Brad Pitt spends $1m on contemporary work at Design Miami/Basel 2008

Design is in vogue, as buyers show appreciation for the everyday turned decorative


Actor Brad Pitt, a long-term collector of contemporary design, has spent close to $1m this week at Design Miami/Basel. His purchases range from work by iconic contemporary designers such as Ron Arad and Atelier Van Lieshout to one of the selected “Designers of the Future”, Max Lamb. Hot on his heels in terms of spending was Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who bought 12 pieces of vintage Danish furniture by master designer Poul Kjaerholm from Galerie Philippe Denys of Brussels. He also snapped up two understated 1963 plywood chairs by Greta Jalk from the same dealer. “The nice thing about Brad Pitt and Roman Abramovich is that they want historical material,” said dealer Philippe Denys. The two must have found a great deal in common as they were spotted in animated conversation in the VIP lounge at the fair. Their purchases add even greater momentum to an already dynamic market in classic and contemporary design.

“The affirmation of this new aesthetic is quite simply the sales,” said Murray Moss, who overseas galleries in New York and Los Angeles. On the opening night, Mr Moss sold a suite of eight bronze renditions of household objects (Home Work by Studio Job, the Dutch designers who graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven) to a New York collector for $352,000. Individual jugs, mirrors and basins from the same collection, priced at $70,000, were brought by Russian, Swiss and Middle Eastern clients.

This preoccupation with recreating household objects using fine art techniques reflects, according to Mr Moss, “the old conversation between functional and non-functional art; between freedom of expression, now taught at design schools, and the ancient guild system.” Further examples were on show at Shanghai-based Contrasts Gallery with the latest works by Rotterdam-based Studio Makkink & Bey inspired by traditional, everyday objects, such as mops, buckets and brooms.

The increasing influence of the Design Academy Eindhoven, founded in 1947, was evident throughout the fair. London dealer, Carpenter’s Workshop had rococo-inspired work by recent alumni of Eindhoven, the Demakersvan collective, in the shape of a marble Cinderella table, which was snapped up by a Russian collector for E190,000. The work also caught the eye of Mr Abramovich.

Another pronounced trend is for table-top items—silverware, glass and ceramics—a 21st-century take on le gout Rothschild. Galerie Pierre Marie Giraud of Brussels sold more than 40 examples of hand-hammered silver bowls by the Belgian designer Annick Tapernoux, as well as examples by American ceramicists and Japanese glass artists. Prices ranged from E1,500 to E20,000.

Significantly, the New York-based Yoshi Gallery, long established as a fine art dealer in 20th-century masters such as Picasso and Matisse, has branched out into selling design for the first time with an installation by Tadao Ando, the Japanese architect of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. It consists of a massive raised pool, set with unglazed ceramic vessels and platters. Although originally priced as individual pieces, the entire installation was acquired for $1m by a group of Asian fairgoers, including Thai entrepreneurs, for an unspecified museum.

Other significant sales of vintage work included R 20th Century’s sale of a 1975 ebonised laminated table by Wendell Castle, for $350,000, a record price for the 76-year-old US designer, reflecting the development of this once niche pursuit into a potential blue-chip market. But Zesty Myers of R 20th Century struck a note of caution: “Even though this is what the wealth of today wants, the market hasn’t exploded yet."

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper Art Basel Daily as 'Design Miami/Basel: Brad Pitt spends $1m on contemporary work'