December 27 2017

Design Miami / Basel 2017

by Lidia Manolova

What did Design Miami/Basel 2017 tell us?

No matter how up-to-date we are with the latest developments and trends in the world of design, Design Miami/Basel opens up whole new horizons. Visiting the forum is an emotional and liberating experience, breaking any stereotype we may have of design-based art.   

For SKLADA, the three days in Basel at the beginning of June were not just a great start to summer, but also a massive emotional and inner recharge for a long time ahead. The twelfth edition of the art and design exhibition, having made Basel a primary destination for gallerists, collectors and connoisseurs – or for just anyone willing to see, hear and experience the impact and prospects before the bigger picture of design – is certainly an occasion for emotions, but also for analysis and redefinition of our familiar market. 

What is Design Miami?

We need to make it clear from the start that Design Miami/Basel is not a furniture exhibition. Unlike the stunning installations and concepts brands use to present their products in Milan, here the best galleries in the world focus on topics that capture their interest and are the object of their creative explorations – unique furniture, accessories and jewellery, often from private collections, ranging from the Art Deco and Art Nouveau periods, modernism, mid-twentieth century and contemporary art – an exceptionally wide range of styles and aesthetics curated to the highest possible standards. This year, about 50 galleries, more than at any of the previous editions, exhibited furniture, lighting and 20th- and 21st-century art, all of museum-like quality. Each piece struck a very fine balance between exclusive business opportunity and layers of cultural signification: collaborations with designers and design institutions, panels and lectures with celebrities of the design, architecture, art and fashion scenes, as well as unique projects assigned to rising or leading designers and architects. This year’s forum marked the first presentation of a South American Gallery, Rio de Janeiro’s Mercado Moderno, while the only gallery from the former socialist countries, also a first in Basel, was Moscow’s Heritage. 

First impressions

Built four years ago, Herzog & de Meuron’s building in Messe Basel, where the exhibition is held, is an experience in itself. In the hall, washed in natural light spread in through the dome, the visitor is greeted by an installation of American fashion designer Thom Browne – a mystical forest of trees, plants and animals made of textile. Right next is his showcase of authentic worktables – mid-twentieth century desks, design icons per se, which the designer is passionate about. Curating this year’s iteration of Design at Large, Mr. Browne focused on how design as an artistic method defines our lives through work and the workspace. Along with Jean Prouvé’s 1944 demountable house, presented by Paris’s Galerie Patrick Seguin, the mood of this installation frames one of the main themes of Design Miami/Basel - in fact, the theme with the widest representation – interwar and mid-twentieth century design production. It brings together the focus and interest of galleries around the world and clearly maps the prevailing attempt to hunt down limited editions that are an important part of the history of design, but are also representative of collaborations between art, creators’ quests and manifestos of entire movements. At the crosspoint of these different creative worlds, the furniture, lamps, accessories and other exhibited objects are evocative and individualistic, and are, for the most part, an emanation of ideas and concepts far from any marketing trend. 


This was, without a doubt, the year of historical icons. Right before our eyes galleries revealed masterpieces that could otherwise only be seen in museums. The great Italian designer Ettore Sottsass, who would have been 100 in 2017, was represented by several galleries. A collection of glass and ceramics, marked by the designer’s approach to colour and shape, graced the Friedman Benda stand, and a wooden cabinet series, celebrating his aesthetic sensitivity and brave experimentation with materials, was also on display. 

Chicago’s Casati Gallery put Italian post-war design in the spotlight by showing works of celebrated artists such as Franco Albini, Andrea Branzi, Gio Ponti, Ettore Sottsass and others. Designed for a private interior in Milan, BBPR group’s furniture and lighting (1934 edition) shown at the exhibition are an example of their design-meets-art approach, combining the group’s modernist creed with antique details.

Milan’s Nilufar Gallery had also dedicated its stand to BBPR, showcasing the group’s public and private projects through objects such as light fittings for a movie theatre in Milan and a wooden, metal and glass screen designed for a private home.  

The acclaimed Carpenters Workshop, with galleries in Paris, London and New York, showed a limited series of unique objects by contemporary artists Nacho Carbonell, Vincenzo de Cotiis and Giacomo Ravalli.

Beyond furniture

As a way of creating art that excites, design stretches our personal boundaries, unveils a whole new world, and arouses a feeling of lack of inhibitions and extraordinary inner freedom – if one could put in just a few words the experience of Design Miami/Basel, this would be it. Alongside unique furniture and projects, there were also those whose excitement lay in their sheer beauty, emotion and the history of their creation. Such was Tuomas Markunpoika’s Engineering Temporality – a metal skeleton in the form of an ancient cabinet. The piece tells the story of painful memory loss and was inspired by the designer bearing witness to his grandmother’s decline with Alzheimer’s while he was still a student at Design Academy Eindhoven. The disintegration of the personal world of memories is metaphorically recreated through the technology he designed by wrapping some of her favourite furniture in rings of tubular steel and burning it to ashes. And so, the ghost of the memory of a loved one becomes an exceptionally beautiful object, a collector’s art piece …

Collectors’ items

Design galleries are a relatively new thing. Very trendy by their nature, they provide collectors with a wide-open field. Investing in unique furniture may not yet yield high returns, but it is definitely profitable. Significant for being functional art objects, such pieces of furniture have a history of their own, making them valuable and desirable, but also telling us something very important about our time: art is not just painting and sculpture and valuable furniture is not just antiques. The design of the 20th century created and continues to create exceptional pieces, representing a flight of fantasy, a lack of boundaries for the imagination, and a sense of freedom that we all need so badly.

This is what Design Miami/Basel told us in June 2017.