December 3rd, 2009
Wall Street Journal
Wall to Wall: Art Basel Miami
by Alastair Gordon
Miami is a bubble, a construct for voyeurs. Despite the recession, new buildings still shoot up like bright lollipops along the beaches and bays. The sea-flecked light is voluptuous and for at least one week of the year–the first week of December–the entire city feels like a pop-up city, a pop-up mirage. Everything glistens with promise. Temporary event structures appear in vacant lots. Temporary stores appear overnight in empty storefronts. Art, design and commerce merge with seamless continuity in the showrooms and exhibition booths of Art Basel Miami, Design Miami, Scope, Pulse, Nada, and hundreds of other satellite events, banners, loud music, celebrity moments in an endless party atmosphere.
Monday started with the opening of temporary and sort-of-temporary outlets around the Design District. Craig Robbins and his company Dacra have transformed this once neglected area of warehouses and railroad yards into one of the hottest design centers in the country by matching commercial enterprise with high design. Gucci opens a store today in the Design District today (which will remain open through Christmas) but avoids using the term "pop-up" and calls it, instead, the "ICON-TEMPORARY" featuring the unveiling of the exclusive Miami Gucci Ronson sneaker.
Martin Margiela has set up his temporary outpost on the ground floor of the F Factory in the historic Moore Building. Margiela follows the trend of re-purposing waste into hand crafted one-off fashion. An asymmetric body-hugging dress is embellished with oversized sequins made from old LP's; an armor-like mesh top is crafted from hundreds of cheap flea market rings; a party dress is made from old canvas oil paintings.
Fendi has installed a work table on the site of their temporary store, across from Margiela in the F Factory, where you can watch a craftsman make a Fendi handbag from start to finish. "The theme is process this year," says Susan Ainsworth of Ainsworth Associates. London-based designer, Duncan Quinn, has the dirty dandy look down in a "to-Hell-with-political-correctness" attitude and has created a collection of cool guy stuff–think Michael Caine in "The Ipcress File"–that runs from bespoke tailoring to ready-to-wear, shirts, cufflinks, ties, socks to dare-devil helmets. The pad, in the front of the F Factory, is filled with vintage Ducati motorcycles, photos of Sean Connery as James Bond and racing greats like James Hunt, Jackie Stuart, Jacky X. A peach of a 1960s Maserrati sits in the front window.
Orchids sprout lushly from the corral facade of Christian Louboutin's surreal new store on 40th Street. Workmen are still finishing up, securing the shoe-shaped canopy out front. The walls are one-way mirrors so people can look in and see women trying on the high-priced shoes. "It's like the Peeping Tom," says Louboutin leaning back on a multi-striped divan, laughing. (He arrived late last night from Mexico to oversee the final touches.) Ultra high-heeled shoes are placed
in transparent niches like so many holy relics.
Blue, blown-glass chandeliers hang from the ceilings. The entry wall is made from intricate wood tiles inscribed with hieroglyphic symbols and braille alphabet. Pantyhose have been recycled by Dutch artist Madeleine Berkhemer into a multi-colored sculpture that stretches across the ceiling with some of Louboutin's signature shoes dangling in the overhead tangle of nylon like insects trapped in a psychedelic spider's web. "We were trying to capture the very moment of a woman falling in love with Christian's shoes," says designer Eric Clough of 212box Architecture who's designed several of Louboutin's other stores. But how has the global recession affected luxury brand shoe business? "You still need to walk," says Louboutin who explains how his clients continue to crave his product. (He maintains twenty exclusive stores around the world, including several in the Middle East.) "It's not my job to hammer the nail."
Audi unveiled their sleek new A8 on Monday night in a giant black box erected temporarily on a sandlot near the Eden Roc Hotel. (The structure features ornamental bands stretching around its exterior, something an oversized Venetian screen. It will all be disassembled next week but Audi has promised to build a children's playground on the site.) The event was MC'd by Lucy Liu, who was somewhat tongue tied when it came to interviewing Design Miami's Craig Robins and Brit designer Tom Dixon about the philosophic virtues of art, design and Audi cars. After a lengthy pep talk by Audi's CEO, Rupert Stadler, the A8 was unveiled and it looked very shiny with LED headlights but not unlike many other cars, then curtains parted to reveal a cavernous hall with drink bars and a collection of contemporary art culled from the Rubell Family Collection. Dixon created a special-to-Audi installation with silver balloons and shiny geodesic hanging above bright red tables and benches. Posses of white-clad young women were standing around looking pretty but not doing much. Five of them were standing behind a counter near the valet parking lot and when asked what they were doing, one smiled and replied: "Making sure that you leave the party safely."
Alastair Gordon will continue to cover Design Miami all week. Check back for daily updates from Miami.