Fairs USA

All-American design out in force

Collectors arrived to find 13 newcomers to Design Miami and a strong US and French presence

Chairs by Charles and Ray Eames on Mark McDonald’s stand

For collectors and dealers of Modern and contemporary design, Design Miami, now in its eighth edition, has a pivotal position on the burgeoning fair circuit. Located in a tent in the car park next to the convention centre during Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB), the design fair is getting bigger; the number of galleries—predominantly from Europe and the US—increased from 23 in 2010 to 28 in 2011, with 36 galleries exhibiting at this edition. Thirteen galleries are new to Design Miami this year.

Moderne Gallery is one such newcomer. “We have seen a completely different clientele here,” said Robert Aibel of the Philadelphia-based gallery. “There have been a handful of New York collectors and many buyers from Miami and South America,” he said. Works available at his stand are mainly by figures from the American Studio Craft movement. By the second day of the fair, the gallery had sold a 1977 black walnut rocking chair by Sam Maloof and a 1964 bench by George Nakashima. Aibel declined to disclose sale prices, but a 1981 coffee table by Nakashima in French olive ash burr was still available for $50,000. “The market for American Studio Craft is driven primarily by US buyers, but Nakashima is in demand worldwide,” he said.

The Kansas-born octogenarian designer Wendell Castle, considered a leading figure in handcrafted Modern furniture, was spotted at Moderne’s stand. One of his pieces, a wooden lamp from 1970, sold for $450,000 at R 20th Century’s stand. “We could have sold the work several times over,” said Evan Snyderman of the New York-based gallery. However, another US dealer, Mark McDonald of the eponymous Hudson-based gallery, said on the second day of the fair that “sales were not as good as last year”. Nevertheless, he sold a 1958 aluminium group chair by the designers Charles and Ray Eames. The piece, priced at $8,500, was bought by a French foundation.

Although US dealers were making their presence felt, French galleries remain at the heart of the fair. Sales were strong at Galerie Patrick Seguin, which is showing works made by Le Corbusier and his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, for a 1950s project in Chandigarh, India. A sofa set sold for $115,000 to a Swiss collector, and a US collector bought a banquette for $65,000. Galerie Jacques Lacoste, participating in the fair’s Miami edition for the first time, sold a pair of egg chairs, 1950, by Jean Royère to a North American buyer. The pair was priced at $140,000.

Tapping into a new client base was a priority for this year’s newcomers. The Cologne-based dealer Gabrielle Ammann said that even though sales were patchy, she had met important collectors and curators, including Jane Adlin, the associate curator of design and architecture at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Michael Govan, the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, was seen at Mark McDonald’s stand. The millionaire publisher Peter Brant and the New York art collector Aby Rosen were seen wandering the aisles, and the musician Kanye West and the actor Will Farrell were also spotted­.

Meanwhile, dealers emphasised that increasing numbers of collectors visiting ABMB are also attending Design Miami. This crossover may be because pieces by high-profile artists not usually linked with the design sector are being shown at the design fair. For example, ceramic ashtrays by the US artist Sterling Ruby are on sale at Galerie Pierre Marie Giraud of Brussels, priced between $4,000 and $10,000. Milan’s Nilufar gallery is offering a set of chairs depicting the shape of the Caribbean sea by the artist Michelangelo Pistoletto and the designer Juan Sandoval (2009, around €130,000). Furniture appropriated by Robert Loughlin, a doyen of the 1980s East Village art scene in New York, can be found at Johnson Trading Gallery at Design Miami and at the Regina gallery (A15) at ABMB.

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