The Aram Gallery is too small a stage for curator Daniel Charny – he’s also working with the design museums in London and Israel, as well as running his own group. Hannah Booth catches some of his enthusiasm.
Daniel Charny has staged many memorable shows in his six years in charge of the Aram Gallery – a sunny space on the third floor of the eponymous design store in Covent Garden – but none, you suspect, is as close to his heart as his next offering, Under the Same Roof.
The exhibition will showcase the work of one of the most interesting design groups to emerge in recent years, Okay Studio. It’s a quirky name for a quirky bunch of nine emerging designers, all of whom met at the Royal College of Art’s Design Products course under Charny’s tutelage. The show aims to demonstrate how individuals can work independently, yet as a collective, in inhospitable, expensive London, and will recreate the studio’s working environment, including sketches and failed projects. The aim, says Charny, is to show insight into their working methods – the underlying goal, in fact, of all the gallery’s exhibitions.
‘[Okay Studio] share rent, resources and sometimes clients, but still work as individuals,’ says Charny . ‘They have constant access to critical discussion, build up confidence and help each other out. It’s a great model.’
Israel-born Charny, resident in London for 14 years, is a curator, teacher and designer. He has an enviable portfolio-type career, which includes curating at the Aram Gallery and Design Museum, and running a design group, Affinity, with Martino Gamper (the pair have recently designed a reception desk for the Royal College of Physicians). But curating is his passion, ‘the core of my activity’.
He is currently working with the Design Museum on how it should display its permanent collection, and what criteria it should apply to acquisitions and donations. ‘The Design Museum needs to tell stories. It should show how design impacts on people’s lives/ for example, why Bic pens are so popular.’ He is also working with the nascent Design Museum in Israel, designed by fellow Israeli Ron Arad. It opens next year, and Charny is advising on its collections. ‘It’s tempting for a museum like that to showcase local design, but that would be a mistake. It needs to tell a global story, but from a local perspective.’
It’s not hard to see why Charny is in such demand. He combines a designer’s creativity with a fearsome, lively intellect. He is inclusive, with a strong social awareness. And he loves to talk. Get him on the subject of the London Design Museum’s big show next spring, on designer Javier Mariscal, and his passion is barely containable. ‘He is essentially a cartoonist – but he has such humanity and empathy,’ says Charny. Another passion is experimentation – as seen at the current Aram show, Prototypes and Experiments. Where others might see prototypes as unpolished works in progress, Charny sees works of art that provide fascinating access to a designer’s thoughts.
‘Prototypes are enlightening. Their rawness is part of their charm – after all, they weren’t designed to be seen – and they show how designers think,’ he says. Prototypes, sketches and, often, mistakes are an antidote to the growth in limited-edition products, Charny believes. These are highly polished and marketed with an eye to being sold for maximum profit. Was it hard persuading the likes of Jurgen Bey, Gitta Gschwendtner and Matthew Hilton to put their experiments on public display? ‘You have to have real confidence in your work to do it. Designers get attached to their prototypes – I didn’t get all the ones I wanted,’ he says. Prototypes and Experiments will now form the default, permanent show at Aram – ever-changing, and only dismantled for the temporary exhibitions staged throughout the year. The third strand of Charny’s professional life is teaching – he runs the student group Platform 10, part of the Design Products department, with Roberto Feo. Students are encouraged to generate their own briefs. ‘It’s not a traditional way of teaching,’ says Charny, ‘in that it gives the students freedom, rather than just passing on knowledge.’
How does he manage such as multifaceted career? ‘I find it easier to flip between all three [disciplines] now I’ve made a mental change to see them as variations on the same thing,’ he says. But Charny is reducing the amount of teaching he is doing, as ‘it was getting too much’, he says. A shame for his students, but not for the rest of us.
Under the Same Roof is at the Aram Gallery, Drury Lane, London WC2, from 18 September to 8 November. It is part of London Design Festival