Earlier this year, as Barneys began surveying the oeuvre of artists the Haas Brothers in preparation for our Haas for the Holidays campaign, we got even more than we bargained for upon walking into R & Company, the Tribeca gallery that represents their work in New York. Beyond the twins’ whimsical creations, our eye bounced throughout the space, touching upon some of the finest art and design work of the 20th and 21st centuries wherever it landed. This well-curated selection of pieces is the brainchild of R & Company co-founders Zesty Meyers and Evan Snyderman, who aim not only to sell these influential objects, but also to educate their clients and the public at large about the importance of the artists who have created them. We recently spoke with Meyers about this mission, how it extends beyond the retail level, and his passion for all things design.
That passion is palpable when speaking with Meyers. Ask him which designers excite him, and he’ll rattle off a who’s-who of creatives at a machine gun staccato. He gushes about a set of table and chairs by Brazilian craftsman Sergio Rodrigues that R & Company will be showcasing at Art Basel alongside work by Paris-based architect and decorator Pierre Yovanovitch, a man that Meyers predicts “will become the 21st century Renaissance man from France and keep the culture of the atelier system alive.” He chatters about the installation work of Jeff Zimmerman, enthuses as he mentions Renate Müller, and falls into a rhapsody when speaking of the woodwork of Wendell Castle. “I could go on with other designers, but it just doesn’t stop,” he says.
Both artists themselves, Meyers and Snyderman fell into the gallery game almost by accident. In the mid-90s, they were part of a project called The B Team that melded together performance art with the craft of art glass, complete with molten glass on stage—“which was really fun, and probably insanely dangerous,” Meyers recounts. During that time, the two would play a game wherein they would each spend $100 on treasures they found in their hometowns, then resell the items at New York’s Chelsea Flea Market. “It was really innocent at first, but it grew very serious very quickly,” Meyers says. Their taste for mid-century design and their skill for curating their space into a gallery-like display highlighting each piece soon caught the eye of up-and-coming tastemakers who frequented the market.
“From fashion to the fine arts to music, big architects and decorators, even those who are now funding museums or building wings of institutions—you name it, they were all there [at Chelsea Flea Market].” And this group quickly became both mentors to and clients of Meyers and Snyderman. By 1997, their finds had outgrown the flea market and expanded into the duo’s first retail space on South 1st Street and Whythe Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn—a move that embraced the same pioneering and trailblazing spirit of The B Team. “The south side was still a very dangerous neighborhood at the time,” Meyers tells us. “But people just started to come and come. I mean, our corner was littered with crack vials, and within a few weeks, we had people pulling up in Town Cars—like, housewives from Texas. It was incredible.”
As heady as those times may have felt, and even more so when the gallery moved to Tribeca in 2000, the core ethos of Meyers and Snyderman’s point of view was already firmly in place. “It boils down to what’s interesting,” Meyers shares. “It’s not my definition of what I like. It’s art’s definition of what is good design.” With that focus, the selection process of both individual pieces and the artists who made up the gallery’s roster followed easily. “We always knew that the material we had was important.”
And what that material came down to was the best of the best of 20th century—and now 21st century—art and design. From sculpture to furniture design to decorative objects, nothing has been off limits as long as it served the point of being interesting. But since that point is often a matter of taste, it soon became part of the mission not only to display and sell work, but also to educate people. To that end, the gallery’s exhibitions soon began to be supported by publications, lectures, extensive archives, and Meyers and Synderman’s own private collections.
“No one was promoting the history of why this work was so relevant, interesting, intellectual, or good,” Meyers says. “And on the other side, why wasn’t anyone saying, ‘This is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. It should have no value’? Where were the reviews or the discussion? So when we moved here, we decided that we would have to start printing catalogues and start giving designers exhibition shows just like in an art gallery. And that’s what we did.”
That mindset became an agenda that drove the duo’s work, as well as an immense asset. Meyers credits the power of presentation and the ability to mold the public’s perception through context and storytelling as an advantage over other people who were, or perhaps still are, in the same business. “In the end, what we want to achieve is that I don’t want to give you an answer. I want to present a question and have you decide the answer. That’s the goal. I want you to think.”
And R & Company continues to give plenty to think about. Their current exhibition, “SuperDesign,” looks at radical Italian design from 1965-1975, an era that Meyers says hadn’t been explored deeply enough. “Evan and I have been collecting for more than 15 years to be able to do this show, but in the end, we rewrote the history of the movement.” Likening their research process to being private investigators or treasure hunters, Meyers notes that the exhibition is being supported by both a book published by Random House last month and an upcoming feature-length documentary film—an unparalleled feat for an exhibit of this kind. “We didn’t set out to do what nobody’s done before, but the book and the movie will go so much further than we could touch otherwise. It will be incredible.”
Also on the horizon is R & Company’s 20th anniversary, a milestone they’re celebrating by expanding into several floors of a new space on White Street in Tribeca. With the additional exhibition space, we’ll be anxiously awaiting what they have to show us next.