Retail giant moves into art business
Restoration Hardware to commission, exhibit and sell works in new space in Meatpacking District
By Julia Halperin. From Frieze New York daily edition
Published online: 09 May 2013
Restoration Hardware is entering the art business. The home furnishings company, which has more than 80 stores across the US, will launch a division in September devoted to commissioning, exhibiting and selling contemporary art. The firm has already made its first purchase: Rain Room, 2012, by the British collective Random International. The installation, which uses motion sensors to enable visitors to walk through a downpour without getting wet, is on loan to New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), where it opens to the public on Sunday as part of the show “Expo 1: New York”.
RH Contemporary Art (RHCA) will operate from a five-storey exhibition space on West 16th Street in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, just a few blocks from the future home of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Part project space, part commercial gallery, the division will open with “Autonomy”, a career survey of Random International, which will be the studio’s largest show in the US to date, according to RHCA’s vice-president, Holly Baxter.
“Because we started in home furnishings, we anticipated that there would be a lot of questions [about the decision to launch the new division],” says Gary Friedman, the chairman emeritus of the company. “People see us as one-dimensional. But to us, great design, art and music are all extensions of what we do.” In a more pragmatic statement to shareholders last year, Friedman noted that entering the art business would “reinforce our luxury lifestyle positioning”.
RHCA will commission new work for its West 16th Street building every eight weeks. Unlike a traditional gallery, the company will buy entire exhibitions directly from the artists in advance. “By commissioning and acquiring the works up front, we are enabling the artists to create new bodies of work and to go in new directions with their practice,” Baxter says, adding that RHCA will not represent artists but will offer the commissioned work for sale. She declined to specify the company’s acquisitions budget.
Friedman and Baxter originally intended to include Rain Room, which comes in an edition of six, in the firm’s debut show. Instead, they opted to lend the piece to MoMA. In September, RHCA will present archival material relating to Rain Room, seven interactive design objects and two kinetic works created especially for the display.
Although the gallery has yet to open, Baxter and Friedman are already looking to expand beyond their bricks-and-mortar location. RHCA’s website, which is also due to launch this autumn, will feature original work by 50 international artists. An e-commerce option will enable collectors to buy works directly through the website. In the next few years, the company plans to open additional gallery locations in the US as well as a museum, which will act as a permanent home for Rain Room. When the company bought the installation last year, it “took quite a risk”, says Hannes Koch, a co-founder of Random International. “They bought it [after seeing it on] a piece of paper, before we made it.” Baxter says: “How many chief executives would acquire a room that rains?”
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