In early 2016, Chamber, an art and design gallery in Chelsea, Manhattan, asked me to curate a year long program of exhibitions on a topic of my choosing. I wanted to explore the human relationship to nature through art, design, and antiquities.  The first exhibition focused on our primordial origins; the second explored the cube by three architects; the third showcased encapsulated nature by Azuma Makoto; and the final show, Progressland, concentrated on technology and nature.

Human Nature

The thematic and material directions of the collection posit questions about the appropriation of elements from the natural world and their commodification. But a quick reconsideration reveals how these objects, many of them made by hand, indeed propose an alternative to the fast-paced exploitation of natural resources for mass production and industry.

Paula Kupfer, Surface Magazine issue 123

Unpacking The Cube

Expanding the focus on the connection between people and the natural environment, this show honed in on architecture as one of the fundamental, and most physically permanent, disciplines that make possible man’s existence in nature. “I wanted to strip away the academic jargon and look at what architecture is, at its most basic—” says Zuckerman, “it’s shelter to keep us warm and dry, a fulcrum between human beings and nature.”

With these ideas in mind, Zuckerman approached three architecture studios, all at different points in their professional trajectories, and them to reach into the conceptual roots of their practice and convey them via physical objects for the exhibition space. “I wanted to give architects an opportunity to show something they never show,” he says. “They’re thinking deeply about architectural form but we only see models and drawings, and then—buildings.” Instead, he prompted architects to think about scale and about the basic form of the cube, and to show how their own architectural principles intersect with these fundamental ideas. The studios came back with distinct proposals, focusing respectively on social exchange, spatial concerns, and conceptual experimentation. By working on a smaller scale, their works proposed a different kind of relationship between viewer and architecture, and encouraged new ways to think about collecting architecture.

Azuma Makoto

For over a decade, Tokyo-based artist Azuma Makoto has challenged our perspective on, and relationship to, nature and the effects of time through expressive botanical artworks and installations using living flowers and plants arranged in unique ways and settings. With the solo exhibition, part of Andrew Zuckerman’s Collection #2, Makoto debuted his new botanical sculpture series “Polypore” (2016) alongside previous works that offer a look into Makoto’s unique practice where art meets science. Among Makoto’s artwork to be featured included “SHIKI1” suspended plants (2016), photographs from his “Exobiotanica” series (2014), objects from “Botanical” series (2012), and “Crystal Seedcases” (2006).

“Since the human race was born, man has been depicting his relationship to nature. The art man makes about his position within the natural world is like a mirror reflecting the era. Artists in the modern age interpret our constantly evolving relationship to nature in works that undeniably express the now.”

The pieces in this collection speak to the theme of “Human | Nature,” and reflect a series of man-made interventions in materials, forms, and principles from the natural world. This intersection of man and nature—which he is both a part of and separate from – combines to generate new beauty,” states Makoto.

With his “Polypore” series, Makoto introduced a new language of permanence to his work, combining gold, platinum and copper with polypores, the shelf-like fungi that grow on old tree trunks. In the polypore, Makoto has found a raw material that thrives on the tree’s natural decomposition, yet, when removed from their natural habitat, is hardened like wood. Foraged from different parts of Japan—Tokyo, Chiba, Gunma, Yamanashi, Gifu and Yamagata—each of the six polypores transports characteristics unique to the place. Metal has been applied to four that have been disembodied from their tree trunks, while metal leafing has been applied to the tree trunks of the others.

Azuma Makoto also created two “SHIKI1” works, which are part artificial, part natural pine trees. The bonsais are suspended by wire in a ‘x’ed position in the middle of a steel frame. In his “SHIKI” series, “Azuma is taking the primeval costal pine forest of his childhood memories and working out how to bring to life the majestic, powerful presence of those pines,” writes Ishii Yoshiyuki in “Flowers and I: The World of Azuma Makoto.”

From Makoto’s early “Botanical” series of industrial products covered in AstroTurf, Zuckerman chose a sofa, table and bicycle. Here, functional moss camouflaged as everyday objects playfully enables the semblance of nature to infiltrate our lives. The display included early “Crystal Seedcases” collection, glass containers in the form of an amaryllis, a sunflower, a soybean, and an avocado as well as his experiment with bulbs in acrylic resin.


