by Matteo Pirola. Alongside the Commercial Temple to Contemporary Art that is Art Basel, DesignMiami comes up each year with what some people see as a paradox, others as a theorem, or rather the union/separation between art and design. While design is no longer (just) a product, or industrial, but is above all the discovery of a constantly renewable creative process, this theorem is unquestionably proven many times over here in Basel. There is a great deal of modern art and a great deal of luxury, as always, for both aficionados and collectors, but there are also some innovative projects that trigger research and reflection on what “design” is today and on how it can be regarded as a “unique part” of contemporary art.
Here are some of the highlights of the many things noted and taken note of.
Italy is extremely well represented this year, by galleries, but especially by the makers.
First and foremost, Gaetano Pesce who, in the largest space, is generously feted by Calvin Klein, present for the very first time at an event of this kind, with an installation by creative director Raf Simons: fifty limited edition Feltri (Cassina) armchairs, in new colours and upholstered in traditional American quilts, are dotted around an original American barn. Pesce’s gigantic Sedia Portaritratti for Salon 94 Design (New York) is in the Design at Large hall, along with the entire furnishing system for the interior of the Dujardin children’s shop, which he designed in Belgium in 1994, presented here by François Laffanour - Galerie Downtown (Paris).
Then there is Gufram, partly in its capacity as a manufacturer, but in this context, also in its capacity as a publisher, with Disco Gufram, filling the dark hall with strobe lighting and dance music and providing a corner of total relaxation and abstraction, amid the other exhibitors. The ROTGANZEN and GGSV disco furnishings designed by Atelier Biagetti are being presented (or RE-presented as far as we Milanese are concerned, having already been exhibited at the Fuorisalone), reminding us of one particular strand in the history of Gufram - its specialist line for the disco sector during the 1970s. It is no coincidence that, at the nearby Vitra Design Museum, the Night Fever exhibition is still ongoing, featuring original vintage Gufram furnishings and the catalogues for that special “nocturnal” line.
Another Italian story concerns a more overt and surprising homage to the master Achille Castiglioni, the centenary of whose birth is being celebrated this year. The Maniera gallery (Brussels), which always comes up with extremely unique projects, has invited a heterogeneous group of artists to explore the theme of contemporary furnishing. They include Bijoy Jain of Studio Mumbai, Swiss architects Christ & Gantenbein, the young Piovenefabi, aDVVT in Ghent and especially Stéphane Barbier Bouvet who has come up with objects/hommages to the Castiglioni brothers’ famous Luminator and Arco (Flos) lamps. Furthermore there is another hommage to Castiglioni from Simon Starling at the adjacent art fair, a “luminous work” that references the Toio lamp.
The participation of the Leonardo Di Caprio Foundation, with the Endangered exhibition showcasing the work of South African artist Porky Hefer, is a curious one: five large furnishings/sculptures are devoted to animal species on the verge of extinction that the Foundation, extremely hot on environmental issues, is attempting to protect.
However I think the most striking space, by dint of its sheer luminosity, its consistency of content and the clarity of its ideas, is that dedicated to Nendo by the Friedman Benda gallery (New York). The Japanese superstar’s installation plunges us straight into the depths of his imagination, as if it were a real one-man show. Watercolour Collection is a series of metal furnishings, slender and extremely white, their decoration drawn from the technique of watercolour on paper.
Zhang Zhoujie’s Digital Lab, presented by Gallery ALL (Beijing / Los Angeles), is showcasing concentrated high-tech applied to design. Endless Form consists of dozens of chairs produced from a “technological throne”, the Sensor Chair, which harnesses software and a number of “sensors” to record the body pressure points of every single person and then using them to produce a shape perfectly “tailored” to each particular body. A sort of technological ergonomics capable of producing an infinite number of totally customised furnishings.
Lastly, in the Curio Lineup section, featuring a group of independent and “curious” exhibitors that are not galleries, strictly speaking, the Precarious project from Nouvel Limited collective (Mexico City) really stands out: glass bubbles are turned into vases, melding with supports made from sheets of metal, precariously balanced but able to convey the requisite solidity to this very ancient type of object, the vase, which has always occupied a “special place” in the relationship between art and design.