United by Design

Blurred Lines



Wexler Gallery opened in Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood in 1999.

Lewis Wexler says he’s “always been a furniture guy at heart.” But to refer to the pieces typically on display at Philadelphia’s Wexler Gallery — which he co-owns with his wife, Sherri — as mere “furniture” would be like walking onto the grounds of Giverny and remarking on the pretty flowers.

Consider Vivian Beer’s elegant steel bench, Anchored Candy, No. 7 (2014), which features the swooping contours of a stiletto pump and is coated in a custom-made, deep ruby-red paint usually reserved for cars. Sure, you can take a seat on it — but what you really want to do is stare, touch and circumnavigate.

Then there’s Brian Gladwell’s charming but enigmatic Rocking Horse (2010). The form is familiar, but the material — corrugated cardboard — isn’t, playing with notions of function and durability. The two works are part of “Gallery Selects” (on view through September 27), an eclectic assemblage of contemporary works that the Wexler team has identified as current favorites.

The pieces really cement the transition from studio furniture to design that we began about eight years ago,” Sherri says. “They’re less about the precision of craftsmanship and more about exploring technical processes and using unusual materials.” This focus brings the couple a long way from their beginnings in the New York art world. They met at Christie’s, where Lewis was the assistant vice president of the 20th-century decorative arts department and Sherri an administrator and junior specialist in Latin American works in the prints department. She would soon leave to pursue a career in video production, while Lewis eventually joined the Madison Avenue gallery of Anthony DeLorenzo, which specializes in French Art Deco. When the couple decided to relocate to Philadelphia, where Sherri had family, and open their own gallery, it seemed natural that they’d gravitate to French design (especially works by Lalique, Daum and Gallé).

Wexler Gallery

In the center of the gallery, Vivian Beer’s stainless steel Black Bridge Bench, 2011, sits beneath a 2010 chandelier by Michael Biello made of new and vintage Venetian glass.

But when Peter Joseph, a prominent New York dealer for the white-hot studio furniture movement, died in 1998, leaving masters like metalsmith Albert Paley and furniture maker Wendell Castle without a place to exhibit in the region, the Wexlers switched gears to fill the gap, opting to focus more on studio furniture and decorative glass. They ended up in Old City, which was at last coming into its long-heralded promise as Philly’s “Soho.” In choosing an empty storefront with huge windows that hadn’t let in daylight for years — the space was formerly a celebrated nightclub — they put a much-needed gloss on the four-block area when they opened the gallery in 1999.

Today, the spacious gallery lights up the prominent corner of 3rd and Race streets, juxtaposing statement pieces by such top names as Castle and glass artist Harvey Littleton against emerging conceptual designers and fabricators including Beer and Timothy Schreiber.

Wexler Gallery

From left: The Dominant Sophia, 2014, by Joanna Manousis, a wall sculpture made of crystal and 24-carat gold-plated mirror, and the Fauteuil II armchair, 2012, by Philipp Aduatz, are part of the gallery’s current exhibition, “Gallery Selects”; husband-and-wife team Lewis and Sherri Wexler


The eclecticism that’s become their signature has been there from the start, when they tossed smaller Art Deco pieces into the studio mix — sensuous glass vases and lamps from masters like Lalique and Daum — and began to work with the glass artist Dale Chihuly on selling his works on the secondary market, a specialty of Wexler that still exists today.

In putting together such a mix, “We were ahead of our time,” Lewis says. “But there was certainly a segment of Philadelphia-area buyers who were excited about what we were offering,” he says, describing how very early on a collector came in looking for Jean Prouvé furniture and walked out with lots of other pieces. “That’s been typical for us. We’re still interested in breaking down the barriers between design, furniture and craft.” 

Lewis and Sherri Wexler share their thoughts on a few choice pieces.

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