Bringing it All Together
Bringing it All Together
201 North 3rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
For Lewis Wexler and Sherry Apter Wexler , it all began at Christie’s. Their personal and professional partnership took root some 20 years ago at the New York auction house, where he was a decorative arts spe-cialist and she dealt with Latin American prints. They married, moved to Philadelphia and, in 2000, opened a contemporary art gallery in the Old City district, in a large two-level space (once home to the Black Banana nightclub, Philly’s answer to Studio 54).
Though Wexler Gallery is a shared vision, their roles are distinct: Sherry handles the business side along with paintings, prints and photographs, while Lewis oversees furniture, glass, ceramics, jewelry, fiber art and overall artistic direction: “That’s how we stay married,” Lewis jokes. Here, he talks about decorative art, craft, fine art, design, and why “all those worlds are important to us.”
You come from the world of decorative arts. How does that relate to studio craft, and have you given much thought over the years to the terminology?
It comes up all the time. I’m coming from a different angle than most people. When I was at Christie’s, my department was 20th Century Decorative Art and Design. We handled Gallé, Daum, Lalique, Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, Stickley—a pretty broad group of work. When I left Christie’s, I went to DeLorenzo Gallery, where the specialty was French Deco.
The earliest auctions of contemporary craft in the late 80s generated a lot of interest.
It was exciting. Partially what drew me to [studio craft] was that, in the back of my head, I always remembered those sales, how exciting they were and how different from the Nouveau, Deco and other work we traditionally sold. There was a buzz about those pieces, and it stuck with me through the years.
So how has your background shaped your view of the work you show?
I always perceived it in historical context, taken a broad view. When we first opened the gallery it was more in situ—glass and furniture, never a show per se, more along the lines of a vignette, like Lloyd Macklowe’s or Tony DeLorenzo’s gallery.
Since then our focus has evolved significantly. We showcase more individual artists. And I’ve always had a strong interest in design, so that evolution has occurred as well. I think it’s somewhat similar to what’s happening in the auction world, where you see a Marc Newson piece that sells for a million dollars, that’s still handcrafted but is a high-design piece. My interests are going more toward craftspeople who are creating pieces that are well thought-out—well made, but also strongly designed.
But I still show work like that of Thomas Hucker and Silas Kopf, who is a traditional marquetry worker. Also I like Jefferson Shallenberger, a young artist who went to the College of the Redwoods and has more of a traditional back-ground. I have my hands in both the design world and the more traditional world.
Some of our recent turning-point shows, like the Wendell Castle/Chuck Close show are indicative of the direction of the gallery. “(In)Between,” curated by my associate director, Sienna Freeman, included works by Damien Hirst, Dirk Staschke, Adelaide Paul, and others. It combined young artists in the craft world with some really major, established artists in the fine art world. That’s an exciting direction.
Blurring the boundaries?
Exactly. And expanding the audience, which is vital for the field. A great example would be the clients who came in to see our Chuck Close show, bought a Close print, and then proceeded to buy two major Wendell Castle [furniture] pieces. They would never have gone to a show of just Wendell’s work, but because they saw it, they fell in love with it. Now they’ve got a whole new appreciation for this icon of the furniture field, whom they didn’t know because decorative arts and design were not something they’d had exposure to.
One of your specialties is secondary-market glass art.
We had a very successful SOFA [Chicago art expo] last year selling a single-owner collec-tion, that of Ted Nash. At SOFA Chicago this year we sold another individual collection. So from a private point of view, the secondary market in glass is very strong, especially at trade shows. At auction it’s not quite as strong, but it still gives me an opportunity to buy work at a fair price. But I think the future is optimistic for the secondary market for craft.
In terms of new work, what are you seeing and what are you drawn to?
The woodworker Matthias Pliessnig, who made the piece Providence is a great example, for me, of a young artist who has really excelled in what the future of this field is going to be. He’s handcrafting his furniture, it’s very sculptural in nature yet functional, and has a real high-design element.
In November-December we have “Technology-Driven Design” with Doug Bucci, a jeweler who does work in 3d lithography or rapid prototyping, and Gabriel Romeu, who designs furniture using a cnc machine. A lot of craftspeople now use the computer as another method to produce their work, which provides the field with endless possibilities.—J.L.