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Spencer Bailey

Spencer is co-founder of The Slowdown, editor-at-large of the book publisher Phaidon, and the former editor-in-chief of Surface magazine. He has written for publications such as The New York Times Magazine, Fortune, and Bloomberg Businessweek.

Spencer Bailey's Articles

One of three versions of Thomas Ball’s sculpture “Emancipation Group” on view at “re:mancipation.” (Courtesy the Chazen Museum of Art and the Colby College Museum of Art)

Sanford Biggers, a Collective of Artists, and a Museum Interrogate a Problematic Abraham Lincoln Monument

Nearly 150 years ago, on April 14, 1876—the eleventh anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s death—Frederick Douglass spoke before a gathered crowd in Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Park for the dedication of a new monument. Sculpted by Thomas Ball, the statue, known as the “Emancipation Memorial,” depicts an expertly tailored Lincoln holding a copy of his Emancipation Proclamation as a muscular and barely clothed freedman kneels beneath him. “Friends and fellow citizens,” Douglass said, “I warmly congratulate you upon the highly interesting object which has caused you to assemble in such numbers and spirit as you have today.”

Lesley Lokko. (Photo: Murdo Macleod. Courtesy the African Futures Institute)

Lesley Lokko Positions Africa as a Laboratory for Harnessing the Vast Possibilities of the Future

For Lesley Lokko, plurality comes naturally. Born in Scotland to a Ghanaian father and a Scottish mother, and moving frequently between Ghana and the U.K. during her youth, the architect-scholar-novelist has long navigated these countries through an insider-outsider lens. As the curator of this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, titled “The Laboratory of the Future,” she’s bringing exactly this outlook to the main exhibition. On view from May 20 through Nov. 26, the six-part presentation will put the spotlight on Africa for the first time in the Biennale’s history—with more than half of the contributors hailing from Africa or from the African diaspora. The timing of Lokko’s Biennale appointment is not so coincidental: In 2020, she founded the African Futures Institute in Accra, a new architecture school and research institute that, as with her Biennale show, positions Africa as a laboratory for harnessing the vast possibilities of the future.

Cover of “Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life” by Dacher Keltner. (Courtesy Penguin Press)

Dacher Keltner on Why We All Need Daily Doses of Awe

For the past 20 years, Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, has been teaching the slippery subject of happiness. Now, at last, he believes he has landed on a profoundly simple, scientifically proven method for achieving it: “Find awe,” he writes in his extraordinary new book, Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life (Penguin Press).

Overlapping copies of “No Finish Line.” (Photo: Weston Colton. Courtesy Nike)

Nike Imagines the World 50 Years From Now

From its classic swoosh logo, to its signature Air Jordan silhouette, to its legendary “Just Do It” tagline, to its recent 50th anniversary video short by Spike Lee, Nike knows how to expertly engineer and craft its brand down to the tiniest detail, and how to subtly zoom out and in to the zeitgeist.

The classic “Blue Marble” image of the Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 crew on Dec. 7, 1972. (Courtesy NASA)

Marina Koren on Rethinking the “Overview Effect”

Marina Koren, who covers science and space exploration as a staff writer for The Atlantic, realizes her job doesn’t sound real. “But I promise it is,” she says. “When I tell people I’m a ‘space reporter,’ they’re not quite sure what to do with that. But space is a beat.”

Cover of “Still Pictures: On Photography and Memory” by Janet Malcolm. (Courtesy Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The Piercing Prose of the Late Janet Malcolm

When Janet Malcolm first wrote for The New Yorker in 1963, her debut wasn’t in the form of the piercing prose she became known for, but instead a slim poem titled “Thoughts on Living in a Shaker House.” On the surface, it may seem an odd starting point for Malcolm, who would become one of the foremost writers about—and shrewdest observers of—psychoanalysis, the law, and journalism, and who would remain a New Yorker staff writer until her death, on June 16, 2021, at age 86. But the poem’s lines are indeed pure Malcolm: plainspoken, cutting in their clarity, and—save the use of the words “lineaments” and “epicene”—generally unpretentious. Consider the poem’s second stanza: “This house is full of pegs and sense,/A kind of grudging elegance/Informs each piece and artifact/Come down to use preserved intact.”

