Fairs Switzerland

Living it large

Design Miami/Basel creates a space for oversized works that add a new dimension to the fair

Maison Bulle Six Coques, was originally shown at the Salon des Arts Ménagers in France in 1956 by the urban architect and theorist Jean Benjamin Maneval

Design Miami/Basel’s inaugural Design At Large programme includes a presentation of six large-scale pieces. These works take centre stage, embracing the internal oculus of Hall 1 Süd, the building on the Messeplatz designed by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron.

“Having a big, dramatic space was a real impetus, because it enables us to show something unexpected,” says Rodman Primack, the new executive director of Design Miami/Basel. “These days, many people get their art experience at a fair, rather than in a gallery or museum, and they will never have seen installations by some of these designers. This work brings energy and excitement to the fair and encourages a broader conversation about design.”

Design at Large “adds a new dimension by extending the fair’s parameters and opening the door to site-specific pieces”, says the programme’s curator, Dennis Freedman, who is the creative director of the department store Barneys in New York. “It’s very important to show work outside the traditional boundaries of a gallery’s booth, because it enables designers to explore conceptual ideas without the limitations of commercial concerns or scale. They can express what’s really going on in their heads. And it enables collectors to understand what’s at the core of their thinking.”

“I wanted someone with a creative eye to organise the initial programme,” Primack says. “Dennis is such an important figure in the US publishing, art, design and fashion worlds. As an incredible collector, he is very well versed in the ­language of collectible design. Other curators will bring ­different perspectives to future editions.”

Submissions from Design Miami/Basel’s exhibiting ­galleries generated more than 20 proposals, from which Freedman selected six designs. “The criterion was very simple—it’s about poetry,” he says. “For something to be truly worth collecting, it needs to go beyond the cerebral. Designs must be conceptually rich, with meaning and content on many levels. Much of the work I chose is about mutation, change, fluctuation and interaction. It’s concerned with how we live. This common thread wasn’t a conscious one, but it emerged as I responded to the pieces.”

The twin-pendulum Drawing Machine, 2011, by Eske Rex, presented by Galerie Maria Wettergren, is set in motion by hand. Made from wood, steel, concrete, paper and a ballpoint pen, it explores the relationship between time and movement. Dominic Harris’s Ice Angel, 2012, presented by Priveekollektie, is similarly kinetic. His imaginative digital design encourages visitors to become performers-cum-portrait subjects, with wing shapes unfurling from their shoulders as their arms move.

Visitors are also invited to participate in an installation by the US artist Sheila Hicks. Séance, 2014, presented by Demisch Danant, is an interactive colour “lab” that gives an insight into a fundamental aspect of Hicks’s design process through colour experimentation. Meanwhile, Chris Kabel’s organic Wood Ring bench, 2010, presented by Galerie Kreo, encourages people to engage with its circular form.

Anton Alvarez’s Thread Wrapping Architecture 290414, 2014, presented by Gallery Libby Sellers, highlights the designer’s working processes. The 3m-high arches and columns were ­created using Alvarez’s innovative thread-wrapping machine, which he uses to bind furniture components without screws or nails.

The only historical piece is Maison Bulle Six Coques, 1965, which was originally shown at the Salon des Arts Ménagers in France in 1956 by the urban architect and theorist Jean Benjamin Maneval. The work is presented here by Jousse Entreprise. Made entirely of reinforced polyester, Maneval’s “bubble house” remained a prototype until it was produced by Batiplastique for an “experimental” resort in the Pyrenées; around 30 were made. Jousse Entreprise bought 18 of the works and has restored some of them (the example on show here did not require restoration), and has around ten available for sale.

Will these large-scale designs sell? “My assumption is that there will be collectors interested in buying,” Freedman says. “There are pieces here I’d be interested in collecting. They have the potential to enlighten and change perceptions by showing things in a new way.”

Design at Large, Hall 1 Süd, until 22 June (11am-7pm)

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