"The exhibit answers questions using artifacts of human achievement and artistic metaphors, an approach that mirrors Zuckerman’s career."

Margaret Rhodes, WIRED MAGAZINE 05/31/16


Margaret Rhodes, WIRED MAGAZINE 05/31/16

Progressland, the latest exhibit at the small and unusual New York gallery Chamber, draws its name fro Walt Disney.  For the New York World’s Fair in 1964, Disney created Progressland– a domed, three-story pavilion designed to show off all the ways electricity would advance society.  General Electric sponsored it, but it kept Disney’s vision of technological utopia.  He planned to Progressland to Disney World.

That never happened, but you can see the architectural model for it at Chamber until August.  It’s one of many odd objects, which include a model of Soviet-era spacecraft, a flint dagger that dates between 2,400-1700 BC, and a colorful modern-day ceramic urn. Exhibit curator Andrew Zuckerman calls the objects “the genesis of exploration and the human desire to look beyond what we know.”  Last year, Zuckerman, a photographer, curated Human/Nature, an exhibit that examined what he calls humanity’s primordial origins- where we came from, as it were. Progressland addresses where we’re going.

The exhibit answers questions using artifacts of human achievement and artistic metaphors, an approach that mirrors Zuckerman’s career.  He spent five years working with top-tier design executives at Apple, whose devices, many believe, are and will be considered artifacts of human achievement. Zuckerman has since dedicated himself to his eponymous photography and filmmaking studio, focusing on metaphorical explorations of humanities relationship to the natural world.  His main body of work consists of portraits of exotic animals.  “We’re trying to get rid of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ relationship,” he says. Zuckerman’s approach is to render animals against bright white backdrops instead of their natural habitats.  It’s a neutral setting, rather than an exotic one.

Progressland pays particular attention to space exploration. There’s a packet of tomato seeds that spent most of the 1980s on a space shuttle, a NASA thermal blanket, and a vintage Russian spacesuit glove.  Each is classified as an artifact of human achievement.  Zuckerman found these items scouring “weird auctions” in Texas and Florida, where astronauts’ families often unload space paraphernalia, including a canister of film from an Apollo 17 lunar mapping project.  Zuckerman stitched the images together to create a tableau of the moon that doesn’t look quite right.  “It’s not a powdery gray,” he says.  It’s an astrological feel, like stars.  It elicits wonder.”

That sense of wonder permeates the show.  Many artists created works specifically for Progressland.  Ceramicist Peter Pincus made a white vase with rainbow-hued stripes, suggesting that an urn should celebrate life, not mourn it.  Lighting designer Satoshi Itasaka built a huge hanging lamp, it’s copper wires snaking around the glass orb to connect with the bulbs within- something Zuckerman says brings to mind sperm meeting an egg.  It’s a neatly packaged metaphor for the beginning of life. Designer Mimi Jung offers a modern adaptation of the traditional Japanese tea house, a piece designed to encourage contemplative thinking.  Visitors are welcome to step inside for a moment of meditation.

Progressland offers much to see and ponder, but few hard facts or clear propositions.  “It’s not exactly about the next material we’ll use,” Zuckerman says, “but the spirit of where we’re going, and the impulse to try new things and do things that haven’t been done before.”  That could be anything from exploring a new frontier to stepping into a tea house and thinking quietly.


Zuckerman’s photographic aesthetic remains immediate and minimalistic in his art and his curatorial practice, and is one to note in this exhibition.

Natalia Torija Nieto, Pinup Magazine

Natalia Torija Nieto, Pinup Magazine

In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth, taking the human race beyond a previously unimaginable frontier. Just a month later President John F. Kennedy promised Congress to land a man on the moon. The Cold War’s race for innovation had begun.

Progressland is the second and final chapter of Chamber Collection #2, artist Andrew Zuckerman’s yearlong curatorial project at Chamber Gallery in New York (the first part, Human | Nature, opened in October 2015). Zuckerman has studied the shifts of geopolitical power structures, reconsidering the time of discovery as a celebration of cross-cultural achievement. At the conceptual center of Progressland stands a model of Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress — first showcased in General Electric’s pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair — which honored the fair’s theme of “Peace Through Understanding,” and invited people to witness the immense potential of achievements in science and technology that were focused on human advancement.

