Design infiltrates art as designers fetch record sums for limited edition works.

Design infiltrates art as contemporary designers take a limited approach with one-off works.

Design has never been so cool. Cutting-edge creators have been elevated to rock star status. Contemporary art has also grown in stature over recent years as the virus of art fairs and galleries cropping up around the world will attest. As the world's wealth list grows today's affluent aficionados are creating a highly competitive art market, leaving new players looking for an in on the collecting ladder or simply seeking items of individuality. This is where design comes into the picture. The emerging market of collectible unique design pieces offers, for the moment, competitive prices, and most importantly, fresh talent. 'Limited edition' and 'one-off' have become buzzwords among industrial and furniture designers vying for a piece of the art market pie as they become savvy to the fact that buyers are becoming more daring as they explore new creative medias, while still craving that element of exclusivity.

The recent roots of design art can be traced back to the 1980s when early pioneers Marc Newson and Ron Arad produced unique pieces that fell between the line of form and function. In fact, it was in Sydney's Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in 1986 that Newson got his break. His handcrafted Lockheed Lounge chaise was, by the designer's own admission "utterly unusable", yet still attracted enough attention to kick off his career. A decade later the same item broke the record for receiving the highest recorded auction price ever paid for the work of a living designer when it sold for $968,000 at Sotheby's. As Paolo Moroni of Sawaya & Moroni recalls, he and partner William Sawaya have also been involved in commissioning unique pieces as far back as the as early 1980s. The duo were early exponents of one of the biggest names in the current design art market, Zaha Hadid "We started with Michael Graves, Oswald Mathias Ungers, Charles Jenks at that time it was post-modernism, it wasn't until later that it became more spectacular. From the beginning they were very expensive pieces because of the artisan work, but perhaps people thought that this was a market, but we never thought of it this way. We would have loved to have done it for cheaper for many more people, but quality costs" he explains.

UK-based designer Tom Dixon traces design art's roots back further still "I think it actually goes back to the Medicis or before. Rich people have always commissioned extraordinary furniture and that's where the money to do it has come from, whether it was the 20s with the maharajas and the modernists, you can't really move significantly forward unless you get industrialists or rich people to commission it, because innovation is expensive, so it's nice to see some of the art money coming into the field" although, like many he expresses reservations that the current flux in the market could spark a glut of rogue design art.

Pascal Dowers, co-founder of London design gallery Greenwich Village and forthcoming design art event Covent Garden Super Design notes "There is a lot of hype in the market because lots of young designers see the prices that established artists, such as Marc Newson are commanding, and believe that they can charge ridiculous sums, but what they don't realize is that it takes years to reach the level that Newson has. However, the market makes up its own mind, so this will eventually stop."

The name that currently dominates any design art discussion is British furniture manufacturer Established & Sons, which has taken the term literally by adding creative alliances to its ever-expanding portfolio of limited edition design. This year the company presented the WrongWood collection, a collaboration between industrial designer Sebastian Wrong and artist Richard Wood. Ironically, while Established & Sons has become a pin-up for the flourishing genre, Alasdhair Willis, the company's CEO, is the first to raise the question of credibility "I'm trying to steer away from that whole kind of design art mentality where pieces such as our Zaha Hadid shelves could be seen as just sculpture. I think it's bad, as it doesn't give longevity to what we are trying to do here. Every piece that we work on has to have a basis in design, has to have a function. If it's just pure sculpture, then I feel that there's a problem there" he adds, "Weve got to define the parameters and slightly pull them apart a bit. Zaha Hadid is an architect, Jasper Morrison is a designer, so if they choose to work in a very high end form, in materials and manufacturing techniques that have a prohibitive production and therefore are a small run at a high price point, that's fine and the fact that an art collector buys it is fine as well, but let's not try to say that these guys, ie the architects and designers are becoming the next Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst or whatever." But major art powerhouse New York's Larry Gagosian gallery which recently staged the major solo exhibition of Marc Newson and Established & Son's latest opening, its first gallery in London's Mayfair beg the question, could this no longer be the case?

Piggy-backing on the world's leading art fairs, shows such as Design Miami/Basel, which runs concurrently with Art Basel are causing reverberations within both markets. This month London will see the opening of two new shows during the city's most established art show Frieze London; DesignArt London and Covent Garden Super Design. DesignArt London follows the fulfills the role of the traditional buying fair, boasting an impressive international offering, including New York's Sebastian+Barquet; Nilufar of Milan, Contrasts Gallery from China and London's David Gill Galleries, while Covent Garden Super Design adopts a more exhibition like role. Covering 40,000 sq ft within Covent Garden's main piazza the show, a collaboration between just three London galleries; Greenwich Village, The Apartment and Kenny Schachter ROVE Projects, promise an all-star line-up, from Zaha Hadid, Ron Arad and Studio Job, to rising design art stars Committee. "There is lots of middle ground at the moment, with many fighting for the upper echelon. There are many new and groundbreaking pieces. What we are looking for are strong pieces that are exemplary of the designer, signature works if you will."

The advantage of a market still in its infancy is that it has become an interesting arena for experimentation, but there is a danger, as Pascal Dowers warns "One of the biggest problems is the influx of limited editions. Design companies and manufacturers are the most guilty of jumping on the bandwagon, but it doesn't always work. They produce limited editions, followed by limited colors, then re-editions; that's when people begin to lose confidence. One of the most important things to look for when buying is how easy it is to be reproduced." Moroni also believes that much of the blame for today's inflated prices must fall on the auction houses and buyer/dealers who buy on to make a quick buck from the flourishing trend "I believe in charging high prices for very high quality, but I don't believe in blowing up the prices in the market, because ultimately this will fall upon us, the design community." Whether art and design is a match made in heaven or a design Armageddon remains to be seen, but as creative freedom reaches an all-time high, today's designers are literally breaking the mould.

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