Israeli Table Designs Conquer New York

A young Israeli design team is quickly winning over the New York art world with their furniture, thanks in part to the support of an Israeli icon.

Yuval Saar
Yuval Saar
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Yuval Saar
Yuval Saar

When Iftah Geva and Gal Goldner met with renowned Israeli curator Daniella Ohad Smith to show her some the furniture they had designed and created, they never imagined it would go so well. Smith was so taken with their work that she began representing them in New York, and the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan bought one of their pieces.

Last month, Geva and Goldner showed their work at The Salon: Art + Design exhibition at the Park Avenue Armory in New York, the most important design fair in the city over the past 25 years and the model for the famous Design Miami.

“The fair brings together some of the best galleries in the world, and it’s very hard to get into,” Smith says.

At the fair, Geva and Goldner showed some jewelry pieces inspired by their meeting with Israeli artist Ilana Goor, whom Smith introduced them to. They also showed three tables from their “Inside Out” series, the smallest of the three as a model only.

“Every table has its own inspiration,” Goldner says. “The small model, a strip that goes around 180 degrees, deals with randomness and change. Another table speaks of balance, effort and awareness – if you want to put a glass on one side of it, you have to balance it on the other side. The third table, which is round, deals with the power of the will and the question of how you direct your life – what’s inside and what’s outside. Each table is made of a different kind of wood. One is made of Finland whitewood, one is made of olive wood and the third, which was shown as a model, will be made of Swedish ash. We searched for almost a year until we found wood that was large enough and the right shape.

“The tables and jewelry were created by a complex process of attaching the pieces to one another, arranging the chips, cutting out the inside and coating it with transparent lacquer. The other side of the tables is made of carbon fibers, which can be used to make strong, flexible outer layers with complex shapes. The result is something hard but unusually flexible with a unique aesthetic contrast, polished to a high gloss.”

Geva, 35, of Kibbutz Reshafim, studied industrial design at the Holon Institute of Technology but left after three semesters. Goldner, also 35, of Kibbutz Ginegar, is a mechanical engineer with a bachelor’s degree from Ben-Gurion University. They first learned about Smith, who teaches design and works as a curator, design consultant for art collectors and researcher of design culture, from a newspaper article.

“While we were still in school, our teachers gave us the names of people they said we should meet,” says Geva. “Three years ago, we saw an article about Daniella in TheMarker and looked for more information about her. We found out she was coming to Israel and contacted her, but she said she was very busy. We asked for five minutes of her time. We went to her home and took out the pieces in the driveway. They got her interest right away. We went inside and started talking. We knew we had something special, but we didn’t know that world. Daniella told us that very few galleries in the world dealt with pieces like ours. A week later, she put us in contact with the owners of the Moderne Gallery in Philadelphia and told us it dealt with craft. We didn’t even know what craft was.”

Haaretz: How do you define your work? Is it design, art, craft?

Geva: “It’s on the border and could go in either direction. When we met with Ilana Goor later on and showed her our work, she saw it right away as art, as jewelry, and said it wasn’t furniture. I think our work is right on the boundary. It has a practical side, but it’s not really practical. Our tables are defined as tables, but it can be pretty difficult to put things down on their surfaces.”

Goldner: “I can’t define the difference between art and design. We just do what we do.”

Geva: “Gal’s always asking, ‘What am I?’ I know what I’m not. I’m not looking for definitions.”

Geva and Goldner met at the end of their senior year of high school, where they studied mechanical engineering. After graduation, they served in the army and took their post-army trip abroad together. When they came back, they started their partnership, calling it GGI after their initials. Their company promotes their work, provides engineering services to businesses and engages in more artistic projects. Besides the pieces that were shown in New York, Geva and Goldner developed an onion-cutter that keeps the operator’s eyes from tearing up and installations for public parks. They are about to raise capital to start a company that develops products for elderly people. The first product they plan to put on the market is a device that enables people to stand up comfortably from a sitting position.

Geva and Goldner do not have a permanent studio. “We do everything at a friend’s workshop in the Kanot industrial zone,” says Goldner. “So far, we’ve been involved only in specific projects, and we never knew how far things would go. Now we have direction,” he adds, smiling.

What prompted Smith to take them under her wing when she gets calls from designers all over the world?

“Even before we talk about the design aspect, they have something important,” she says. “They’re super-ambitious, hardworking and very meticulous about what they do. The way they combine wood with carbon fibers is innovative. It’s never been done before, and the shapes they create are interesting and dynamic. They’re like sculpture and are suitable for the international design arena. They aspire to perfection and accept nothing less. You have to see how they packed their work; the gallery owner was very impressed. Also, they’re a joy to work with. They’re willing to listen and learn, and they know what they don’t know. They’re the real thing, and I’m sure they’ll succeed.”

About the exhibition in New York, Goldner says, “It was amazing. It was very exciting to see our work shown alongside works by people such as George Nakashima and Ron Arad.”

How did you get the connection with the Museum of Arts and Design?

Goldner: “Our work got a lot of attention during the fair, and one of the people who came to see it was somebody from the museum. She asked the gallery owner how come she didn’t know these artists and why they hadn’t participated in the museum’s latest exhibit. When she heard that it was the first time we were exhibiting, she put us in contact with other curators from the museum, including the jewelry curator and a curator who works with exhibitions of items produced with the help of a computer. They already have one of our bracelets. The experience went way beyond our expectations. Just to be there, to stand on the sidelines, to see people touching the tables, wanting to see that it’s real. It was really a dream come true.”

What next?

Geva: “That’s the million-dollar question. We had a dream of exhibiting in New York, but we were sure it would take time and we’d have to show in Israel first. We never guessed that our designs would end up right in the middle of Manhattan. We’ve been working on the tables for about four years. It started as a nice adventure, but the desire to get it done eventually became the main thing. Now we’re hoping to exhibit there next year too so people can see what makes our work unique.”

What are they saying on the kibbutz?

“Everyone who’s seen our work has been very supportive. Don’t forget that we weren’t people who exhibited in New York until a few months ago.”

(From left) Gal Goldner and Iftah Geva.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv