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.

Alvaro Alcocer and Alexandra Hodkowski, owners of Brooklyn design bookshop/café/gallery Head Hi, at the 2023 "Lamp Show." The annual exhibition is the product of an open call for lamp designs and known for presenting unconventional lighting. It runs through April 8.

Alvaro Alcocer and Alexandra Hodkowski, owners of Brooklyn design bookshop/café/gallery Head Hi, at the 2023 "Lamp Show." The annual exhibition is the product of an open call for lamp designs and known for presenting unconventional lighting. It runs through April 8.

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.

Memory Lamp by Gregory Besson 

Memory Lamp by Gregory Besson 

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.

Points of Sail (James Langford & Larry Tchogninou), Jib desk lamp. "Made by a young Chicago based studio, this sailboat lamp is playful in color and concept. It is hard (steel) and soft (tensile), It actually has a fabric sail!," say Hodkowski and Alcocer.

Points of Sail (James Langford & Larry Tchogninou), Jib desk lamp. "Made by a young Chicago based studio, this sailboat lamp is playful in color and concept. It is hard (steel) and soft (tensile), It actually has a fabric sail!," say Hodkowski and Alcocer.

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.

Animate Objects (Alayna Wiley), Homeland Lantern. Hodkowski and Alcocer call this "A lentern with a spiritual life," adding "Alayna was inspired by a submission to the afro-minguei cannon proposed by Theaster Gates which recognized this Japanese approach to form within black culture. ‘Mingei’ translates as folk art, or rather, the art of the people."

Animate Objects (Alayna Wiley), Homeland Lantern. Hodkowski and Alcocer call this "A lentern with a spiritual life," adding "Alayna was inspired by a submission to the afro-minguei cannon proposed by Theaster Gates which recognized this Japanese approach to form within black culture. ‘Mingei’ translates as folk art, or rather, the art of the people."

How many submissions did you get this year?

Hodkowski: There were 226 submissions this year and we selected 52 lamps for the show.

Caroline Chao, View Lamp. "Super slick, gorgeous design made with reflective glass that reminds us of the hues from the 1980s but it could also come from the future," say Hodkowski and Alcocer. "It reflects infinite views and movement."

Caroline Chao, View Lamp. "Super slick, gorgeous design made with reflective glass that reminds us of the hues from the 1980s but it could also come from the future," say Hodkowski and Alcocer. "It reflects infinite views and movement."

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.

Plenty Works (Sina Erol and Clarisse Empaynado), Terrainium

Plenty Works (Sina Erol and Clarisse Empaynado), Terrainium

Hannah Klein, Jackstraw

Hannah Klein, Jackstraw

Peter Treiber Jr., Farm Duck

Peter Treiber Jr., Farm Duck

Popular Architecture (Casey Mack), Aplati Lamp 3. "This lightweight lamp highlights the range of techniques featured in the show," say Hodkowski and Alcocer. "Casey uses a bandsaw and hydraulic press for the Aplati Lamp. He also just wrote a book on Japanese Metabolist architecture."

Popular Architecture (Casey Mack), Aplati Lamp 3. "This lightweight lamp highlights the range of techniques featured in the show," say Hodkowski and Alcocer. "Casey uses a bandsaw and hydraulic press for the Aplati Lamp. He also just wrote a book on Japanese Metabolist architecture."

Patrick Girdler, Brew lamp. "It's made from coffee bioplastic!," say Hodkowski and Alcocer. "It's a response to waste and sourcing materials that already exist. We loved the shape and size and when we found out it was made out of one of our favorite things (coffee), we were blown away."

Patrick Girdler, Brew lamp. "It's made from coffee bioplastic!," say Hodkowski and Alcocer. "It's a response to waste and sourcing materials that already exist. We loved the shape and size and when we found out it was made out of one of our favorite things (coffee), we were blown away."

Overt Cove (Keith Holser), Parcel lamp. "When you purchase one of these, it is mailed to you and you assemble it yourself, a nice DIY interactive element,"  say Hodkowski and Alcocer. Here's how Holser puts it: "The tyvek sheet picks up stamps, bends, and grooves all unique to its journey from the sender to the receiver, ensuring each lamp is unlike any other."

Overt Cove (Keith Holser), Parcel lamp. "When you purchase one of these, it is mailed to you and you assemble it yourself, a nice DIY interactive element,"  say Hodkowski and Alcocer. Here's how Holser puts it: "The tyvek sheet picks up stamps, bends, and grooves all unique to its journey from the sender to the receiver, ensuring each lamp is unlike any other."

Etienne Vernier, Spool

Etienne Vernier, Spool

Tangible Space (Michael Yarinsky), prototype for a folded aluminum lamp

Tangible Space (Michael Yarinsky), prototype for a folded aluminum lamp

Seth Margolies, I/Reversible

Seth Margolies, I/Reversible

Sebastian Martinez, The Ideal Self Lamp

Sebastian Martinez, The Ideal Self Lamp

Thana Pramadono, Shrimp

Thana Pramadono, Shrimp

Freaky Lamps (William Kennedy), Phone Home

Freaky Lamps (William Kennedy), Phone Home

Nayoun Ryu, Egg on Bap

Nayoun Ryu, Egg on Bap

Ian Privett, Mushroom Man Lamp

Ian Privett, Mushroom Man Lamp

William Hanley
Editor-in-Chief, Dwell
William Hanley is Dwell's editor-in-chief.

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