100 Black Lamps Light Up the 1stdibs Gallery

The Gallery’s first fall show, “Enlightened,” reimagines how light fixtures can be seen.
A visitor activates the "Enlightened" display at the 1stdibs Gallery.
A visitor activates the “Enlightened” display at the 1stdibs Gallery. Photo by Phil Gibson/PlayLab, Inc.

For one more week, there’s a gangplank in the center of the 1stdibs Gallery surrounded by nearly 100 unlit lamps in various forms, by many different makers, from diverse eras, all sharing the trait of being black.

As you wander down the platform, you reach a point where you trigger a switch hidden under a carpet — and suddenly, shockingly all those darkened lights come to life.

Detail of the installation.
Detail of a few lights in the installation. Photo by Phil Gibson/PlayLab, Inc.

Depending on your emotional state, the abrupt bath of brightness could make you feel as if you’d reached heaven or like a critter caught in the headlights. In either case, it’s an intriguing experience, and investigating your own response could give you insights into your mind.

Dubbed “Enlightened,” the elaborate display (on view through October 11) was conceived by Jeff Franklin and Ana Cecilia Thompson Motta, of the creative group PlayLab. The Study caught up with the designers to find out what’s behind their bright idea.

A side view of "Enlightened."
A side view of “Enlightened” in action. Photo by Phil Gibson/PlayLab, Inc.

What was your overall vision for this heap of light fixtures?

Ana Cecilia Thompson Motta: When 1stdibs invited us to create an installation with a broad appeal, we thought about how to make priceless pieces approachable. Instead of simply showcasing items like at a design fair, we began looking at furniture as the medium for art experiences.

Jeff Franklin: Out of 20 or so ideas, “Enlightened” became a quick favorite, because it brought the audience inside the installation. People step into a forest of lamps, and the interaction turns the pieces on in a wave of light. It makes furniture browsing feel like a kind of fireworks show.

A closeup of a 1950s Stilnovo floor lamp in the installation.
A 1950s Stilnovo floor lamp in the installation. Photo by Phil Gibson/PlayLab, Inc.

Why’d you choose all black lamps?

ACTM: The idea required a lot of different lights coming together. We curated a collection united around color so we could highlight the range of designs and details.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in realizing the display?

JF: The main challenge was technical — how to bring almost 100 lights onto a platform and have them light up smoothly all at once when triggered by a viewer. Thankfully, we worked with a group of talented engineers to make it happen.

This story's author, Trent Morse, visiting the show with his nine-month-old daughter, Minerva Hass Morse.
This story’s author at the show’s opening with his nine-month-old daughter, Minerva Hass Morse. Photo by Max Lakner/BFA.com

So, how do you think it turned out?

ACTM: We loved seeing people’s surprise when they stepped into the sculpture and lit it up. It made for an interactive experience that allowed people to have fun while examining lights by a huge variety of designers.


Jeff Franklin and Ana Cecilia Thompson Motta’s “Enlightened” Picks

100 Black Lamps Light Up the 1stdibs Gallery

“It’s like indoor sun rays. Just put ‘Here Comes the Sun’ on in the background, and you’re good!”

“The whole studio is obsessed with this lamp. There’s something about the simple and utilitarian nature of it that just makes us happy. The Castiglionis were geniuses.”

“We love the humor in this antique piece. Blowing bubbles never gets old.”

“If we could live in the ’70s, this lamp would be there with us.”

“It’s a nice ode to a classic chandelier and can double as a coatrack in a pinch.”

“This Viganò lamp has great lines — kind of like a bird with a long neck.”

“This piece was a studio favorite. It kind of reminded us of the Arrivals alien, in the best way possible.”

“An Art Deco-meets-mid-century upside-down birthday cake”

“We’re fans of Tom Dixon, so this was an easy favorite. The proportions make the globe feel like it could float away.”

“The ultimate office lamp. We love how sculptural it is with light.”

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