Pieces in Brush’s “Wave” series of steel objects. (Photo: Takaaki Matsumoto. Courtesy Rizzoli Electa)

Remembering Daniel Brush and His Immaculate, Otherworldly Objects, Paintings, and Jewelry

The first time I ever set foot in the Manhattan studio of the practically indefinable artist-metalsmith-painter-engineer-philosopher-poet Daniel Brush, who died on Nov. 26, 2022, at age 75, he was looking directly at me through his jewelers loupe, which was firmly fastened around his head, just as I exited off the elevator. I found it quite peculiar, at the time, to not be able to clearly see his face or look him in the eyes, but eventually, as I got to know him better (and once the loupe came off), I understood it to be a pragmatic form of protection. With those magnifying glasses on, he was in his happy place. He felt safe, comfortable, at home. Himself. This close-up view was how he saw things. He looked at the world, and the cosmos at large, in microscopic detail. Daniel intimately understood that the largest truths could be found in the most minuscule of places.

The cover of “Question Everything: A Stone Reader,” co-edited by Simon Critchley and Peter Catapano. (Courtesy Liveright)

Simon Critchley on the Sheer Delight of Questioning Everything

When the Covid-19 pandemic arrived, and with it, the lockdowns of March 2020, I sat at home in Brooklyn Heights, alone, and watched as friends swiftly decamped to homes upstate, in the Hamptons and Connecticut, and beyond. One even moved to Miami. I have family in Colorado, and considered driving cross-country to be with them, but a part of me felt it was important, for whatever reason, to just stay put—not to flee the city, but to embrace it in one of its more precarious moments. For weeks, I listened to nonstop sirens wailing over the Brooklyn Bridge, along Cadman Plaza, and up and down the B.Q.E., and in them, I heard death. The banging of pots and pans at 7 p.m. each day to honor healthcare workers—heartwarming as the gesture was—felt to me more like a signal, a way for neighbors to say, “I’m still here. I’m still alive.” At times, the in-between silences felt almost deafening. There was so much grief and sadness in the stillness.

Washington Square Park in New York City’s Greenwich Village. (Photo: Spencer Bailey)

A Walking Tour of Greenwich Village With Architecture Critic Michael Kimmelman

It’s a late afternoon in early November, nearing dusk, and I’m sitting with Michael Kimmelman, the New York Times architecture critic, inside the West Village outpost of Daily Provisions, a café from the New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer. A sort of contemporary town square, Daily Provisions is exactly the kind of place that Kimmelman, who’s widely known for his egalitarian, public-oriented prose, would consider from a development and urban design perspective: its impacts on the streetscape and the neighborhood, the community around it, and the city beyond. (In 2016, he wrote about another Meyer establishment, Union Square Cafe, unpacking the implications of the then-new location and layout of the legacy Manhattan restaurant.)

“Ilan's Garden” (2022) by Doron Langberg. (Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro)

As Art Basel Turns 20, Miami Art Week Enters a New, Slightly Less Hyped-Up Dawn

That the first work of art I saw during this year’s Miami Art Week was a newscast seems somehow appropriate in our precarious-yet-emerging-from-Covid present. “How do we make sense of things in today’s age of misinformation and sped-up media ecosystem?” the artists behind it, from the civic-engagement coalition For Freedoms, appeared to be asking. “And really, what’s the difference between art and the news?”

