Fairs USA

Upbeat mood, stylish setting and steady sales

Collectors welcome greater range of classic and contemporary design

Jean Prouvé’s “Shed”, 1952, on sale for at least €1m at Galerie Downtown—François Laffanour

miami. The seventh edition of Design Miami is for the second time in a tent in the car park next to the Convention Center housing Art Basel Miami Beach. While on the outside the tent’s appearance is utilitarian (some said too much so), the inside is a stylish oasis of cool and calm.

The consensus yesterday was that the layout, the range of galleries—which has increased from 15 in 2010 to 23 this year—and the quality on offer, especially classic mid-century items, was better than previous years, both in Miami and at Design Miami’s sister fair in Basel.

Marianne Goebl, directing her first Miami fair, told us she aimed to increase the variety of works on display. She also wanted to encourage galleries to bring early- and mid-20th century works with great provenances, especially by American designers, to give the fair a character distinct from the Basel edition, and to enhance the profile of conceptual jewellery.

The mix seemed to go down well at the opening on Monday, with celebrities including the American rapper Sean Combs (P. Diddy) rubbing shoulders with the likes of McLaren supremo Ron Dennis, model Naomi Campbell, architect Norman Foster, Miami collectors and museum directors. Arnold Lehman, the director of the Brooklyn Museum, said: “This is the best Design Miami ever. It is filled with a great number of really fabulous mid-century and contemporary objects—a great place to start looking for objects.” Both he and Micky Wolfson, Jr, the founder of the Wolfsonian Museum, were interested in a chair attributed to Kem Weber, around 1928-29, which once belonged to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Biltmore Hotel in Arizona. Priced at $28,000 with Mark McDonald (G/4), it was unsold as of yesterday.

McDonald, who specialises in mid-century American furniture, has been wooed by Design Miami for some years, but only participated this year after the closure of New York’s Modernism fair, which used to take place in November. “In the past, the fair wasn’t so interested in vintage, and there wasn’t so much of a focus on American furniture—and it was difficult to have good pieces for two fairs so close together,” he said. He is showing works by Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi and a table and eight chairs by Californian designer Arthur Espenet Carpenter, dated 1970, and priced at $95,000. People were flocking to his stand, but he said that furniture sales had been slow, with the main interest in a set of contemporary pieces by Lot-Ek made out of steel sinks, and modernist jewellery. He professed himself “baffled” since prices for US designers such as the Eameses are considerably lower than for their French counterparts, such as Prouvé and Perriand, but added that he had met many international collectors outside his regular American circle.

Perhaps because of the price points, dealers selling classic French material were also attracting much attention and reserves but, as of yesterday, reporting few finalised sales, although the mood was upbeat. Among the highlights, but only available to a “special kind of client”, was a rare Jean Prouvé prefabricated school structure, with Galerie Downtown—François Laffanour of Paris (G/5), priced at least €1m.

The New York gallery Demisch Danant (G/6), which specialises in 20th-century European design, has devoted its stand to the late French designer Pierre Paulin. It was swamped at the opening: the gallery sold a 1968 cream and red “Amphis” sofa and two other pieces. The sofa was priced at $100,000 and is heading back to Paris with a private collector. Stephane Danant said that sales often take time. “Last year the fair started badly, there were no sales at first but we did sell well at the end of the week. So we already feel more relaxed this time,” he said. Galerie Patrick Seguin (G/1) sold a number of works, including three chairs by Prouvé at $30,000 each, but a three-legged wooden table by Pierre Jeanneret, priced at $650,000, remained unsold yesterday.

Early sales were faster among the contemporary galleries. London and Paris-based Carpenters Workshop Gallery (G/8) sold several pieces, including two editions of Vincent Dubourg’s “Double Buffet Nouvelle Zélande”, 2010, priced at $85,000 (one of them to the Museum of Art and Design in New York). Korea’s Gallery Seomi (G/11) had also done well, with four versions of Bae Sehwa’s “Steam 14” bench, 2011 (edition of six), priced at $58,000, among its sales—one of them to Ron Dennis. Meanwhile, Galerie Kreo of Paris (G/9) also got off to a flying start: its numerous sales ranged from “Big Frozen Vase”, 2010, by Studio Wieki Somers, priced at $8,000, to Martin Szekely’s “BBD Console”, 2008, $50,000, and Alessandro Mendini’s “Poltrona di Proust” chair, 1990, at $96,000.

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