Design Miami is both an oasis and an oddity. It was a relief to cross the road from the South Beach Convention Center, escaping the overcrowded, brain-numbing vastness and enter the spacious calm of a modest but elegantly appointed design show. It felt like a cross between an art fair and a corporate show, which is exactly what it is. Collaborations between Swarovki Crystals and artist, Guilherme Torres, and Pierre-Jouet Champagne and artist, Simon Heijdens, and others loomed large. The prize for most impressive booth went to Heijdens’ blissful installation of hanging glass volumes that contained pink liquid.
The Bronx-based architectural studio, Formlessfinder, produced Design Miami’s welcoming pavilion; a beautifully designed “tent pile” made of milled raw aluminum. As one approached the fair, it appeared to perch precariously on a sand dune. The other side provided seating and shade, which was much appreciated considering the weather was much more like summer than winter.
The fair is too small to be a survey of the best in contemporary design or an overview of mid-century modern. Quality-wise, it’s all rather hit and miss: some is great, some awful. High on the list was Hun Chung Lee’s gross ceramic garden furniture at Gallery Seomi of Seoul. Design Miami Basel is a much better event and has wider representation, it’s more of a meal. Design Miami was a snack tray.
From a ceramic point of view, there were few epiphanies, little was new, but there was some solid work: four booths stood out.
Jousse Enterprise of Paris was a gem—a polished, faceted booth of French design. The ceramics were predictable, heavy on George Jouve who is a darling of the decorator trade that has always left me a little cold, but certainly this time, his work has never looked better and was a perfect fit with the furnishings.
Holster Barrow, New York had several “pools” of luscious mid-century pots by Swede Friberg Berndt. Unfortunately, Scandinavian ceramics is a market that is in a troubled phase at the moment, torn between collectors and decorators. Ornamentum in Hudson, New York had a group of porcelain figures by Dutch jeweler Ruudt Peters, which CFile will review early next year.
As always, Pierre-Marie Giraud Gallery from Brussels provided a comfort station. If you like the play between form and surface, Giraud satisfies. The remarkable Takuro Kuwata made another appearance in this display (he was on at least two booths at Art Basel Miami). But the main surprise was unexpected work from Tony Marsh.
I know Marsh well and represented him for many years but in a ceramic line-up I would never have picked this out as his art. He has made an oblique right turn into Scandinavian territory, producing cylinders with glazes of ravishing beauty and complexity. It fits seamlessly with the other Danish artists in Giraud’s stable. The shift did not seem to hurt; the pieces were priced between $5,000 and $17,000 and all sold.
His new direction may well be a trend. One feels a groundswell of interest among younger collectors for work that is primal and enthusiasm for forms that aren’t dedicated to postmodern conceits such as appropriation or literal messaging, which have been dominant for nearly two decades. This trend is characterized by an increasingly aggressive and dramatic exploration of glaze. I did not expect this aspect of ceramics to revive so soon and it may be too early to be sure, but the auguries are encouraging.
One also saw this trend a few booths away at Jason Jacque Inc., New York. Unlike the pure minimalism of Giraud’s presentation, Jacque invited you into mayhem, a welcoming place for sufferers of horror vacui. A white metal octopus (albeit with seven tentacles, apparently it had a hard life) splayed open and held a vast number of pots. Except for one artist, Michael Geertsen, who adopted a commercial palette, all the other works on Jason Jacque’s booth played with glaze, often radically. The artists displayed represent two eras, the first half of the 20th century and the present.
The juxtaposition is conceptually brilliant, once one gets over the visual attack of it all. Wrestling with this octopus of pots (and a few sculptural forms) gives one a better appreciation of both the new and the old. Contemporary artists Morten Lobner Esperson (who was also on Giraud’s booth) and Gareth Mason are essentially doing the same thing today as the early French studio pottery pioneers Pierre-Adrien Dalpayrat (1844-1910) and Emile Decoeur (1876-1953) did between 1900 and 1930, finding new relationships between organic form and surface and pushing boundaries as they progress.
The survey of the two early pioneers potters was remarkable and would not be out of place in a museum. Dalpayrat’s crab vase is a masterful piece of sang de boeuf glazing (priced generously, but no unreasonably at $75,000) and Decouer’s vase with its stormy, black and blue glaze remains fixed in my mind, mysteriously introverted. This pair of vessels and Jaques’ contemporary artists reminds us of what were once the essential values in an ancient medium. Few artists across the road at Basel Miami address this depth. Exceptions include John Mason, Takuro Kuwata, and, in a satiric sense, Robert Arneson and Sterling Ruby, albeit it more coarsely interpreted.
There was an overwhelming sense of slapdash form and sloppy handling at Basel Miami that, over time, may not wear well aesthetically (or physically) nor hold its commercial value. This casualness is not because core ceramic values have no currency in art today—they do in the right context—however, achieving ceramic skills is a difficult and time consuming endeavor that is at odds with the high-volume production that is necessary to feed the ravenous maw of the art fair circuit.
Looking beyond ceramics, there were two standouts at Design Miami. The Brussels gallery, Caroline van der Hoek, offered a single-artist survey of the design and jewelry of the Dutch marvel (and a founder of Droog design) Gijs Bakker. The other find was a single object, the Peacock Chair by Toronto’s Uufie Studio which is made from a single sheet of Corian. The chair is arguably more sculptural than functional, but it was still the showstopper.
Photographs, other than those taken onsite by Garth Clark, are courtesy of Design Miami and Jason Jacques, New York.
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of CFile.
Above image: Formlessfinder, a Bronx-based architectural studio, produced Design Miami 2013’s welcoming pavilion.