Ambra Medda brings desire back to design with Design Miami/Basel. Fusing the worlds of furniture and art, she is luring the crème-de-la-crème of contemporary collectors.
Ambra Medda, curator and co-founder of Design Miami/Basel, represents the new breed of bright young things who are taking the worlds of contemporary art and design by storm. At just 25 years old, the Sardinian has not only re-established Miami as a bastion of cool, but she is revolutionizing the contemporary design collector's market.
Over recent years dealers and galleries have seen a significant demographical shift in contemporary collectors. Traditionally a rite of passage for wealthy professionals, the growing phenomenon of affluent collectors under 35 years old has instigated exciting new changes in a market on the verge of stagnation.
Answering the call for change, Medda approached Sam Keller, Director of Art Basel. Since its first opening in Miami in 2005, Design Miami/Basel, which runs concurrently with the illustrious Swiss art fair, not only offers designers the opportunity to flex their creative muscles, laying claim to limited editions that are more akin to art than contemporary furniture collections, it offers big cash sales and kudos for the hand-picked roster of galleries deemed worthy of participation, and a new lease of life to the Miami Design District.
Following the success of Medda's North American offering, the show's European counterpart Design Basel made its debut last year. While Design Miami salutes the great and good of design (the first award went to Zaha Hadid, and this year's was presented to Marc Newson), the Swiss fair takes a more adventurous approach, focusing on future talent. Last year British collective Established & Sons took the award for its contribution to design. The young entrepreneur aims to take the fair further afield, with plans for China and possibly Dubai in the future.
How did you meet Sam Keller of Art Basel?
I came to Art Basel in 2004. I was living in New York and came to Miami to curate an art show. I ended up staying in Miami after Art Basel because I thought the city had great potential and I thought that maybe I'd open a gallery and do design and fine art together. While that was happening Sam would come to Miami and we just spent more time together.
What instigated the idea?
It started off as a very small idea, wanting to work with more of an exhibition. We were thinking of an exhibition on major designers and architects of the 20th and 21st century. Sam and I were very much in touch with design galleries, who are essentially part of the art world because they collect art or have the same collectors as fine art galleries. We sort of heard that there was this sort of buzz, a kind of need from the gallerists for a really important platform where they could do business in a very high end way, and which caters to the needs of the collectors, and decided that it would be great to do it in Miami, and to do it during Art Basel to capture that crowd.
Design Miami has become a star-studded event. Do you think that the Miami event could get caught up in the celebrity aspect and lose sight of its real intention?
At the risk of sounding superficial, I think the celebrity aspect does add to the event; it does inject it with sparkle. I'm not saying that's what we're working for or why we're keeping the show, but at the normal decorative art fairs you would not see Diddy, Beyoncé, Steve Martin and Keanu Reeves, they would never go to those fairs because it's not their thing. We have made it a lot more a part of contemporary culture and a lot more dynamic and I think that if we do attract people like Keanu Reeves, the more the better. I don't think it depreciates the effort that we have made, I think it makes everyone turn around and think, 'Wow this is so cool!"
As the daughter of a design dealer you've been around collectors all your life. What differences have you noticed?
I think that the most obvious thing is the growth of young wealthy couples. That is really the most prominent feature.
Do you think that your fairs are a response to the fact that there are a lot more young affluent people?
For sure. Now rappers and hip hop artists are literally in their 20s and 30s, and young wealthy couples are creating their environment at home. There is a great transition and a much younger affluent crowd who are our collectors and I think that it's a good thing and I think that there is an opportunity to generate an understanding of what design is and how it should be appreciated.
Why do you think that design and designers have become so important once again?
I think that the transition, and the new interest and exploration on their part into limited edition design, has allowed for people to understand the collectible nature of design. I think that it has also given designers, in turn, the opportunity to work with materials and methods of creating designs that are more intricate and expensive because they are producing limited editions, where you can justify the cost of using mother of pearl inlay in a chair because it is supported by the market and by request.
What do you think has sparked the trend for collecting furniture as art?
I think that it is a result of exactly what we're saying, the fact that there is so much attention now on limited edition design and it has allowed designers to respond to the trend in going completely crazy and creating these pieces of furniture which, in some cases, have lost their functionality. It has created a bridge between art and design that I think is very solid. The fact that there are all these interesting pieces being produced in design also encourages buyers because they see that it is a field that is growing and that there are such great pieces out there, so I think that one feeds the other.
Who, in your opinion, are the future greats of design?
It's a gamble, which I love in a way, but it's always hard. I think the people who will remain in history will certainly be Ron Arad, Ettore Sottsass – he may not be young but his work is certainly more cutting edge than some of the younger designers. I would definitely say Maarten Baas, Zaha Hadid, Ross Lovegrove. I also think that Johanna Grawunder is fantastic but I don't know whether she's going to last or not. There are a lot of great designers coming out of the Dutch design schools and Belgium also.
My definition of luxury:
"Time, freedom and vegetation"
If luxury were...
Beautiful, historic jewelry.
For me, reading a book on a beach.
A maharani or a maharaja.
Somewhere with big banana trees, lush vegetation and tropical fruit, that for me is luxury, so I would say Brazil or Costa Rica... South America.