In a VICE Magazine article from April 2016, artist Chloe Wise declared, "I love a lot of things. I eat so much, I love kisses, I love shopping, I love tanning...I'm not a minimalist, I'm a maximalist." And so maximalism, an artistic undercurrent so tired of Mori Kondo-inspired sparseness, was made millennial.
Misha Kahn, a contemporary of Wise, is a 27-year-old designer with a knack for knick knacks. His debut solo show took place this year at gallery Friedman Benda, entitled The Return of Saturn: Coming of Age in the 21st Century. The show examined the artist's first 27 years of life, from his recent stardom in the design world to the quirky suburban accoutrements that got him there. Legend has it that Saturn completes its orbit around the sun every 27 or so years, coinciding with the time of our birth. Our 27th birthday is a trying but necessary moment to hit reset, and for Kahn, you have to look back before you can look ahead.
When I meet Kahn in his studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn, it becomes immediately clear that his space is as playful as his imaginative furniture and colorful design pieces. Walking around the works he's putting together for the Friedman Benda booth at Design Miami, I see a couple large-scale works that are in the midst of being assembled. Each is composed like a puzzle, made up of hundreds of smaller pieces. The first is a large chandelier with an iron skeleton waiting for its glass shell and "globs" to be blown and assembled. The second is a zig-zagging bench made up of small pink and gray stones that have been melded together like a mosaic, with a shiny silver metal holding it all together. "We've been working on these leftover tiles that have been smashed up and then put back together, and there's something really cathartic about taking these smashed up rocks and then reassembling them back into rocks," he explains. Finding order in the chaos is an important aspect to Kahn, both as an artist, and more broadly as a member of the (dare I say it?) millennial generation.
Kahn grew up collecting domestic items you would find at a Minnesota yard sale, like Jello molds (a habit formed during art school days at RISD) or metal garden flowers (a fixation he's literally working through with metal cutters at the studio when I meet him). He's always been a collector, but now as an established artist represented by Friedman Benda in New York, his charming obsession with suburban America's quirks is in the process of going from mess to muse. When asked about his love of collecting, Kahn is thankful for the divide between home and the studio. "I kind of weaned myself off of hoarding at home. I hoard a lot of things here (at the studio)," he explains.
Like the puzzle-piece style artworks, the process of arranging small unique pieces together is itself a puzzle. With the help of an assistant, he bounces around the studio throughout the day, never spending too much time on any one piece. Sometimes he's cutting metal, sometimes he's sketching a design, or sometimes he's on the roof working with resin to create his signature balloon-like sculptures. It seems fitting that the artist describes his aesthetic as "delusional, crafty"—and, wait for it—"flopsy!"
When I dig into this puzzle-like, pastiche approach to creating art, Kahn reminds me that we're living in the age of the infinite scroll. "We will scroll through Instagram really quickly and file all these disparate images, and I think we are essentially training ourselves to live in visual opulence where you can see so many things at once." Kahn goes on to unpack the tension between the chaos we are and the calm we desire as "the death rattle of acceptance. People still want to have a serene life, so they feel like minimalism is the opposite of the experience, so that it's something to strive for."
Social feeds on mobile apps have crystallized modern habits like nostalgia and collecting pixelated objects into digital experiences that we curate and archive. Even in the world of art, which often hinges on reference, nostalgia can get the best of us. Kahn explains, "I'm nostalgic for how technology looked in the 90s when things would have gummy handles. It just felt like people were having more fun visually. And I think our generation is pretty nostalgic for something that is rooted in irony."
And so it seems: we're all hoarders longing for something in our distant past or hopeful future to collect, except our yard sales are digital now. Misha Kahn's verdict? "(It's) a little crazy, but I think it's ok."
Misha Kahn's work will be on view at the Friedman Benda booth at Design Miami 2016.Related: