December 1st, 2008
Art Basel Miami Beach
Zesty Meyers and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn
At his R 20th Century gallery in New York, this design-world renaissance man sits down with one of Uptown's most astute art dealers to talk about design's coming of age through its marriage with art.
Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn: There's a lot of crossover between our worlds right now. Who's on the top of your list of artists bridging art and design?
Zesty Meyers: One would be Roy McMakin: He's a furniture maker, but is the work furniture or art? It's a really interesting subject to bring up. I think there's going to be more of these crossovers.
JGR: I agree. Right next to my booth, on the last day of Frieze, there was an installation that Ron Arad did for the Timothy Taylor Gallery that was interesting to me. When I first started showing at Frieze, it was dedicated specifically to art, and there was not supposed to be any furniture design at the fair. And when we applied with this Gamper project, we wrote a letter stating that we considered it an art project rather than a design project. Immediately Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover were completely positive. They said to absolutely go ahead with this project. Just five years ago it would not have been accepted in an art context.
ZM: I think more and more, the art dealers will be showing these projects. There seems to be a future between the two disciplines. And there are artists questioning, 'Is this really for the art world or the design world?'
ZM: We can talk about Paula Hayes' work in this sense, too.
JGR: Perhaps even more so, because she moves from garden design to interior design to art. I consider the terrariums that we've made in collaboration as complete works of art - they're living works of art. They exist in this other universe we haven't seen before. When I go to a collector's home, he or she is not thinking of the terrariums as a replacement for a floral centerpiece. They're thinking of them as works of art. That's a different space Paula's carved out for herself.
ZM: We've always had a crossover of clientele. One's more downtown, one's more uptown. Yet they both want unique and great things.
JGR: That was the most interesting thing I found when I began working with Paula: We knew the same people, so it seemed natural to work on a project together. It means the collector base - which normally focuses on furniture or art - is starting to do both simultaneously.
ZM: It's the idea of defining taste. Why shouldn't these worlds work together to create the best environment for the individual?
JGR: But you still have to convert me. I grew up in an environment where furniture has taken second or third place, financially. Any money was allocated for art. In recent years a sophisticated person will come to my house and ask, 'Why are you living with this bohemian furniture? Why haven't you upgraded, or thought about young designers to do this?'
ZM: You've done that some. The Design Art London fair worked out pretty well, too, in that sense. Compared to the art market, I can't see how the economy for design won't grow in scale.
JGR: The design world has a much bigger growth
December 1st, 2008
Art Basel Miami Beach
by Alix Sharkey
Raised on art and culture, Ambra Medda sets the pace with her sought-after fair, Design Miami.
Design is definitely in fashion at the moment, and has an air of hipness about it,” says Ambra Medda, “but my focus isn’t on the fashion aspect. I am interested in what’s here to stay.” In other words, it’s all about the work. For 27-year-old Medda, that means scouring the world’s galleries, exhibitions, universi¬ties and studios for the best contemporary and modern design and bring¬ing it to public attention via Design Miami. Her biannual forum for designers, collectors and galleries shadows Art Basel as it shuttles between Switzerland and Miami.
Medda can’t remember a time she wasn’t fascinated by design. Her mother, London gallerist Giuliana Medda, was a pivotal figure in her growth. The younger Medda was always encouraged to look at, touch, contemplate and ask questions about the objects surrounding her. Raised in a salon atmosphere, her family home was inundated by designers, collectors, dealers, critics and fellow gallerists. From a young age, Medda followed her mother to design shows, warehouses and auc¬tions, absorbing her knowledge.
Similarly, she has always lived amid a variety of cultures and lan¬guages. Born on the Greek island of Rhodes to an Austrian father and Sardinian mother, Medda spent her childhood in London, moved to Milan when she was 10 years old, then attended the UK’s prestigious Stowe School before taking a degree at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, where she studied Chinese language, literature and art. Medda spent her second year studying in China, immersed in the lan¬guage and culture.
After graduating, she expected to work in Shanghai or Hong Kong, dealing contemporary Chinese art. But after a few months of living out of a suitcase in New York and selling design pieces from her mom’s inven¬tory, she began to curate design shows. On a trip to Art Basel Miami Beach in 2004, Medda decided to move to Miami so she could realize her dreams of a world-class international design show — one that would do for design what Art Basel had done for contemporary art.
Craig Robins, instrumental in the South Beach revival of the 1990s and responsible for revamping Miami’s Design District, was equally enthusiastic about her idea. And so at the 2005 Venice Biennale, Medda, Robins, then-ABMB director Sam Keller and a handful of the world’s top design dealers drank a toast to Design.05, the design show they would launch in December of that year. The event that would eventually become Design Miami was born.
The show was an instant success, with the 15 participating galleries doing $7 million in business during its four days. And, of course, it also needed to be even more international, so the next move was to open Design Miami/Basel the following year alongside the original Art Basel fair, held every summer in Switzerland. But for Medda it was just the beginning, and with each successive year she has worked incessantly to make Design Miami and its Switzerland counterpart better, bigger, more exciting and innovative. Meanwhile, she has overseen a constant refine¬ment of quality. “The company’s objective is to balance highly profes¬sional business activity with progressive cultural programming,” Design Miami’s mission statement explains, “to create exciting collaborations with designers and design institutions, to draw in the foremost design collectors and enthusiasts, and to construct the most provocative design showcase anyone has ever seen.”
As a result, entry requirements have grown increasingly stringent. To protect the buyer, Medda says, every piece on show is vetted for authen¬ticity and provenance (with prices approaching contemporary-art levels, the number of design forgeries has increased accordingly).
Much of Medda’s time is spent traveling the world, cultivating links with exciting galleries and looking for new talent. “Right now, the most promising young designers are in Europe,” she explains. “So I always attend the end-of-year shows in London, the Netherlands and Switzerland. I also visit Milan and Paris regularly to stay in touch with my gallerists.” Recently she has spent considerable time in Sao Paulo, as well, with Brazilian designers Fernando and Humberto Campana, the frater¬nal duo being honored as Design Miami 2008’s Designer of the Year. “Their studio is full of people welding or making chairs out of dozens of plastic dolls” Medda enthuses. “It’s very craft-based, very colorful and totally refreshing.”
But as jet set lifestyles go, hers is almost monastic. Usually she’s in bed by 9:30. So, how does she strike the elusive work-life balance? “I’d love to tell you I do yoga and go for long walks on the beach, but I don’t. My life is my work, and vice-versa. I know it sounds corny, but it’s true.”
But when it comes to diffusing the stress of running an ultra-success¬ful, world-renowned design show with a staff of only six — two in Basel, four in Miami — Medda says “soup, sun and a good book” are all she needs. And that, like the recipe for all great design, sounds like the perfect union of form and function.
December 1st, 2008
Art Basel Miami Beach
by Jen Renzi
Fernando and Humberto Campana, the Brazilian brothers who’ve given us snake-shaped sofas and inflatable tables, celebrate their latest accolade — Design Miami’s coveted Designer of the Year award.
It’s half past noon and the Campana brothers are getting a late start today. “We had a party last night to launch our Fall collection for Brazilian shoe¬maker Melissa” explains Humberto, recounting a festive evening fueled by avant-garde footwear and one too many caipirinhas. “It’s been a slow morning. Fernando only just rolled in!”
Lest you think that a typical day in the life of the maverick Brazilian design duo involves partying late and sleeping in, it turns out that quite the opposite is true. The two usually arrive at their Sao Paulo studio at the crack of dawn and work at an unrelenting pace — often tweaking designs they’ve already completed. “I’ll spend an entire day weiding just the right curvature into a piece of metal,” Humberto explains. “And then see it in the shop the next morning and think, No! Destroy it!” The Campanas are unapologetic perfec-tionists. But they also relish the exquisite torture of the design-development phase, which — like all aspects of their practice — is a team effort. “Prototyping is the hardest part, but also the most lib¬erating and exciting since we don’t yet know where we want to arrive.”
