Crazy Sexy Cool
Alia al-Senussi and Kenny Schachter on the marriage made in art-fair heaven between high-end limited-edition design and hip young patron-collectors
IT IS NO secret that young people are generally attracted to things that are shiny, new and edgy. Contemporary art is no exception to this rule. There is a new generation of art enthusiasts breaking through from the Western world but also from the emerging markets, particularly from Russia and the Middle East. These savvy 35-and-unders regularly attend art fairs and exhibitions around the world, not just in their native countries, and can be seen at all the most important events of the global art calendar.
An example of how this set bands together, or meets each other, is through the various young patrons’ groups affiliated with the major museums and non-profit groups, such as the Tate Young Patrons, Parasol Future Unit, Guggenheim Young Collectors and MoMA Junior Associates, which offer exclusive packages to young art enthusiasts who enjoy the art world along with the lifestyle it represents. Members join through word-of-mouth or find the information online and are able to engage with art in a relaxed, social atmosphere, frequently meeting for events, tours or just casual get-togethers that provide an opportunity to learn and interact with like-minded people. Often these groups have members who are not art-world professionals, but rather young people who work in finance, consulting or other fields yet have a keen interest to learn about art and to meet others who feel the same way.
These groups are stepping stones for fulfilling more mature activities in the arts, such as being board members of institutions, collectors and curators. It becomes a natural progression in a philanthropic relationship — one becomes familiar with the programme in a small way and likes the larger picture. These groups are vital to the future of the institutions they support. They bring a freshness and energy to the patrons as well as the curators and administrators, and they educate a whole new generation of enthusiasts on the benefits of patronage.
PEOPLE CAN BE somewhat intimidated by the art and design worlds, not wanting to walk into a gallery for fear of coming across a rude receptionist or sales person, so the safety of being part of a patrons’ group and also of going to an art fair or art event takes away this anxiety and mitigates the risk of having a bad experience.
Most of all, these groups create camaraderie as there is a basic characteristic and common interest that links the members and a seeming intellectual curiosity among all the patrons. There is a comfort to learning in numbers and a safety to being a part of a group rather than an individual, these young globetrotting art collectors and patrons find a common interest in one another and become not only colleagues, but also friends.
Interestingly, these groups often have unique qualities which distinguish one from the other, and geography also dictates which groups one decides to join. However, a handful of die-hard fans cross over between all the groups as these groups nurture as well as educate.
The enthusiasm of the young patrons comes from being involved with art, but also from being involved with one another. Galleries welcome their vibrant energy, as do museums and the wider art world, particularly in the emerging markets such as the Middle East. Art Dubai has benefited from a strong group of young patrons, as have the auction houses.
HOW ARE YOUNG, emerging collectors meant to most enjoy their newly acquired art masterpieces? Lying atop a Zaha Hadid limited-edition chaise, of course! Design Art is an exciting and fresh form of object-making by architects and industrial designers that often entails experimentation with contemporary materials and methods of fabrication that typically aren’t feasible to mass-produce. And it’s a market driven by historically younger participants than any other sector in the arts.
The term Design Art and the market for it were coined and created by Phillips de Pury auction house around 2000, to sell high-end furniture in limited editions (often to younger collectors) in the manner and for the price of fine art. This was a movement always intended to be fuelled by the tastes and appetites of the newly minted collecting classes, away from the fuddy-duddy, musty old antiques of your grandparents.
Design Art and its youth-driven constituency have had a large hand in pulverising the antique market into near extinction. Personally, I don’t differentiate between a fork, chair, painting or car, subscribing to a democratic, non-hierarchical notion of art, which Design Art feeds into. This is due to new attitudes to art making and buying fostered by younger designers, artists and collectors intent on blurring boundaries rather than adhering to the conservative, formal compartmentalising no longer relevant to our lives.
Fairs are an offshoot of the growing design field and resemble a marriage of art and design, Design Miami being the most concentrated and focused of the fairs. These are social events that serve as school dance, community block party and giant flea market, all rolled into one. Try one — they are a blast.
FUNNILY ENOUGH, BESIDES Miami, Design Miami is also held in Basel, Switzerland, and the Swiss fair is also held in Miami. And to top it all off, the Basel fair bought the Hong Kong fair, so I am sure there will be a Miami Basel Hong Kong design fair any day. I am about to be the official blogger for the Design Miami Fair starting in Switzerland in June — a much safer approach, that of spectator and reporter.
Unfortunately, between 2004 and 2008 the design art market itself overheated, mimicking its big sister, the frenetic art world. My peers and I weren’t blameless in the ensuing bloodbath: we all became furniture flippers — it was just too easy. It also got a bit boring when the field became market-obsessed, with a small universe of material that ended up being churned by speculators every three months or so at auction for higher and higher prices.
Then came the backlash, with the recession beginning at the end of 2008, when it all came to a grinding halt. In fact, the field came close to evaporating altogether. Design art had developed a premature ageing disease, going through a boom-and-bust cycle in record time, a mere matter of years. It’s only now slowly recovering in a healthy, organic manner. Besides, Marc Newson, the poster boy for design art, is not a Picasso, though it costs just about as much, reaching $2.5 million for a chair in an edition of fourteen counting artist’s proofs. But, on the other hand, an Eileen Gray chair went for about $28 million at the Yves Saint Laurent sale at Christie’s a few years back, so you never know.
There are the heroes of design, such as the inimitable Zaha Hadid, the irrepressible Ron Arad and the impresario Newson, but there is a plethora of young, up-and-coming and mid-career designers begging to be discovered, in fact more so than at any time in the history of design. This is a fun, open-ended field, with a much lower entry level than art (ie cheaper!) and thus perfectly suited to younger tastes and collecting habits.
For anyone starting out, I’d recommend the Pavilion of Art and Design in London, Paris and New York, the design sales at Phillips de Pury in London and New York, Artcurial in Paris and Dorotheum in Vienna.