This week, Grace Charlton kicks things off by scoping out the offerings at Design Miami Basel (pictured), where we also admire a French gallery that champions emerging artists and another that showcases African talent. Plus, we turn the spotlight on a bright idea for refugee housing from the Norman Foster Foundation and a book on the work of Sri Lankan architect and landscape designer Geoffrey Bawa.
The 17th edition of Design Miami’s annual Swiss offshoot, Design Miami Basel, is a tightly curated affair. Running until 18 June, the event in the city’s Messeplatz is a furniture-focused satellite show accompanying Art Basel. Dozens of galleries have turned out from across the globe with novelties, museum-worthy pieces of design and miles of bubble wrap to facilitate the transportation of the precious goods on show.
Much like the city’s flagship art fair, the event is a place for seasoned buyers to purchase high-end pieces for homes and building projects. For those who are simply aspirationally browsing, Design Miami Basel is an opportunity to celebrate design galleries and the role that they play in the industry’s ecosystem, whether that is championing emerging talent and preserving design history or curating collections and liaising between designers and potential buyers.
Paris’s Galerie Patrick Seguin, for instance, is showing a collection of pieces by 20th-century master Jean Prouvé, while Galerie Jacques Lacoste is presenting Diego Giacometti’s 1976 bronze-and-glass Caryatides table (for which it received the award for best historic piece). New York-based gallery Friedman Benda is exhibiting a collection of chairs by classic and contemporary designers including Faye Toogood, Ron Arad and Ettore Sottsass. Looking beyond Europe and the US, the Sharjah-based Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council is highlighting Emirati crafts by women, with woven palm chairs by Ghaya Bin Mesmar sitting pretty next to subverted traditional wooden boxes with a pearl inlay by Irthi x Are.
Wandering through the booths here allows one to brush up on design history and get a sense of where the industry is heading. With Design Miami confirming a third offshoot in Paris, where an inaugural show will take place in October, visitors will have another chance to experience this deft combination of commerce, education and celebration. Judging by the curatorial work in Basel, galleries are ready to keep raising the bar and pushing forward.
Grace Charlton is a writer and researcher for Monocle and a regular contributor to ‘Monocle on Design’.
Every other year the European Cultural Centre curates its Time Space Existence exhibition alongside the Venice Biennale. As part of 2023’s showcase, which runs from May until November, it has turned the lagoon-side Giardini della Marinaressa into a public sculpture park, replete with architectural follies and installations that explore ways in which people can live happier, healthier lives.
Among the picks of the bunch is the Essential Homes Research Project, a collaboration between the Norman Foster Foundation and Swiss building-materials firm Holcim. The project tasked architecture students to design housing for longer-term refugee camps; the first prototype of the resulting structure was then built in Venice. “In response to humanitarian crises, you have to create camps very quickly,” says Norman Foster. “The reality is that families can spend decades in a tent that is supposed to be temporary.”
Built from timber and wrapped in a Holcim-made concrete carpet, which is simply rolled out and fixed in place by spraying water, the prototype resembles a triangular tube and contains everything that a small family might need, including a bathroom, kitchen and sofa, as well as bunk beds. The sturdy, modular houses are made to be flat-packed and quickly assembled in one or two days on-site. “It’s designed nicely, obviously, because it’s Norman Foster,” says Edelio Bermejo, Holcim’s head of research and development. “It also provides comfort, wellbeing, dignity and the chance to create a community.”
For more on the European Cultural Centre at the Venice Biennale, pick up a copy of Monocle’s June issue, which is out now.
Not all booths at Design Miami Basel focus on objets d’art from years gone by. One gallery that is bringing new talent to the Messeplatz is the Galerie Scène Ouverte, a Paris-based space founded by Laurence Bonnel in 2016. “We mostly champion young designers,” says Bonnel. “Some have only recently graduated from design school. We also like [work that] pushes designers to their limits and emphasises materiality and craftsmanship.”
This concept of materiality and craft can be seen in Bonnel’s decision to show playful yet elegant works such as Dutch designer Rino Claessens’ modular bench (pictured, top) or Chilean Abel Cárcamo’s mirror with frames that have the matte lustre of plaster. In another corner of the booth is Paris-based Hervé Langlais’s Arches 2 Console (pictured, bottom), which is made from nero antico marble and evokes Roman architecture, with retro-futuristic ceramic lamps by French designer Adélie Ducasse sitting on top. For these young creatives, being represented at Design Miami Basel by Galerie Scène Ouverte is a considerable boost. “Basel has a particular energy as it exists in dialogue with Miami,” says Bonnel. “The quality is extraordinary. It makes you want to show your best pieces.”