A piece by Brooklyn-based designer Bec Brittain, entitled MOU (Memoranda of Understanding) (2016), plays with this idea. A chandelier modeled in the shape of the International Space Station, it celebrates the ultimate collaboration of Russia and the United States. Brittain’s lighting fixture hangs above a model of Luna 9, the first spacecraft to land on the moon and to transmit photographic data to Earth, launched by the Soviets in 1966.

But there are tensions hidden behind the show’s optimistic theme, which slowly but surely turn American idealism on its head. The ongoing juxtaposition of past, present, and possible future goes beyond scientific advancement or plastic creation, revealing darker undertones. Original lunar landscape photographs taken in 1966 are exhibited in conjunction with Argentine designer Alexandra Kehayoglou’s hand-crafted Perito Moreno wool rug — a landscape in tonal variations of blue. Her 2016 creation is inspired by the eponymous glacier in Patagonia, one of the largest fresh-water reservoirs worldwide which is threatened by rising temperatures and human intervention. Kehayoglou’s discourse is one of awareness of human coexistence with biodiversity and natural resources. To continue the conversation, a piece entitled Of Insects and Men (#2) (2016), by rising French design star Marlène Huissoud, combines honeybee natural resin as binding factor to combine glass and other human waste materials into sculpture.

Progressland stages our innate pursuit for a sense of orientation and survival before it moves on to ponder our spirit of advancement. Yet there is latent nostalgia for a simpler future. Zuckerman uses the transitional space of the Gallery to feature objects that symbolize some of these nuanced anxieties, like Noah’s Ark (ca. 1985) by Modernist sculptor Ralph Dorazio, which represents the trial of imminent natural disasters; Satoshi Itasaka’s The Birth Gold (2016), a stunning spherical light fixture designed to embody the moment of conception; and Tea House (2016) by L.A.-based Korean artist Mimi Jung, a personal meditation capsule made from aluminum, larch, and polymer cords, which offers a private space for isolation and creative visualization.

As humans evolve, they also adapt as creatures in constant motion. And to explore the future in the work environment, what better example than Konstantin Grcic’s 360º chair (2009) — which appeared in Ridley Scott’s film Prometheus(2012) — next to a special desk/chair commission by RISD’s Ian Stell titled Roll Bottom (2016), whose seat doubles up as a desk cover when not in use.

Zuckerman’s ongoing search for where we come from, and where we’re going, also ties to his own practice as an artist. His exploration of human nature in all its forms is evident in his 2007 film High Falls, a story that questions the limits to which we test our conscience. Zuckerman’s photographic aesthetic remains immediate and minimalistic in his art and his curatorial practice, and is one to note in this exhibition. His approach creates a distinctive balance between the fragile — the delicate reflection of implied drops of water in New York-based Nao Tamura’s Momento (2015–16) or the pair of Scott Burton’s 1989 Two Curvechairs, mirrored one in front of the other so as to convey their inimitable levity — and the unyielding, the ultimate example of which is the Lost in Traffic Space Glove (2016), by Dutch designers Studio Molen, made out of bronze with fingertips that can be flipped open allowing access to touch — perhaps — a new planet. This wearable sculpture plays off on the optimism embodied by the Soviet-manufactured Zvezda spacesuit nylon glove with rubber fingertips (on display nearby): opposing the “grasping of the future” conveyed by the Soviet glove, the somberly lit bronze sculpture — placed in a niche that is perhaps a nod to medieval reliquaries — is stationary and hefty.

In Zuckerman’s exploration of humanity’s instinctive fascination for invention there is a particular emphasis on objects connected with our attempts to conquer outer space. But today the fear that the American psyche experienced during the Cold War is hard to remember or even fathom, replaced as it has been by our collective memory of mid-century optimism, an era when man’s relationship to the future seemed simpler. Progressland is a timely reminder that the apparent optimism is the result of a retroactive lens that obscures and glosses over the geopolitical complexities of the Space Age.