Axel Vervoordt Receives One of France’s Highest Honors, Simone Leigh to Represent the U.S. at the 2022 Venice Biennale, and Other News

Our daily look at the world through the lens of design.

A duplex designed by Axel Vervoordt in Kanaal, Belgium. Photography by Jan Liégeois

The Design Dispatch offers expertly written and essential news from the design world crafted by our dedicated team. Think of it as your cheat sheet for the day in design delivered to your inbox before you’ve had your coffee. Subscribe now.

The celebrated interior designer Axel Vervoordt receives one of France’s highest honors.

The French ministry of Culture has officially named Axel Vervoordt an Officier des Arts et des Lettres. One of France’s highest distinctions, the award is bestowed upon those “who have made significant contributions to furthering the arts” throughout the world. The celebrated interior designer first rose to prominence after transforming a 16th-century Antwerp home into a highly sought-after dealership of art and antiques, and has since enjoyed an illustrious six-decade career in which his idiosyncratic minimalist-inflected style has established him as one of the world’s greatest living tastemakers. (He’s also a celebrity favorite, notably masterminding the pared-down Calabasas home of power-couple Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.) 

“It’s amazing to share a little bit of this extraordinary intuition of artists, to understand art and to be interested in the art of all times,” Vervoordt said at the ceremony. “Old art can be a source of inspiration for the future and contemporary art creates a new civilization. I consider it an important task to understand art and make others understand it.” 

After nearly a century, New York’s storied Roosevelt Hotel closes due to Covid-19.

The Roosevelt Hotel, one of New York City’s most fabled stays, is permanently ceasing operations. Despite being a bona fide landmark that serves as a fixture of the Manhattan skyline, the hotel simply couldn’t make ends meet. “The iconic hotel, along with most of New York City, has experienced very low demand and as a result will cease operations before the end of the year,” said the Roosevelt Hotel’s owner, Pakistan International Airlines, in a statement. “There are currently no plans for the building beyond the scheduled closing.” It’s the latest casualty in what has been a devastating year for New York hospitality—the newly opened Times Square Edition, Hilton Times Square, and Omni Berkshire Place all recently closed their doors for good.

Simone Leigh. Photography by Shaniqwa Jarvis, courtesy of Hauser & Wirth

Simone Leigh will represent the United States at the 2022 Venice Biennale.

Simone Leigh has been chosen to represent the United States at the 2022 Venice Biennale in Italy, the world’s biggest art festival, which will be on view from April 23 to November 27. Best known for her large-scale figurative sculptures that pay homage to Black culture, Leigh fearlessly explores and elevates topics such as history, race, gender, labor, and monuments, while creating and reclaiming powerful narratives about Black women. The Chicago-born sculptor’s evocative work has enjoyed increased visibility lately—in 2018, she received the Guggenheim Museum’s coveted $100,000 Hugo Boss Prize, and joined the roster of global mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth the following year. The U.S. Pavilion commission marks another major milestone for both Leigh’s career and the Biennale—no other Black woman based in the United States has ever helmed a Pavilion at the festival.

The Institute of Contemporary Art Boston (ICA) is commissioning the U.S. Pavilion in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. “For the U.S. Pavilion, Leigh will create a series of new sculptures and installations that address what the artist calls an ‘incomplete archive’ of Black feminist thought, with works inspired by leading Black intellectuals,” says ICA chief curator Eva Respini, who will curate the Pavilion with ICA director Jill Medvedow. “Her work insists on the centrality of Black female forms within the cultural sphere, and serves as a beacon in our moment.” The works will encompass a monumental bronze sculpture for the Pavilion’s outdoor forecourt, as well as a series of interrelated works in ceramic, bronze, and raffia. “The scale and magnificence of Leigh’s art demands visibility and power; it is probing, timely, and urgent,” adds Medvedow. “We’re proud and honored to share this work with audiences from around the globe at the next Biennale in Venice.”

Covid-19 Essentials becomes the first retail chain dedicated solely to pandemic must-haves.

Many retail outposts have pivoted to selling face masks and hand sanitizer as the coronavirus pandemic continues, but a newly launched retail chain dedicated solely to these essential items has been gaining steam. Called Covid-19 Essentials and now operating storefronts in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Denver, and Las Vegas with plans to travel to wildfire-ravaged California, the business offers a wide array of face masks, key-like devices to open doors hands-free, and ultraviolet-light devices for disinfecting phones. Mask offerings abound, proving how the accessory has become a modern vessel for personal style—some are rhinestone-adorned, while others display political messages such as “Black Lives Matter” and “Biden 2020.” According to owner Nadav Benimetzky, business took off the second they opened. “We didn’t go into it with the idea of opening many stores,” he tells The New York Times, “but I can’t wait to go out of business eventually.”

He Art Museum by Tadao Ando in Shunde, China

After Covid-induced delays, Tadao Ando’s elliptical He Art Museum opens in China.

Tadao Ando’s latest architectural feat, the He Art Museum, has been unveiled in Shunde, a city located in China’s Guangdong Province. Opening after nearly six months of delays due to the coronavirus, the museum will feature the He family’s expansive collection of Chinese and international contemporary art, encompassing more than 500 works in mediums such as painting, calligraphy, photography, and sculpture. It’ll be housed inside a 52,000-square-foot structure imbued with Ando signatures, which include exposed concrete and the integration of natural elements such as light and water. Inspired by notions of harmony and ancient Chinese cosmology, which believed the sky was round and divine, Ando’s structure emphasizes circular and elliptical forms, including a pair of double-helix staircases and a Crescent Garden named after its shape. 

A house David Adjaye designed for Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation faces demolition.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the actor Brad Pitt launched the nonprofit Make It Right Foundation to construct 109 affordable homes for the unsheltered. The actor enlisted design services from a star-studded roster of architects, including Frank Gehry, Shigeru Ban, and David Adjaye, each of whom designed timber dwellings at $150,000 each. Unfortunately, the homes were plagued with issues such as water leaks, black mold, and rotting decks from the get-go, resulting in a class-action lawsuit against the foundation in 2018. (The foundation soon after began legal proceedings against John. C. Williams, the architect of record, complaining of defective design work.) 

Now, the home that Adjaye designed is reportedly in “imminent danger of collapse and/or threat to life” and was issued with a Notice of Emergency Demolition in September. Its former owner, who purchased the property in 2011, immediately found mushrooms growing from her bedroom walls, and sold the property back to the foundation the following year. The structure has been sitting vacant ever since.

Vincent Leroy's conceptual "Bubble Canyon" project in Bryce Canyon

Today’s attractive distractions:

Michael McCluskey’s eerie photographs of the Midwest evoke sci-fi stills.

Bang & Olufsen reissues surviving models of their classic 1972 turntable.

Lenny Kravitz’s new piano for Steinway & Sons might suit an art museum.

Vincent Leroy suspends a cluster of conceptual bubbles in Bryce Canyon.

All Stories