June 10th, 2011
Wall Street Journal
by Emma Crichton-Miller
At its inception, in 2005, Design Miami/Basel was a leap in the dark. Inspired by the booming contemporary art market, founders Craig Robins and Ambra Medda conceived the idea of creating an art fair dedicated to collectible design. This was design re-described as art work: valuable because of its rarity; focused on prototypes, experiments and one-off commissions; and entirely different to the industrialdesign economy, whose annual showcase is the Milan Furniture Fair.
It would run in tandem with the contemporary art world's most prestigious biannual selling bonanza, Art Basel, and its younger sibling, Art Basel Miami Beach, and appeal to collectors rather than consumers. NOW, six years on, as the 12th edition of the fair opens Tuesday in Basel, Design Miami/Basel has become an institution-essential viewing for anyone interested in the flourishing field of limited-edition design.
Whether you collect, admire or are simply seeking respite from the art crush next door, you may be surprised by the sheer quality and coherence of this grown-up show.
In the early days, the combination of masterpieces of 20th-century European modernist furniture alongside contemporary designers and architects was a bit of a conceptual challenge. But this has eased into familiarity, aided by the fact that the world's highest-priced design pieces in the burgeoning auction market include both Marc Newson's now famous "Lockheed Lounge" chair (1986), which sold at Phillips de Pury for £1.1 million in 2009, and Eileen Gray's "Dragons" armchair (circa 1917-1919), which sold at Christie's the same year for €21.9 million.
Meanwhile, the number and quality of galleries seeking to exhibit has continued to rise-reaching 43 in this edition-with long-established players, such as Galerie DowntownFranr; ois Laffanour, David Gill Galleries and Dansk M0belkunst, as eager to join as the most visionary, new incubators of the avant garde.
For Evan Snyderman of R 20th Century, a leading New York gallery, "Design Miami/Basel is one of the few fairs in the world committed to the level of presentation and connoisseurship our gallery strives to achieve. The parameters set forth by the fair ensure that the work exhibited be of the highest level."
Despite its close physical proximity to the art fair, Design Miami/ Basel this year takes a further step in pronouncing its own separate identity. "The fair has come to maturity. Now is the time to go into depth," says the fair's new director Marianne Goebl, who succeeded Ms. Medda in February. "Collectible design is still a very young discipline, so our mission has to be to enhance communication about it."
Ms. Goebl says the key to the fair's identity is the functional object, whether or not it transgresses conventional borders between design, architecture, art, craft and technology. "It is about our relationship in space with designed objects."
What is special about Design Miami/ Basel is the opportunity to reflect the whole history of 20th-century design, Ms. Goebl says, adding, "It is important we fill in the gaps."
Filling those gaps this year will be Parisian Galerie Doria, with a special focus on 1930s decorative arts, including rare works by the Union des Artistes Modernes, and Galerie illrich Fiedler from Berlin, a Bauhaus specialist.
As well, the solo shows of artists - whether scholarly retrospectives of design heroes like Jean Royere or displays of entire bodies of experimental work by contemporary artists such as Max Lamb, Aldo Bakker or the Campana Brothers - have always been a Rey feature.
The Design On/Site section of cutting-edge design offers, among other curious delights, Nacho Carbonell's spooky epoxy-resin light pieces on show with Gal.erie BSL, Formafantasma's conceptual textiles and ceramics at Gallery Libby Sellars, and the Mike Bouchet and Natpalie Karg/Cumulus Studios collabortion to produce a garden lounger.
In the main body of the fair, Johnson Trading Gallery from New York is bringing Max Lamb's "China Granite Project"; Galerie kreo will present Pierre Charpin's solo show, "Ignotus Nomen," a newly commissioned collection; and Mitterand+ Cramer/Design will offer a sitespecific furniture wall by Studio Makkink & Bey.
Worth a look are the winners of this year's Designers of the Future Award, selected for their innovative approach. This year's winners, announced in Milan in April, are the poetic architect/designer Asif Khan, Austrian conceptual design-duo Mischer'Traxler and Studio JuJu from Singapore, each of whom has been commissioned to create and present here a new body of work.
A flnal mark of the fair's growing confidence is this year's curatorial invention with regard to display and performance. Galerie Patrick Seguin will present live daily, the setting up and taking down of a Jean Prouve six-square-meter demountable bungalow, created in 1944 for war victims in Lorraine.
"[Basel] is the perfect place to speak about architecture," says Mr. Seguin. "Now we .know there is so much cross-over between contemporary architecture, art and design. There are no more barriers."