Serious collectors are back, and they are interested in the old and new. Emma Crichton-Miller explores this year’s leading design trends
The art and design market is like a kaleidoscope: nothing is fixed. Every year, a different shake sees different patterns, with some years the overall palette hotter or cooler. The fundamental elements, however—the most sought-after artists and designers, the leading galleries— largely remain the same. Salon Art + Design is one place to take the measure of the changes, as galleries choose which pieces from their roster to showcase. This year, the gallery line-up is subtly different, as economic conditions require businesses to make tough choices about the fairs they do. But the mix of vintage, modern and contemporary design, including furniture, studio glass, and studio ceramics, with tribal art and a sprinkling of blue-chip 20th-century art, is still proving a resilient sector within the market—a recognizable area of interest for both serious collectors and interior designers.
The design auction sales this summer showed that the resurgent interest in art deco furniture has not yet reached its peak. Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann and Eugène Printz both saw competitive bidding. It was also clear that collectors were playing it safe, bidding confidently on blue-chip pieces by the Giacometti brothers, Alberto and Diego, and the husband and wife artists, Les Lalanne. This analysis was reinforced at Design Miami Basel where a smaller selection of leading galleries offered rare museum-quality historic pieces from their inventory, and contemporary galleries foregrounded stars such as Misha Kahn and Marc Newson. Galerie Jacques Lacoste’s Table Aux Cariatides (Cariatides Table) (circa 1976) by Diego Giacometti, sold early on, while Edward Mitterrand, president of Galerie Mitterrand, reported being in discussions with an important US collection “regarding the centerpiece of our booth, a one-of-a-kind sculpture of a donkey created by Lalanne between 1990 and 2002, titled L’Âne Planté, estimated at €5 million to €6 million.”
But what about the mood in New York? Some galleries reported lukewarm sales at TEFAF New York Art Fair, but when I spoke to Cristina Grajales, a Salon stalwart, her mood was buoyant. “People are slowly losing their fear. At our last opening, the gallery was packed. There is a sense of joy.” She also notes that clients have started to commission again. “Christophe [Côme] always has a very big following—once again people are prepared to wait for a piece. Textiles are very popular, and we are seeing interest in lighting and mirrors.” She explains that while the demographic profile of their audience has changed little, the pandemic inspired more people to think about and value their interiors, and take the time to look and learn. As Grajales says: “These are the future collectors.” They will bring to Salon a selection of new works by the Colombian weaving atelier Hechizoo, some newly commissioned sconces from artist Ann McCoy, and some experimental pieces by Brooklyn-based ceramicist and furniture designer Aaron Poritz “blending lighting and furniture together.”
Another cheerful New Yorker is Paul Donzella. He comments, “Our business has been very strong for the past two years. Covid really made an impression on our clients. They realized that they could still buy property and work with interior designers to decorate it, even remotely.” Italian post-war design is at the center of their offering. Donzella notes that his clients—predominantly interior designers from the New York region but involved in projects globally—are knowledgeable about the design he offers. As he puts it: “It makes sense that they would be—the value of this work has gone up tremendously over the past 30 years.”
While his Italian clients almost exclusively favor Italian design, his US clients are more wide-ranging, prepared to look at his choice of French, Scandinavian, Brazilian, and American vintage pieces. He will show at Salon a large, iconic Trumeau display cabinet by Gio Ponti and Fornasetti and a rare pair of big leather chairs from 1939 by the US Hollywood star turned interior decorator, Billy Haines. “I have been coveting these in books for the past 30 years,” Donzella remarks. “It is so exciting to briefly own them.”
If Donzella’s specialty is Italian 20th-century art, for New York-based Magen H Gallery, it is French mid-century design. This older established market is also strong. Hugues Magen, the gallery’s founder says: “There is always a demand for the renowned designers we carry in the collection, such as Jean Prouvé or Charlotte Perriand, but we do realize that our clients are also looking for new forms and ideas, designers that are less mainstream, as long as the pieces are beautiful and have a historical importance.” He adds: “Our Hervé Baley collection, for example, to which we dedicated a show and publication last year, has been truly well-received by our audience.” Magen believes that, while the pandemic had an undeniable impact on global economics, “it really narrowed the difference in market behavior between the US and Europe. It is more of an international market now, with a lot more online opportunities.”
Despite this, foreign galleries still feel that it is important to be present at Salon, to show their pieces in person to the receptive US audience. Sam Pratt of London gallery FUMI, specialists in contemporary collectible design, says: “The American attitude and mindset is quite different from others. Americans are arguably much more decisive, easier to engage, and have greater depth in their views as collectors.” He notes that for this audience, as for their clients in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, “the handmade and materiality elements always shine.”
Simon Stewart of Charles Burnand Gallery confirms that this is an important factor currently. When discussing the work of Puerto Rican artist Reynold Rodriguez, for instance, Stewart noted “the materiality is very interesting to people.” One of his artists, Pierre Bonnefille—the French artist who is known for making his own pigments—will produce new work for Salon which employs sand, mud, and clay gathered from different locations, as well as fresh bronze pieces.
Finally, David Gill, the pioneering London gallerist, says of the market: “Things have come right back up to speed. The fact is that people love collecting.” He adds: “America has been at the forefront of the practice of contemporary furniture since the 1950s. There are big collectors and interior designers.” And, while the US remains an important market for him, new markets have opened up in Korea and the Middle East. Gill will bring, as ever, his most ambitious pieces to Salon—by artists including Sebastian Brajkovic and Fredrikson Stallard. “I say to them: ‘Make for me what you cannot make for anyone else.’ The audiences are there.”