To visit Culture Object’s gallery in Manhattan’s Garment District, whose premises were previously storage space for street vendors’ carts, is to experience a full range of emotions. It starts with confusion, followed by surprise, awe and (depending on one’s powers of concentration) alternating levels of distraction.
Gallery founder Damon Crain
Confusion because, after you are buzzed in, you won’t immediately see anyone. Instead, you enter a small vestibule, a portion of which is hung with bright wallpaper by the American artist Danny Ebru. (A pseudonym—“ebru” is the Turkish art of paper-marbling.) A narrow passageway leads to the surprise: the first in a suite of rooms envisioned by the gallery’s founder Damon Crain and his husband, interior designer John Douglas Eason. “I’m not trying to intimidate,” Crain insists when asked about the entrance. “I want to strip people of their preconceptions, so they’re starting fresh with a sense of curiosity. In doing this, I am emphasizing the fact that everything you’re going to experience here, you’re seeing with new eyes.”
Almost every room of the 1,400 sq ft gallery, which opened in 2021, is painted in a saturated hue that references a historical interior. A blue room was inspired by James McNeill Whistler’s Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; a gold room references Stockholm City Hall’s Golden Hall; and the celadon-green dining room echoes the Frick Collection. Crain presides over all of it clad in a white lab coat. As he tours visitors through the collection, they will undoubtedly experience a sense of awe, followed by distraction. Where to look when surrounded by so much and so many colorful sculptural objects and furnishings? Crain is sympathetic: “It’s new work, and it’s unusual work.”
Crain’s Peacock Room, inspired by James McNeill Whistler’s 1870s version (below) at the Freer Gallery of Art. The original was designed to house a porcelain collection 1874
He’s not exaggerating. There is a glimmering table by Netherlands-based Handmade Industrials, created by hand-shaping molten plastic in a walk-in oven they designed for the purpose; organically shaped ceramics by British-Brazilian artist Tessa Silva—made with milk and chalk (“When I first uncrated them, there was a bit of a heady aroma,” Crain laughs)—and a sideboard Trey Jones crafted using scrap waste from other woodworkers.
The final room, which was wonderfully described by the designer Jamie Drake as Crain’s “Ali Baba’s cave”, has deep bays inspired by the Greek and Roman galleries in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. It is anchored by an installation by Brooklyn-based Gary Fernandez, a composition of interlocking cement forms, each hand-cast then painstakingly configured into an altar-like structure.
Maxwell Mustardo’s glazed stoneware Blue Green Gadroon, Green Brown Gadroon, and Green Orange Gadroon, all 2022, on display at Culture Object
The Garment District may seem an unlikely address for one of New York City’s top design galleries, as most dealers prefer the Downtown or Chelsea zip codes where their clientele reside. That’s not the only decision that marks Crain out. Long-recognized as an expert in mid-20th-century glass (he was elected a fellow of the Corning Museum of Glass), his gallery represents about three dozen artists working in a range of media, including glass, but also ceramics, wood, metal, concrete, resin, lacquer, and bioplastics. They may seem random bedfellows, but there is a connective thread, says Crain. “Everything I show connects somehow to the environment, education, and equality.”
These are not words one often hears in the much-hyped world of what has been dubbed “collectible design”. Yet he takes them quite seriously, especially the equality part, which translates into an artist roster that maintains gender balance. While building his program, Crain researched similar galleries worldwide and found that, in terms of representation, “the norm is about 20% women—it is wildly skewed towards men and there’s no justification for that. There is no shortage of women who are talented.” Their work is on prominent display in his gallery, along with a select group of others who are “making functional objects that have a strong conceptual value, meaning they are promoting an agenda and ideas.”