Courtesy Artisan Books

Ghetto Gastro’s Jon Gray on “Durag Diplomacy” and the Beauty of the Bronx

Over the past decade, the Bronx culinary collective Ghetto Gastro has—through a combination of creative finesse, clever tactics, linguistic gymnastics, and food alchemy—risen up in the worlds of art, fashion, and entertainment, serving up a new, raw form of cultural ambassadorship. Unofficial representatives of their home borough, the group’s co-founders, Jon Gray (the guest on Ep. 2 of our Time Sensitive podcast), Pierre Serrao, and Lester Walker, practice what they call “durag diplomacy,” bringing the Bronx to the world and the world to the Bronx. The trio’s scope and impact is vast, from collaborating with French luxury house Cartier on a “Bronx Brasserie” pop-up in Paris, to launching kitchen appliances with Target, to cooking with Wolfgang Puck at this year’s Oscars. An unabashed gastronome and the group’s self-described “dishwasher,” Gray has the agility and energy of a frontman: Currently an artist-in-residence at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, he’s perhaps best known for his 2019 TED Talk, which has been viewed nearly two million times. Serrao and Walker are seasoned chefs with backgrounds in top restaurants, including at Cracco in Milan and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s now-closed Spice Market in New York, respectively.

The Sculpture Gallery at The Glass House. (Photo: Michael Biondo)

Robert Stadler Has a “Playdate” With Philip Johnson at His Glass House

It’s a serene, bluebird-sky day, a slight chill in the air, and I’m walking with the Paris-based, Austrian-born designer-artist-provocateur Robert Stadler along a central pathway on Philip Johnson’s 49-acre Glass House estate in New Canaan, Connecticut. We’ve just exited the property’s whitewashed, brick-floored, glass-ceilinged Sculpture Gallery, a transfixing space of light and shadow built in 1970 that’s home to works by artists including Michael Heizer, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella. Now, for one of the first times ever, a temporary installation by a contemporary artist—Stadler—is being shown among the sculptures of these art-world giants.

Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec’s Shaku chair for Koyori. (Photo: Hiroshi Iwasaki)

With Jasper Morrison at Its Creative Helm, Japanese Furniture Company Koyori Makes Splendid Seats

With practically everything they do—or at least with their many time-honored ceremonies and traditions, from yuritsuki gardening to the brewing of gyokuro—the Japanese bring great care. Gift-wrapping is no exception. Taking cues from the island nation’s rich, detail-driven heritage, and celebrating the latter art, the new Japanese furniture maker Koyori chose its name. Meaning “twisted paper cords,” Koyori references the primary material of mizuhiki, the decorative paper cords commonly used in Japan to tie paper-wrapped gifts. The metaphor is apt: Koyori’s exquisite wood furniture creations tie together Japanese aesthetics and craftsmanship with leading-edge designers from around the world. Rooted in Japanese tradition, Koyori is a global company of the now, beyond borders. At the creative helm of this new venture—which launched this month at the Triennale di Milano art and design museum, during Milan Design Week—is the British product and furniture designer Jasper Morrison, who serves as its “brand directing advisor.” Tapped by executive director Koda Munetoshi, Morrison collaborated on Koyori’s identity with the Tokyo-based Swiss graphic designer Sebastian Fehr. The debut collection’s five chairs—three of them (the Kawara, the Musubi, and the Skaku) by the Paris-based brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, the other two (the Miau and the Edaha) by the Danish-Italian duo Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi, who run the Copenhagen-based firm GamFratesi—emphasize rigor and comfort, evoke a poetic intimacy, and highlight tradition without getting bogged down in it. Each chair conveys its own sort of personality: The Bouroullecs’s simple, high-backed Shaku winks, casually and not in any overt way, at Shaker furniture; GamFratesi’s Miau practically smiles in form, its elegant bent armrest made from a single piece of wood. It is serious design, but joyful, too.

