The Exchange Int has a gallery space that is as unique as the pieces they curate. With as many interiors and design I look at daily, it is unfrequent that a photo or piece stops me in my thoughts. The Exchange Int located in Houston and Detroit has done just that. The Houston location is quite special, the collection is sheltered by John Zemanek’s Gaea II house. There is nothing wrong with viewing a piece of art with an all white backdrop but the Gaea II house compliments these pieces in a way that no museum ever could. I was so intrigued by their approached I asked them if they would answer a few questions for us.
Paul Evans Forge Front | Urban Jupena Leather carpet | Fontana Arte Table
Who is The Exchange Int?
Launched in 2008, by principals Whitt Barkley and Lacy Anderson, The Exchange Int features some of the most important American Studio, Nordic and other design pieces from the 20th century. Previously, the international collector market had traditionally been focused on French and/or Italian design and antiques, though in recent years there has been a dramatic shift to American and Nordic pieces.
We are custodians, passionate supporters and avid collectors. We work very hard to be as well-researched as possible. Our broader team has literally seen and touched thousands of some of the most amazing pieces out there, and consider ourselves blessed to have done so. We also believe we have one of the deepest knowledge bases of anyone in our space, especially when it comes to our favorite artists, e.g., George Nakashima, Paul Evans, Harry Bertoia, Paavo Tynell, Judy McKie, Phillip Lloyd Powell, Barbro Nilsson, Tapio Wirkkala, etc.
However, we are fully aware that we don’t create anything and don’t do any of the hard work. We are happy simply to help to broaden and enhance the artists’ legacy and place in history.”
Paul Evans Forge Front Cabinet (left) Circa 1970 | Paul Evans Forge Front Cabinet, Circa 1964, Early example and twice exhibited
Paul Evans: Crossing Boundaries And Crafting Modernism, pg 63, 162, & 163. | Frank Lloyd Wright Price Tower Chair, Early form, complete with very rarely seen red bumper. The Price Tower of Bartlesville, Oklahoma is the only built skyscraper by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Where did the concept come from to make John Zemanek’s Gaea II a showroom?
Whitt initially loved Gaea II for its design simplicity, and Whitt became very close to John before he died (at 94) in 2016. Whitt was crushed by his passing, but will tell you he was an amazing gentle person, lived a full life, and was always willing to have a quick chat (which usually ended up to being a long afternoon). Whitt and John were kindred spirits, though, and quickly realized that many of our pieces shared the same design principals evident in John’s architecture. In the end, he left a legacy as a design master, and Whitt is forever grateful for his friendship, however brief it was.
George Nakashima. The table was made in the early 1980s, entirely from old-growth Brazilian rosewood, was a special commission and all pieces are from the same rosewood tree. Old growth rosewood is, of course, larger and darker than plantation wood, with deeper and more intricate veins, and harvested naturally, i.e., not from a tree farm. After 1992, trade in old-growth rosewood was banned, and pre-ban rosewood is highly sought after/rarely available.
The table top is a “single board” — meaning it is one continuous piece — and is quite substantial in thickness. To put that in perspective, only 5% of Nakashima’s tables were single board, and this is the only example we know of in rosewood. The table also has 7 rosewood butterfly keys, which is one of the artist’s signature design features.
The way you capture these pieces of art is outstanding. What is your process for photographing and documenting a new piece?
We spend as much time photographing pieces as we do researching, finding, acquiring, documenting and describing them. We start from a very simple premise. These pieces are art, and they did not create themselves. An artist with an idea and a unique vision made it happen. So we do our best to capture what we call the “soul of the piece”, which is another way of saying we aim to bring out the artist’s creative vision. That is, needless to say, easier than it sounds.
Our standard operating procedure is to take as much time as we need to get the shots that we want, and I would guess that, for every picture we use, we reject another 300. This often means building out several sets, moving, staging, shooting, re-shooting, applying and adjusting lighting, experimenting, editing, etc. For example, we had a monumental Tynell chandelier, which was quite tricky to show. We ended up building out three different sets — which took several weeks and an entire day to shoot – and we could have done much more.
We also approach our photography with a sense of humor and try to have fun.
- Wendell Castle mirror (currently listed): reminded us of a combination between Popeye and the Elephant man. If you take a look at the side-view pictures, you will see it. LINK
- Oswaldo Guayasamin brass head (also listed): looked like a golden boy totally in love with himself, so we shot him looking into a mirror. Sometimes, we fail and go back for re-shoots.
Sometimes we succeed and the results are great. Sometimes we even joke that the pictures themselves are so good they become art (then we calm down and get back to work). However, we are never 100% happy with our photography and always see ways we could have done better. Strangely enough, we are OK with that. If you ever speak to artists, they will always say similar things, that they could have done something a little better and are never satisfied themselves. So, if we ever wrap up a shoot, and think we totally nailed it, we know we didn’t.
Are there standards or qualities that you look for when acquiring pieces?
Also, another simple philosophy. We look for the best pieces from the best artist. This is usually apparent in the integrity and beauty of the pieces, the supremely intricate and confident execution, along with the rarity of the works themselves. Again, our focus is important American Studio pieces and Nordic Design.
Paul Evans Forge Front Cabinet, Circa 1970 | LaGardo Tackett Architectural Pottery, Circa 1950s | Paul Evans Side Table, Model PE 28, Circa 1970s | Judy Kensley McKie Wall Hung Double Snake Shelf, Bronze circa 1994 | Tapio Wirkkala Bronze Bog Snipe, Circa 1940’s
Do you have any plans to create a gallery in Detroit that rivals John Zemanek’s Gaea II?
Yes. We are currently in the process of renovating a historic space built in 1914. This is a multi-year project and will show our pieces in a more traditional setting versus Gaea II, which shows the pieces in a more organic architectural setting.
What’s interesting, though, is the pieces work equally well in both.
Harry Bertoia Rare Bush Form with Red Blossom, Circa 1973 | George Nakashima Two Door Walnut Cabinet, Circa 1960s | Hans Wegner Chair and Ottoman, Model AP-27, Circa 1950s
Is there one piece that you would love to acquire (your white unicorn)?
That depends on who you ask! If, for example, you ask Whitt, he might say a John McLaughlin painting, commissioned before he attracted critical acclaim. If you ask me, I might say a monumental Calder jewelry piece, e.g., a choker, found sitting in the bottom of an old trunk in an attic.
The other members of our team would perhaps love an early Noguchi full body sculpture (like his Undine), or a missing and long forgotten Harry Bertoia public commission.
In fact, there are so many pieces we dream about, we could stock a good-sized fairy kingdom with multi-colored unicorns.
Actually, we just acquired a Unicorn pony – a Harry Bertoia bush form, with rare red blossom (see picture).
Harry Bertoia was fond of saying that it was almost sad to see a flower at its peak, knowing it will only fade in a few days. (That is true about life generally)
Anyway, the red blossom was Harry’s way of making the peak bloom last forever, which when you come right down to it, is the essence of art in the first place.
Harry Bertoia Rare Bush Form with Red Blossom, Circa 1973 | George Nakashima Two Door Walnut Cabinet, Circa 1960s