Sherbet hues, subdued late-afternoon sunlight, palm trees, Art Deco, and gigantic SUVs — if there’s a city that plays to expectations it’s Miami. Cross the bay to South Beach and you could easily be in a scene from The Birdcage — fluorescent lights fizzing and Ocean Drive heaving at night. Or get caught up in a midday car chase as per a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Except for the madly prohibitive traffic jams, hell yes!
This is a place built for partying in the sun, making for miles of white sand, drinking gargantuan margaritas, eating Cuban food, and escaping life.
However, I wasn’t hitting the “city that brings the heat” for days of beach and razzling, I was there for work. A serious task, erm, relatively speaking.
During the first week of December, design fair Design Miami and its big sibling Art Basel take place in the city — and cool people of every shape and style descend.
We were there with Lexus, which has been a partner of Design Miami for the past few years. Perhaps the idea of a car company sponsoring an event that is all about the coolest furniture and the next wave of design genius might sound odd, but it’s really an ideal fit. As president of Lexus’ Calty Design Research, Kevin Hunter, explained: “From a Lexus point of view we want to create artful design, artful automobiles, beautiful automobiles, emotional, passionate — that’s all part of the art world. I think it’s a great connection for us to be a part of that environment and share what we’ve done. And take in new trends — in statements, in techniques, in fashion, in graphics – Lexus is a leading-edge brand and we’re part of an innovative art society. We learn and grow.”
So, with that in mind we swamped the design stands and chatted to the world’s top gallery owners (and caught the banana taped to a wall by artist Maurizio Cattelan that sold for an obscene $120,000). We ogled some of the world’s finest Art Deco buildings and hella impressive graffiti — plus we popped into the hottest new contemporary art gallery in North America. Cruising between them in our fleet of Lexus vehicles. Obviously.
Here’s the highlight package:
1. HOME-GROWN HONEY
Did our hearts swell with pride on seeing Southern Guild’s stand at the show? You betcha. The Cape Town outfit represented with the very best in brilliant “Afro-pop” talent. Pieces from the likes of Dokter and Misses and Zizipho Poswa rocked, but it was Porky Hefer’s Molecules — three hanging seats each modelled on a different chemical compound — that had everyone talking and wanting to climb in.
2. PRETTY SURREAL
In a world gone mad, why wouldn’t design follow suit — or at least respond to the quagmire? Is this why so much of the work on display at Design Miami took on such surreal qualities? I’d say yes. Amorphous blobs, grotesque chairs, pieces that might have been props in Dune — they were all there. Take the outrageous furniture and objets on display at Functional Art Gallery and Todd Merrill Studio, for example.
3. REALITY REPRESENTING
I’m always keen on a pop-culture reference in design that makes me smile, turns a classic craft on its head, and potentially draws in new fans. Roberto Lugo’s Street Shrine 1: A Notorious Story, for Wexler Gallery, is exactly that. His funeral urns depicting slain rappers The Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur riff off gun-violence memorials in US cities — a contemporary update on Grayson Perry ceramics if we ever saw one.
4. THE CAR CONNECTION
Lexus showed its beautiful LC 500 Convertible amidst a multimedia installation called Sunshower. It was inspired by the play of light and rain created in what we South Africans call a “monkey’s wedding”. The space, designed by Nao Tamura, was also a place to relax (design fairs can be hectic) and sample Ooho — water capsules made of edible seaweed extract.
5. IT’S A SMALL, SMALL WORLD
Design Miami has the cachet to bring top creatives from across the globe together. AGO Projects is a case in point. This firm has offices in Mexico City and New York and champions a really exciting pool of global design and craft talent; hot-stuff Mexican designers like Fernando Laposse and Lanza Atelier included.
6. THE COLOUR CARD
As the curatorial director of Design Miami, Aric Chen, put it, “There is a broader rediscovery of colour and, let’s say, experimental types of work in contemporary design.” The show was the poster child for this. Clashing, bright hues abounded — the candy-coloured play zone titled Please Be Seated, fashioned by Les Ateliers Courbet and Thirlwall Design, a great example.
7. THE LUXE LOOK
We love a bit of luxury design at Wanted, so the stands by both Louis Vuitton and Fendi really got us going. Fendi showcased the 10 pieces it had commissioned Swiss design studio Kueng Caputo to create to decorate the exterior colonnade of its headquarters outside Rome. The entire display was hot stuff.Likewise, the Louis Vuitton Objets Nomades stand was exceptional.The design house’sever-expanding collection of exclusive furniture included vivid, perfectly crafted, and exuberant pieces by heavy-hitters including Patricia Urquiola, Marcel Wanders, and Barber Osgerby.
AND ABOUT THE ART:
The fair is an imposing sea of the globe’s best contemporary galleries, all under one roof. Frankly it’s almost too much to take in. It’s where careers are made, the hustle is furious, and record sales are achieved. So it was a thrill to see top South African talent going toe to toe with the best. Joburg’s own Mary Sibande showed, as did Serge Alain Nitegeka. And Stevenson Gallery set up shop — doing us proud with works by Zanele Muholi and Dada Khanyisa. More of that please!
In sharp contrast, we also visited the district of Wynwood to see Wynwood Walls — streets upon streets renowned for their graffiti. Fans of crazy tags, throw ups, stencils, and stickers — this neighbourhood is your edgy Holy Grail.
Practically next door to Wynwood is the brand-new Rubell Museum. This Annabelle Selldorf-designed space houses the more than 7,000 hugely important artworks that make up Don and Mera Rubell’s contemporary art collection. The couple started buying work in the 1960s and so this vast warren of rooms hosts everything from Keith Haring and Jeff Koons pieces to star-of-the-moment Kehinde Wiley’s paintings. It’s a staggeringly impressive, privately owned contribution to the world of art.
• From the February issue of Wanted 2020.