The future of Design Miami/Basel: Interview with Marianne Goebl

The new director on her Vitra past and her plans for the fair’s future


Marianne Goebl, 36, became the director of Design Miami/Basel in February, taking over from Ambra Medda, the fair’s co-founder (with Craig Robins). She brings to the role ten years of experience in the design world, most recently as Vitra’s head of international public relations and partnerships. Prior to this, she served as the director for Vitra Edition, the Weil am Rhein-based company’s laboratory for the creation of experimental and collectible design works. Goebl brings to the fair qualifications from the Grande Ecole HEC, Paris, and Vienna University of Economics and Business.

The Art Newspaper: What does contemporary design mean for you, both personally and professionally?

Marianne Goebel: Design shapes the world around us. Our decisions—which objects we surround ourselves with—have a strong impact and should be taken seriously. Functional objects are the result of a fascinating and complex process, integrating functional, aesthetic, social, ecological and economical aspects. The designer, as opposed to the artist who works autonomously, engages in solving concrete problems, responding to prototypical or actual users, while developing his or her own creative strategy.

Collectible design is still a young field. What role do you believe it plays within the contemporary cultural landscape?

It is indeed still a young field. It presents the most talented designers of our times with the opportunity to explore areas as diverse as hand-crafted objects or high-tech experiments. It offers a laboratory outside the strict norms and restrictions of industrial design process which leads to surprising results. Meanwhile, the growing interest in collectible design reflects a revival of our relationships with objects. Collectible objects are infused with very personal narratives and traces which people seem to be longing for.

Which first-time exhibitors are you particularly excited about presenting?

I’m very excited about the reinforcement of our early 20th century programme with the first-time participation of Galerie Ulrich Fiedler (Berlin), which specialises in Bauhaus and De Stijl, and Galerie Doria (Paris), which specialises in early French modernism. Their programmes complete the journey through the entire modern design history.

Since the economic recession, collectors have tended to go for 20th-century work by designers with strong track records. Do you anticipate any change in this approach?

We’re noticing a growing interest in contemporary work, reflected by a number of important museum shows dedicated to contemporary design—Pierre Charpin at Grand-Hornu, Belgium, Martin Szekely at Centre Pompidou Paris, and Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec at Centre Pompidou Metz—plus the opening of new design galleries including the expansion of well-established galleries like Carpenters Workshop in Paris.

Are you intending to maintain the current balance between historic and contemporary design at the fair?

The gallery programme in Basel is evenly split between historical and contemporary design and this is a proportion we would like to keep.

The fair aims to present “museum quality” work. Is it this aspect that attracts such a supportive crowd of VIPs?

The quality of the exhibited works is of major interest to the collectors who visit the fair. Design Miami’s requirements also contain strict criteria for quality and authenticity. Each exhibited piece is controlled by a vetting committee of international experts.

The fair’s gallery selection process is proposal-based. What does this mean? And who are the selectors?

Galleries apply with a detailed proposal of the planned exhibition and distinctive works to be presented. We have two committees of renowned experts on historical and contemporary design—the gallery committee (David Gill, Didier and Clémence Krzentowski, Pierre Marie Giraud and Patrick and Laurence Seguin) and the vetting committee (Simon Andrews, Serge Mauduit, Thomas Woodham-Smith).

You were responsible for the brand collaborations for Vitra Campus. Are we likely to see increasing numbers of brand collaborations for Design Miami/Basel?

These collaborations are of great importance to [our] development. We strive to intensify the exchange with our selected partners and explore new formats. This does not necessarily imply an increase in the number of partnerships.

You also served as director for Vitra Edition. Which designers did you work with directly and where have the pieces shown?

I developed experimental pieces with a diverse group of designers and architects including Ron Arad, Jurgen Bey, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Fernando and Humberto Campana, Naoto Fukasawa, Frank Gehry, Konstantin Grcic, Zaha Hadid, Hella Jongerius, Greg Lynn, Jurgen Mayer H., Alberto Meda, Jasper Morrison, Jerszy Seymour and Tokujin Yoshioka. The collection was shown at the Vitra Campus and Design Miami/Basel in 2007 and then at London’s Design Museum, the Triennale di Milano and Phillips de Pury in London.

Swarovski Crystal Palace is presenting a debut exhibition at the fair. Are you planning to introduce further one-off exhibitions in the future?

In Basel we have satellite shows as diverse as Fredrikson Stallard’s exhibition for Swarovski Crystal Palace, Hella Jongerius’ commission for HSBC Private Bank, an outdoor playground installation by Nacho Carbonell for Rossana Orlandi, Hella Jongerius’ “300 Vases” for Phaidon Press, a selection of books and periodicals by “Do you read me?!”, architectural projects by the Seoul Design Foundation and a presentation by Vitra Design Museum.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'What Design Miami/Basel did next…'