Destination Design Miami

“Design is now doing for us things that were previously expected of art.” — designer Sebastian Errazuriz

Steven Hempel and Dutch Small
Posted:
February 28, 2013

Steven Hempel and Dutch Small take us inside one of the most eagerly watched mash-ups of design and art on the planet. Tree-inspired seating for Fendi, a bench based upon birdsong, and a lust for gold. read on.

Hempel Design’s Steven Hempel Anoints the Best of the Fair

Design Miami, founded 2005, has unquestionably become North America’s showcase for both domestic and international designers, a title once held by New York-based ICFF. The expertly curated Miami Beach convergence reigns as the ultimate — and most influential — destination, drawing a top coterie of influential collectors, gallerists, designers, curators and critics who also partake of the much larger mega-attraction, Art Basel Miami Beach, located directly across the street. The action goes down every December.

No survey of Design Miami would be complete without mentioning the temporary structure Drift, which housed the fair. Designed by New York-based collaborative practice Snarkitecture, the tent used massive inflatable tubes bound together to create a floating environment. The transformation of vinyl into a topographical landscape created a contemplative space marked by ascending mountains above and an excavated cavern below. This stunning entry was the perfect introduction to this year’s fair, inspired by natural phenomenon and making use of humble materials.

Gone were the chrome finishes and house-sized chandeliers that dominated earlier fairs (though the high price tags still remain in force). In their place, we saw a continuing trend of designers using materials such as wood, leather, brass and clay as the foundation for many of the works on view. Nature remained a constant theme, as designers looked towards the natural world for inspiration.

Maarten de Ceulaer’s installation for Fendi, Transformations, used modernist-inspired patterns to create a series of seating elements. Employing lacquered wood boards, tree stumps and handmade leather planks, the result was a soft, inviting, geometric environment both eye-catching and elegant. Composed of large solid-striped leather planks forming a living pattern of seating, this creation offered a myriad of contradictions — organic and geometric, soft and hard, luxurious and mundane.

David Wiseman’s latest for R Gallery continued the designer’s narrative of nature-infused lamps, tables and vases. Wiseman meticulously crafted each piece by hand, utilizing brass, porcelain and crystal. This exciting new talent, a rising star best known for his intricate bespoke installations, presented works from his first solo exhibition with the aforementioned NY-based gallery. Particularly impressive was his Unique Collection side table. The gleaming brass base features a lovingly rendered owl amongst twisted vines and comes across as an unexpectedly dramatic sculptural object, while remaining elegant and reserved.

Also on view was the work of provocative jewelry designer and conceptual artist Ted Noten. In recent years, Noten has expanded the scope of his oeuvre to include design projects and installations; he was represented at the fair by his U.S. dealer, Ornamentum Gallery. In his new series Seven Necessities, the designer returns to jewelry with his characteristic flair for the over-the-top. For his latest, Noten explored objects that represented modern women’s basic needs. The set included, among other things, a pair of sunglasses with removable 24K-gold ice pick, a nylon purse housing both champagne and requisite glass, as well as a 24K-gold lipstick case and small dish for holding your precious gems. The works make use of rapid prototyping while mixing everyday materials such as nylon with more traditional materials such as gold and precious stones. Noten, whose works are anything but subtle, has forged yet another series that stirs
the emotions.

The Leading Edge from Forma Revivo’s Dutch Small

This year, designers elevated process over function or aesthetics while insisting that design has ascended to join fine art in the higher plain of human expression. According to designer Sebastian Errazuriz, represented by Cristina Grajales Gallery, “Design is now doing for us things that were previously expected of art.”

A quintessential example of the mash-up between art and design was a piece by artist Florian Borkenhagen. His Asamoa table, while clearly sculptural in form, is completely functional. Crafted by hand from layers of mahogany, the Asamoa encapsulated the message which resonated through the entire fair. “Through the work of our gallery, we erase the lines between art, architecture and design by showing the work of creatives who demonstrate genius in more than one discipline. These people are so talented, their work should not be put into only one box,” said dealer Gabrielle Ammann, whose eponymous gallery represents Borkenhagen.

Many of the showcased offerings were the masterful result of designers being freed to create as artists. Carpenter’s Workshop Gallery of Paris highlighted the Lathe Metalwork Series by Sebastian Brajkovic. Carpenter’s wise approach when working with a designer is to provide an opportunity to open the frame. Instead of following a prescribed process, with its inherent limitations and parameters, they encourage creatives to push boundaries, freeing them from the limits of the production chain, costing, materials and utility.

Another crowd-pleaser was the brisk-selling Keep Walking bench by Pedro Barrail. Available through the Cristina Grajales Gallery of New York, the bench was conceived to render a visual interpretation of birdsong. The designer strolled past an estuary every day recording bird sounds for his seating unit as he loaded the sound files onto his computer and noticed the sound waves distinctive shapes appearing on his computer monitor.

Although there are many voices of dissent in the conversation surrounding the erasure of the boundaries between art and design, a sharply-dressed jet-setter at the fair said within earshot, “The reaction to good design is that you want to embrace it.” Inspired by our time at Design Miami, we couldn’t agree more.

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