Tightening Supply in French Mid-Century Pushes Design Miami/ Basel Dealers into New Territory
The market remains as hungry as ever for major French mid-century pieces. The only problem? There are fewer and fewer significant commissions left in circulation. As collectors make the design-fair circuit and continually come across versions of the same tables and chairs, some of the iconic magic begins to slip away, replaced by a hunger for fresh material, whether mid-century or otherwise. So, how are the 45 dealers at the 10th-anniversary edition of Design Miami/ Basel addressing the issue? We perused the highlights as the fair opened to VIPs on Monday to find out.
Architecture, meet design.
Architect-designed furniture has been a feature of Design Miami/ for some time, but this year more than ever, pure architecture has been folded into the fair’s offerings. Hotelier and real-estate magnate André Balazs curated a selection of seven houses designed by the likes of Shigeru Ban, Jean Prouvé, and Atelier Van Lieshout for the Design at Large section, located for the first time on the ground floor of Hall 1. Upstairs, Patrick Seguin enlisted Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners to update a 1944 Prouvé Demountable House with added bathroom and kitchen pods. Seguin and his wife will soon move into the resulting home, which sits at the center of the dealer’s booth. Though other examples are rumored to be on offer.
A handful of galleries have also picked up on the trend in the scenography of their presentations, among them Demisch Danant, Galerie Jacques Lacoste, and LAFFANOUR—Galerie Downtown—which particularly stands out among those incorporating architecture into their designs. Owner François Laffanour has erected a sort of entryway at the front of the booth, allowing fairgoers to pass into a domestic setting, which is half centered on the work of Isamu Noguchi and half on Prouvé and Perriand. The mix inside this Zen interior is particularly refreshing—and will hopefully inspire diversity among collectors’ acquisitions—given the many dealers throughout the fair that stick to one particular specialty or region. It’s the second time this year that the dealer has had a fair-topping booth, the first being his survey of Shaker furniture at TEFAF in the spring.
Size matters and smalls are in.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from those acquiring houses (though there will certainly be some overlap) are the many galleries at Design Miami/ Basel focused on so-called smalls: design objects and petite furnishings definitely priced at under $20,000, and which can be found at the fair for as little as $500. R & Company has been employing the tactic for some time and at this edition has mounted a wall of such pieces by contemporary stars like Los Angeles-based duo the Haas Brothers and emerging glass artist Thaddeus Wolfe.
It’s Patrick Parrish who truly knocked it out of the park in this category. The dealer has dedicated his entire booth to smalls by 1950s Bauhaus-educated designer Carl Auböck. Many substantial pieces like a brass watering can, a brass-and-leather magazine rack, or a brass-and-wicker candlestick can be had for under $5,000, and a not-insignificant number of more object-oriented pieces are priced under $1,000. Save some time for this booth—even Philippe Ségalot could be seen lingering for a good 20 minutes in the fair’s opening hour.
Part of the magic behind the smalls strategy rests in art collectors’ continued conservative tendencies in their design purchases. Many reportedly still view these acquisitions as functional, decorative pieces rather than as on par with artworks of equally notable provenance and repute that they might buy at Art Basel and then send directly to storage in a freeport.
Artist collaborations abound.
Another way to change that? Bring some artists into the mix. In response to a softening economy several years ago, Design Miami/ began to expand its offerings to jewelry. Rather than the high-carat rocks flogged on the same square each spring at Baselworld, however, this fair focuses on contemporary jewelry design and also has an impressive selection of dealers who collaborate with contemporary artists on pieces. Can’t afford the Anish Kapoor at Lisson’s booth across Messeplatz at Art Basel? Head to Louisa Guinness’s booth and peruse the artist’s series of rings and pendant necklaces—pieces by fellow Young British Artists Gavin Turk, Conrad Shawcross, and others are also primed for acquisition.
It’s not just art of the wearable category on view this year, however. Despite a mandate against artworks being hung on Design Miami/ booth walls due to the fair’s fraternity with Art Basel, a notable number of artists have collaborated in varying capacities with design galleries. Danh Vo has three pieces that toe the line between art and design on offer at Copenhagen and Berlin’s Gallery Feldt: two sculptures and a mirror etched with the famous line from The Exorcist: “It is warm in the body.” The latter is also part of Vo’s effort at the Danish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, as is Danish mid-century designer Finn Juhl’s Judas Table (1948), also on offer at the fair. Up-and-coming artist Leonor Antunes also has a set of lamps at the booth.
Perhaps the most ambitious artist collaboration on display, however, is that of Andy Coolquitt at AG Ossaye Projects’s Curio booth. Coolquitt, who also shows at Lisa Cooley, just wrapped up a residence at AG Ossaye’s space in Guatemala. Taking inspiration from a collection of vintage majolica ceramics, Coolquitt produced a series of ceramic-and-wood light fixtures and metal-and-wood furniture—a bench, shelves, and side tables, among them. The pieces were made from materials sourced from the region in collaboration with local artisans. For those looking to dip a toe into the contemporary design world, look no further.
Watch out for watches.
If jewelry brought the fair’s last audience injection, watches might bring the next. For the first time, two such dealers are featured at Design Miami/ Basel: Le Collection’Heure and Davide Parmigiani. Opinions have varied in the opening hours as to how well both have integrated themselves into the fair’s existing visual landscape. But the move marks a key area of expansion director Rodman Primack and his team can pursue to continue to expand their reach. Particularly with regard to bringing in new collectors who have yet to purchase collectible design—or perhaps even visit a design fair at all—the move is a smart one.
Timepieces remain a favorite first luxury splurge for the tech set and emerging generations of collectors alike. And the selection of mainly vintage Rolexes (including a Daytona model made famous by Paul Newman) and Pateks (one of which was Andy Warhol’s) is sure to draw in a wide range of buyers.