Following a a day and a half of madness at Art Basel a quick walk across the street lead me to a massive tent, the home of Design Miami. This event featured just 40 booths of design dealers, compared to Art Basel’s 250, and the contrast between the neighboring shows was immediately noticeable. The atmosphere was much more relaxed, the space was more sensitively composed, and the people were friendlier. In fact, within 10 minutes of entering Design Miami I had a real, meaningful conversation with a human, something that didn’t happen once in the previous eight hours at Art Basel.
Above image: A detail shot of Coral Morphologic’s installation at Design Miami.
The change in atmosphere from ART world to DESIGN world was the result of a few factors. First, at Design Miami there was less of an urgency to sell six and seven figure one-off art pieces, instead focusing on multiples. This relieved cramming as many items into a space as possible and allowed the booths to be more elegantly composed with breathing and walking room. Another obvious reason for the sensitivity is that when you get the world’s best space designers/dealers together in one place you are bound for a pleasant experience.
The presence of ceramic at Design Miami was shocking in its prevalence. Some 25 percent of the booths featured ceramic objects with three booths, Pierre Marie Giraud, Jason Jacques, and Edward Cella, nearly devoted to the medium. I expected to see a bunch of sleek slip cast objects glazed stark white or metallic platinum, but as the massive Ron Nagel poster in front on the street foreshadowed, I was wrong.
The scope of design disciplines was impressive with object design and architecture on one end of the spectrum all the way to experiential design with an interactive installation by Coral Morphologic (see above) in which you could explore a coal reef kaleidoscope while wearing a virtual reality helmet, the Oculus Rift. The primary realm ceramics occupied at Design Miami was handmade art as interior decoration.
Volume Gallery featured a variety of functional objects by the Detroit-area artist Anders Ruhwald. Set up proudly at the front of their display was Ruhwald’s “For Leisure and Pleasure,” a large vessel and lounge chair pair. The pine wood lounge chair was roughly hand-carved and complimented the large pinched ceramic piece by its side. Also on view was an earthenware lamp and a mirroring pair of oblong bowls, one wood, one ceramic.
Gallery Seomi showed Lee Hun Chung’s slab-built living room set, a perennial at this fair. It was unclear whether the seats were functional or purely sculptural, but one chair, with a gaping hole in it, was most definitely just decorative. If you have the space in your home for a conceptual ceramic living room installation this was seductive in its size, crude construction, and volume.
Some notable objects at Design Miami include Satyendra Pakhalé’s “Mini Flower Offering Chair” at Ammann Gallery, Irs Eichenberg’s conceptual jewelry titled “Hearts” at Ornamentum, and Paolo Polloniato’s modernized Italian ceramics created using molds that have been is his family for hundreds of years, seen at Galleria Antonella Villanova. Additionally, a large 42-piece “Wall Pillow Installation” by Maren Kloppmann decorated a bright orange wall at Hostler Burrows.
Pierre Marie Giraud had a beautifully curated collection of work featuring Ron Nagle, Bente Skjøttgaard, Kristin McKirdy, Jean Girel, Takuro Kuwata, and Akiyama Yo among others. Giraud has a sensitive curatorial eye, choosing work that embodies the core qualities of ceramic such as physicality, permanence and tactility, while avoiding the tired common clichés.
A prominent aesthetic at Design Miami was touched and pinched ceramics that focused on process and materiality in line with the growing trends of ceramics in the New York City design industry. The touchy-feely trend may be a rejection of the soulless manufactured objects, related to the origins of the DIY movement, or possibly it’s just the perfect dab of aesthetic rawness to balance modern interior design/architecture.
The largest display of this genre was Adam Silverman’s pottery at Edward Cella Gallery. These were shown on a large 20 ft. by 20 ft. pedestal at about knee height. This display of Silverman’s work within an inaccessible design implied there was no need to access one piece over another, a pot’s a pot’s a pot. Although, dehumanizing the handmade nature of the work, and perhaps Silverman himself, the device is probably quite successful for decorator sales.
Jason Jacques, the highly individualistic New York dealer, also featured many “pushed, pulled and pinched” pieces. Danish ceramist Morten Løbner Espersen was of particular interest. His work was scattered amongst a variety early art nouveau and Japonisme pieces from the late 19th and early 20th century. The visual cohesiveness to merging of new and old works created a sensation of time slowly overlapping.
I asked Morten Løbner Espersen how he classifies his practice and he told me, “I am a potter.” This was a perfect response that summed up the role of ceramic art at Design Miami. The artist selling his own work (his lifestyle, vision, and process) is on one hand a romantic performance, but here in the design and decoration market, the two, object and maker, are separated by contemporary commerce, even more so than in an art gallery setting.
In general, the customers at Design Miami were not buying “Maran Koppman’s Wall Pillows,” there were buying an “interesting wall decoration for their living room.” Coming from an artist/craftsman background this feels a little dehumanizing, but it has its obvious marketing benefits. And as we are seeing in Miami, New York, and elsewhere, this decor dealer formula for selling artist-made ceramics is on the rise, a needed survival route given the decline of craft galleries, but one that needs to give more dignity to individualism
Justin Crowe is CFile’s Writer-at-Large.
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