New Korean buyers responsible for most ostentatious purchases at Design Miami/Basel 2007

As the market becomes more international, Jean Prouvé and the Danish school enjoy a resurgence


Dealers have reported the presence of new Saudi Arabian, Indian and, in particular, Korean buyers at the contemporary and modern Design Miami/Basel (in the Markthalle until 16 June). One Korean buyer alone spent in excess of $750,000 on furniture at the New York R20th Century gallery.

“The Koreans were spending at levels even dealers can barely believe,” said Zesty Myers, who heads R20th Century. He sold several sets of Wendell Castle’s black plastic furniture, the table bases in the shape of molar teeth; a group of four pieces went for $120,000.

Korean buyers were also active at the stand of the Brussels dealer Philippe Denys. “Koreans and also the Chinese are buying; it is much like when the Japanese, Middle Easterners and Texans flooded into this market a decade ago,” says Mr Denys. He sold pieces to Americans and Europeans as well, adding: “Clients now buy spontaneously with no middle man, no art consultant, and no decorator, which is brand new”.

Among the strongest prices were for works by the late French designer, Jean Prouvé. The Paris dealer Patrick Seguin sold a Prouvé 1944 portable house, which architectural historians refer to as the “barracks”, for €280,000 ($364,000): this also went to an Asian client. Mr Seguin also sold a smaller Prouvé house and 20 pieces of furniture. “This fair is better than the Paris Biennale,” he said.

London dealer Kenny Schachter of ROVE Projects sold three Zaha Hadid fibreglass Belu sculptural lounge/ desks for €75,000 ($97,500) each, and a Korean buyer reserved an additional one. Chelsea dealer Max Protetch sold two 2003 Hadid benches for $185,000 each. Explaining the price difference, director Josie Browne said: “They are made of cast aluminum so they can be used in the garden.”

The cost of works by Danish modern designers has trebled in the past five years, but this did not deter buyers at the fair. Ole Høstbo, who owns Dansk Møbel, sold works by Poul Kjaerholm, Finn Juhl and Arne Jacobson. Once disregarded and in ample supply, the number of vintage pieces is diminishing. “I am now Prouvé’s portable “barracks” worrying about running out of merchandise,” says Mr Høstbo.

Increasingly, dealers are presenting their wares in sophisticated, designer settings, and some believed this helped boost sales. Mr Myers had hired the German-born designer Claudia Diaz to plan his eight-room booth. “Although the entire installation will be ripped up at the takedown, it’s been worth every penny,” Mr Myers said. “We believe $20m has been spent here, and that this fair could make more than $100m in a few years time,” he speculated hopefully.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper Art Basel Daily as 'New Korean buyers dominate Design Miami/Basel sales'