December 18th, 2008
Interview with Ambra Medda, co-founder and director of Design Miami/
NOMAD: When and how did you come up with the concept of Design Miami?
Ambra Medda: When Design Miami/ was born in 2005, there really wasn't anything else like it. Decorative arts was a traditional, dusty field of furniture collectors with a small pocket of people who had an interest in collecting furniture. It wasn't really something that was understood by a younger audience of either art collectors or architects. There was no meeting point for dynamic people involved in design to come together and consume design culture. I'm the daughter of a design dealer and I remember working at the stands and asking myself, where's my generation? There was no sense of the future.
So once it happened, it was like this thing in the air and everybody just went for it. Sam Keller, director of Art Basel at the time, Craig Robins, the principal of the show, Patrick Seguin, one of our dealers, and Barry Friedman were definitely at the forefront and we got together and thought this would be fantastic. This show could have happened anywhere in the world. It certainly helped that we launched it with Art Basel Miami Beach where all these people there were already many collectors and the press was already somewhat engaged with the theme. The design dealers are collectors of art, the art dealers are collectors of design, collectors of art are also collectors of design and so on and so forth. So there was already a potential for a massive overlap and we built on that. What made Design Miami/ so successful was the timing and the sense of wanting to bring together the creative community with the commercial side of the world including galleries, sponsors and the exhibitions.
You seem to put great emphasis on culture without diminishing the commercial aspect.
We do. We get the galleries to create overwhelming installations to present their pieces with the aim to help people understand how valuable they are. A lot of this furniture has been kept away for maybe 5, 10, 20 years and assembled very slowly by the dealers who are real specialists in their fields. Design Miami/ isn't a fair in which to sell out your pieces, it is a show to demonstrate how interesting both historic and contemporary design is and that there is a really strong, collectable market for design that accompanies the art world and also merges with the world of architecture. The cultural programming, which occupies most of our time, is what motivates us. It's what makes us wake up in the morning and think, yes, we are going to figure out who will participate in the Design Talks. We do museum conferences, we are curating our own exhibition for the first time this year, we have the Designer of the Year Award in Miami and the Designer of the Future Award in Basel. We also have satellite exhibitions. It's a lot of cultural programming. The fact that the creative community comes and is truly engaged makes it worth all the hard work. There is an exchange of thoughts and of merchandise. Everybody feels like they're participating - they come together and leave having made new relationships with new potential ideas, new engagements, new jobs, the designer got picked up by a gallery, the sponsor made a deal with one of the gallerists, the press met an interesting dealer, the museum director met with a great designer. It's this web of connections that makes it come alive.
Why the choice of "Nature" as the theme for this edition?
We wanted to create an environment celebrating an explosion of life with an underlying sense of hope and commitment to beauty. With a sense of simplicity, we are going back to our roots and being very frank about relating to beauty and not needing to define it with some complex explanation. I think for a lot of people who don't come from the design world, we present an interesting context because it's not didactic, it's not "look what happened in the 20s or the 30s" or "here are the designers you should know about". Instead it's more about grouping historic and contemporary furniture loosely inspired by nature. The Campana brothers are inserting amethyst stones into beautiful installations that we've commissioned frorm them. There's a lot of going back to craft, tradition and hand made objects.
So the Campana brothers, "Designer of the Year" award winners, for this edition act as catalysts for the theme of nature?
They've definitely triggered a great interest in designers to re-adopt discarded materials and give them second life. There's a lot of trash being used and they're re-appropriating discarded materials. Stuart Haygarth's beautiful chandelier made from plastic objects found on the beach is a perfect example of this. The Campana brothers have made such a major contribution to the history of design. Their style is extremely distinct. They're very powerful without needing to be loud. They are very spontaneous, honest, wonderful men. They've done that within the industry and within limited edition design. I think there's a sense of being proud of their culture, even though they're coming from a nation that hasn't really prided itself on design although there is a culture of architecture and design in Brazil. It's not something they use to define themselves abroad it's just normal for them.
One of the highlights of this Design Miami/ edition will be the temporary structure created by NY architects Aranda/Lasch.
They're two young architects who are constructing a 45,000 square foot temporary structure. They were included in the Venice Biennale for architecture and have recently exhibited at a MoMa show. They've done furniture for one of our gallerists, Johnson Trading Gallery. They're very young and experimental. They're going to change ideas on design, and are the perfect example of how art, design and architecture merge. They translated a Matthew Ritchie painting into a three-dimensional temporary structure. Sometimes they're working on a strict architectural project, other times they're doing furniture. They have the capability to interweave between the different fields very easily, very fluidly. This is a big statement for us, to show we are very engaged with the world of architecture, we'd like to see more and more architectural projects coming in. Architects love to visit Design Miami/.
What about the controversial debate on the fusion between Art and Design?
Things are changing and it's not clear, but that's fantastic. Who said you have to tell me whether this is art or design? Nobody. People feel uncomfortable, they are very unaccepting of that, they want clear definition, is this is art or is itand this is design. I think eventually it won't even be discussed in a near future. I think it's all going to become a common knowledge for everybody. If you think Think about architecture and how it's being used for art museums, people building museums instead of houses. I think people should be free to make up their own minds.
Does Miami really define itself through design?
Not right now, but it's heading in that direction. There are more and more real estate projects attracting better quality designers and architects. The projects are less "build it as high as possible" and have much more of a sensibility to working with architects such as Herzog & de Meuron and Marcel Wanders. There are many major architects involved in many projects. For instance, we collaborated with Marc Newson on the new fence for Design and Architecture Senior High School (DASH), a really important magnet school for designers, architects and fashion designers. There's a whole kind of suburban crazy design vibe through this high school. The kids are young, they intern for us, there's an underlying community. They will probably end up being part of a more international design community, at least I hope so. The good thing about Miami is that there's a qualitative historical part and a big hope for the future of the city and they go hand in hand - you have the beautiful architectural Art Deco district, and then you have Herzog & de Meuron, Zaha Hadid, Terry Riley and Mark Newson. There's this common thread of interesting art, architecture and design, then a looser creative community that comes in and out and leaves incredible gifts, like Marc Newson and his fence, and Zaha Hadid and her installation. There are a lot of hidden treasures for sure... www.designmiami.com