It’s been more than a decade since Volume Gallery arrived on the collectible design scene, and in that time, the small Chicago-based platform has consistently punched above its weight. Chalk it up to pluck and sheer good taste: Volume has cultivated a roster of smart, experimental, critique-oriented talents that distinguishes it from the rest of the pack. Sam Stewart, Thaddeus Wolf, and Anders Herwald Ruhwald were all given a big push by the gallery. And it’s not just designers. Unique for collectible design, Volume invests in architects foraying into the realm of object making, working closely with practices including Norman Kelly and Young & Ayata.
This mandate harks back to the discipline’s origins—in addition to buildings, architects once masterminded furniture and interiors—and aligns well with Chicago’s own design tradition. Volume’s reach isn’t limited to the Windy City, however, and the gallery routinely engages emerging practitioners from all over the United States. In many respects, it is more akin, according to cofounder Claire Warner, to an “incubator” for formal risk-taking, as can be seen in its most recent spate of exhibitions. Warner and cofounder Sam Vinz commissioned new collections from Christy Matson, Ania Jaworska, and most recently Jonathan Muecke, encouraging each to hone his or her ideas in order to spark critical discourse. AN Interior market editor Adrian Madlener spoke to Warner about the gallery’s mission and why making a functional chair is beside the point.
AN Interior: What’s the story behind Volume Gallery. How and why did you and Sam Vinz decide to launch the platform?
Claire Warner: Sam and I met while working at Wright auction house [in Chicago]. I was a 20th-century design specialist, and Sam was developing a contemporary design program. With the 2008 financial crisis, everything got derailed and we were both let go from Wright. I started thinking about opening my own gallery based on the question, where American design is going. In the 20th century, there was a huge residential design market with innovation coming from Charles and Ray Eames. Manufacturers were doing a lot of experimental and interesting things. That had all since evaporated. I was also seeing historic American talents Claire Falkenstein and Ruth Asawa selling at auction for much less than their European counterparts or what their works were truly worth.
My idea was to focus on the country’s overlooked design heritage and craft tradition, which at the time was still quite a dirty word. I was talking to designer Jonathan Nesci about my idea. He mentioned that Sam was looking to do the same thing. Based on this coincidence, we decided to join forces and establish Volume Gallery. The moment was not unlike the present one in that we set out to launch a new platform in the middle of a crisis. We thought that if we started a business and it failed, we could blame it on the economic downturn. It gave us the freedom to develop what we really wanted to do. That was the general mood at the time. Nesci was one of our first exhibitors.