Design Week Recap: Sight Unseen Offsite

by Maxwell Tielman


After lying dormant for the past decade or so, Postmodernism—that oft-maligned, oft misunderstood style that pervaded design from the late 1970s through the 1990s—seems to be back (with a vengeance)! We’ve seen whisperings of this trend over the past year or so, but the makings for a full-on movement became apparent at this week’s Sight Unseen Offsite show in Manhattan. The exhibition, which was curated by Monica Khemsurov and Jill Singer of the website Sight Unseen, places some of the brightest talents on the design scene together for one big, trend-setting expo. The consensus? The 80s are back, baby!

Of course, such claims were made only a few short years ago when Brooklyn hipsters began celebrating the garish, over-bloated looks of their childhoods. This iteration, however, seems different. Almost entirely devoid of irony, this spin on 80s culture appears more in-line with the utopian, subjective, and pluralistic mentality of some of Postmodernism’s original proponents. The works on display at this year’s Sight Unseen look to the last decades of the twentieth century with earnest reverence and sincere optimism—more pastiche than parody. Indeed, while superficially lightyears away from the rustic, reclaimed, midcentury revival looks of recent years, the same impulses and philosophical underpinnings seem to be at play here. Kites made of recycled plastic bags by Field Experiments expound upon the recent craze for the found and reclaimed while simultaneously dismantling the notion that such things must scream “ye olde.” Similarly, brightly patterned solar-powered watches by Q&Q cater to our desire for environmental friendliness whilst drawing attention to the occasional green-washed hypocrisy of recent throwback trends. These playful objects, fashions and furnishings draw from myriad sources and cultures, shining a glaring (neon-colored) light on the culturally-hermetic Americana and Eurocentric styles that have pervaded the last decade.

Is this look the look of tomorrow or just a flash in the pan? It’s probably too early to say. But one thing’s for certain—it’s an exciting and welcome addition to the contemporary design world. Check out some of our favorite highlights from the Sight Unseen show after the jump! —Max

Top image, left to right: Designs from Print All Over Me’s Pop-up, a bamboo tray from Field Experiments, lighting from the Objects pop-up, adhoc furniture from Field Experiments, a chair from Kelly Behun Studio.


Above: Chiaozza Design Studio’s “Plant Shop” pop-up featured colorful, papier-mâché plants.


Above: Print All Over Me, an online tool that allows you to apply patterns to everyday objects, showcased printed designs from illustrators and designers handpicked by the Sight Unseen curators.

suo_printtrine suo_printallover2 suo_fieldexp

Above: A bamboo tray from Field Experiments, a project that melds traditional crafts and contemporary design in diverse regions and cultures around the world.


Above: A plastic bag kite by Field Experiments.


Above: Lighting and textile designs by Katy Stout.


Above: Works by Kelly Behun Studio.


Above: Designs by Mario Milana.


Above: Objects, a pop-up featuring lighting designs created by RO/LU, Alex DaCorte, Chen-Williams,  Brendan Timmins, Joel Evey, and Eric Timothy Carlson.


Above: Pillows by Paparajote Factory.


Above: Solar-powered watches by Q&Q.


Above: The show’s pop-up cafe, with “future foods” curated by Mold.

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  • A colourful and cheery post. At it’s best the whimsical and creative side of Post Modern inspired design is refreshing. However, having lived through PoMo the first time around, I find it to be soul sucking and attention grabbing with over indulgence. My aesthetic sensibilities took years to recover. Beware.

  • where to find the rug in the Kelly Behun image? I don’t see it on her site….

  • So fun! I was definitely influenced by the Postmodern look with my new Bright Brush collection… been seeing the return of this look in Australian design for a bit, and loving it… Anyways, wish I could have gone to this show! Thanks for covering it!