Bold hues in the reception room
Culture Object remains under the radar compared with buzzier galleries that have the means to exhibit at design shows around the world, yet Crain’s unique vision and offerings have gained him a notable following. “Damon has brought a huge amount of energy into the New York design scene, and I think he’s put his finger on something very important that’s emerging, as well,” notes Glenn Adamson, a curator, writer, and historian who works across the fields of design, craft, and contemporary art. “The artists he represents are diverse, but they share an intense commitment to experimentation, often resulting in a maximalist material expression. I’ve been extremely impressed by the coherence of the program, which reflects Damon’s clear perspective and deep commitment as well as the individual talents that he’s representing.”
Jamie Drake, whose client list ranges from captains of industry to Madonna, and who is not one for hyperbole, says of Crain: “I think he’s a genius. He sources artists who are not as well-known and, unlike other gallerists of his ilk who isolate objects, presenting them in an almost religious way, he presents works with passion and in the way they might live in someone’s home.”
Culture Object’s recent exhibition Hyper-Materiality
In the three years since Culture Object launched, Crain has edited his representation and evolved his program. Plastics are still important, he says, but “there’s definitely a higher bar for them being accepted by people. Ceramics are now fully part of the art cannon as being a viable material. People not only relate to them but are drawn in and enjoy them.”
His clients, a mix of collectors and interior designers, tend to go for the more extreme pieces in terms of process and design regardless of material. And Crain is all for pushing the creative envelope. “I’m always looking, thinking: ‘What’s the next step?’ I don’t want to be spending my life doing something that’s been done before. I want to be contrbuting to new ideas.” cultureobject.com
Mother-of-pearl and gold-plated steel works by Jian Yoo, GOT 66 vase and GOT 96 vase, 2021
JIAN YOO, SOUTH KOREA
“Jian works with mother of pearl inlaid into lacquer, and has found a way to give this historical medium new life without completely ditching the history,” says Crain. She cuts and reassembles pieces, sometimes lifting the mother of pearl from its original setting and remounting it. Her work pushes the boundaries of design and craft, resulting in unique creations that are destined to become modern heirlooms.
Elyce Graham’s urethane and epoxy resin California Table, 2022
ELYCE GRAHAM, UNITED STATES
Graham, says Crain, is at “the 10th level of technique with resin—a material that is suited for specialized and spectacular things that no other material can do.” She casts, carves, and constructs chairs, lights, and other decorative installations using techniques usually associated with sculpture. “Her works are very conceptual, but in a gentle way, and always impress from an aesthetic point of view.”
Glazed stoneware vessel Pink Stack, 2022, by Maxwell Mustardo
MAXWELL MUSTARDO, UNITED STATES
“It is relevant to mention that Maxwell is a millennial, and so he sees things through a digital lens. His ceramic forms are almost emoji of amphoras and other iconic shapes,” says Crain. Mustardo is constantly inventing new techniques for his colorful, curvaceous forms, most notably the use of PVC rubber coating.
New York | $9,775,000
Patricia Parker | Sotheby’s International Realty – Downtown Manhattan Brokerage
Soak up magnificent views of Manhattan with this spectacular residence in One57, a Midtown landmark steps from Central Park, and with Carnegie Hall, MoMA, and the Museum of Arts and Design just blocks away. Pritzker Prize-winning architect Christian de Portzamparc designed the building’s glass cladding to mimic falling water. Inside, the 2,482 sq ft space features floor-to-ceiling windows with northern, eastern, and southern exposures, and design by New York’s Jennifer Post, known for her polished minimalism. The open chef’s kitchen is hand-crafted by the award-winning British studio Smallbone of Devizes and features custom pendant lighting by Thomas Juul-Hansen. There are Venetian plaster walls throughout the living and dining areas, an onyx-clad powder room and a Carrara marble en-suite bathroom. With amenities including a 24-hour private fitness and yoga center, this really is a chance to live the high life.
Photos: Courtesy of Culture Object; “The Peacock Room Comes to America,” November 2022, James McNeill Whistler / Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC: Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1904.61. Photo: Colleen Dugan; Courtesy of Jody Kivort; Eitan Gamliely for Sotheby’s International Realty.