This fall, MZ Wallace is debuting a special edition of its Metro Tote in collaboration with artist Kerry James Marshall and the MCA Chicago. The accessories brand, founded by Monica Zwirner and Lucy Wallace Eustice, has previously collaborated with artists like Glenn Ligon and Marcel Dzama. 100 percent of the proceeds of the tote go toward educational programs at the MCA Chicago, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
“Collaboration is part of everything we do at the MCA, and this partnership with MZ Wallace and artist Kerry James Marshall is a particular point of pride because the painting that graces this gorgeous tote lives in the museum’s permanent collection. This fantastic image of a black female painter is not only aesthetically powerful, it is also extraordinarily important to our present day, when the presence of black people in masterworks are still all too rare. Kerry’s work is a profound meditation on some of the most searing issues we as a society face today—racial injustice and the search for equality – and at the same time, Kerry’s paintings are for the ages—beautiful, humanistic, and necessary. And, as a clothes lover, I cannot wait to add this gorgeous bag to my wardrobe!” said MCA Chicago Pritzker Director Madeleine Grynsztejn.
Whitewall spoke with Zwirner and Wallace Eustice about the limited-edition bag, which comes on the heels of Marshall’s multi-city touring exhibition “Mastry” (starting at the MCA Chicago, then The Met Breuer, and recently LA MOCA).
WHITEWALL: How did the collaboration with the MCA and Kerry James Marshall come about?
MONICA ZWIRNER: This year was particularly exciting for Kerry with “Mastry,” his traveling American retrospective. I am very lucky to have attended the opening receptions at each venue starting at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago followed by The Met Breuer in New York and Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. I spent a lot of time with Kerry and his wife, Cheryl, and was inspired hearing him speaking about his process and practice. With this year marking the 50th anniversary of the MCA Chicago, it seemed very fitting to work with Kerry, who has lived and worked in Chicago for many years, on a special project to support the institution and its educational initiatives.
WW: How did you want to translate the painting onto the bag?
MZ: It was important to us to respect the work and at the same time acknowledge the challenges of translating a two-dimensional artwork to a 3D object. Kerry’s recent abstract “Blot” paintings (first displayed at the 2015 Venice Biennale) lend themselves to beautiful swaths of vibrant colors that mirror each other. In our design process, we realized we could do something similar by wrapping the image around the tote and creating a mirrored image along the side seams. Visually, it is stunning.
WW: Collaborating with artists has been a part of MZ Wallace since working with Marcel Dzama on a jewelry collection in 2005. What initially interested you in collaborating with artists?
MZ: Working with artists brings a fresh perspective to the design process and offers them an opportunity to adapt their visual language in a new way. It is exciting to see how supportive and engaged they are with our MZW Gives Back program and for that we are so grateful.
WW: What about working with artists fits into the ethos and mission of MZ Wallace?
MZ: Collaboration has become an important part of our company philosophy and the process of working with artists is inspiring. Artists bring a fresh perspective to the design process and it is interesting to see how they approach a project.
WW: Why did you want those collaborations to also give back, to work directly with specific charities?
LUCY WALLACE EUSTICE: It is important to us to use our company as a vehicle to give back. Being a privately held company, we can decide and are able to give 100% of the proceeds as opposed to a percentage of sales. That is something Monica and I are proud of.
WW: Monica, you’ve said that one of the great privileges of owning your own company is being able to decide who you want to help and how. Can you tell us about your recent push of camo bags with proceeds going to victims of Hurricane Harvey and how you were able to act quickly to put that together?
MZ: There was no question that we wanted to do something to support hurricane relief efforts last month. In a matter of hours we were able to decide how we wanted to give back (all proceeds from the sales of our best-selling Camo Oxford collection). We raised over $50,000 in just one month. It is very rewarding to be able to act quickly and help those in need.
WW: Your collaborations with artists and organizations also don’t follow a strict timeline. How do you know when the time is right to work on something?
LWE: These collaborations work best when the timing is right and all involved are motivated and inspired by the chosen charity. A special milestone, like the MCA Chicago’s 50th anniversary, made sense not to mention Kerry’s connection to Chicago and the museum. Monica and I wanted to support Madeleine Grynsztejn, MCA Chicago Pritzker Director and one of a handful of women running a major American cultural institution. She is an inspiration and we were thrilled to be able to support her and her work at the MCA Chicago.
WW: What have been some of your favorite customer reactions to the special projects with artists like Glenn Ligon, Marcel Dzama, etc.?
LWE: In addition to raising money, these collaborations are an opportunity to show our customers what we respond to aesthetically and emotionally. For the collaboration with Marcel Dzama, our customers loved seeing his 2-D art brought to life with articulated and bejeweled figures. With Glenn Ligon, it was the excitement of gaining access to a work of art by an influential contemporary artist and literally being able to take it home.
WW: This fall, in addition to fashion week and the KJM bag being previewed in Chicago, it’s been opening season for gallery exhibitions in New York. Have you been able to get out and see any new shows that struck you?
MZ: One of my favorite shows this fall is Ruth Asawa at David Zwirner. Her woven sculptures are breathtakingly beautiful. I also love Louise Bourgeois’ work and her show at the Museum of Modern Art is a must-see. Having just returned from London, I was thrilled to have had the opportunity to see “Jasper Johns: Something Resembling Truth,” brilliantly curated by Edith Devaney, at the Royal Academy of Arts.