. The style of artists like Katsushika Hokusai was completely different from the realism found in traditional European painting at the time.

Painting by Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt, Maternal Caress (1891)
Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Artists of the Impressionist and later movements emulated the clean lines and bold colours of the Japanese masters, as well as the scenes of everyday life and landscapes.

Japanese inspired Van Gogh painting

Vincent Van Gogh (after Eisen), La Courtisane (1887)
Photo: Hokusai Online

People in Paris and London went crazy for all things Japanese, including ceramics, bronzes, and clothing items like kimonos and fans. As interest in the East grew, so too did an interest in the art of other cultures, like China.

Kimono fabric in European dress

19th Century Dress Made from a Kimono
Photo: The Dreamtress

Perhaps the greatest example of this fascination with incorporating elements of Asian culture in 19th century design is The Peacock Room. Originally created for British shipping magnate Frederick Leyland to showcase his Chinese porcelain collection, it was redecorated in blue and gold by James McNeill Whistler in the 1870’s to reflect the patterns of Leyland’s ceramics. Whistler even installed one of his Japanisme paintings, The Princess from the Land of Porcelain, above the mantle.

The Peacock Room

The Peacock Room
Photo: Picturing AmericaMIAC

In 1908, Charles Lang Freer purchased the room and it shipped to America and installed in his house in Detroit. Like Leyland, he used the space to display his collection of Asian and Islamic ceramics.

The Peacock Room
Photo: The Freer Gallery

The room has once again been transported, this time to the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C., complete with its ceramics just as it stood in Detroit. I recently visited the Freer to view its collection of Islamic art but ended up spending almost an hour in this room. I was mesmerized by the rich gold and bluish-green colour scheme; it was both overwhelming and comforting and if I didn’t have a train to catch, I could have spent the rest of the day there taking in the many wondrous details.

The Peacock Room
Photo: Smithsonian Studio Art Blog

Since then, I have found myself a little obsessed with this space, wondering if a modernized version might be possible. Peacock blue has been a popular paint colour in recent years, and that would be the easiest fix, with added touches of gold and a few Asian accessories.

Photo: House of Turquoise via Vignette Design

If you want to go really bold, you could use vintage-style wallpaper, like this damask print.

Photo: Kaboodle

I think the Victorian horror vacui wallpaper/painting is a little much (and who can afford to have someone like Whistler come and paint their living room?) but a screen with a peacock design would help to evoke its spirit.

Photo: Whitehaven Interiors

Perhaps the easiest way to replicate the Japanisme décor of the original room is with groupings of Asian ceramics or other collectables.

Photo: Greentea Design

These don’t need to be precious antiques and in fact I think it would be far more interesting to use modern items, perhaps set on gold lacquered shelves against a bold blue background.

Photo: Greentea Design

If you are in Washington, I urge you to visit The Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery. If you can’t, you can at least take a virtual tour online. But what I would really like to see is your interpretation of this Western take on Eastern style. Have you mixed East and West in your décor?

Milan Design Week Features

Photo from productnews.com.au

The Salone Internazionale del Mobile is a highly anticipated event that is held annual in Milan, Italy. Also fondly known as Milan Design Week, the Salone is a showcase of the best contemporary Italian home furnishing designs. This year the Salone was held from April 17 to 22 and featured over 200, 000 exhibitors.

Apart from innovative furniture designs, the event is also known for having design exhibitions featuring unique installations by the participating companies and institutions. It definitely has all that you would expect to be offered in a contemporary showcase in a central design hub. Here are a few features that created buzz around the blogosphere and the design social network.

Kenneth Cobonpue Phoenix Car

Image from Kenneth Cobonpue

Filipino Designer Kenneth Cobonpue has been making waves in the  furniture design field for a while now, but this year he really took his craftsmanship to another level by designing the world’s first car made from natural materials.

Image from Kenneth Cobonpue

The car, dubbed “the Phoenix” first made an appearance on the internet a few months ago, and was on prominent feature of Cobonpue’s exhibition at the Salone. The car itself is made from bamboo and rattan, both highly sustainable materials. As it is a conceptual project, the car doesn’t have an engine, but it already grabbed the attention of automobile company representatives attending the event.

