Light sculpture Belle de Nuit by Oceane Delain / YMER&MALTA

Akari Unfolded: A Collection by YMER&MALTA

February 28, 2018 – April 14, 2019

Akari Unfolded: A Collection by YMER&MALTA presents a selection of 26 lamps created by the leading French design studio in collaboration with six designers.

Over the last nine years, YMER&MALTA founder Valérie Maltaverne has breathed extraordinary life into what the French call savoir faire (“know how”) a shorthand for France’s centuries-old luxury craft industries. The key has been her ability to marry her love and respect for those industries with her creative desire to see them evolve: not merely by trying to keep up with contemporary tastes but through the incorporation of new technologies and concepts into their core traditions.

Maltaverne’s collaborative methodology comes out of her experience, in a previous career, as a film producer. YMER&MALTA employs multiple designers (emerging and established) and artisans (traditional and cutting edge), with whom Maltaverne collaborates in the role of auteur. Everything that YMER&MALTA produces is an expression of her sensibilities and her determination to synthesize the old and the new by innovating from within the traditional crafts with which she engages.

Noguchi conceptualized his own anti-nostalgic engagement with craft cultures as the true development of old traditions. Akari, his most complete and important expansion of the envelope of sculpture—and the apotheosis of his efforts to give the past a new future—was, like Maltaverne’s work in savoir faire, on the scale of industry. The principal innovation in Akari was the introduction of an electric bulb to a traditionally candle-powered paper lantern, which produced modern lamps with the timeless life-force of natural light.

For nearly two decades (1956–74) the most sensitive, daring, and sympathetic Akari retailer in the world was Steph Simon Gallery in Paris, best-known for introducing and championing the designs of Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand. Thanks to Simon, Akari have had an especially strong impact on design in France. Maltaverne herself bought Akari there and has lived with and been motivated by them for many years. The present project, YMER&MALTA’s first to reach outside French craft, came out of a 2016 visit to The Noguchi Museum during which Maltaverne decided to apply her model to Akari. The challenge was to see whether she might—treating Akari as the tradition—extend its fundamental alchemies, what Noguchi called the intrinsic qualities of craft whose products cannot be successfully falsified (as the many Akari knockoffs demonstrate), into the future.

Ultimately, YMER&MALTA’s original, modest plan to produce six designs on Akari principles developed into a massively complex international collaboration with six designers, and artisans in more than 20 different disciplines. Overcoming many technical hurdles, they pushed linen, metal, resin, Plexiglas, concrete, and paper in new directions and produced 26 light fixtures—which now join the radiant, ever-expanding legacy of Noguchi’s Akari.


Founded by Valérie Maltaverne in 2009, YMER&MALTA occupies the crossroads of design, art, and craft, creating timeless contemporary pieces by marrying traditional materials and techniques with new technologies. Thematic collections have been developed around glass, wood marquetry, marble, leather, resin, and tapestry. YMER&MALTA pieces are in major collections, including that of the prestigious Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Centre Pompidou, both in Paris. The studio is currently finalizing a collection for the Cité Internationale de la Tapisserie D’Aubusson (a center for traditional Aubusson tapestry that includes a museum) composed of eight works that drew on the 600-year-old tapestry tradition of Aubuson.

About the Designers

British industrial designer Sebastian Bergne is known for transforming everyday objects into extraordinary pieces through his thoughtful approach to design. Since founding his studio in 1990, he has designed and supplied bespoke objects for restaurants, retailers, and individuals, while also creating editioned works of his own. He has received numerous international design awards, including Red Dot, Design Plus, and International Forum product design awards, and his work is in museum collections including those of The Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Design Museum in London.

For over a decade, American industrial designer Stephen Burks has dedicated his work to uniting authentic craft traditions, industrial manufacturing, and contemporary design. His New York-based studio has produced products, furniture, lighting, and exhibitions for a range of international clients, including B&B Italia, Harry Winston, Missoni, Roche Bobois, and Swarovski. He has exhibited worldwide, including at the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Museum of Arts and Design, both in New York, and has worked as a product development consultant with nonprofits ranging from Aid to Artisans, to the Clinton Global Initiative and the Nature Conservancy. Burks is the 2015 National Design Award winner in product design.

Originally from Bayeaux, France, Océane Delain lives and works in Paris as a designer principally for TechShop, a firm specializing in digital fabrication. Since 2010, she has designed products for numerous companies, including Ikea, Air Serenity, Roche Bobois, and Who’s Next. She graduated from École Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle, where she studied how people co-exist and interact with objects. This focus led to the initial concept for the Mellow sofa, now produced by Bernhardt. This and other of her designs have received awards and recognition in design competitions and fairs, and have been published in newspapers including The New York Times, Le Monde, and The Telegraph.

Benjamin Graindorge is a graduate of École Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle. He has exhibited at the Design Parade Festival, where he received the Cinna and Audi Talents Awards, and has completed a residency at the Villa Kujoyama, in Kyoto. He has worked with companies such as Ligne Roset, Artuce, and the publishing house Moustache.

Founded in 2002, design firm nendo is based in Tokyo and Milan. Founded by designer Oki Sato, nendo has worked on projects including lighting and product designs for Flos, Louis Vuitton, Sèvres, TAG Heuer, Cappellini, Kartell, Tod’s; interior designs for Issey Miyake, Puma, and KENZO Parfums; and installations at Milan Design Week, the Sogetsu Foundation, and Maison & Objet.

Sylvain Rieu-Piquet is a French artist, designer, and art historian. A master of traditional techniques, Rieu-Piquet does not hesitate to experiment with new technologies in order to grasp an idea or inspiration, and to translate it into something new without distorting its original force. A graduate of École Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle and É cole Normale Supérieure de Cachan, he was invited by YMER&MALTA to take part in the exhibitions A Fleur de Peau (2012), dedicated to leather, and Feu de Tout Bois (2014), dedicated to marquetry.

Major support for ‘Akari Unfolded: A Collection by YMER&MALTA’ is provided by Van Cleef & Arpels and FACE (French American Cultural Exchange) Foundation through Oui Design, a program initiated by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the US and FACE, supported by Institut Français-Paris, the French Ministry of Culture, the Florence Gould Foundation, and Van Cleef & Arpels. Additional funding has been provided by Fondation Chanel. The exhibition is also supported, in part, with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council and from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.