A Conversation with Curator Tam Gryn Unpacks the Innovative Mix of Art and Retail Behind SHOWFIELDS
April 26, 2021
Colossal editor-in-chief Christopher Jobson spoke with SHOWFIELDS head curator Tam Gryn in February 2021. The innovative retail concept in New York City and Miami blends shopping, art, brand activations, and unique events under one roof with collaborators like Tax Collection, Brooke DiDonato, Kenny Sharf, Ekaterina Popova, Filthy Luker, and the Whitney and Brooklyn museums. This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. Shown above is the Perrier x Murakami collaboration at SHOWFIELDS NYC. All images © SHOWFIELDS, shared with permission
Christopher: Before we get into all of the exciting stuff that SHOWFIELDS has become known for, take us a step back to how the entire idea was conceived. When was it founded, and how did this all start? What is your mission?
Tam: Our CEO Tal Zvi Nathanel noticed that all of a sudden when you walk on the main streets of any city—5th Avenue in New York City or Soho, Lincoln Road in Miami, or Champs Elysees in Paris— you realize there are the same 20 big brands everywhere, and artists are nowhere to be seen.
Paradoxically, our phones hold endless discovery. We can find 100 mind-blowing artists on Instagram in 10 minutes, and we get ads to super cool mission-driven small businesses to no end. It is very hard for young artists and entrepreneurs to be discovered on high-traffic streets in their own cities and very hard for customers to find innovation in the physical world. That is why SHOWFIELDS was created. We are a revolutionary retail concept built to engage and inspire your sense of discovery through revolving experiences with the brands and artists of tomorrow.
We are a very young startup. We only opened our doors in December 2018. We already have two locations: one in 11 Bond in NYC and one on 530 Lincoln Road in Miami. We create rotating mission-driven curations at the intersection of art and retail through connected experiences and community building with 80+ artists and brands in each location.
What I see since last year is that our whole generation is screaming for healing at the top of their lungs: healing from this pandemic, healing medically, healing holistically with all kinds of contemporary spiritual practices, healing as a society.—Tam Gryn
Christopher: Speaking of mission, it’s fun that when shopping online, there’s a literal “Shop by Mission” category that you seem to have prioritized above other major sections, “Fashion” and “Art.” Can you talk a little bit about that? How does your mission manifest itself in the physical retail spaces as well?
Tam: Our thriving community of founders and artists are handpicked by their leadership in diversity, mission, championing the causes that our generation cares about in real-time. To keep it simple, we invite artists and partner with small businesses who inspire us. I think about mission as us leading in the transcendence economy.
For our launch in Miami, after visiting artists in their studios, I realized that everyone in the art community is concerned with water rising, the environment, and sustainability and the relationship between architecture and nature. Therefore, every single artist in our curation is interdisciplinary with an environmental focus. We have artists who are marine biologists and climate activists… Every brand we select also has a sustainability component, whether it’s the packaging, the ingredients, or the labor practices.
As a curator, I try to find patterns in generational truths. What I see since last year is that our whole generation is screaming for healing at the top of their lungs: healing from this pandemic, healing medically, healing holistically with all kinds of contemporary spiritual practices, healing as a society. Therefore, I am showcasing artists who can interpret this phenomenon, and we are partnering with small businesses who are giving consumers what they are asking for.
Christopher: When collaborating with so many artists, brands, and institutions, I imagine this leads to a very different retail experience. Take us through what it’s like to walk through a SHOWFIELDS location and how that might differ from the larger brand stores.
Tam: When we decided to call SHOWFIELDS “The Most Interesting Store in The World,” we knew we had to be really innovative in order to live up to our own standard! The experience starts with our historical buildings, in which we create traffic-stopping art installations such as Filthy Luker’s tentacles in our Miami facade. Our art installations are democratic and humorous so anyone can inherently connect to them, no matter what their age, education level, or background is. At the same time, the tentacles serve a larger purpose creating awareness about climate change and water rising in Miami. We try to be approachable, yet elevated.
When you enter the store, all the hallways, bathrooms, nooks, and corners are activated with art experiences—most of them stimulate beyond the visual sense—you can touch, listen, smell, and sometimes even eat the art! All senses are stimulated. Our brand spaces are designed with either guest artist collaborations or by our in-house artists and designers in a very immersive way. Art and retail are constantly merging in conceptual, aesthetic, experiential, and community levels that you can both shop and participate in. You might come into the store one day and see a curator talking to an artist being streamed on our website, and you can get a chance to meet them! SHOWFIELDS is like the most interesting things in your phone, happening IRL.
SHOWFIELDS is like the most interesting things in your phone, happening IRL.—Tam Gryn
Christopher: What has been the most memorable artist collaboration you’ve worked on?