Olivier Chow is the founder of Lausanne-based contemporary art and design gallery Foreign Agent. Specialising in representing talent from Africa and its diaspora, Chow and his team are presenting for the first time at Design Miami Basel with pieces by Hamed Ouattara, Gonçalo Mabunda and Ousmane Mbaye. We caught up with Chow to find out more.
What are you presenting at Design Miami Basel?
We brought Hamed Ouattara’s new collection, Bolibana, which means “the happy ending of an unusual journey” in Bamana [a language spoken in Mali and Burkina Faso]. That word reflects the artist’s journey, which started in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, before he went to Paris and then the US. Ouattara was recently featured in The New York Times as one of nine trailblazing African artists and designers to watch. I have been working with him for about three and a half years so he has really been part of the gallery’s journey. We have been promoting his work from the beginning. Foreign Agent presents both art and design so Hamed reflects the DNA of the gallery. We also have a unique piece by Mozambican artist Gonçalo Mabunda and Dakar’s Ousmane Mbaye Design.
How do you ensure that you stand out at the fair, especially as a newcomer?
We are one of the few galleries specialising in African contemporary design and we work with most of the big names from the continent. For us, it’s important to be in Basel because you don’t really see African work at these fairs and, beyond the artists and designers, there is an ecosystem of people who depend on us promoting the work. The response from visitors has been amazing. A lot of people in North America, Latin America and Asia have never seen these works or the richness of the continent. Many don’t associate luxury and design with Africa but, having lived and worked there for many years, I really wanted to show a different image of Africa.
You’re also one of the few Swiss galleries participating. Why is this significant?
Lausanne is my hometown. I studied in Geneva and London, then worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross for many years. I called the gallery Foreign Agent because I worked mainly in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Israel and other places. I also studied African art at Soas University of London. I found a space and established the gallery in 2019 in Lausanne. At the time, art foundation Plateforme 10 and the Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts were bringing creative energy to the city. But Lausanne is small, which is why it’s important for me to come and present at big design shows such as Design Miami Basel.
For more interviews with leading designers and gallerists, tune in to ‘Monocle on Design’.
Franz West might be best known for his colourful large-scale sculptures but, to a growing group of collectors, the late Austrian artist is sought after for his furniture. In the later part of his career, West started applying his aesthetic principles to sofas, chairs and lamps, which combined ordinary materials with a sense of humour and a keen understanding of how people would use the pieces. Diwan from 1991, for instance, is made with steel rods and linen; one recently sold at auction for more than €75,000.
Since West’s death in 2012, the gallerists with rights to his furniture have manufactured only a few pieces a year, sold at prices more in keeping with his original artworks. That’s a shame because there is a gap in the market for sofas such as Diwan that don’t fill up an entire living room but are still inviting enough to stretch out on. Perhaps a contemporary designer could take their cue from the Austrian creative and pay tribute with a comfortable perch in a similar style? It would ensure that West’s principles are preserved without lowering the price of his originals.
Stockholm-based furniture brand Massproductions recently took over an art gallery in central Copenhagen to present the first shelving system in its catalogue, Gridlock. The customisable units – available in natural, black and white-ash colours – can be arranged in grids to create a sleek, geometric design. “The name reflects its nature,” says co-owner Magnus Elebäck.
Unveiled as part of Copenhagen’s 3 Days of Design festival, the functional shelves were devised by Massproductions’ design team, led by the company’s co-founder and head designer, Chris Martin. “We do everything ourselves instead of collaborating with external designers,” says Elebäck. “We want to ensure a coherent brand expression.” For those who want to furnish a living room, office or bedroom with Gridlock, it would work with a smart stool, chair or sofa by Massproductions too.
The late Sri Lankan architect and landscape designer Geoffrey Bawa tempered modernism with indigenous Ceylonese tradition. Published by Switzerland’s Lars Müller, the book Geoffrey Bawa: Drawing from the Archives explores his ability to sensitively fuse the cultural rhetoric of post-independence Colombo with the natural world.
Edited by Shayari de Silva, chief curator of the architect’s collections at the Geoffrey Bawa Trust, Drawing from the Archives is a thoughtfully selected collection of more than 200 photos of the architect’s sketches and designs, including for St Thomas’ Preparatory School in Colombo and the Ceylon pavilion at Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan. Alongside the images is commentary from writers including Sean Anderson, associate curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The result is a publication that offers detailed insight into the approach of one of the 20th century’s finest architects.