Two weeks before Design Miami opens its doors to VIPs on Nov. 29, Rudy Weissenberg of AGO Projects has boxes full of furniture and objects, ready to ship from his gallery in Mexico City. AGO is the only contemporary Latin American gallery to participate in the fair, but for Weissenberg it is the most obvious place.
“Design Miami feels younger and more experimental than other shows, and consistent with our goals at AGO,” says Weissenberg. “It’s become a place where people take risks, which I think we do to some degree.”
Weissenberg, originally from Guatemala, opened the space in Mexico City in 2019 with his partner, Rodman Primack, who served as executive director of Design Miami between 2014 and 2019. Their goal is to work with local designers and harness the possibilities small workshops and factories. “You can get anything done here,” Weissenberg says.
Inside the AGO crates are creations by Fabien Cappello, French but a resident of Guadalajara, Mexico, who created tables covered in candy-colored tiles with a company that once supplied mosaics to Mexican modernist masters. In a collaborative project with the company Guadalajara Cerámica Suro, known for its ambitious collaborations with artists such as Jorge Pardo, Cappello also designed meters of tiles to cover the walls and floor of the stand. “We aim for total immersion,” says Weissenberg. “There is color and humor and a bit of absurdity. We are becoming fully maximalist in Miami. It is a provocation. »
Over its 18 years, the fair has built a reputation for big, bold energy and sales to match. “The first time we showed pieces by Chris Schanck and Misha Kahn here, in 2016, we sold out immediately,” says Marc Benda of New York gallery Friedman Benda, referring to two radical American designers. Schanck’s offering was a monster-sized table covered in a shiny metallic finish; Kahn’s, a massive irregularly shaped grass and found glass cabinet, made with basket weavers from Swaziland.
“It’s about the psychology of the fair,” says Benda. “Collectors expect to be blown away by new works. They may be the same customers coming to Basel in June, but here they have a different mindset. They jump in. This year, Benda’s booth will feature artwork by Darren Romanelli, who comes from the fashion world and has been accumulating and recycling our consumer waste into clothing, and now furniture, for 20 years.
Design Miami’s makeup is more focused on contemporary work, many of which are completely new. (“No refried beans,” says Benda.) Even galleries such as Philadelphia Modern, specializing in the revered studio crafts of George Nakashima (who died in 1990 and whose rough-edged walnut tables can fetch 300,000 $), mix fresh pieces by Miriam Carpenter, a former student of the Nakashima studio, and paper-like ceramics by Tomomi Tanaka.
“There are a lot of developers here. Lots of restaurants and hotels. Lots of second homes,” says fair general manager Jen Roberts, suggesting that a local audience helps cement the viability of Design Miami, along with the throngs of international artists who flock to town to attend Art Basel and at its other marginal fairs. (Up to 40,000 visitors are expected to pass through Design Miami over its six days.)
Khaled El Mays, a 37-year-old designer from Beirut, presents his new Lotus series – marble tables on elaborately carved and fluted bases that refer to both ancient Egypt and Art Deco in their details (exhibited with the Milanese gallery Nilufar). “These are high-priced pieces, and they need an expansive space or outdoor setting,” he says. “They are Miami.”
However, Roberts stresses that the fair should be “a platform for a range of voices.” Roberto Lugo, a Puerto Rican-born Philadelphia potter known for his ceramics detailing hip-hop culture and the immigrant experience, taps into a rather different side of Miami’s identity. “My dad owned a bodega in Philadelphia,” he says. “And I turn the stand to [New York gallery] R+Co in store. More gift store than grocery store, Lugo’s shelves will be filled with butter dishes shaped like subway trains, coffee pourers shaped like water towers and pit bull umbrella stands. “These pieces are a portrait of my working-class community. Ceramics are an interesting and direct means of communication.
Lugo will also give a talk with musician Erykah Badu, who discovered him through his work. “She saw sadness in it,” says Lugo. “So we are going to talk about kintsugi – the Japanese technique of repairing pottery with lacquer mixed with gold dust, where the act of repair is clearly exposed. We both see it as a metaphor for our own transparency on the struggles we have had.
Karen Grimson is the curator of the art and design collection at Dacra, the Miami real estate company founded by Craig Robins 35 years ago that helped create Miami’s Design District. Although neither the Design District, with its high-end boutiques and chic restaurants, nor the fair itself includes the wider Miami community, Grimson, who is Argentine, believes the makeup of Dacra’s art collection reflects the city’s multicultural nature and an open point of view — Robbins made the first acquisitions of black, female, gay and Asian artists who are sought after today. “This city is an eclectic fabric of people from all over the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America,” she says. “It is political in its porosity and diversity. It affects what you do here and how you think.
Germane Barnes is the designer responsible for this year’s annual show appearances outside the Design Miami tent and throughout the Design District. This is the first time a Miami resident has had the opportunity and the second time for an African-American designer. “It was important to me to create work rooted in the community that really built Miami,” says Barnes, architect and filmmaker, assistant professor of architecture at the University of Miami. He has created brightly colored sculptures filled with foam noodles that people can climb inside. A 300 lb steel rod allows them to rock back and forth.
“This project is a love letter to the city and its people, a tribute to carnival,” says Barnes. “You walk in and you look like you’re wearing crazy carnival badges.” Decorations in the shape of steel drums will be hung from the trees; a huge disco ball cut in half will act as a stage. “It’s for the people,” says the 37-year-old, a Chicago native whose work explores the value design can bring to civic and domestic space. “You don’t have to know fancy design or buy a Bottega Veneta handbag to have fun in a rocker, to feel like you belong.”
November 30-December 4, designmiami.com