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Design Within Her Reach

The Art Institute’s new design curator, Zoë Ryan, discusses her own art collection, good luck charms, current obsessions, and more

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NAME: Zoë Ryan
AGE: 31
HOME: Old Town
WHAT: Curator of design at the Art Institute of Chicago

A year ago, the Art Institute plucked Zoë Ryan out of the New York art scene to be its first Neville Bryan Curator of Design—a role created expressly for the young Brit. Ryan is charged with expanding the contemporary design department, which will move into the Renzo Piano–designed modern wing when it opens in 2009. Thus far, her challenge has been to figure out how to fit modern objets d’art into the context of the Art Institute’s collection, which spans 5,000 years. “The Art Institute is an encyclopedic museum rather than a museum of modern art,” she says. “The addition of design carries the story forward. To me, it’s the cross-disciplinary nature of art and design that is particularly interesting.”


HER OWN ART COLLECTION Paintings, drawings, and photographs—all connected by the theme of the human body—cover her bedroom walls. One of the more striking is a painting by Sydney Chastain-Chapman, a graduate of New York’s Hunter College. “I really enjoy following the work of students at art and design schools. Their work is often the most unrestrained and can be quite thought provoking,” says Ryan.

GOOD LUCK CHARM A bronze ring and necklace from Monica Castiglioni’s Anelli jewelry line, a birthday gift from a friend. “I wear them all the time,” Ryan says. “They have a great burnished finish, and I love their bulbous forms.”

INSPIRATIONAL ICON “My mum. She was the most warm, elegant, and inspiring person I know,” Ryan says. “She definitely inspired my passion for design. She had a great sense of style and kept a collection of beautiful silk shirts and sarongs for the beach, which I now share with my sister.”

ENTERTAINING ESSENTIALS “Good company and Mexican beer!” says Ryan. On her table are “anything by Eva Zeisel,” which she calls the “friendliest tableware ever made,” and Ole Jensen’s yellow ceramic colander (designed for Royal Copenhagen). “It has a bowl on one side and a colander on the other—both practical and stylish,” she says.

FAVORITE DESIGNER Ross Lovegrove, a fellow Brit, who has a passion for green design. “He’s developing a family of solar-powered streetlights called Solar Tree. They are beautiful forms. Given Mayor Daley’s ambitions for our city to be the greenest in the States, it would be great to install them in Chicago.”

RYAN’S CURRENT OBSESSIONS >>


 

Photograph: Courtesy Monica Castiglioni Anelli

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