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Limited Edition Design puts on brave showing

Led by Designer of The Year, Maarten Baas, this year's more compact edition of Design Miami/ still possesses enough substance and talent to pack a punch.

By No author / 02-12-2009

Two immediate impressions come to mind upon entering Design Miami/ 2009, the five-year-old celebration of limited-edition design.

The first is that, despite the world-premiere Audi and the glitz in general, the fair has contracted. All of the Design Miami, including the Design Talks, OK Go’s concerts featuring Gibson guitars customized by technical phenom Moritz Waldemeyer, and the new series of solo exhibitions called Design On/Site, fits under the Aranda\Lasch-designed big top. Certainly, it’s a reflection of the marketplace.

The second impression arrives a few steps inward. At the prow of the Moss booth sits three new Where There’s Smoke… works by Maarten Baas. The prominent placement is fitting, since event brass named the 31-year-old Dutchman Designer of the Year. In an equally suitable case of torch-passing, the trio of pieces includes a burnt version of a Cappellini Wooden Chair by past Designer of the Year Marc Newson.

The commission has poetic resonance, too. More than surface treatment, Baas’s controlled arson eroded several of the Wooden Chair’s undulating ribs to disappearance. Whereas Newson’s original transformed seemingly delicate parts into a visually lightweight, yet strong whole, Baas’s interpretation underscores fragility and preciousness. It’s another reflection of the marketplace—and of the high-design objects populating it—and it is blunt as well as hopeful.

The dual perspectives apply to another member of this Where There’s Smoke… family, an Ettore Sottsass–designed Casablanca cabinet that was subjected to Baas’s method. It honors the legacy of the not-too-recently departed Sottsass, and reminds those of us with short memories that the design world was about to explode into a full-out Memphis revival just as Lehman Brothers imploded.

Baas’ fellow countrymen expand upon these themes of durability and materialism. In its second showing at Design Miami/, Priveekollektie reintroduced viewers to Wouter Scheublin, the designer and profoundly talented carpenter whose Cabinet of Chests ranked as a favorite among fairgoers in 2008. This year the cabinet is accompanied by a bench and, memorably, the Walking Table, in which simple mechanisms are deployed to allow the multi-legged furniture to trot and gallop with a push or pull.
The Heusden aan de Maas, Netherlands–based gallery also is showing work by Lotty Lindeman: Her Tassenkast prototypes, produced in cherry and meticulously stitched, express the tired global-nomad theme on the one hand, but also suggests spare living, fiscal responsibility, and the constant threat of cutting and running. The Walking Table demands use, rather than spiriting under a vitrine, while Lindeman’s work suggests that foreclosures are the 21st century’s pogroms.

Meanwhile, Rotterdam gallery VIVID and Zuiderzee Museum present Farm, the first complete Stateside installation of this Studio Job undertaking; though elevated to luxury, the collection of almost primeval tools begs a visceral response and a desire for simplicity. And Droog’s Townhouse, designed by Tokyo architects Atelier Bow Wow, keeps conspicuous consumption behind closed doors: Pass through a modest urban face and you’ll find a cascading, sectionally complex interior populated by enviable Droog furnishings, including a Tejo Remy Rag Chair and Joris Laarman’s instant icon Heat Wave electric radiator.

The Dutch designers represented at Design Miami don’t pursue this nuanced, occasionally contradictory cultural commentary singlemindedly. Baas’ Designer of the Year installation widens popular knowledge of his oeuvre well beyond Where There’s Smoke…,. The exhibition includes selections from that series as well as Clay, Sculpt, Real Time, Hey, Chair, Be a Bookshelf!, The Chankley Bore, and commissions ranging from The Melted Collection for Dom Ruinart to The Shell, a giant three-legged storage piece whose anthropomorphic form comprises multiple facets outlined in visible welds. In addition, Droog is feting a paper study of Laarman’s Bone chair, and visitors to the Moss booth are taking a shine to Peter Jansen’s work for high-tech MGX.

If smaller, Design Miami/ still has a wealth of objects, talents, and criticisms on offer. Which suggests that recessionary gruesomeness, and the recession itself, is loosening its vise grip.

Photography main image and images 1-3: James Harris
Images 4&5: Courtesy Priveekollektie

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