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Let’s get this out of the way now: “The Next Wave” at Artisphere is hardly more than product placement. It’s a giveaway from Apartment Zero, the luxury furniture retailer whose co-owner Douglas Burton has curated the show. The exhibit aims to introduce viewers to the next wave of designers from across the globe, but also to the latest furniture lines available at stores like Burton’s. Some art galleries will try to sell you on art that looks good over your couch; this show wants you to think that the couch you crave is the better artwork.
And crave you will. It may not be Joel D’Orazio’s 2010 “Sculptura Blow Chair” that ropes you in; the 1950s wire mesh patio chair threaded through with polyethylene tubes and pipe cleaners represents the bleeding edge of design in this show. Perhaps you prefer the crystal-cool latticework of Konstantin Grcic’s 2003 anodized and die-cast aluminum “Chair One.”
The star of the exhibit, meanwhile, might be “Ploum,” a vast 2012 plush foam sofa by French designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. Plump and comfy enough to disappear a person, “Ploum” is something that fans of kitschy Mad Men modern may not soon forget. No matter your taste, resistance is futile.
“The Next Wave” anchors D.C.’s inaugural International Design Festival, but the exhibit’s approach to design is more showroom floor than global biennial. By arranging design work roughly into living areas—a Jaime Hayon outdoor chair with a Sybilla rug, Stephen Burks lamp, and Antonio Citterio ottoman—the show gives context to pieces that might otherwise seem inaccessible. Hayon’s “Showtime Armchair With Hood,” for example, is a take on the canopied wicker beach chair you’d find in Northern Europe, but made with orange playground-equipment plastic. That’s harder design than the more conventional Philippe Starck stuff on view, but Hayon doesn’t need the living-room tableau to get his point across.
It might have been more educational to group the designers’ work by national origin—and to vary the league of nations a bit. Most of the design on view at Artisphere/Apartment Zero (or any other gallery that shows 21st-century design) hails from Denmark and broader Scandinavia. The exceptions, while powerful, would inevitably stand alone. The “Bicicleta Rug” by Spanish designers Nani Marquina and Ariadna Miquel—a squishy floor covering made of recycled bicycle innertubes that transmits the unmistakable texture of a deflated tire—might not have as many peers in the exhibit were it not for the exhibition support from Spain Arts & Culture, the Embassy of Spain, and the Spain USA Foundation. Italian designers are also well represented, courtesy of the Embassy of Italy, the Italian Cultural Institute, and several centuries of Italian design tradition.
So is the Dyson company. “The Next Wave” does not discriminate against deserving corporate entries, and Dyson’s bladeless “Air Multiplier” fan certainly qualifies. It’s neat to see a Dyson product alongside Cordula Kehrer’s “Bow Bins”—junked plastic laundry hampers rescued and remade with rattan by the indigenous Aeta people from the Philippines. Nothing’s off the table. While the show misses an opportunity to dig into, say, contemporary Mexican design or new materials from innovative nonprofits, it is at least unapologetic about its posture as a mall’s worth of new stuff.