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Retail giant moves into art business

Restoration Hardware to commission, exhibit and sell works in new space in Meatpacking District

Random International’s immersive installation Rain Room, 2012, is the company’s first purchase

Restoration Hardware is entering the art business. The home furnishings company, which has more than 80 stores across the US, will launch a division in September devoted to commissioning, exhibiting and selling contemporary art. The firm has already made its first purchase: Rain Room, 2012, by the British collective Random International. The installation, which uses motion sensors to enable visitors to walk through a downpour without getting wet, is on loan to New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), where it opens to the public on Sunday as part of the show “Expo 1: New York”.

RH Contemporary Art (RHCA) will operate from a five-storey exhibition space on West 16th Street in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, just a few blocks from the future home of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Part project space, part commercial gallery, the division will open with “Autonomy”, a career survey of Random International, which will be the studio’s largest show in the US to date, according to RHCA’s vice-president, Holly Baxter. 

“Because we started in home furnishings, we anticipated that there would be a lot of questions [about the decision to launch the new division],” says Gary Friedman, the chairman emeritus of the company. “People see us as one-dimensional. But to us, great design, art and music are all extensions of what we do.” In a more pragmatic statement to shareholders last year, Friedman noted that entering the art business would “reinforce our luxury lifestyle positioning”.

RHCA will commission new work for its West 16th Street building every eight weeks. Unlike a traditional gallery, the company will buy entire exhibitions directly from the artists in advance. “By commissioning and acquiring the works up front, we are enabling the artists to create new bodies of work and to go in new directions with their practice,” Baxter says, adding that RHCA will not represent artists but will offer the commissioned work for sale. She declined to specify the company’s acquisitions budget.

Friedman and Baxter originally intended to include Rain Room, which comes in an edition of six, in the firm’s debut show. Instead, they opted to lend the piece to MoMA. In September, RHCA will present archival material relating to Rain Room, seven interactive design objects and two kinetic works created especially for the display.

Although the gallery has yet to open, Baxter and Friedman are already looking to expand beyond their bricks-and-mortar location. RHCA’s website, which is also due to launch this autumn, will feature original work by 50 international artists. An e-commerce option will enable collectors to buy works directly through the website. In the next few years, the company plans to open additional gallery locations in the US as well as a museum, which will act as a permanent home for Rain Room. When the company bought the installation last year, it “took quite a risk”, says Hannes Koch, a co-founder of Random International. “They bought it [after seeing it on] a piece of paper, before we made it.” Baxter says: “How many chief executives would acquire a room that rains?”

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Comments

12 Aug 13
16:52 CET

HOLLY GRIFFITH, STAMFORD

Congratulations! Mr Friedman and team created the most beautiful and easy to use Website I've seen. Now this new "art" idea is truly "RHCA mission appropriate," sophisticated, sensitive and smart. I believe it will benefit RHCA customers who want to create a finished and inspiring environment for themselves. This idea is magical. Good luck.

12 May 13
22:11 CET

KEVIN BOLDENOW, PALM CITY, FL

It's apparent that limited editions will be available through Restoration Hardware. How and where does an artist submit?

12 May 13
22:12 CET

CONNIE SP CHEN, NYC

What wonderful news! RHCA's got VISION, in addition to marketing Savvy. Great combinition! Congratulations. I know you will be astonishingly successful. BTW. Carole Feuerman, the amazing super hyper realism sculpter sprang to my mind's eyes the minute I saw The Rain Room. If you don't know her already. Go visit her in her studio & see her exhibit @ Kempner Gallery next week. You would'nt want to miss this Artist, an internationaly reknown American icon. Much blessings, connie chen

11 May 13
18:12 CET

DADA NIXON, SAN FRANCISCO, CA

Brilliant & very impressive news, the fact that RHCA have a bountiful of creativity and not limiting to just furnishing , made RHCA separate from the rest.

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