Two Chinese Designers Challenge Traditions, Old and New

Like many designers, Naihan Li and Zhoujie Zhang value practicality over grand gestures, but their works present a unique sort of revolution: that of everyday life. Gallery ALL, a new 2,400-square-foot gallery in downtown Los Angeles specializing in contemporary design, is currently in the midst of their inaugural exhibition showcasing the work of these two Chinese designers, who are showing their works in the U.S. for the first time. The show is an important step in carrying out the gallery’s mission to bridge the design gap between East and West—just one of cofounder Qingyun Ma’s many goals for the new space. “There are many young talents and promising designers all over the world, but very few get the chance to present their works to a global market,” he told the gallery, hoping that, “...by fusing the worlds of art and design, we are creating a lifestyle that crosses cultural and economic boundaries.” This is particularly important at a time when contemporary Chinese art is most frequently associated with politics and dissident artists, namely Ai Weiwei or Yue Minjun.

Naihan is known for designing objects that are both multi-purpose and conceptually provocative.  For this exhibition, she presents furniture pieces that have the outer appearance of shipping containers but are actually elegant works displaying a sharp sleight of hand. Simultaneously practical and playful, these works question the very idea of utility and fuse an industrial aesthetic with the upscale staples of stained wood, brushed steel, and hard lines.  

Zhoujie, in contrast, abandons traditional integration of classic designs or industrial appearances in favor of a more radical approach. He works in a semi-architectural format, digitally applying parametric mathematics and complex permutations to formulate his designs. When these algorithmic strategies are translated into real-life objects, the results are dazzling. Equal parts birds-of-paradise and psychedelic space origami, Zhang’s chairs and tables are thoroughly grounded in the here-and-now but also look as if they could fly away at any minute into a mysterious future. The exhibition tackles two unique perspectives on the art of design, one looking back and one looking forward.  

Charlie Ambler

Gallery ALL’s Inaugural Exhibition is on view in Los Angeles, May 3rd–Aug. 3rd, 2014.

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