The digital age meets design classics at Design Miami

Galleries test the market for innovation, but there is also a wealth of Modernism on show


Design Miami, now in its ninth edition, continues to be dominated by dealers specialising in classic 20th-century Modern work, but this year, other genres such as digital art and jewellery are more prominent than in previous years. While Miami’s design fair is evolving, its geographical remit is also expanding. Newcomers include Art Factum gallery from Beirut and Moscow’s Heritage Gallery (see box).

Participants such as Galerie Maria Wettergren, Paris, and Victor Hunt Designart Dealer, Brussels, are testing the market in Miami for innovative, technological pieces, which contrast with the more traditional, mid-20th-century furniture on show. Wettergren is also showing two chairs by the Danish designer Mathias Bengtsson, made using 3D printing. An edition of the “Growth Chair”, 2013, which mimics cellular bone structure, sold for €85,000 on the first day of the fair on Wednesday. “Every piece is unique and has its own DNA,” Wettergren said. A striking, technicolour optic fibre wall piece by Astrid Krogh (Meadow, 2013), available at the same gallery, sold for €24,000.

The draw of digital art

Digital art is also proving a draw at Victor Hunt. Within the first hour of the fair’s VIP preview on Tuesday, the gallery had sold “Clock Clock”, 2012, an edition of eight priced at €33,000 each, by the Swedish collective Humans Since 1982. The piece comprises 24 traditional two-handed analogue alarm clocks that move in sync to produce patterns similar to those of a digital watch. “[It] is a real crowd-pleaser,” said the gallery’s director, Alexis Ryngaert.

High-profile visitors at the VIP preview this week included the musician Pharrell Williams, the British architect Norman Foster and his Spanish wife, Elena Ochoa, and the French architect Jean Nouvel. But one US dealer, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that the opening was markedly less busy compared with last year.

Glenn Adamson, the new director of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, said that the fair’s strength lies in the mix of Modern and contemporary works on offer at stands such as R20th Century and Jason Jacques, both from New York. “The latter dealer is an example of the fair in miniature, with classic works on offer by Emile Decoeur [1876-1953] and newer practitioners including Gareth Mason,” said Adamson, who was visiting the fair for the first time. 

The local collector Al Eiber, a member of the fair’s vetting committee, went so far as to say that this year’s edition “is the strongest show to date”. Blue-chip Modern works remain pre-eminent, with solid sales reported by New York’s Hostler Burrows and Galerie Patrick Seguin of Paris; the main attraction at the latter is a prefabricated house by Jean Prouvé, 1945, priced at $2.5m (unsold as we went to press).

Eiber singled out the Paris-based dealer Galerie Downtown Francois-Laffanour, which has a solo stand devoted to the late French designer Charlotte Perriand. Prices for the works on show, which were commissioned in the 1950s for the residence of the industrialist Jean Borot, range from €25,000 to €350,000. A large-scale, white-lacquered bespoke bar, 1959, sold to a European collector for €250,000.

Female designers to the fore

Another stand dedicated exclusively to female designers is Demisch Danant of New York. The booth, which resembles a Parisian apartment of the 1960s, features key works by the veteran designers Maria Pergay and Sheila Hicks. A hanging wall tapestry by the latter—Untitled, 1977—sold to a US collector for $190,000. “Women have always been strong in design,” says the gallery’s Stéphane Danant. “It’s not a recent market phenomenon.”

One trend that has gained momentum is Modern and contemporary jewellery, with six dealers on the floor compared with four last year. The London dealer Louisa Guinness, a first-time participant, sold a number of necklaces by Claude Lalanne, ranging in price from $10,000 to $20,000. Asked why she came to Florida, Guinness said she is trying to “unlock America”. She added: “And I’m halfway there.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Digital age meets design classics'