September 1st, 2006
But is it Art?
The world’s smartest galleries can’t get enough of it, auctioneers are asking huge sums for it, and at this year’s Art Basel it got its very own show — design is certainly the new collectible,and perhaps much more.
But it’s art,’ shouted the tanned, well-dressed American gentleman. And then he shouted it again. He was a charmless sort, confident we all needed to hear his opinion, but he had a point. He was directing his argument at a large, stainless-steel, low-lying hammock. Behind it was what looked like a domestic-scaled Richard Serra sculpture. And nearby was an odd, swollen bronze cradle and a tall, carved piece of wood that served no clear purpose, but which looked very lovely nonetheless. It was an extraordinary room set. But was it all art?
If this wasn’t art, then what were such things doing here, looking like they did, presented as they were, in Basel during Art Basel, the world’s biggest art show?
The strange metal chaise longue item, known as ‘Sailaway’ and designed by Forrest Myers in 1990, the cradle, designed by Philippe Hiquily in 1986, and the tall carving, by François Stahly, had all been hauled from New York by Hugues and April Magen, a handsome couple, of the Magen H Gallery in the East Village. The Magen H Gallery is a design gallery, just one of the 17 invited to be a part of the show called Design Miami/Basel. So that’s design, not art.
Hugues Magen is the first to admit that terms everyone thought they understood are suddenly in dispute. ‘There is this conversation about art and design meeting — form, function, art, design; all those ideas are up for grabs at the moment.’ (And you can’t really apply the ‘decorative art’ tag either.
You would not really call much on display in Basel ‘decorative’; it is much more and much less than that.) Design Miami/Basel is an offshoot of Design Miami, a show launched at last winter’s Art Basel Miami Beach (itself an offshoot of Art Basel). It was created to allow the world’s leading design galleries, mostly from New York and Paris, to meet, greet and accept cheques from the rich vein of contemporary art collectors who are learning to love design both as object and investment. Take, for example, the twin powers of the luxury goods world, François Pinault of PPR and Bernard Arnault of LVMH, serious art collectors who have both invested heavily in 20th-century design recently. They are not the only ones. At the inaugural Design Miami, the Magens sold at 1962 Pierre Székely screen to fashion designer Donna Karan for around $350,000.
Design Miami/Basel is directed by Ambra Medda, a 25-year-old curator, and backed by her partner, the Miami property developer and design enthusiast Craig Robins (the man behind the development of the city’s Design District). Medda, one of those super-bright young beauties who ends up doing things like this, says the show answers a growing demand from collectors and galleries. ‘Everyone was waiting for this kind of thing. And they definitely wanted something attached to a major art fair.’
Sam Keller, the now-outgoing director of Art Basel, was also keen that a version of Design Miami come to Basel. And quickly. He obviously thought it was just the kind of sideshow that would help pull in visitors to the art fair, though it’s clear that a number of the galleries in attendance are starting to feel they deserve to be thought of as much more than a mere sideshow.