Inside Out Lamp

Image from Lin Yu Nung

A very cool student project featured at an exhibition was the Inside Out Lamp by Lin Yu Nung of the Swedish HDK Design school’s Child Culture Design program. It made me think back of those times when I really wanted to go and draw on some of my walls and furniture (which I still sometimes wish I could do). It was exhibited along with other students’ work from the HDK program, entitled “Play in Progress.”

Lamp by Lin Yu Nung

Image from Lin Yu Nung

The Lamp looks like a regular standing lamp that can be moved around with ease to be tilted down or up. The shade has a polyutherane coating which encourages people to come and add their own drawings designs to the lamp. After the design is complete, the shade can be erased and a new design can be applied!

VisionLab Triennale di Milano in association with LEGO Installation: PinkVision – Art and Science Bricks

Photo from Inhabitat.com

There have been a few exhibitions and art installations I’ve seen in the last year or so that have used Lego blocks as building materials. In the same spirit there was an exhibition at the Triennale Design Museum featuring the work of 45 women artists and scientists who explored the meaning of “building” through the use of the playful bricks.

Photo from Inhabitat.com

The uniqueness of the project was the fact that all participants were women, and focused on how the female perspective enhanced the creation of the project pieces. Some of the resulting pieces were highly conceptual and rich with meaning and of course, playfulness. Critics hailed the exhibition for its celebration of the female perspective in design (which is still considered a male-dominant field), using contemporary materials to illustrate complex ideas.

This was just a little round up of the interesting features I found about the Salone – there are a ton of interesting and exciting events and objects that were exhibited during the design week. It’s definitely a trip I’d love to make in the future!


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SOFA New York

This Friday in New York City’s Park Avenue Armory, SOFA New York opens its doors to visitors who will be challenged to put aside conventional thinking to answer, “what is art?”  SOFA, for Sculptural Objects and Found Art, is an art fair featuring contemporary works, lectures, and seminars from some of the word’s leading artists, designers and curators. SOFA bridges the worlds of design, decorative and fine arts and is always an inspired and dazzling collection from both new and emerging talent.  If you’re in NYC this weekend, it’s absolutely worth stopping in.

The Divan by Victor Klassen

The Divan By Victor Klassen

We’re excited to report that friend of Greentea Design, Victor Klassen will be showcasing his sculptural furniture at SOFA New York.   Victor’s imaginative designs and innovative woodworking techniques combine to create functional art like the divan above.

Fuginuma Noburu's Spring LightFujinuma Noburu’s Spring Light constructed of bamboo and rattan

He’ll be there alongside other innovative ceramisists, furniture designers, jewelry, and textile artists whose unique perspective imbues each artists’ technique, their work and finally your relationship with the finished product.

Lola Brook's NeckpieceLola Brooks’ Neckpiece.  Stop by Lola’s booth 109 in the Sienna Gallery to hear her speak about her newest body of work on Saturday at 4pm.

Fauteuil II by Phillipp AduatzPhillipp Aduatz’ Feuteuil II .  Aduatz is joined by Vivian Beer, both of the Wexler Gallery in Philadelphia, to give a lecture on how functional objects exist between and within the worlds of design, craft and sculpture Saturday from 4-5pm.

Preston Singletary's Loon TravellingPreston Singletary’s Loon Travelling constructed from blown and hand-carved glass.

Shozo Michikawa's Square FormJapanese artist Shozo Michikawa’s Square Form.  Shozo gives a talk entitled Haiku in Clay on Saturday from 2:30-3:30.

There is an added dimension – something that’s at once ethereal and sensual – to our interactions with functional art pieces like these.  It’s an element that separates and elevates this art fair from regular design or home shows and even gallery exhibitions.  Don’t miss this chance to see work from around the globe and gain insight from the makers themselves.

SOFA New York runs April 20-23, 2012
Park Avenue Armory
Park Avenue at 67th


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