Many have speculated on how long the gallery of white cubes will last. Increasingly, institutions and commercial galleries are choosing to show works in environments with more personality, not less. Currently at the Jewish Museum, for example, the exhibition New York: 1962-1964 is covered in retro wallpaper, vignettes and bright colors covering singular walls, in part designed by one of the white cube gallery’s biggest proponents, architect Annabelle Selldorf. “The field has expanded, there’s a lot more that you see in terms of staging,” Selldorf says.
This idea is fundamental for the booming design gallery carpenters workshop, whose ambitious programming and eye-catching directing propelled it to the forefront of the industry. “A big white box with only works of art? There is no interaction with customers, with the community,” explains co-founder Loïc Le Gaillard. “Today it is irrelevant.”
Only a few months after the opening of their inaugural space in London in 2006, Le Gaillard and its partner Julien Lombrail decided move from fine art to functional art. “There is something more accessible to functional sculpture,” says Varja Kingsley, former marketing manager at the gallery. “Everyone reacts to it.”
Since its conception, the gallery has added a host of important artists, designers and their estates to its roster, including Wendell Castle, Zaha Hadid, Atelier Van Lieshout, Rick Owens and Nacho Carbonell. The gallery’s high profile clientele includes Brad Pitt, Roman Abromovich, Tom Ford and Peter Marino. Today, the gallery is a staple of most major art and design showcases, including events during the Venice Biennale and fairs such as Design Miami, The Armory Show, and Tefaf. Earlier this month, the gallery took over two stands at PAD London, including one entirely dedicated to jewellery.
Now with outposts in Paris (including a massive research center near Roissy airport), New York, Los Angeles and, next spring, a huge space at Ladbroke Hall in London, the gallery has outdone all its competitors in the art and design sector to become, effectively, a mega-gallery. A 2020 investment from French private equity firm Montefiore – worth millions of dollars – not only made the expansion more feasible, but also reflected a significant vote of confidence from a major backer. .
The new Notting Hill outpost will add 43,000 square feet to the gallery’s overall footprint. An impressive cohort of creative minds are working to transform the space, led by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye. Visitors drawn by the artsy lineup will be enticed to stay for the countless other offerings, including a new restaurant designed by Vincenzo de Cotiis and Michèle Lamy’s pop-up art installation, lounge bar and recording studio, Lamyland. Other amenities include an underground gallery and wine cellar, a 1,200 square foot garden, performance and event rooms, workshops and a supper club.
Lombrail and Le Gaillard go beyond the traditional gallery setting with their Ladbroke Hall project, making the complex an appropriate architectural reflection of their approach to the art and design market. “We managed to penetrate all layers of collectors because the design is much more democratic and easier to understand,” explains Le Gaillard.
But rapid expansions usually come with spinoffs. Behind the shiny exterior, it is said that working at Carpenters Workshop is not without its challenges. A former employee compared the early days of the gallery to the ‘wild west’, adding that there was virtually no main office or human resources department until very recently, which likely contributed to the departure many staff early. “Some who have been there from the start resist change, adds the former employee, while for others, it is essential.”
While mega-galleries are no stranger to growing pains, major issues arise at Carpenters Workshop: the relatively slim profit margins for design objects (most of which are produced in large numbers, as opposed to paintings and sculptures unique) support ambitious business expansion? ? Will the collectors they court see functionally designed objects as stable investments comparable to first-rate works of art? And if so, what are the practical implications for collectors of the distinction between works of art and objects of design?
“The difficulty that could arise in objects of design such as art in this context is that they are generally produced in larger quantities than singular works of art,” explains the New York-based art attorney , Danny O’Neill. “Part of what makes a work of art ‘meaningful’ and therefore exempt from tax in certain scenarios is the rarity of the piece itself and the inherent inability to replicate a work of art.”
However, Le Gaillard remains optimistic about the many benefits of the program and the gallery’s expansion. “The gallery has a vision, and translating that vision is even more important than the art itself,” he says, adding that a key part of the long-term business plan is to continue building an ecosystem that goes far beyond the objects they display.