At Design Miami, Nature and Nurture Reign Supreme
It’s fitting that when you walk into this year’s annual Design Miami fair—an understandably lower-key event than usual—you’re sort of bombarded by nature.
The very first installation, a work called Curiosity Cloud by mischer’traxler and commissioned by Maison Perrier-Jouët (one of Design Miami’s sponsors), features mechanical butterflies trapped in bulbs. Intermittently, they come to electronic life, clanging around in their glass prisons. Walk a bit further and you’ll find Allosaurus and Camptosaurus skeletons from Granada Gallery (each available for over $1,000,000), ostensibly guarding the entrance to the show. Design-wise, they’re the original; biology’s plan, many millions of years old. The link is clear: 2020 has been entirely dictated, curved, and reshaped by nature, with a microscopic pathogen permanently changing the world. (It’s worth noting that Design Miami has strict COVID-19 protocols, in a process co-engineered with the University of Miami health system; temperature checks, spaced visitor scheduling, and mask enforcement are all included). Nodding to nature’s ultimate power makes sense, and gives the fair a smart, appropriately humble beginning.
Hosted in Miami’s historic Moore Building—where the fair was first held, before moving to Miami Beach—Design Miami ushers its patrons along a well-marked upward track. (It also notably features a virtual component this year.) But IRL, and atop the first flight of stairs, you’ll find the Carpenters Workshop Gallery space walls painted in hazy gloaming pink. A lamp by Stuart Haygarth, titled “Island,” consists of tchotchke birds (more nature!) grouped closely (possibly uncomfortably) together on a dome. It’s a clever, timely piece, even though Haygarth created it in 2011. The collectible-figurine element speaks to what one might find at home, where we’ve all spent far more time than usual, and the resultant comforts of plainness and whimsy. Another standout here is the Pirarucu Armchair from the Campana Brothers. The pirarucu is an Amazonian fish; its gigantic-scaled pelt, with which the seat is upholstered, looks more serpentine than ichthyological. “Mermaid mythology” is used as a descriptor.
“This year, we’re showing works that have playful narratives” says Ashlee Harrison, director of Carpenter Workshop Gallery in North America. “We were pivoting on the decision to come down here, but when we found out it was going to be in this building, it felt right, like a homecoming. Not having the typical booth, we wanted to bring smaller objects, pieces to take home with you, pieces that bring a little joy.”
At Todd Merrill Studio, there’s a solo show by the designer Marc Fish. Fish has bonded wood with resin, creating windswept, elegant furniture that recalls, somewhat oxymoronically, the malleability of fresh leaves and the hardness of deeply carved canyons.
At the Rio de Janeiro–based Mercado Moderno, Jorge Zalszupin’s striking Tea Cart is notable. The Brazilian-Polish designer created it in 1959, and it’s inspired by a style of baby strollers, of all things, that were common in Poland at the time. Its Jacaranda wood construction, glowing red in the gallery light, is a thing of timeless, sumptuous beauty.
Nina Martins, an international spokesperson for Mercado Moderno, reflected on the moment. “This is the first fair we’re participating in since COVID-19 hit. Ironically, the new challenges posed by the pandemic actually presented us with an exceptional opportunity about our selection.” The sentiment echoed Harrison’s: An effective approach was to bring more curatorial variety than in prior years.