In New York, a magazine publisher who is also a furniture maker
His artistic life began in earnest when he entered photography as a teenager living in Los Angeles, where he was born. (His portraits have appeared everywhere, from album covers to a book jacket – he photographed actress Abbi Jacobson for his – to magazine profiles.) After moving to New York City in 2014 to study the arts Liberals at the New School, he focused on fashion, doing internships with Rachel Antonoff, Rag & Bone and Saint Laurent. In his final year, he landed a curatorial internship at MoMA PS1 and a writing internship at Artforum, where he stayed after graduation. A year later, he would co-found his own publication, November magazine, which published long-running interviews with artists, designers and writers. And last month he became the second editor-in-chief of Pin-Up Magazine, a brilliant architect with noble architecture. As if that weren’t enough, Olunkwa’s furniture designs were recently showcased at Greene Naftali in East Hampton, NY
âAnything that has structure is inherently and inherently architectural,â said Olunkwa, who discovered architectural theory at the New School in New York and who is also drawn to the writings of Raymond Williams, Lisa Gitelman, Michel Foucault and Sara. Ahmed, among others. “[My work is] show people how to see things. But while theory imbues its pieces with intellectual rigor, Olunkwa is also practical and has good old instincts. His practice was also governed by “seeing something, wanting something, thinking that I need something and then claiming it”. This is how he came to design a handcrafted table himself last summer, after his latest roommate moved out of his two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn’s Stuyvesant Heights neighborhood and Olunkwa began to living alone for the first time. He had inherited much of his furniture in a friend’s space, which made him feel like he was in someone else’s house. During the summer break between semesters at Columbia – from which he has since graduated in critical, curatorial, and conceptual architectural practices – he purged himself and started over.
The top of the table is shaped like a flower. Olunkwa landed on the form, which is reminiscent of the kind of drawing a finicky kid could do, after seeing a sewing pattern a friend posted online. The flared legs, one for each rounded petal, are modeled on those of an easel. Budget constraints helped determine the material: birch plywood, which with its hue and unpretentiousness is sure to brighten up any room. The room was part of a larger idea he had: to reinvent his old bedroom into a sort of study room. And that’s how he also designed a series of wooden shelves partially inspired by those that line Donald Judd’s personal library in Marfa, Texas. âI think he’s a model,â says Olunkwa. The lowest level of the young designer’s shelves extends further into the room than the others, like a pouting lip. The square straight-back chairs that Olunkwa designed to accompany the table also resemble Judd, although they are more playful than severe. When the chairs are snuggled up against the table, the colors and shapes of the grouping make the pieces appear to have been commissioned for an upscale kindergarten class. âWhen I showed one of them to my mother, she said, ‘Can we I sit on that chair? ‘ Olunkwa said of the childlike quality of the set. Of course, that quality is part of the appeal, and Ssense and Picture Room now sell Olunkwa furniture, made by Largent Studios in Brooklyn.
Olunkwa has also reworked some of the other rooms in his space. When we spoke, he was sitting in his living room on one half of a custom pistachio-colored corner sofa by multidisciplinary artist Sam Stewart – the missing half was being repaired. The room faces a nine-foot-tall orange painting of an ecstatic figure by artist Ellen Frank – further proof that Olunkwa is not a strict minimalist.
Through an open set of French doors is the study room. It’s over now, and heavily used. The shelves are crammed with books, records, magazines, and fine art, and on the craft table was an Apple desk, a recording microphone, a copy of the culture theorist’s 2011 book. Lauren Berlant “Cruel Optimism” and various post-it notes on which Olunkwa had written messages. He is excited about the future and plans to rent a studio where he can experiment with new shapes and materials. He is particularly interested in resin at the moment and plans to make side tables from cymbals. âBefore, I only functioned as a survivor: ‘What do I need? What does this space need? ‘ And now he has everything he needs. I am relieved of this duty as a supplier, âhe declared. “So now I really want to play, to do things and not always know what they are.”