Installation view of the “Hermès in the Making” exhibition in Troy, Michigan. (Photo: William Jess Laird)

In Detroit, a Six-Day Hermès Exhibition Celebrates Craft and Community

Detroit is a city of craft. Of carmakers and Carhartt. Of Motown Records and Eminem. Of iconic midcentury design (Isamu Noguchi’s Hart Plaza and Dodge Fountain, buildings by Mies van der Rohe and Minoru Yamasaki). Of the Cranbrook Academy of Art (in nearby Bloomfield Hills), the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Heidelberg Project. So it’s fitting that, following previous iterations in Copenhagen, last fall, and in Turin, Italy, last month, the French luxury house Hermès has headed here—to the suburb of Troy, specifically, where it also recently opened a store—to present its latest “Hermès in the Making” exhibition (through June 15). A playful, Willy Wonka factory–like presentation of the company’s know-how, the display offers “an opportunity to peek behind the curtain,” as Kamel Hamadou, one of the company’s expert silk scarf-makers, cheekily puts it. Poppy and pompy, it is a verifiable high-craft wonderland and a joy to behold. One would be hard-pressed not to smile while walking through it. Divided into four sections—”A Culture of Traditional Craftsmanship,” “High-Quality Materials,” “The Talent of Our Regions,” and “Time, Our Ally”—the exhibition functions as a crash course on the Paris-based company, founded in 1837, and its 52 workshops and production sites across France (which employ nearly 6,000 craftspeople). At the “Printing the Silk” display, Hamadou guides viewers through the mesmerizing, nearly hour-long, step-by-step process of silk-screen printing, using a flatbed-screen technique that requires three years of training under a tutor to master. “It’s like cooking a family recipe,” Hamadou says of making an Hermès scarf. “A secret!” Beyond, stations feature artisans in saddle-stitching, porcelain painting, gemstone setting, glove-making, leather working, watchmaking, and leather repair. Throughout, various gadgets, gizmos, and displays delight, from phones featuring “after-sales anecdotes,” to leather odor diffusers, to a circa-1990 Volvo steering wheel covered in calf leather, to a Mars meteorite fragment found in North Africa (and used in the Hermès Arceau L’Heure De La Lune watch dial).

Rebecca van Bergen. (Photo: Wesley Law)

For Rebecca van Bergen, Craft Is a Means to Change the World

For the past 16 years, Rebecca van Bergen has been laying the groundwork for a more equitable, inclusive, and transparent environment for those in the business of artisan handwork. For her, “equitable,” “inclusive,” and “transparent” aren’t marketing-speak hype-words; she means them in their truest sense, as paths toward greater economic power. As the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Nest, van Bergen has woven together a potent platform for change. Its name is as clever as it is befitting. The notion of building a nest—a protected place of birth, care, support, and growth—is indeed the very embodiment of her organization’s ethos. From the start, Nest has sought to forge a resilient handworker economy. Not only has Nest pioneered “micro-bartering” (in which artisans receive loans they pay back in the form of product), it has also built a 1,600-plus-member guild of craft-based businesses (spanning 120 countries, it comprises an 88 percent female workforce); created a set of now widely adopted handworker protection standards; and partnered with brands including West Elm, Patagonia, and Eileen Fisher on things such as production compliance, responsible sourcing, and connecting designers and craftspeople. This is just to name a few of the fruits of van Bergen’s labor. The pandemic has seen engagement skyrocket: Between 2020 and 2021 alone, Nest saw its guild grow by 84 percent. This week, in partnership with Hermès, as part of the French luxury house’s “Hermès in the Making” exhibition in Troy, Michigan (open to the public from June 10–15), van Bergen will lead conversations on the subjects of repair and regeneration, and also launch a program for Detroit-based makers. Here, we speak with van Bergen about the pandemic-led rise of home-based work, the links between craft and activism, and Detroit’s maker legacy.

MASA gallery’s exhibition “Intervención/Intersección” at Rockefeller Center

Embracing Playfulness, an Exhibition Engages in the “Creative Porosity” Between Mexico and the U.S.

In 1938, two years after completing one of his first realized public artworks, “History Mexico,” a sculptural, colored cement mural on the second floor of the Abelardo L. Rodríguez Market in Mexico City, the Japanese-American artist and designer Isamu Noguchi, then 33 years old, won a public competition to create a frieze at the Associated Press Building (now called 50 Rockefeller Plaza) at Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan. Completed after a year of labor, the 20-foot-tall cast stainless-steel bas relief sculpture, called “News,” remains installed there today, above the main entrance. Depicting five larger-than-life, bulkily-armed, broad-shouldered, media-making men—one on the phone, the others writing, typing, observing, and picture-taking—it is a shining example of his early work. Considered together, these two pieces represent a young Noguchi building toward what would become an incredible output of poetic, boundary-pushing, public-oriented work across six decades, from playscapes and furniture to stone sculptures and Akari paper lamps (manifested perhaps most magnificently in the form of his namesake museum in Long Island City, Queens, which he founded in 1985).

