WSJ Magazine: Carpenters Workshop Gallery Is Challenging the Status Quo of Design

A day in the life: Loïc Le Gaillard and Julien Lombrail question the perceived boundaries between contemporary art and design

FOR MUCH OF their career as gallerists, Loïc Le Gaillard and Julien Lombrail—founders of Carpenters Workshop Gallery—have questioned the perceived boundaries between contemporary art and design. “We’re nonconformists, because we’re not interested in design, as such—the functionality of the object is not relevant,” says Le Gaillard, 47. “What we like is the way that there is strong narrative in the object.” By way of example, he cites a curvilinear sofa by one of their designers, Sebastian Brajkovic, which appears to almost melt into the ground on one side, thus blurring the line between sculpture and furniture. So which is it? “Does it matter? Is it good enough as one or the other? Does function lower or increase the perceived value of an object or artwork?” Le Gaillard asks. In truth, the answer for Le Gaillard and Lombrail, who both grew up in Paris and have been close friends for two decades, is where art and design intersect. “We like the object to be an artwork,” says Lombrail, 40.

Before they joined forces, Le Gaillard and Lombrail each had art galleries of their own, in London and Paris, respectively, where their collections included visual art. They soon recognized their shared and growing interest in craft and form, and in 2006, the duo opened the first CWG in London’s Chelsea (they moved to Mayfair in 2008). They now have spaces in Paris, New York and, as of last year, San Francisco, helping talents like Studio Job, Maarten Baas, Robert Stadler and Ingrid Donat (Lombrail’s mother) realize their most audacious creations. Inspired by the Dutch Design movement, which has flourished since the 1990s, the two seek to regenerate the art of craftsmanship by offering their artists the opportunity to experiment and innovate with the help of some of France’s best artisans, who work out of their immense workshop just outside of Paris. Lombrail calls the space, which they opened in 2015, their “toy factory.”

Today, the items forged in the CWG foundry, or hand-carved and crafted in the gallery’s wood and upholstery workshops, end up in some of the most beautiful homes in the world—influential architects like Peter Marino, Pierre Yovanovitch and Jacques Grange frequently acquire pieces for their clients. “We never know if a piece will sell or not, but we are quite confident that we will be able to convince eight people in the world to buy it,” says Lombrail.

This May, CWG will showcase what it does best during the 58th Venice Biennale. CWG’s group show, titled Dys-Functional, invites 14 of its artists, including Studio Drift and the fashion designer Virgil Abloh, to create site-specific works inside the elaborate Ca’ d’Oro palazzo. The works will be installed alongside the palazzo’s formidable art collection. “We wanted to say loud and clear that the way we think about design is [that it’s] equally as important as art,” Le Gaillard says.

Le Gaillard and Lombrail by the Numbers

61,729.4 pounds: Weight of the Domestikator sculptural house by Atelier Van Lieshout, a CWG artist, installed outside the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2017.

35 employees: Number of staff at CWG’s production facility in Mitry-Mory, France.

35,000 square feet: Size of the Mitry-Mory warehouse. CWG’s Long Island City warehouse in New York is 8,500 square feet.

7 years: Time it took to produce the Verhoeven Twins’ glass Bubble Works, a group of glass sculptures, from conception to completion.

63 sculptures: Combined number of works in the partners’ individual offices, including pieces by Karl Lagerfeld and Rick Owens.

300-500 dandelion spores: Number attached to a small LED light to create Studio Drift’s signature light sculptures.

6 calls: Average number of times Le Gaillard and Lombrail FaceTime each other per day.

1 year: Amount of time Le Gaillard and Lombrail were roommates while launching the gallery.

50+ works: Pieces delivered to clients by scooter in the early days of the CWG outpost in London.

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