The New Dealers—The smart operators rewiring the connections between art, design and commerce.
Writer: Eva Hagberg
Philip Wood, an English former cabinet-maker, is founder and creative director of CITIZEN:Citizen, which makes, curates and distributes design objects, artworks and exhibitions. It's a tricky operation to define. And Wood doesn't exactly help.
“We observe culture through a unique lens,” he says “And then we offer that to people, primarily through objects.”
In some ways the company is like contemporary design galleries that commission designers to produce limited edition and one-off pieces. But they also produce everyday objects.
From early collaborations with London design firm FredriksonStallard, which made a cross-shapped brush; to work with Tobias Wong, who plated McDonald's coffee spoons in gold, making them more suitable for Colombia's other main export; to exhibitions such as 'Untitled' a series of blank galley proofs liberated from the publishing industry by artist Joe Gebbia, Wood's role has been as a philosopher-facilitator.
“We’re not being didactic and telling people how the think, " he says. "The argument is for us all to look at things more deeply." So Instead of looking at that brush and thinking it's a great addition to the sink, or looking at the coke spoon and thinking it's funny, or at the 'Untitled' series and thinking it's very white, the ideas is for consumers to start to wonder about how faith enters into a home, why certain objects are harmless in one light and sinister in another, and why we are so crazed for anything unique and 'limited'.
Wood could easily be an art dealer, or a magazine publisher or editor. So why objects? "We are a culture so familiar with objects that we're likely to let them into our world," he say. "For me, the objects we're producing are like Trojan Horses"
April 2009—San Francisco
The art issue(s): A seat at the table
A strident new corps of Northern California furniture designers has been basking in media attention while filling orders from around the globe.
By Joanne Furio
Who they are: A high-concept manufacturer of often edgy and provocative furniture and decorative objects, under the direction of founder Philip Wood.
Then to now: Wood, a Brit who moved to San Francisco in 2004, is a cabinetmaker who crafted all the furniture in his Mission district house. As a self-described “makeshift curator and manufacturer of avant-garde design,” Wood is constantly questioning people’s relationship with objects and their meaning. “I’m not about telling people what they should think about objects,” he says. “But we are very much involved in asking people what they think about them to come to a better understanding of why we value things.” Citizen:Citizen is sold through design stores, such as Limn, though Wood is now looking for retail space after the success of his holiday pop-up store on Bush Street.
Claims to fame: The Ballistic Rose, designed by New York–based artist Tobias Wong, was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in 2008 for its permanent collection. (The Guggenheim and Cooper-Hewitt had already exhibited Citizen:Citizen, while SFMOMA snapped up four pieces for its permanent collection in 2007.) Many objects created by Wood’s stable of artists are ironic and even controversial, including two versions of Fredrikson Stallard’s crucifix-shaped brush. “Provocation is an element of some of the work,” admits Wood. Still, he was surprised to learn in October—the same week in which he received word of MoMA’s acquisition—that First Republic Bank was closing Citizen:Citizen’s accounts because of objects the company sells. However, Wood says, “they were unwilling to clarify which objects were problematic.” Citizen:Citizen’s work appeals precisely because of the tension in its designs, and because it bridges the boundaries between objets d’art and modern design. Its crossover appeal is evident in the variety of venues in which it’s shown: at ICFF in New York and at galleries during Art Basel Miami Beach.
Local angle: Radio journalist Tania Ketenjian. In 2005, Wood married her and moved the fledgling Citizen:Citizen company from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to a warehouse in the Mission district. These days, Wood and Ketenjian live in a Victorian a few blocks away from the showroom/studio.
Customers: Young-philosopher design types who read Sartre and contemplate the meaning of objects, like the transformation of the box cutter from everyday tool to symbol of terrorism.
Bestseller: Wong’s Ballistic Rose, $175, a ballistic nylon corsage meant to protect one’s vital organs “in times of conflict.”