Vuslat Doğan Sabancı in front of artist Giuseppe Penone’s sculpture “Idee di Pietra–Olmo,” commissioned by the Vuslat Foundation for the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale. (Photo: Enrico Fiorese)

Vuslat Doğan Sabancı Imagines a Better, Brighter World Full of “Generous Listening”

From 1996 to 2018, Vuslat Doğan Sabancı worked her way up the ranks of her family’s business, Turkey’s Hürriyet newspaper publishing group, one of the largest media companies in the country. During that time, she helped lead the firm’s transition to digital, and pushed for greater coverage around gender equality and human rights—particularly women’s rights and domestic violence. In her last decade there, she served as the company’s board chair. For her, the experience was a heady whirlwind, an opportunity to bring a large, influential media operation into the click-click-click internet age, and to do so, in part, through social cause and action.

A Letter from Mother Teresa, submitted to the Museum of Material Memory by Siddharth Sunder. (Courtesy Museum of Material Memory)

A Digital Museum Tells Time-Honored Stories of the Indian Subcontinent Through Everyday Objects and Family Heirlooms

A gold dial Titan quartz wristwatch with a worn-out brown leather strap. A 32-caliber Colt pistol. A dekchi, or brass cooking pot for cooking the traditional rice dish biryani. A signed letter from Mother Teresa. An Imperial Bank of India checkbook. These are but five items in the collection of the Museum of Material Memory, an online repository of objects from across the Indian subcontinent, dating from or before the 1970s, including books, photographs, magazines, maps, jewelry, and family heirlooms.

Elyn Zimmerman's 1993 World Trade Center bombing memorial

Elyn Zimmerman Created a Memorial to the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing—Then It Was Destroyed on 9/11

Elyn Zimmerman will never forget the exact moment when, on February 26, 1993, a truck bomb exploded in the World Trade Center’s underground parking garage, killing six people and injuring more than a thousand. The artist and sculptor’s studio at the time was in Tribeca, just off Varick Street, and when the bomb went off, it was felt, both literally and figuratively, across downtown New York City. It would become a traumatic precursor to the even more harrowing events to come, less than a decade later, on September 11, 2001.

Menu items from Stephanie Goto's ice cream and champagne Omakase

Pairing Champagne and Ice Cream, Stephanie Goto Masterminds an Extraordinary Omakase

Stephanie Goto thinks about champagne and ice cream in similar ways to how she does design: spatially, materially, and as an intricate array of layers and forms. With her friend Nicholas Morgenstern, the chef and owner of Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream, the New York–based architect recently merged these seemingly disparate interests into a wholly original, decidedly unusual, extraordinarily sensorial limited-run omakase. Starting July 20 and running through August 10, the seven-course pairing menu—celebrating the release of Dom Pérignon’s Plénitude 2 Vintage 2003—will be available on Tuesdays, with seatings at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., by reservation only at Morgenstern’s Sundae Bar, part of its flagship location in New York’s Greenwich Village. (Those wanting to try a single pairing can make a reservation to do so between noon and 10 p.m.) A Dom Pérignon collector and long-time friend of the brand, Goto worked closely with the company’s chef de cave, Vincent Chaperon, throughout the process of creating the menu, learning the details and nuances that go into constructing a Dom Pérignon vintage—“the structure of the wine, and the deeper definitions of why it is what it is,” as she puts it. With Morgenstern, Goto selected some of their favorite Japanese ingredients, such as tamago, soy sauce, and dashi, and then she designed an edible experience that playfully reimagines and transforms these ingredients into a theatrical story about ice cream and champagne, presented in three acts. Among the over-the-top offerings (featuring plates designed by Goto, as well as various tableware items from her personal collection) are a nori cone with sushi rice ice cream and Black River Caviar’s imperial-grade Russian Oscietra Caviar, paired with a glass of the Vintage 2010; a toro burger with a side of soy sauce ice cream and ginger “fries,” paired with a glass of the Rosé Vintage 2006; and a sundae cube made from matcha, red bean, vanilla, and dorayaki, paired with the Plénitude 2 Vintage 2003. Here, we speak with Goto about how the exquisitely executed project came to be. When and how did your relationship with Dom Pérignon begin?

