Do you have a problem with dead chickens?” was the first question that designers Job and Nynke Smeets posed to Juan García Mosqueda, when he asked them if Studio Job would help him bring to life his vision of a totally new sort of design-oriented shop, a 21st-century reliquary for unusual objects. Mosqueda didn’t flinch. Belgian conceptual artist Koen Vanmechelen’s notion of offering up a Venetian urn containing the ashes of a 17th-generation cross-breed Mechelse Styrian chicken ($8,600) as one of the specially devised objects was, it turned out, exactly the kind of challenging idea that Argentinian-born Mosqueda had in mind for Chamber, his new shop-cum-gallery that is opening late September in New York’s Chelsea.
For Mosqueda’s dream was to create a destination shop to trump all destination shops, one that would attract lovers of fine things from all over the world – a place of discovery to make design aficionados want to cross oceans and continents to visit. He had in mind a contemporary cabinet de curiosités, a collection of limited editions of art, of rare designs and special objects that would be original and unavailable anywhere else. He also wanted a platform for experimentation, for pushing boundaries. So, clearly, he would have to do things differently from the way they had been done before. The way to go, Mosqueda decided, was to ask a design studio or artist to help him curate an utterly original collection of extraordinary items and showcase them for a limited period.
His first collaboration is with Studio Job, the design practice founded in Antwerp in 2000 by Job and Nynke Smeets, graduates of the renowned Design Academy Eindhoven, and most famous for redefining contemporary decorative objects and creating opulent, intricate and beautifully crafted one-off pieces that sit in some of the world’s most distinguished museums.
Mosqueda had worked with Murray Moss at Moss, the New York store that was a mecca for design fundis until it closed down in 2012 and opened online store Masspop.com. “Once I entered the Moss universe I became fascinated by Eindhoven and what its graduates were doing,” he says. “After Moss closed, I decided to create Chamber, and when I was looking for co-curators Eindhoven seemed the natural place to look. It was when I saw the Smeets’s home, the Studio Job house, in the Dutch countryside that I knew I wanted to work with them. It had been designed by DL Stevenbergh, a pupil of architect/designer Rietveld and was so well thought out, with a wonderful mix of high-modernist pieces, contemporary work and antiques, that I realised they [the Smeets] had a real historical sensibility that chimed with my concept.”
More than that, Mosqueda saw that the Smeets, too, would “get” his obsession with the narrative behind the objects. “I am as fascinated by the stories behind the objects,” he says, “as I am by the stories of collectors who share this passion. Their collectables mean something to them, bringing something fresh to their lives and speaking to who they are.” These are the sort of people he hopes to attract to Chamber.
As for the Smeets, Job Smeets says that when Mosqueda rang him and “said he wanted me to go shopping, to curate and commission 100 unique items that would be exclusive to Chamber, it was very attractive to me. I’m a collector of mid-century and postwar art and classic cars and I’m also in the design and art business – that’s my world.
“To start with,” he adds, “I bought some work by Jakob Smits, a Flemish painter whose art I have always admired; there is a museum dedicated to him in Belgium but he is little known outside the country. Although he died in 1928, I thought his work would mix beautifully with the contemporary designs I had in mind for Chamber.” Framed by Studio Job, two of the paintings are being offered at $15,000 each, a third one is priced at $12,000.
Lots of other one-off vintage pieces are on sale, such as an Osvaldo Borsani for Tecno desk ($15,000, a collection of Dutch toys ($960-$3,100) from the 1950s and purses ($1,500-$2,800) by Delvaux, the legendary Belgian luxury-leather house. There are also specially chosen Dieter Rams for Braun pieces (from $3,100), as well as a chair by the great Italian designer Joe Colombo ($18,000).
Then Mosqueda has commissioned many of the world’s most interesting designers to create pieces for the project. Maarten Baas has taken an old carpenter’s desk ($15,000) and done his famous burning act with it, while Matali Crasset for Nodus has produced strikingly geometric rugs ($5,900). Some of Holland’s top designers (Julius Vermeulen, Swip Stolk and the legendary Wim Crouwel) have brought out special fabrics, which have been used to upholster vintage furniture, such as the Theo Ruth & Swip Stolk chair ($6,300). There is a copper Dutch bicycle ($7,100) in an edition of 10 from Van Heesch Design, a skull sculpture ($6,700) by Nick Ervinck and a Botanica vase ($3,100) by Studio FormaFantasma, plus an amusing Naughty Bavaria pillow by Studio Job for Maharam ($415). Verging more towards art than functional pieces are Esther Janssen’s hand-sewn, leather artworks of natural disasters ($5,900), but alongside these there are also utilitarian pieces such as a steel floor lamp by Tom Dixon ($5,900) and a Piet Hein Eek chair ($7,500), as well as a stunning Camino vase by Alessandro Mendini ($7,100). A contemporary Nendo Deep Sea table for Glas Italia ($9,000), a stylish tray by Tord Boontje ($2,200) and a special Viktor & Rolf doll ($75,000) add to the curiosities.
Each new collection at Chamber will come with a limited-edition perfume. The scent for the gallery’s opening has been created by Julian Bedel of Argentine perfumery Fueguia 1833 and costs $350 for 100ml eau de parfum. Mosqueda asked Bedel, who is famous for taking his inspiration from South America and its culture (for example, a fictional library in one of Jorge Luis Borges’s short stories), to craft a unisex scent based on the experience of being in an old Louis Khan building. It is bottled in a porcelain vessel that was designed by Studio Job.
As stories are so important to both Mosqueda and Job and Nynke Smeets, the curators will explain the history of each object through a combination of video and written texts, plus each collection or collaboration will come with its own limited-edition catalogue raisonné.
All this is merely to give some idea of the scope of what will be on offer. Almost every creative activity will be represented there: from glass-blowers, painters and fashion designers to product designers and, as we have seen, perfumers.
Housed in a Neil Denari building, the shop/gallery’s interior was designed by MOS Architects “with a cavernous repository in mind”, so that it has “a subterranean feel, as if visitors are making a pilgrimage to a hidden place”. In other words, a magic cave filled with vaults and niches and thrilling things.
As to who Mosqueda is going to work with next, he has not yet decided. He has in mind, however, an artist or a designer from east Asia. “Somebody like Rei Kawakubo [of Comme des Garçons] or Kenya Hara [a designer/curator who has been artistic director of Japanese brand Muji since 2001] – it would be such a complete contrast.”
For the moment, he’s deeply immersed in his first big collaboration. It is, clearly, like nothing else at all – and I, for one, can’t wait to cross the ocean to see it.