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Written by Helen Hill, BT Contributor   
January 2020

Design Miami/ results are in

WDesign_1hen Art Basel first arrived in Miami 18 years ago, early December was still the dozy off-season blessed with high temperatures and low airfares. Since then, Art Basel Miami Beach has evolved into one of the world’s most important art destinations, and its sister show, Design Miami/ (which joined the party on a small scale in 2005), is recognized as an essential (leading) event for collectible design.

In 2019 the entrance to Design Miami/’s vast tent was reoriented to face Art Basel’s home in the Miami Convention Center. The fairs partly share the same parent company, the Swiss-based MCH Group, and coordinate dates and location.

Art Basel is bigger and buzzier, while Design Miami/ manages to be both sedate and avant-garde without fruity, headline-grabbing artistic displays.

A total of 33 galleries, 15 Curios (small “cabinets of curiosity”), and numerous collaborations and satellites, made up the core of the fair. Savannah College of Art and Design, an official university partner of Design Miami/, reinvented the former “Talks” program with 18 events in a new Design Forum. A best-of-show award replaced the previous Design Visionary award.

Design_2Jennifer Roberts, CEO of Design Miami/, reports that the 2019 fair (which ran from the December 3 preview through December 8) saw more international groups than previous fairs, with new galleries from Tokyo, Seoul, Melbourne, and Tbilisi. “The profile and volume of collectors and institutions, as well as students and visiting members of the public, made the fair one of the most rewarding for all involved,” she says.

Exhibitors and design aficionados I spoke to at Design Miami/ could not pinpoint any downsides. With a record attendance of 42,000, many notable attendees, and innovative installations and programs, the general takeaway was it was as good as it gets.

This year a number of Miami exhibitors added to the global mix. Tile Blush Gallery showed a domestic living space envisaged for 2025 with minimal furniture by seven artists. They sold several pieces, including an edgy powder-coated aluminum table by Miami’s Jonathan Gonzalez.

Mindy Solomon Gallery’s presentation spotlighted the art of diasporic cultures with four artists, including Basil Kincaid’s sculptural textiles inspired by the quilting traditions of black Americans and West Africans.

Luis Pons Design Lab presented his Tangara Collection of multiple cabinet groupings assembled from interlocking wood or composite panels.

Design_3Miami designer Emmett Moore’s shelf at AGO Projects sold to a Chicago collection for $20,000; and the complete collection of Daniel Arsham, a Miami native, on display at Friedman Benda, sold out soon after the fair opened. Arsham had constructed a green cube of a home and adorned it with furniture pieces inspired by his circa 1969 home on Long Island.

Karla Dascal’s Sacred Space, in collaboration with Delta Air Lines, had an intriguing presence with “ROOTS.” Its central pavilion of aluminum branches wrapped with custom-made ropes that evoked mangrove roots, provided a space for transformative ceremonies during the fair. According to the curator Ximena Caminos, “We explore the relationship between art, spirituality, and territory…to inspire people and spark change.”

The unexpected is expected from the Miami Design District, and its Design Miami/ display of “Pink Beasts” -- oversized hairy sloths created from thousands of long, pink sisal tassels hung from trees -- was conceived by Fernando Laposse, a London-based Mexican designer who worked with a community of Yucatecan weavers to handcraft the beasts. They colored the fibers with a traditional method using a natural red dye derived from cochineal insects.

A more esoteric display celebrated traditional Japanese handcrafted artwork. The specialist Erik Thomsen Gallery in New York was invited to Design Miami/ to broaden the fair’s range, and sold seven historic handwoven baskets ranging in price from $3000 to $55,000.

Design_4After greeting John Keith Russell, the South Salem, New York, expert on Shaker furniture, I ask if he’s found more of the original Shaker stoves requested by buyers last year. He replies that he brought two stoves that sold immediately. “There’s nothing like them for simplicity and heating efficiency,” he says. During the fair, he sold several authentic Shaker pieces to collections.

Mercado Modern, an interior design gallery in Rio de Janeiro, was back at Design Miami/ for the fourth time. Mírian Badaró describes their specialty -- mid-century Brazilian furnishings crafted from fine native woods -- as “unpretentious, elegant and sexy.” She explains that a felted wool rug resembling giant steppingstones was entirely handmade by Brazilian artist Inês Schert, who dyed and felted the wool from her own sheep. (The rug was purchased by a New York architect on the first day.)

Galerie Scène Ouverte came to Design Miami for the first time after a small presence at the Basel fair. “It was our dream to come to the fair ever since we opened our gallery in Paris,” says owner Laurence Bonnell. “You meet the best collectors for limited and unique editions here.” The gallery, which represents young and established artists, showed ceramic sculptural pieces coated in a glaze developed to look like coral. “There’s a lot of positive energy, artists put their soul into each work, pushing the boundaries of the medium,” she says.

Todd Merrill Studio, New York, has long focused on rule-breaking artists pushing boundaries. According to gallery owner Todd Merrill, “It’s part of an aesthetic acceptance of imperfection where unique, handmade designs have succeeded in gaining attention -- whether it be shock, awe, or admiration.” Designer Brecht Wright Gander’s collection of lamps reflects his talent for using unconventional materials in ways which cause them to spark, become molten, desiccate, oxidize, exhale, and twist. His oversized Pretty in Pink lamp is illuminated by hidden LEDs that are both reflected and absorbed in the domed metallic interior. “There are not a lot of large three-legged pink lamps running around,” adds Merrill.

One way to promote “environmentally conscious design” is to take a transparent covering and stuff it with old designer clothing. Architect and designer Harry Nuriev of Crosby Studios converted this concept into the Balenciaga couch, a functional piece of art with a dazzling array of colors, patterns and textures. Certainly, an eye-catching, thought-provoking object.

Aric Chen marked his first year as curatorial director of Design Miami/ with the curatorial theme of Elements. Water was the focus at the Miami fair, following on from “Earth” at Design Miami/Basel. “Design has always responded to the urgencies of its time,” says Chen. “Needless to say, the state of the planet is one of the most pressing issues of our day. It’s only natural that environmental questions would find their way to Design Miami.”

In a sparkling booth decorated with chandeliers of crystal blossoms, Swarovski Atelier showed off the “Water Message” installation by Dutch designer Tord Boontje. The company’s Waterschool ensures access to clean water and provides educational programs on sustainable use of water, proper sanitation and hygiene in schools around the globe.

Design Miami/ week featured the latest and best objects and information in collectible design. Asked what especially pleased him, Chen says that there were so many highlights. “On the historical front, it was exciting that Moderne Gallery showcased rare works by the quintessential Jazz Age designer Paul Frankl, including the Speed Lounge chairs and coffee table that he made for the living room of his own New York City apartment in 1933.”

CEO Jen Roberts adds the final word on Design Miami/ 2019: “We are thrilled with the results.”

 

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