“I Don’t Get Math Humor So Well”: Phillips de Pury’s Brent Dzekciorius’s Low Down on “Wit and Whimsy” in Design

The Shop, the Phillips de Pury version of a convenience store, opens “Triumvirate” today, a three-studio group exhibition curated by London-based director of retail Brent Dzekciorius, a former New Yorker who once served as the director for design mainstays Johnson Trading Gallery and Moss Gallery. Featuring the work of Japan’s Nendo, London’s Faye Toogood, and Stockholm’s Humans Since 1982, the show has a uniquely lighthearted air of irreverence and playfulness (which we go into detail about here). We spoke to Dzekciorius, who’s been at his post for two and a half years now, about his vision about putting together this international show, what exactly three designers from different countries have in common, and what’s good about the United States design scene right now (spoiler alert: not a lot).

Brent Dzekciorius, director of retail at Phillips de Pury

These are all designers who’ve shown at Phillips’s London location and have been featured prominently at the London Design Festival. What took these objects so long to make it to the United States?

It was an issue of timing for us. We have such a tight auction calendar, and we kind of roll from one thing to the next and to the next. To do a show with these studios, you have to dedicate the correct amount of time, six weeks in the space, especially when it’s new work and we don’t have a lot of opportunities to show it. It’s the only fair and proper way to do it. We don’t know when the next time is going to be.

So timing was definitely a factor, but was that all? These designers hail from very different places, yet you chose to show them side by side — and present them as a “triumvirate,” even. What was your impetus to bring them back and show them together this way?

The timing was an opportunity for sure, but I think all three of them have this unbridled fascination and curiosity in their approach that’s almost childlike. It’s equally thoughtful and provocative, and I find that curiosity to be the thread that makes the work so engaging. And “Triumvirate.” The title was a bit of a joke, actually. Playful.

Is there really a triumvirate in design? Can you pull three studios together so that they forge such a powerful force that they can take the design world by storm? They haven’t gotten together and made those kind of statements. A triumvirate can be conscious, or it can be unconscious. And typically it’s in political circles, but with this I thought it would be fun to adapt it for design. Design can be taken — by designers especially — so seriously. There’s quite a bit of wit andwhimsy, in at least Nendo’s and Humans’ approach, and I thought it was kind of nice to play off of that.

Phillips whisked you away from New York two years ago to bring you to London, and since, you’ve extolled the design culture there as being unique to anywhere else. What are we missing here at home? And is there a reason there’s no American presence in this international show?

Having been in London for the past two and a half years, my focus has been more on what’s around me. There’s an immediacy of being able to talk to Faye and being able to see the guys in Stockholm, and there’s more interconnectedness to the institutions and the schools. Then again, you have Nendo in Japan. I think when I first stated with Phillips, Nendo was on my mind from the beginning. As soon as I came on board, they were the first studio I contacted. I think the American design community is more spread out. I think in terms of an absence in American design, I can’t really comment on why that is. But there are some amazing American designers out there.

Are there any who show the same level of with we’ve been describing here? It seems that frequently we look to the UK, Europe, and Asia to find it.


Is that a question you need more time to think about?

I think it is.

I think that’s a very telling answer.

It is. I feel a lot of the designers I’m familiar with in the US have an architectural practice as well. Architects always tend to be more serious in their approach — algorithmic. There’s a formula behind it, and some of the other work tends to be more conceptual but less narrative, I would say. I see a lot of mathematics in American work, which is appealing, but of course I don’t get math humor so well. I kind of wanted to identify more with work that has a humorous side to it, or has a nice narrative that’s not necessarily crammed down your throat with strong iconography or ideology, per se. I like it to be a bit more lighthearted, but then with an emphasis on materials, even innovating new craft traditions or adapting old ones. Those are the kinds of things that I’m looking for.

Tell us about some crafting traditions.

You see a lot of people adapting casting techniques. They’re manufacturing in their studios. It’s this large interest in empowerment and making your own rather than outsourcing. You see a lot of people finding ways to fabricate in their studios. People are sort of relishing this empowerment.

Is it part of our movement towards DIY?

DIY in the sense that you have to be trained to do it. It’s a professional DIY, not a home depot DIY.

Humans Since 1982 prominently feature LED lighting in a few of their pieces in this show, and I’ve seen it used by quite a few other designers recently. Can we call this the lighting of the moment?

In “Collection of Light,” Humans took these old collection boxes that housed insects from the Stockholm Museum of Natural History — they’re about 70 years old — and refitted them with LED lightbulbs in the interest of celebrating the LED bulb as something worth collecting — as an industrial product that’s so ubiquitous it’s in our everyday, so small and so insignificant that they put them in this case like an entomologist would insects. They chose these bulbs for their harmonic distribution of light; it’s really soothing. It gives this great warmth, and when you go through the little details, they’re categorized by color temperature and luminosity. They’re very sweet pieces.

LEDs provide a flexibility. Of course, there’s a sustainable aspect to them. I think you get 100,000 hours of light from an LED bulb, which is very attractive to people. They can create pieces where the bulb isn’t so present, and they can fix it into the piece, and the piece has this life rather than a bulb you swap in and out. They have a greater range of color temperature. The size, the scale, gives greater flexibility for designers.

There’s OLED [organic light-emitting diode] too, which I think we’re going to see more and more of. It’s just a matter of price. That’s the next level. Everyone that I know of is at least paying attention to that technology. It’s just a bit cost prohibitive right now.

And they’re also following up “Clock Clock” — their 2010 the Shop hit that arranged a series of analog clocks on top of each other so that their hands formed the numbers of a digital clock face — with “Clock Clock 2.” How does it measure up?

Humans Since 1982's "Clock Clock" 2008-2010

Humans Since 1982's "Clock Clock 2," 2012

A children’s hospital commissioned them to make it after “Clock Clock” sold out. It’s a bit more clinical, but they wanted something could put the children at ease, is mesmerizing, and isn’t television. I think I prefer the new one to the original, actually. I like that there’s less of it, and that it’s round opposed to square. It references an actual analog clock in the literal form of the clock. Clocks are typically circular, not square. There have been a number of updates to the animation as well over the last few years. It’s just more stable. Those original ones were very prototypical and as they’ve developed it further, we’ve updated the collectors’ clocks to have the most current software.

Is that like download the latest “Clock Clock” OS?

That’s the beauty of some of this technology design.

For the record, Dzekciorius called us back to tell us Snarkitecture is a great example of a witty American design studio. They are, however, also architects.

— Janelle Zara