Potter Edmund de Waal with books

Master Potter Edmund de Waal on the Necessity of Revisiting the Past

Practically everything the artist, master potter, and writer Edmund de Waal touches turns to dust. Or at least toward the idea of dust. In each of his books—2010’s The Hare With Amber Eyes, 2015’s The White Road: Journey Into an Obsession, and the just-published Letters to Camondo (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), out this week—dust serves as a profound metaphor. Throughout his work, whether in pottery or prose, de Waal explores various notions around the archive and the library, digging into the dusty corners of the past to pull together the lost and little-known. “Dust is the uncontrollable bit of history, isn’t it?” de Waal says. “It’s the unnoticed, it’s the gratuitous, it’s the stuff that Walter Benjamin talks about, which is the forgotten, ragpicker ends of history, the bits in the archive which haven’t been looked at.”

A concrete home with a large window flanked by two trees

A New Book Surveys 11 Transcendent, Light-Filled Homes Designed by Tadao Ando

The Covid-19 pandemic, by its very nature, has led to a universal turning toward—or even retreating to—home. The very notion of dwelling as fundamental to humankind has been all the more dramatized in these precarious times. It seems appropriate, then, that into this complex moment comes a beautiful, clarifying book, Tadao Ando: Living With Light (Rizzoli), out this week, that presents 11 extraordinary residential projects designed by the Japanese architect, who has created more than 100 homes over the course of his five-decades-plus career. The winner of the 1995 Pritzker Architecture Prize, Ando is known for his impeccably constructed concrete structures verging on the spiritual (or sometimes they’re literally spiritual, as in the case of his 1989 Church of Light in Osaka, Japan), as well as for his ability to sculpt ephemeral forms with daylight, using it as an architectural material itself. Drawing nature inside, and blurring the lines between indoors and out, his transcendent spaces heighten the senses and function, like a clock, as connection points to time, nature, and the seasons.

Stylist Kate Young in her office with high fashion dresses hanging in the background

Hollywood’s Go-To Stylist Kate Young on Her New YouTube Show

Kate Young, the stylist for red carpet luminaries such as Sienna Miller, Margot Robbie, and Michelle Williams, grew up in a family of academics. She attended Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, then transferred to the University of Oxford, where she studied English and art history, before going on to work in magazines—first as Anna Wintour’s assistant at Vogue, and later, after several years in the Vogue fashion department, as fashion editor-at-large of Interview magazine. On her new YouTube show, Hello Fashion, created with The Slowdown, Young provides an inside peek, through her own distinct, high-low perspective, into the world of fashion. In the weekly series, which premiered on Tuesday, Young highlights the quality, craftsmanship, and enduring value of clothing, objects, and accessories, and shows each piece in detail. Exploring everything from streetwear to haute couture, she invites various people from the fashion realm to pop in for quick yet illuminating conversations. On the debut episode, Young talks about how she and actor-singer Selena Gomez, a client of hers since 2014, created their latest project together: the photographic art for Gomez’s new album, Revelación. In addition to detailing the various looks—including a Valentino haute couture dress—Young FaceTimes with fashion icon Giambattista Valli, floral designer Laurel St. Romain, emerging British-American designer Harris Reed, and Gomez herself. Here, we speak with Young about the impetus for the show, and her hopes for Hello Fashion as a whole. How did Hello Fashion come about? Why YouTube?