Clay, wood, stone, spirit. California, a presentation of new works by Emilie Halpern, Estudio Persona, Dan John Anderson, Stephen Kenn, and Abel Macias, on view May 20 through June 2021 at Matter, establishes a dialogue among five voices leading a new wave in contemporary art and design. All based in The Golden State, their practices are further linked through an elaborate collaboration with heritage, a strong centering of community, and a refined sensitivity for elemental materials. 

Reflecting the vibrancy and rich breadth of California culture as a primary through line, the exhibition introduces transformative works that create a new loci within California’s cultural legacy — a lifestyle and global phenomenon that has cast a spell since it morphed from a Mexican Pueblo to a burgeoning American city in 1848. A modern idyll formed by a tangle of artists, European emigrés, studio craftspeople, and mass-market designers, the California design movement’s impact has long reached far beyond the state’s borders. Yet its defining quality has never been stylistic — the scene is too diverse for any singular aesthetic — but is characterized by the freewheeling spirit of its practitioners. 

The pieces on view at Matter share a mood born from the diverse California of our collective imagination, while eliciting new perspectives on their surroundings. California perfectly captures this spirit, and embodies original approaches to design that freely mix old and new, traditional and experimentation. 

Richly informed by ancient ceramic traditions in her mother’s native Japan, the quietly dynamic ceramics of Emilie Halpern reveal inventive techniques in glazing, shaping, and firing. Products of deep philosophical inquiry, these works unite the monochrome with a generative method, connecting the Japanese idea of wabi —the embracing of imperfections — with chance operations associated with Dadaism. Such cross-cultural meeting points connect to the fresh furniture and lighting by Estudio Persona, founded by Emiliana Gonzalez and Jessie Young.

Revising the Brutalism of their Uruguayan roots, strong lines are juxtaposed with warm materials, such as the velvet upholstered H Chair, the airy feel of the sculptural Bow Floor Lamp, and the collection’s color tones that reflect the gradient of the Los Angeles desert, playing off the association of California’s casual material culture that has been defined by an indoor/outdoor lifestyle.

Sculptor Dan John Anderson extends the region’s craft lineage with his idiosyncratic, organic wooden sculptures. Pursuing the very essence of his material, John Anderson hand-carves his monolithic objects, blurring the lines between art, craft, and design. Integral to the artist’s practice is building community through regularly organized performances and events, an ideal shared with designer Stephen Kenn, who regularly hosts happenings in his experiential Los Angeles showroom-community center. Kenn’s new Grounded collection combines hand-stitched leather, steel, and stone, representing the clean lines that define his own brand of sophisticated, warm minimalism. Placing art and practicality on equal footing is a suite of colorfully hand-painted Akari light sculptures by artist, muralist, and graphic designer Abel Macias, offering a playful reinterpretation of the paper lamps Isamu Noguchi first began making in the early 1950s. 

A hotbed for creativity and innovation, California continues to be a vibrant center of art, design, and culture today. Its artistic scene has historically formed a resilient and irrepressible ecosystem, one that continues to sprout new life. This show of works by five Los Angeles and Joshua Tree based artists and designers spotlight the Californian ideal that has long flourished — a tangible sense of possibility.