3435 Cesar Chavez St., Ste. 226, S.F., 415-695-7748, citizen-citizen.com
WOODCRAFT CITIZEN:Citizen - A Homeland for Witty Art and Design
by Jennifer Appenrodt
CITIZEN:Citizen's Philip Wood operates somewhere between person, art, and fashion.
by Ken Miller
It's early evening on a Monday night, and Philip Wood is happily clinking glasses with guests at his San Francisco apartment. Never mind that he doesn't know half the people at the party, a state of affairs that would throw many novice hosts into a mild panic. He's just happy to have brought such an entertaining mix of people together. As Wood is pleased to explain, the idea for the evening was to invite a group of creative people who would not normally have anything in common, and who almost certainly don't know each other, to mix and mingle. Add a few glasses of wine and who knows, things might get interesting.
A few days earlier, Wood had been standing in the San Francisco Museum of Art looking at some of his work displayed in Plexiglas cases, trying to explain how that same aggressively mix-and-match approach applied to his design company CITIZEN:Citizen. But here is the tricky part: calling CITIZEN:Citizen a "design company" doesn't quite get things right. As Wood puts it, "We're trying to carve out a territory, and it just so happens to be a territory that other people are interested in." More than anything, CITIZEN:Citizen is a means to an end, whether that end is the blank book shrink-wrapped in plastic that he hands out to guests at his cocktail party or the solid gold McDonald's cocaine spoon now sitting in a museum.
Perhaps more than a design firm, CITIZEN:Citizen is a manufacturer, though not in any traditional sense of the word. It is not a factory and it is not (yet) a store, nor does Wood produce a product line in any traditional sense. As he puts it, "We're an innovative business, that's for sure, standing in the middle of the holy trinity of creative worlds: art, design, and fashion. I think, by gathering together these sometimes disparately located creatives and their work, I'm creating a fourth place and a new way of seeing objects and the world we and they inhabit." what CITIZEN:Citizen does is help things get made—stylish objects that Wood craves for their very objectness, the uniqueness of their construction.
Henry Urbach, the curator of the SFMoMA's design collection, made the coke spoon one of his first acquisitions after getting hired at the museum. As he puts it, he wanted to push the museum's collection beyond its longstanding focus on functional design to embrace the concept of pure design objects not quite works of art in the traditional sense, but limited-edition collectible objects d'art. Which is a really fancy way of saying "really nice stuff to put in your house"
The coke spoon, designed by Tobias Wong and Ju$t Another Rich Kid, perfectly blends Woods' multiple interests. On the one hand, it's lovely and impractical. On the other hand, the gold spoon's design is a very specific reference to the 1980's appropriation of McDonald's original long-stemmed sugar spoons by drug users and dealers. It thrills Wood to know that, once you put an object or design out into the world, you no longer control it—people will do whatever they want with it. As he says, "We're looking more closely at how we value these objects in our lives...How we should be valuing them culturally, economically, functionally."
Born and raised in England, Wood knows a thing or two about the value of good, old-fashion construction. He began his career as a cabinetmaker and keeps that craftsman's mindset in whatever he does. More than anything, he cares about the construction of the products CITIZEN:Citizen makes. After all, what is the point of theorizing about the nature of everyday things if you're not going to challenge shoddy mass-market production? That blank book wrapped in plastic may be aggressively useless, but it's also really quite nicely made.
Despite the success of his company, Wood still clearly sees himself as an outsider in the design community, prone to aggressive manifestos such as "We live an and age where unnecessary things are our only necessities" As if CITIZEN:Citizen hasn't had trouble enough in its brief existence (such as nearly getting sued out of existence for infringing on McDonald's copyrights), Wood is about to begin production on the American Comfort Quilt, embroidered with the logos of nearly 60 popular brands. Perhaps more than anything, what makes CITIZEN:Citizen so radical is that it is aggressively brand-less. Unlike most design companies, there isn't any consistent distinctive look to its products, which can cost from $6 to $9600.
Wood embraces the confusion, "I'm often asked what the formula is by which I determine whether an object would be include din our collection. It's difficult to say—a lot is about your gut. But in general terms, the work we produce is beautiful, exquisitely made and presented, has some open-ended commentary on itself or the world and culture... and also probably some humor." which is why the permanent collection of a museum seems like the perfect place for CITIZEN:Citizen's exotic artifacts of everyday life. To Wood's way of thinking, art versus design is an outmoded divide, destroyed by the commercialization of, well, everything, and the art world's appropriation of, well... everything. If we're all lucky, hopefully art opening and formal receptions will be replaced by drunken cocktail hours where we stagger around the living room before walking out the door with some of the nicest party favors ever made.