A former set designer and prop stylist, Alisa Grifo and her husband Marco ter Haar Romeny opened Kiosk in 2005. The SoHo boutique, which closed its brick-and-mortar location in 2014, celebrated everyday and esoteric objects the couple found while traveling the world. The revolving collections included things like Romanian cheese presses, Dutch laundry soap, Obama campaign gliders, and foot-long calculators from Hong Kong. In the past decade, Grifo, ter Haar Romeny, and their intrepid team have amassed an archive of 1,276 items, which are all on view in an epic installation for MoMA PS1's Greater New York exhibition.
Looking at the objects is a veritable world tour that reveals a glimpse into the places from which they came. Before embarking on a trip—some were as short as one week, others as long as six weeks—Grifo and ter Haar Romeny researched each place to find out what was produced locally and what the political and cultural landscape was like. Each of the products had to be manufactured in the country and say something about its provenance. Remarkably, Kiosk has meticulously documented the origin story for each product in its archive.
"Most important is the message then we look at the reality," Grifo says. "Can we afford it? How many of these things can we buy? Will we be able to sell it or will it be a money pit? If the object is something we’ve seen again and again, or sums up an experience that was poignant in a trip, we'll try to get it—the object enables storytelling about a place."
A product's shelf-appeal wasn't as important to Grifo as what someone could learn from it. In Greece, she was drawn to an oversize round paintbrush. "When you think of Greece, you think of white-painted houses and structures, and this brush is what you’d paint them with," Grifo says. "In that way it’s so Greek to me."
Some locations offered a remarkably diverse array of goods, like Japan, which still has a robust domestic production base. Others have less variety, but tell just as strong of a story. For Iceland, Grifo focused solely on candy because that was one industry that was very strong in a country that relies heavily on imports. "For a long time, Iceland didn’t allow imports of candy or chocolate to protect the industry," she says. Plus, she was able to visit the working factories to see how everything was made.
Designers like Achille Castiglioni and artists like Marcel Duchamp have long found inspiration in the readymade. The Kiosk Archive at PS1 is nothing short of a globetrotting show-and-tell of the world's most unexpectedly inspiring objects.
Kiosk has a pop-up shop at 38 Orchard street, which is open until January 10. After that, it's taking a hiatus. Greater New York, where you can see the full archive, is open until March 7.