October 1, 2008. Titled Outside of Sorts, the inaugural exhibition of the newly-minted American Design Club (AmDC) went up in the Character shop at 19 Prince Street in Manhattan last week. Curated by AmDC members, the show includes a number of unknown names who were found by putting out an open call through word-of-mouth, online design sites and other channels. The profusion of work – a smaller selection will be on display through the month – includes everything from a terrarium and a fruit bowl to a faceted coffee table, table sculptures that resemble houses of cards and jewelry, as well as studio work and more conceptual pieces (involving, in one instance, croquet mallets). New York designers, charter members, co-founders and co-curators (along with the charter members listed below) Kiel Mead and Theo Richardson of Rich, Brilliant, Willing explain the provenance and goals of the new organization. americandesignclub.com Why did you start the American Design Club, and why now?
Kiel Mead: I grew up (in the design sense) in Williamsburg. It always seemed like there was a show coming up, or a party to go to, or a collaboration in the works, like the shows Living Spaces and Haute Green, satellites to ICFF. Then, for some reason, it all just stopped and it has been this way, this lack of community, for about three years. The reason for the AmDC to start now is because of its charter members: Simon Arizpe (Pratt graduate), Annie Lenon (Pratt), Rich, Brilliant, Willing’s Richardson, Charles Brill and Alex Williams (RISD) and Henry Julier (Carnegie Melon). The AmDC is set up to be guided by a group of leaders. Everyone works together.
Theo Richardson: I think there’s a need for us to stick up for ourselves. The UK does a great job promoting new designers; here, you’re on your own. Sure the big corporate clients are all here, but starting out, it’s harder to get that design business and reputation going. We need camaraderie and to foster a sense of community. We want to highlight design talent in this country. And we want to create exhibition opportunities in the US, as well as abroad.
The first show wasn’t just about giving exposure to the charter members, but included work by designers whose names we don’t even know yet. Why reach beyond a members-only show?
KM: The point of this first show was to raise awareness for the American Design Club. It was an open submission with a theme that could be interpreted in a number of different ways. The AmDC is not just for the charter members (and not all of the charter members have a piece in the show). The point is to celebrate American design and to be a reliable community for design, sort of like a modern-day Junto set up by Benjamin Franklin when America was very young.
TR: The whole point is not to be exclusive. Not by discipline or even by nationality, but instead to include those who consider themselves "American" and "designers." And with a large, core group representing different interests, I think we came to thoughtful and fair conclusions [in the curation].
How did you put out the call to designers to submit work? And were you surprised at what you received?
KM: In order to get submissions for the show we emailed everyone we know. We posted on Core77.com and coolhunting.com and had a better reaction than any of us thought possible. It seemed like the American design community was just asleep, waiting for someone to do this. Was I surprised? Yes. But I knew this was possible.
Does American design have more of a PR problem than a talent problem?
TR: Ha! Again, posing it in the framework of a problem!
KM: Talent is not the problem. Every designer can use a little encouragement and I hope that is what the AmDC is for some people. PR is not really the problem either. The press is out there, waiting for something new to write about. I think the problem is living in a country that doesn’t celebrate art and design as much as it is capable of. America should be on the forefront of the design world instead of people asking what is wrong.