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Inside Steven Alan

A Moment With . . . Sight Unseen

  • Sight Unseen is one of our favorite online destinations for discovering what’s new in the art and design world. Founders Jill Singer and Monica Khemsurov, both former editors, curators, and design consultants, have a keen curatorial eye, scouring the internet and traveling the world to find interesting artists, designers, and movements to highlight. The duo took some time out of their busy schedules to answer some questions for us, and filled us on the launch of their upcoming show, Sight Unseen OFFSITE, which kicks off next month during New York Design Week.

    {Jill, left, and Monica, right}

    The two of you met while working as editors at I.D. Magazine. What prompted you to create Sight Unseen?
    JILL: We left I.D. on the same day in 2009, and two days later we already had new business cards in our hands. This was something we’d thought a lot about before we left! We based the idea for Sight Unseen on two things that were only just becoming popular at the time: provenance — knowing where, how, and by whom things are made — and voyeurism, i.e. sneaking our readers into people’s homes and studios (Instagram didn’t exist yet). Our readers love our studio tours and apartment visits, and we still focus a lot on backstories. But the site has evolved, too, as we’ve realized how many people use it, almost Tumblr-like, as a place to gather visual inspiration and scout new talent.

    When it comes to spotting up-and-coming talent and emerging design trends, Sight Unseen always seems to be ahead of the curve. How do you manage to keep up with all of the goings-on in the art and design worlds?
    JILL: Actually Instagram and Pinterest have become huge sources for us in terms of finding new talent. We scour it constantly, and we’ve been editors for so long that our eyes can quickly scan a page and immediately pick out what fits our aesthetic. We also produce and curate an annual design festival (coming this May!) that always features a ton of young designers, so people know to come to us with new work. The other thing that helps is just trying to be on the ground as much as we can when products are debuting. We go to all the art and design fairs in New York — ICFF, Collective, Frieze, etc. — and every year we attend the Milan Furniture Fair and Design Miami. But we also have a talented network of designers, friends, and contributors who will report for us at fairs we can’t make it to, which has been incredibly helpful as well.

    Of all the international exhibitions and art fairs you attend, what are some of your favorites, and which are you most looking forward to this year?
    MONICA: The annual Milan Furniture Fair, which we’ve been to six or seven times now, is always our favorite, if only because it’s the biggest global contemporary design event and everyone in design attends. It ends up being this amazing chance to catch up with friends and meet people face-to-face who you’ve emailed with a zillion times. There’s so much to see during the day, and then at the end of the night everyone ends up at this one bar where we all get drunk together. Outside of that, we love the London Design Festival (best work by young talents), Stockholm Design Week (Scandinavian design is so hot right now), the Frieze Art Fair, and the NADA fair during Art Basel.

    What we’re most looking forward to, though, is our own show, which starts May 16! For the past four years during New York Design Week in May we’ve produced and curated a big satellite design fair full of really exciting work by independent design talents and cool brands, and this year will be our biggest show ever. It’s called Sight Unseen OFFSITE, it’s free and open to the public, and even people who know absolutely nothing about design are going to die over everything we’ll be showing this year, trust us. Plus we’re going to have a few amazing pop-up shops like a ceramics store curated by Su Wu from I’m Revolting and a paper plant shop by Chiaozza, who are about to blow up.

    We imagine you’ve come across some intriguing characters and fascinating personalities. Can you tell us about a particularly memorable encounter, and is there anyone you are dying to meet?
    JILL: Monica and I sometimes do this thing where we fly to a country and hit up as many cities and designers as we can, gathering fodder for future stories. In Spain once, we drove into the Barcelonan countryside to visit a pasta and ice-cream maker. In Eindhoven, we stayed in a former church that had been converted into a bunch of design studios, and we learned how to make paella with Nacho Carbonell, a great designer who’s sold his work to people like Brad Pitt. The biggest design celebrity we’ve ever met is probably Dieter Rams, who we bumped into at an opening in Los Angeles. We knew we had to snag the opportunity to interview him but we were weirdly nervous about it! He was very gracious.

    Anyone we’re dying to meet… Beyonce? Isn’t everyone? In general, we don’t like meeting famous people because it’s always so awkward! Which works out for us because no one in design is really all that famous. Except for Pharrell. And Monica already met him — no big whoop.

    What are some of your favorite art and design publications at the moment (either online or in print)?
    MONICA: I wish we could say we were up to speed on all the amazing niche magazines and zines out there now, but sadly we’re too busy much of the time working on our own publication (and struggling to keep up with The New Yorker). But a few blogs and magazines we love and return to on a regular basis are Apartamento, Pin-Up, Arcademi, I’m Revolting, Freunde Von Freunden, T Magazine, World of Interiors, 01 Magazine, Bad Day, Okolo, It’s Nice That, Where They Create, Mold, and Disegno, whose online site is probably my favorite source for design news at the moment.

    Many thanks to Jill and Monica! Learn more about them here, and mark your calendars for Sight Unseen OFFSITE, which will run from May 16-20.

    - Photo by Elizabeth Weinberg

    This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 at 10:33 am and is filed under Friends of Steven Alan. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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