Previewing Collective Design with Steven Learner

Tali Jaffe

Steven Learner b&w.closebust1 ph Taylor Jewell
Steven Learner. Portrait by Taylor Jewell.

Collective Design marks its sixth edition with a big jump in the cultural calendar, placing it at the center of Armory Week. Here, we catch up with founder Steven Learner to get a preview of the fair and learn how he manages the balance of “the creative and the practical.”

What prompted the move from May to March? What are you most looking forward to about showing during Armory week? After five successful years during May’s ‘design week,’ shifting our dates to March allowed us to be the only design event during one of the most important weeks in the New York cultural calendar. With our expanded program that embraces art and design, this week allows us to engage with an even larger audience base.

Do you think there is still a fine line between art and design? Please explain how you straddle both with your fair. There is a continuing trend toward inclusivity, a blurring of the boundaries between art, design, fashion, performance and film that I fully support.

We’ve encouraged new ways of presenting work, expanding our program to include galleries that present both vintage and contemporary work, both art and design. Collective presents installations from galleries, independent designers, interior designers, filmmakers and artists, bringing together many of the voices and structures of the community today and reflecting how culturally, we see and collect art and design.

Tell us about POV, the latest initiative from Collective. To show our visitors alternative ways to see design, we created a new program entitled POV and invited three notable interior designers Alex Papchristidis, Jamie Bush and Ryan Korban to share their perspective of the design landscape. From Bush’s installation of deeply hued, large scale photos to vitrines filled with eclectic objects selected by Papachristidis to a full room setting complete with matching marble sofas by Korban, each has created an environment showcasing their individual points of view.

You travel a great deal, meeting with dealers and visiting other fairs around the world. Which city never tires for you? Which destination have you recently visited for the first time and left the greatest impression on you? I can never get enough of Italy. I’m working my way south, so far I’ve gotten as far as Puglia. Last summer we took a true vacation, traveling across Portugal, from Lisbon to Porto to a yurt by the beach in the Algarve. Traveling relaxes and inspires me.

The fair gives a lot of space to independent artists/designers, and that’s a direction we’re seeing more fairs—which were once exclusively reserved for galleries—take. How do you see the next few years unfolding in this regard? Collective is a platform, evolving, not static, that came from within the design community and is still reflective of the needs of our friends and peers. Collective Concepts, our program for independent designers, began three years ago to engage independent designers with our audience of collectors and curators. The program has doubled in size and will have its first pop-up this May at ICFF. We offer installations from galleries, independent designers, interior designers, filmmakers and artists, bringing together many of the voices and structures of the community today and responding to how we currently see and collect art and design.

How do you balance out the diversity of the fair? My original goal in 2013 was simply to create a fair that I wanted to visit. I received a great deal of support from the design community; designers, curators, collectors and gallerists. This year, as we present the sixth edition of Collective, I am still trying to create a sense of discovery each year, now with the input of a much larger, more international circle of friends and supporters.

If you had to choose your all-time favorite design object, what would that be? On my dresser sits a small, turquoise, ceramic box from Gambone. It is the size of an envelope, displays every touch of the hands that made it and has a totally superfluous fifth foot in the center that always makes me smile.