The 11th edition of Design Miami/ Basel opened on Monday. Perhaps in response to a softening of the market and reflective of fairs at large, the design fair has seen an increase in the quality of works exhibited—galleries are taking fewer risks and bringing historic pieces with rich stories behind their creation—and prices to match. Nonetheless, contemporary design continues to push the boundaries of the discipline at the fair this year. Below, we highlight standout pieces from both ends of the spectrum.
Grossman’s three-legged Grasshopper floor lamp is one of the most celebrated objects from the late Swedish designer’s prolific 40-year career. Designed in Los Angeles in 1947, the piece was handmade by a small company out of a machine shop in Burbank, California—and was initially available for around $19 a pop. In 1952, Grossman returned to Sweden, where a collaboration with Malmö-based company Bergboms resulted in a new iteration of her signature lamp. There, the Grasshopper took on new colors (rich oranges, lipstick reds, deep blues) and different functionality (instead of swiveling side to side, the shade flipped up like a Lamborghini). “It’s her most iconic work,” said R & Company founder Evan Snyderman, who is selling one of the Malmö-produced lamps at Design Miami/ Basel for $24,000. “But it’s one of the rarest colors—in 15 years I’ve never seen this shade of orange, and with the original paint.”
Belgian gallerist Marc Heiremans has been dealing in glassworks since 1986, so it was no surprise to find his booth filled with vases by master Muranese glass maker Seguso. It was unexpected, though, to discover this rare 1952 vase—one that holds one of late designer’s best-kept secrets. According to Heiremans, Seguso’s assistants were trained to produce most works; however, the technique used for this particular vase—made by painstakingly fusing broken pieces of glass—was never shared. “The process was not known up until now,” said the dealer. “They couldn’t figure out how he made it; everyone thought it was blown.” The answer finally came when Heiremans himself asked Seguso’s son. “He was no longer living,” he said of the designer, who died in 1999 at the age of 90. “Or else he wouldn’t have told me.” This piece, sold during the fair’s collector preview for around €50,000, is one of an edition of five. Shown in 1952 at the Venice Art Biennale, Heiremans says, it “represents the height of the quality of his work.”
Joris Laarman, Butterfly Screen, 2016. Photo courtesy of Friedman Benda.
Dutch designer Laarman is known for pushing emerging technologies forward, particularly through his use of a multiple-axis, 3D-printing tool invented in 2014. At the fair, a solo booth by Joris Laarman Lab (a collaboration with his partner Anita Star) signals the duo’s future in digital fabrication. This is particularly evident in Butterfly Screen (2016), a bronze screen 3D-printed by a robot. “In 2014, we placed a welding machine on a robot arm; this was only the beginning, and the work was only two centimeters tall,” said Star of the screen’s origins. The new piece, realized for the fair, is two meters high—it also doubles as a step towards a bridge the pair plans to “print” over a canal in Amsterdam’s city center in September. “3D printing still exists on a small scale, and we wanted to explore its future possibilities,” explained Star. “Butterfly is practice for the bridge; we need to print a lot in order to print the bridge on such a large scale.”
“After Jean Prouvé left Ateliers Jean Prouvé in 1953, all of his buildings were destroyed except for this one,” said dealer Patrick Seguin of Maxeville Design Office. “We couldn’t believe that it could still be there, abandoned and hidden under a structure of blue aluminum siding from around 1980 to 2015.” This year, thanks to the help of archival documents and a team of architects and engineers, the house sits at Design Miami/ Basel in its original form, on offer for €3.2 million. “It used to be Prouvé’s office, therefore it is a very significant piece,” added Seguin, caretaker of the world’s most significant collection of Prouvé’s prefabricated homes (at 22 and counting). Although the house was designed in 1948 as a prototype for prefab housing following World War II, it never saw success and instead became the workplace of the storied French architect-designer in 1952.
Indian architect and designer Bijoy Jain, founder of Studio Mumbai, is inspired by traditional Indian craft. While past works have been made with wood, he more recently tapped into a new medium: bricks. “In his country, a lot of people have to build their own houses, and bricks are available to anyone,” said the gallery’s co-founder Amaryllis Jacobs. “But he’s also fascinated by their beauty.” The series is based on an age-old Indian technique, which began during the Mughal period and continues today, of constructing domes and arches. Using a similar method, Jain bakes mini bricks in his studio oven, then pieces them together to form the backs of chairs and benches—like Brick Study II - Bench, on offer at the fair for €17,500 (in an edition of 8). Made from rosewood and marble and backed with an intricate lattice of bricks, the piece took five days and three people to assemble. “People are concerned that it’s fragile,” Jacobs laughs. “They build houses with bricks.”
An American design aficionado would spot this historic chair by Charles and Ray Eames right away. Produced by Eames studio in Venice, California, in 1945 (before it began being produced by Herman Miller in the ’50s), the chair is one of hundreds made but only dozens surviving, according to gallerist Patrick Parrish—most of which are housed in museum collections, MoMA and Vitra Design Museum among them. “They called it the potato chip chair,” joked Parrish of the minimal piece, at the time considered avant-garde but now a staple of the American design vernacular. “It was meant to be low-cost and was meant for the masses, but the people who embraced it were artists and academics and tastemakers. Middle America embraced it later.” Made from sculpted wood, its seat is painstakingly ergonomic—and startlingly void of cushions.
This modular, smoked plexiglass bookshelf by late French designer Paulin evokes the French modernism of its time. In 1970, France’s President Georges Pompidou and his wife commissioned Paulin to design the interior architecture of their private apartment in the Palais de l’Élysée, with the stipulation that the renovations must be reversible. Following this order, Paulin covered the walls and ceilings with stretch jersey and created an extraordinary, exhibition-quality interior that marked a turning point in his career. The commission included bespoke design pieces, among them a bookshelf for their smoking room. A matching shelf (though slightly smaller) is part of the designer’s solo booth with Demisch Danant and is the only other version made. “What makes it special is there was only one, as far as we know, that was produced,” said Suzanne Demisch. “We discovered it recently; it uses his more personal and confidential signature so we can only surmise that he made another at the same time.”