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Frieze New York 2023

Tiwa Select Celebrates the Special, Small and Imperfect

From a marigold yellow room in the National Arts Club, Alex Tieghi-Walker presents the work of one-of-a-kind maker

BY Pei-Ru Keh in Frieze New York , Frieze Week Magazine | 21 MAY 23

Searching for imperfection might not be what comes to mind when thinking about New York City’s competitive art scene, but that is the very quality that has guided Tiwa Select, the craft and folk art space belonging to Alex Tieghi-Walker. Founded in 2020, Tiwa Select was originally conceived as a store—much like the exquisitely curated craft shops in Japan—but in Berkeley, California, where Tieghi-Walker then resided. However, during the pandemic, government restrictions around the US meant a rethink. 

Instead, Tieghi-Walker ventured online, creating a captivating platform on Instagram for armchair travellers to peruse and purchase his collection of found objects and curiosities gleaned from past adventures. This swiftly evolved into highlighting mostly self-taught makers with ties to the West Coast region, like the wood sculptor Vince Skelly and the textile artist Megumi Shauna Arai. Straddling the artistic and the functional, the array of pieces each embody an off-beat, individualistic beauty, underscored by a reverence for nature and provenance that transcend the screen.

Alex Tieghi-Walker at Tiwa Select, March 2023; photograph: Tim Schutsky

Last year, Tieghi-Walker made the decision to leave behind his idyllic, century-old redwood barnhouse, his home of five years, and move to the Big Apple. He found a former olive oil factory on the edge of Manhattan’s Little Italy and in September, opened an expansive solo exhibition of large-scale textile works by Arai. Excited to broaden his knowledge of East Coast craft and artists, Tieghi-Walker also looked forward to dealing directly with clients in New York.

Unfortunately, 181 Mott Street was short-lived and by November, Tieghi-Walker was back on the move, grappling with how Tiwa Select would take shape next. 'I feel like all of my past spaces have been journeys in themselves,' he says in March, when we meet at its current home—a single, pint-sized room, up four creaky staircases in the historic National Arts Club. 'The ‘Big Plates’ show (2021) was upstate and you had to drive then walk up through a forest. I loved that that was just as much a part of the experience. Even at Mott Street, which was a pretty regular New York storefront, the second you went through the door, you were in a separate little world. This is a continuation of that, which was the real draw of the National Arts Club for me. I’m on the top floor in this funny little corner of the building and people have to snake all the way up the stairs to get here. I just like the whole journey.'

The National Arts Club, New York; photograph: Tim Schutsky

Located opposite Gramercy Park, the National Arts Club is a decorative wonder. Known as the Samuel J. Tilden House, an amalgam of two flat-front, iron-grilled brownstones, it boasts stained-glass panels by John La Farge, a stained-glass dome by glass master Donald MacDonald, and an Aesthetic Movement-style sandstone facade, bay windows and ornamentation by the architect Calvert Vaux, one of the designers of Central Park. The club itself was founded in 1898 by the poet and art critic Charles De Kay, and has been at this address since 1906. Conceived as a gathering space for artists, art lovers and patrons alike, some of its esteemed members have included three US Presidents: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Dwight D. Eisenhower, the painters Robert Henri and Cecilia Beaux, photographer Alfred Stieglitz and architect Stanford White.

Tieghi-Walker explains, 'When I first took over this space, the whole thing was painted black; the walls, the ceiling. Originally this was a hotel room—there are a number of rooms that still operate like that. There are also offices, apartments,  the members club and a public art gallery. It’s a working building and you just don’t have many places like this left in New York, with such a history and patina, and this eccentric community of occupants.'

Tiwa Select’s space at the National Arts Club, New York; photograph: Tim Schutsky

In its newest iteration, Tiwa Select faithfully upholds all of its founder’s values and aspirations. Painted a dusty shade of marigold yellow, the room, which must be entered by squeezing through a narrow doorway and corridor, features a carefully placed shelf holding Jim McDowell’s figurative vessels; a vitrine filled with coral-like ceramics created by Tyler James Goin in response to coastal ecosystems; statuesque wooden furniture by Skelly; and colourful, extraterrestrial lighting from Earth Landing Project. In its sole window, which looks out over the building’s historic rooftop, stained-glass panels featuring contemporary geometric motifs by Zachary White offer a tantalizing link between the past and present.

During Frieze New York, Tieghi-Walker will present a group show of miniature works, inspired by the scale of his new space. Titled 'A Little Show: Small Things in a Small Room', it will include works by Andrée Singer Thompson, Dana Arbib, Zachary White, Andrew Scott, Phoebe Collings-James, Addison Woolsey and Stefan White. In June, Tiwa Select is curating an exhibition called the 'North American Pavilion' at No. 9 Cork Street in London.

The National Arts Club, New York; photograph: Tim Schutsky

'A lot of the artists I work with use the materials they have available and can’t be selective about necessarily using the best,' he concludes. 'It’s the same for me with spaces. It’s about telling the whole story, and that also involves the history of the place. I’ve combined the old and new and I like to celebrate the imperfect. I like keeping people’s eyes really busy.' 

Tiwa Select participates in ‘The North American Pavilion’ at Frieze’s No. 9 Cork Street, London, UK from June 21st-25th 2023

This article first appeared in Frieze Week, May 2023 under the headline 'A Separate, Little World'

Main image: The National Arts Club, New York; photograph: Tim Schutsky

Pei-Ru Keh is a writer and the US Editor of Wallpaper*. She lives in New York, US.