Method & Concept Shakes Up the Design Scene in Naples
Chad Jensen opened Method & Concept in Naples, Florida, in 2013 according to the Art Basel Miami Beach playbook. The now-41-year-old remembers devoting the interdisciplinary gallery’s opening months to VIP previews, scintillating artist talks, and only so-so attendance.
Naples may be just two hours’ drive from Miami, but at the time of Method & Concept’s launch, the upscale community had few plans to emulate Magic City’s cutting-edge collecting scene. “The contemporary art world was shrouded in mystery and exclusivity, and you could sense discomfort from people who were otherwise masters in their fields,” Jensen recalls. The seasonal, Midwestern-born crowd invested in the secondary market according to art advisors’ recommendations. Meanwhile, the Naples social calendar, famously packed with golf tournaments and philanthropy events, left little time for snowbirds to discover emerging and mid-career talent.
Jensen decided to persevere. Progressive art, craft, and design had no other gallery representation in southwestern Florida, “and I felt a real obligation to make this work,” he says. “Every artist was a friend of mine, and the greatest gift is exposing their work and sending them a check.”
Moreover, as director of product development and material resources at the interior woodworking workshop Thomas Riley Artisans’ Guild, he had begun to detect an appetite for one-off works and progressive design: In previous years, one guild client had commissioned Jensen to work with British furniture maker David Fletcher to produce a bespoke Capstan Table, and a local architect sponsored an exhibit of functional sculptures of Jensen’s own design. (Method & Concept operates under the Thomas Riley umbrella.)
In order to widen Method & Concept’s audience, Jensen clarified its program. “There are controversial subjects that we avoid because we want to be a place where everybody can wrap their arms around something,” he says. Jensen instead pursued artworks that would unanimously elicit how’d-they-do-that wonder. The exhibition that capped the gallery’s most recent season, called Design Dimensions, was emblematic of that focus. Ann Arbor–based Matthew Shlian, one of the show’s two spotlight artists, produces intricately folded paper sculpture that once inspired University of Michigan scientists to apply origami techniques to nanotechnology. The exhibit also featured mirrors by Brooklyn-based Bower, which manipulated the glass surfaces to appear three-dimensional. Sprinkled among the works were glass vessels made to look like water-filled plastic bags, as well as delicately folded and bent planes of steel, respectively by Dylan Martinez and Kate Silvio.
Jensen has also tweaked the way Method & Concept presents this work, so that it will resonate more effectively with the market. Every wall label includes the artist’s portrait, so that gallerygoers can feel more emotionally invested that person’s creative success. Opening nights now operate more like parties than academic events. And there are no hard sells “If you need a professional tell you why to buy something, then you probably shouldn’t buy it,” Jensen explains.
The approach has transformed Neapolitans into patrons of up-and-coming makers, and Method & Concept is growing in turn. When the Naples high season commences at the end of this year, the gallery will be welcoming visitors from an all-new building that is being positioned as the anchor of the burgeoning Naples Design District. Jensen is reserving a corner of that 3,000-square-foot space to host artists in residence, to further reveal the processes behind contemporary material culture and to occasionally mount his own works in progress. While the venue may be bigger and its offerings more ambitious, Jensen says his vision for Method & Concept, and its impact on Naples, is steadfast. “I want people to look differently at things they may have taken for granted before.”