Art Basel’s sister fair Design Miami brings together a great jumble of furniture and design pieces. Amid the variety, the uniting quality here is “collectability”. But choosing what’s worth collecting is not an easy task. Unprepared buyers can easily find themselves debating the respective merits of a mid-century Jean Prouvé-designed furniture versus British-Canadian designer Philippe Malouin’s chainmail rug. Many agonise over the choices they make: will their purchase increase in value? Will it age well? Or will it represent a poor investment and a visual reminder of one’s poor judgement?
When following the money the key word is “functionality”, with buyers turning away from items that are better placed in a display cabinet than in a home. This year we are drawn to Erik Thomsen, whose eponymous New York gallery is known for Japanese fine art and design. This week, however, it has garnered praise for objects that are distinctly utilitarian: woven Japanese bamboo baskets. Admittedly these ones are quite exquisite, dating back over the past century, and have been commanding sums in the tens of thousands at the fair. For Thomsen, who entices us with a still-unsold reclaimed-bamboo basket from artist Wada Waichisai II from the 1930s, the beauty of collectable design remains just as much in functionality as aesthetics. “I wouldn’t want to see these behind glass,” he says. We agree.