One place the Campanas have arrived is at the apex of the con¬temporary design scene. They are critical darlings with populist appeal. Their furnishings have been exhibited at the Museum of Design and Applied Arts in Lausanne, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Vitra Design Museum, to name a few, and their long-term collaboration was the subject of a 2004 retro¬spective at the London Design Museum. They have also played guest curator, organizing the Cooper-Hewitt’s Campana Brothers Select earlier this year. Their breakout show was a 1998 exhibition at New York’s MoMA, where the duo’s infamous bubble-wrap chair, inflatable side table and other witty creations were shown alongside Ingo Maurer’s lighting; that same year, Edra began producing their Vermelha armchair, a loop-de-loop of red cotton string on a tripod base. It was their first manufactured piece.
The duo has since designed vases for Alessi, a chandelier for Swarovski, injection-molded thermoplastic flats for Melissa, stage sets for the Ballets National de Marseille and the Guggenheim’s upcoming production of Peter and the Wolf, and even a hotel, which opens next spring in Athens. Add to this list of accolades: Design Miami’s coveted Designer of the Year award for 2008. “It’s an honor to receive the prize, but it demands much more from us!” Humberto jokes.
The two have come a long way from their humble beginnings as an aspiring architect (Fernando) and a reluctant lawyer (Humberto) who painted woven baskets to pay for their classes at the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture. They started making one-off and limited-edition pieces in the early ‘80s, and have since stayed true to their hands-on process, which begins with an investigation of a particular material (garden hoses, PVC tubing, cardboard) — the more quotidian or offbeat the better. “It is only after exploring the material that we start to construct the shape and develop the function,” Humberto explains. “Design goes so much deeper than form and function, but it has to have both elements. Otherwise, it’s just sculpture.”
The Campanas design exclusively for a handful of clients with whom they enjoy close relationships, like Edra creative director Massimo Morozzi. “Massimo is so interesting — he is like Fellini! Full of humor,” says Humberto. “We have spent a lot of time in each other’s homes. Fernando and I like people who share the same chemistry, so we can concentrate all our energy on dreaming up new ideas and creating them.” The fruits of their 10-year collabora¬tion include some the Campanas’ most iconic pieces: Boa sofa, a French braid of plush velvet snakes; Corallo, a sort of three-dimen¬sional doodle sculpted from a tangle of colored wire and a mass-produced version of their Favela chair, crafted from wood scraps salvaged from the Sao Paulo streets. Because their designs require so much handcraftsmanship, the two are active participants in the production process, occasionally training factory workers.
Today, the Campanas’ own workshop is busy creating installations for Design Miami, a perk of the awards program. For the pavilion designed by Aranda\Lasch, they are envisioning a version of their ongoing TransPlastic series, which interweave sustainable Brazilian apui fibers with objects like plastic lawn chairs or, in this case, tree branches and rough-hewn crystals. It is a microcosm of their hometown. “Sao Paulo is a chaot¬ic, oppressive city; you must seek beauty in hidden corners. Whenever I need to decompress, I visit this huge crystal supermarket near the studio, sometimes for hours at a time. Going there is like penetrating the earth,” Humberto says. The two pieces — each is 10 feet long and supported by a metal armature — will share a similar inward-fooking sensibility. “They go deep inside themselves, like human organs.”
The Campanas’ scheme for the VIP lounge also exploits weaving tech¬niques: a cocoon of raffia sourced from Madagascar, a special fiber they first experimented with for the 2004 Cologne Furniture Fair’s Ideal House. It will be “contaminated” with a selection of their designs for Edra, includ¬ing Vermelha chairs and Brasilia tables topped in layered shards of col¬ored, mirrored glass. “It is very baroque — sort of the new art nouveau,” Humberto explains. “Our work always derives from nature, but we like to create these shocks between two different worlds: city and countryside.”
That same duality — a little urban, a little pastoral — is what attracts the Campanas to Miami, where they have hosted workshops at the Design and Architecture Senior High school, performed public glass-blowing at last year’s Design Miami and enjoyed frequent vacations. Humberto, for one, is excited to eat at his favorite Cuban restaurant, Versailles, and ride his bike along the Venetian Causeway. “I love Miami! It is impossible to be stressed when you are surrounded by water and sunlight" And when your brain is filled with brilliant ideas just waiting to hatch.