Tam: We worked with Hong Kong-based luggage brand Lojel for our Miami opening. Lojel is all about sustainability. That is why we selected them. We partnered Lojel with artist Sterling Rook in order to create a Miami subtropical swamp-like environment using a conveyor belt to symbolize travel and sustainable mobility. It was so meaningful because both the artist, the brand, and of course our entire generation really values sustainability and travel while being mindful in taking care of nature; both the artist and the brand worked together to amplify each other’s message that really resonated with audiences.
Christopher: Many artists hesitate when collaborating or exhibiting with a retail-driven partner. However, SHOWFIELDS seems to attract interesting and exciting contemporary artists and projects with institutions like the Whitney and Brooklyn museums. What do you attribute this success to?
Tam: SHOWFIELDS is driving the cultural conversation that both artists and entrepreneurs share the same creative vein. We do not believe in categories when it comes to creativity. Instead, we celebrate the interdisciplinary aspects that drive innovation. Nowadays, there are more brands, more founders, more artists, and more innovation than any other time in history!
We want to support all creatives by bringing them a flexible platform and solution both online and offline to show their work in a new way to new audiences. We want to use their creative fuel to champion the causes that led them to create their artworks or products, which are the same causes that are good for the world. Our partners know and trust that their mission and ethos are what drives all of our activations. We also have a great team of magicians that can conceptualize, design, and produce any artist or brand’s dream. This is what makes us a one-stop shop solution for “The Most Interesting” people in the world.
Christopher: For our readers who haven’t visited SHOWFIELDS, there is a twisting slide in the middle of the store that is altered or activated by different artists and brands. Can you tell us more about this space and how awesome it is?
Tam: Yes! We have a slide in each one of our flagship locations, one in NYC and one in Miami. There is something so magical about being an adult going down a slide like you did in your childhood! It ignites your adrenaline levels, makes you instantly happy, and when you come out on the other side, you feel like anything is possible. This is our star show moment where we commission artists to do site-specific installations around the concepts that we want to champion.
Right now in NYC, our slide is taken over on the top part by Uzumaki Cepeda who creates safe fuzzy spaces that are free of judgment for our healing curation. In Miami, we have a mural and textile art installation by Soraya Abu Naba’a, which looks like there’s water coming from the skylight ceiling into the building aligned with our sustainable and water-raising curation.
Christopher: Along with clothes and homewares, SHOWFIELDS also sells original sculptures, paintings, and photographs both on-site and online. I feel like representing an individual artist has additional considerations that go beyond carrying a brand. How do you find the balance between selling both retail items and artwork?
Tam: There are so many artists who are entrepreneurs and have their own product lines and so many entrepreneurs who are creative and artistic in their own right. We really believe in blurring those lines and definitions.
The way that looks in our space is that you may see a limited-edition set of plates by Allison Zuckerman next to our cafe space designed by our in-house artists, which also holds sustainable kitchenware and innovative coffee pods for sale. In the next room, you may see soft sculpture art on the walls accompanied by a yoga balls seating installation by artist Laura Marsh, together with a product selection for healing and wellness. We create coexistence in the same way art and products would naturally live in your home. Also, we don’t limit or represent any artists or brands. They are all free to explore endless opportunities.
Christopher: As head curator, what is your process for finding new artists for collaborations?
Tam: I am perpetually looking for artists. Our curatorial department handpicks artists that we consider the voices of this generation. These artists are interdisciplinary and ahead of the curve in mission, conceptually and aesthetically with diverse skill sets. We also host open calls for artists every six months for our new rotating curations. Through this democratic process, we receive hundreds of applications from emerging artists and stay ahead of the art scene’s pulse.
We are pioneering a new cultural financial model for artists and creators of all kinds. We want to work with artists who are open to teamwork, co-creation, and collaboration across mediums, styles, and backgrounds. We want to bring a diverse and powerful group of creators together who will work off each other in our space, to create not only a cohesive story but a community.
Christopher: As we head toward a world that’s “opening up” in terms of vaccines and increased safety in social spaces, what’s next for SHOWFIELDS?
Tam: Community is at the core of our mission. That has never changed for us even during this difficult year. Our community followed us online and to Miami, and they will continue to come together in our creative spaces as we grow into a more expansive platform. Channels are flexible for us. Throughout the pandemic, we stayed committed to our role as a platform for communities to facilitate creativity in a safe environment, and we plan to expand these initiatives for as many people as possible as Miami and NYC will continue to allow us. We always aim to invite the most interesting people to host their initiatives in our spaces.
Simultaneously, we are expanding in our continued quest to bring culture and mission-driven commerce to new areas and regions that never had access. More people will be able to find us and our ecosystem of artists and brands popping up in many different places with our new initiative called the Magic Box. These are encapsulating experiences in the middle of established retail spaces such as Rosevelt Field Mall in Long Island or other big stores that have a surplus of unutilized space in high-traffic areas but are looking to bring in more mission and culture where you’d least expect it.