Gerrit Rietvel’s Unused Red Blue Chair at Galerie Vivid’s booth.
MIAMI - I spent Tuesday afternoon at the Design Miami/ filming a video with the effortlessly vibrant Tim Marlow, and in between takes, when he wasn't advising me on how to properly powder my face, and when I wasn't trying to convince him that he should buy a period example of a Le Corbusier lounge chair to replace the modern copy he takes naps on in his office, I spent a lot of time people-watching. What struck me was the dramatic increase in attendance of American museum curators of decorative arts, especially those who might not be associated with cutting edge contemporary design.
The Design fair's curatorial and aesthetic success has always been based on finding the right mix of dealers specializing in historical design to accompany the majority of galleries who feature exclusively contemporary works, but this has never been a fair where one sees a lot of prewar design, unless its a 1930s chair from the beginning of Jean Prouve's career. In fact, the piece that everyone was talking about this year, in part because it seemed so unique (and a bit lonely), was a superb 1920s example of a piano chair by Gerrit Reitveld, in the booth of a Rotterdam gallery. I thought it was the single greatest thing here this year, and not coincidentally so did several of my colleagues from other auction houses.
Meanwhile, the American museum landscape of 20th Century design has predominantly been biased towards American Arts & Crafts, Tiffany, and American Modernism of the 1920s and 1930s, with occasional forays into American midcentury modernism by Eames, Saarinen, and the rest of the Cranbrook tradition.
Tim Marlow and I discuss the design market at Design Miami/.
But here at the fair, when I conducted an informal poll of this onslaught of curators, many of whom have published tomes on these august American subjects, most of them told me that, yes, they were starting to form Contemporary Design collections, and yes, by necessity the vast majority of the pieces they were acquiring are by non-Americans, since "must-have" designers tend to be Dutch, English, French, Brazilian, Chilean, Chinese, Japanese... well, basically, every major country outside of America. Over the past decade, there have been a few American museums that are ahead in this genre, and the MFA Houston, The Carnegie Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago come to mind. But The High Museum of Art, under the guidance of Sarah Schleuning, (previously best known for her work in prewar American and French Art Deco at the Wolfsonian), and the Dallas Museum of Art, long known for its remarkable collection of American silver, are actively acquiring works, and starting to catch up. It's an encouraging sign for the future, as the only stand in the entire fair that many of these curators might have naturally gravitated towards was the elegiac presentation of Eames furniture by the legendary American Modern dealer Mark McDonald.
In forming these new collections, curators will have to take a few chances. They won't have the benefit of 60 years of art history to validate their decisions. Their successors may regret some of these acquisitions, and try and de-access them. But the point is, if you don't take a few chances now, your successors might not be able to afford the works deemed iconic 60 years from now.