Commercial galleries Fairs Switzerland

Rethinking past design masters

Historic and contemporary pieces side-by-side at Design Miami Basel

Bernard I van Risenburgh’s Allegorical Cabinet of Cardinal Virtues, around 1700, on display at a booth shared by Carpenters Workshop Gallery and Steinitz (G17)

Collectors may have been surprised to find historic and contemporary design pieces presented together during yesterday’s preview of Design Miami Basel (until 16 June). Designs from significantly different periods intermingle at Galerie Kreo (G21), Nilufar (G12) and Galleria O (G23) while the contemporary Carpenters Workshop Gallery has a combined booth with Steinitz (G17), the Paris gallery known for historical rarities.

This dialogue between old and new takes its cue from museum exhibitions. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London enlivened its historic collections during the London Design Festival with high-tech, 3D-printed objects in 2011 and Nendo’s contemporary chairs in 2012. The British designer Jasper Morrison inserted his work among 18th-century antiques in a show at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Bordeaux, in 2009-10. “I was interested in the shift of atmosphere that might result from combining new and old,” Morrison says.

Fresh perspectives are undoubtedly forged by this approach. “It prompts you to think differently about each aesthetic,” says Simon Andrews, a senior specialist in 20th-century decorative art and design at Christie’s, London. “Mixing objects together expresses confidence. People realise the designs are saying something complementary but expressed in different ways.”

It also reflects an increasing desire to use (rather than look at) purchases. “People want to live with the designs they buy,” Andrews says. “In the past, collectors took a more curatorial, academic approach but now the appreciation of objects has widened. Designs are bought less as icons than for their original purpose as chairs or lamps.”

This view is shared by Didier Krzentowski, the co-director of Galerie Kreo. “Eighty per cent of our clients want designs they can use in their homes,” he says. “They like to mix pieces from different periods so it’s important to reflect this on our booth. A lot of innovation in lighting took place between 1950 and 1970. Comparing these pieces with contemporary designs puts this into perspective.”

Kreo’s presentation unites historic lamps by Gino Sarfatti, Pierre Paulin and Roger Tallon with new tables by Hella Jongerius and Pierre Charpin, as well as recent tables by François Bauchet, Konstantin Grcic (Jetdog, 2011, €75,000), Studio Wieki Somers (Frozen Square Hogweed, 2010, €15,000) and Marc Newson’s Chop Top table, 1988.

Rare lights are also presented by Galleria O, where 1950s Fontana Arte and Gino Sarfatti lamps, including Sarfatti’s already sold floor lamp (mod. 1050 from 1951), are shown alongside the Campana brothers’ new Trono armchair (€38,000) made with Kidassia Tibetan goat fur, as well as three of Luisa Zanibelli’s new gilded copper coffee tables (€7,500 each). At Nilufar, contemporary linear lights from Michael Anastassiades’s “Lit Lines” collection (pendant lamps, €15,000 each; wall lamps, €7,000 each) contrast with colourful 1960s Venini bubble lamps (a set of five), while contemporary laminate marquetry furniture by Bethan Laura Wood rubs shoulders with Gio Ponti’s 1950s classics.

Steinitz is known for its theatrical mise-en-scenes. In the past, the gallery has displayed its objects alongside collections in the Louvre, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Still, as Benjamin Steinitz, the gallery’s director, observes: “You can’t just create a ­museum at home. Things have to be used.” So his joint booth with Carpenters Workshop Gallery (CWG) emulates a domestic setting. “The scenography recreates the [fictional] apartment of a gentleman collector because clients want to use and enjoy their works of art rather than just display them,” says Loic Le Gaillard, the co-director of CWG.

The collaboration originated at last September’s Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris. Steinitz’s exceptional pieces include antique boiserie panelling dating from 1730 to 1763, a carved oak, marble-topped Hercules table, made in Paris in around 1770 (probably for Henri-Philippe, Marquis de Ségur) and the Allegorical Cabinet of Cardinal Virtues, made by Bernard I van Risenburgh in around 1700. Interspersed among these historic pieces are CWG’s contemporary designs: Studio Job’s Chartres, 2011, an upside-down, 1.8-metre replica of a cathedral in bronze and gold leaf (priced at €240,000) and Frederik Molenschot’s bronze wall-sconces Citylight CL-2, 2012 (€37,000).

Could massive differences in asking prices between old and new work create issues? “It’s not a problem showing a million euro piece alongside a thousand euro piece,” Le Gaillard says. “What’s important is the quality of work and the back-story to each piece.” The next few days will tell if he’s right.

A sales report on Design Miami Basel will appear in issue three of The Art Newspaper's daily editions (Thursday 13 June)

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