Seeing the Lights at “The Lamp Show”
A luminous duck, a softly glowing bowl of rice, and many more unconventional takes on lighting prompted long lines for the Brooklyn exhibition.
Does it need to light up? Not necessarily. What counts as a lamp is up for broad interpretation at The Lamp Show, an exhibition in Brooklyn that has earned a cult following for its playful takes on lighting. The show’s fourth edition opened last weekend at Head Hi, a combination café, design bookstore, and gallery owned by Alexandra Hodkowski and Alvaro Alcocer, who began organizing the show in 2019 (Dwell is a media partner helping to promote this year’s edition), putting out an open call for submissions. Anyone from a professional designer to an ambitious amateur could submit a lamp and they would consider it for the show.
The now-annual exhibition has gone on to become a low-key sensation in the New York design world. This year’s version is the first to take place in Head Hi’s new storefront across from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and during the opening on Saturday, there was a line stretching around the block for hours to see the 52 lamps selected for the show (and to have first crack at buying one). They range from high kitsch—see a duck made of an ear of corn by Peter Treiber Jr. and a miniature zen garden with light-up rocks by Sina Erol and Clarisse Empaynado—to the more livable, including a handsome curved wood piece by Dwell 24 alum Gregory Beson and an off-kilter but delicate handmade lantern by Alayna Wiley, among them.
We spoke with Hodkowski and Alcocer about organizing the exhibition, which runs through April 8, their selection process, and what they think has lent the show its popularity.
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Why an exhibition focused on lamps?
Hodkowski: I’m not a maker at all, but one year I decided I wanted to make lamps as gifts for my family members. I don't know why. I started with one and really pushed it to the last minute. And it totally failed. I had an idea. It didn’t work. And I was like: You know what? I want to know how people do this. Let’s do an open call.
Alcocer: And light is warmth. Light is a mood. Lamps are companions. You have one next to your bed, perhaps, illuminating the room.
You have notoriously flexible criteria for what constitutes a lamp.
Hodkowski: We do. All mediums, all materials, anything can be a lamp. There’s no limitations. It’s totally open to everyone's imagination. And that’s what probably makes this show so unique. It’s more of the exchange of ideas between the designers. In the past, we had a submission of a painting of a lamp, and it ended up in the show.
Alcocer: When we do the open call, we leave the interpretation of a lamp up to the lamper. The only limitation is the two feet by two feet size limit.
How many submissions did you get this year?
Hodkowski: There were 226 submissions this year and we selected 52 lamps for the show.
How do lamps make the cut?
Hodkowski: Our biggest criteria is that we want a diversity of objects in terms of their materials, shapes, sizes, colors, etcetera. When we get the submissions, we ask the lampers to submit the idea behind the lamp. And they reference all sorts of things, but we like the themes that they bring up to be diverse. There’s a lamp this year that is about queer cruising, there’s one that references Theaster Gates, and there’s another one from a Mexican artist who’s working with volcanic stone.
I love that you call them "lampers."
Hodkowski: It’s an open call. Anyone can come up with a design.
You don’t necessarily have to consider yourself a "designer?"
Alcocer: No. We all can imagine a lamp. And that’s the exciting part about the open call. We don’t know what’s going to come our way.