Design Miami/Basel 2012
It is still mostly about vintage and limited editions, but Design Miami/Basel is really tapping into the tidal change hitting design with heated on-stage discussions and some impressive attempts to celebrate and communicate the ideas of young designers more focussed on research and experimentation.
For seven years Design Miami/Basel has existed predominantly as a collector’s trade fair. It is the haute couture of design weeks where the world’s top contemporary design galleries converge to present collections to a discerning crowd of connoisseurs and investors with deep and perfectly cut pockets.
For the 2012 incarnation, director Marianne Goebl - now in her second year – has done a great job extending the fair’s tentacles to better reflect the realities of the design industry. There is still ample space for French vintage and limited editions by top names. Even the circular debate over the invisible boundaries between art and design is yet to run out of puff.
But to stay relevant, the fair - now dubbed a “forum” - has needed to better embrace young experimental designers who are doing cutting edge work with materials and concepts. This year there was a great line up of design talks, the W Hotels Designers for the Future Award, and the BE OPEN prize to honor recent achievements in design education.
There was even an unofficial satellite event - Depot Basel – housed in a stunning industrial space alongside the railway tracks. There, an impressive line-up of talks and exhibitions featured a lot of the best young Dutch design talent.
This mix on the main stage, however, between vintage and contemporary made for an interesting atmosphere. Downstairs established galleries sold objects priced in the six-digit range while upstairs innovative companies like Fendi and Swarovski offered non-commercial collaborations via “performances” to communicate ideas.
But not everybody thought the mix worked.
“Marianne is really working to change things,” said Jurgen Bey who was in Basel because the Sandberg Institute was nominated (and went on to win) the BE OPEN award. “But I still think the fair is too vintage driven,” he says.
The boys from Formafantasma agreed. “I’d also like to see more contemporary and cutting-edge work,” Andrea Trimarchi said. “Maybe they could use a rule to stipulate what percentage of work has to be new … but it is also important to think about it from a collectables perspective. Contemporary is still a small market and we need to be patient.”
They also noticed that the crowd this year compared to last year when London’s Gallery Libby Sellers represented them has changed. “Everybody is so much more interested this year,” Simone Farresin said. “They are really asking questions and seem more engaged.”
Miriam van Dijk-Trebel, owner of Holland’s Priveekollektie gallery is less bothered that vintage dominates the floor. “Of course it is good to aim for great contemporary work, but we should never forget heritage,” she says. “Perhaps you could say that the committee should be really working to get the balance right, but of course it is also the fact that vintage sells.”
Formafantasma were situated upstairs in a sort of non-commercial performance commissioned by Fendi. “Fendi is the one fashion company that is truly investing in design,” Farresin says. “They like designers who have a more craft approach and that is us.”
The Fendi project – a series of exquisite objects crafted from leather off-cuts and animal products – is receiving more publicity and praise than anything else at Design Miami/Basel. “We were toying with the idea of exotic because even though the objects look like they came out of an anthropological museum, they are all really normal, every day materials connected to the food industry,” Farresin says.
Formafantasma has even received hate mail via their website for this project. “From vegans and so forth,” Farresin says. “I think they think these are rarefied animal parts not every day fish that people eat nightly for tea. One person suggested we use our own skin next time.”
The project was presented as a “design performance” – the new buzzword in design. This seems like the best possible response thus far to the difficult quandary of how to exhibit design that is more about research and experimenting with process than showcasing actual products. The Vitra Museum was also abuzz with design performances throughout the week.
Downstairs at the main forum some fantastic examples of classic Dutch design were on display. Studio Job’s upside down Taj Mahal for 36 000 euros was a hit at the Carpenters Workshop Gallery. Ted Noten was in the Ornamentum Gallery with a series of shocking and hilarious pieces that had everyone talking.
“No one in the field of contemporary jewelry has pushed the medium so far past its’ definition and into the realms of the fine arts,” says Stefan Friedmann from the gallery.
Noten’s new work in the “Seven Necessities for a Woman (Through the Eyes of a Man)” series was here - a handbag made with 3-D printing technology containing all of the needs for today’s woman to ‘be her own man’ (,000 USD excl. tax). There was also a robotic arm presenting a golden- gun ring with a diamond, and “Ratasmile” – a shockingly stunning trolley-case carrying a dead city rat with a diamond stuck in its mouth (,500 USD excl. tax/vat).
“My clients like Noten’s mix of visual humour and strength,” Friedmann says, “but there is also a certain romantic element mixed in.”
Ornamentum was also presenting Philip Sajet, another contemporary Dutch jewelry designer. “He has a great combination of beauty and roughness,” Friedmann says. “There is a perfect sense of composition and scale. I also like the sexual undertones and the slightly dark atmosphere of it all.”
Van Dijk-Trebel from Priveekollectie thinks the mood at the fair has been great and that she senses a renewed interest after a difficult transition for Dutch design. “I sense that it is coming back into favour again,” she says. “The perception went a bit off track, but it depends on the approach of the gallery. I have always chosen not to represent big stars or trends preferring to look for what is credible and what will stand the test of time.”
She speaks favourably of De Intuïtiefabriek, but also the modesty in some of the other designers she represents like Aldo Bakker and Reinier Bosch. Richard Hutten’s rugs are also a favourite.
“I always look at the character of the designers,” she admits of her selection process. “I don’t tend to go for things that are political or full of statements.”
Brussels gallery Caroline van Hokek presented Ralph Baker, Willemijn de Greef, Ruudy Peters and Robert Smit. De Greef’s massive installations reference her more wearable pieces in rope, ceramic and glass. They were made with the Leerdam Glass Museum and next she will team up with the European Center for Ceramics in the Netherlands.
Notable absences from the event were galleries Vivid, Moss, and Droog as well as famed limited edition designers like Maarten Baas.
Irving van Dijk from Priveekollektie put it best. “Dutch design got so big because it was supported,” he says. “Now the funding is basically zero and look what has happened. Where is everyone? These young designers have to fight for their position which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.”
Design Miami/Basel runs through till 17 June 2012
Images: small from top: Studio Formafantasma, Miriam and Irving van Dijk, Formafantasma for Fendi, Studio Job's Taj Mahal, two pieves by Ted Noten, Philip Sajet, De Intuïtiefabriek, Aldo Bakker, De Intuïtiefabriek, Reinier Bosch and installation by Willemijn de Greef.
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