Design Miami Director Rodman Primack interviewed by Blouin ArtInfo

Rodman Primack
Rodman Primack - photo by Andrew Meredith

"When I first started, very often you would see an incredible art collection surrounded with terrible furniture: meaningless, uninteresting, unimportant, empty furniture. Now, people are applying the same values and interests to every object in their home as to their art collection."

It is the third year that Rodman Primack has been at the reins of Design Miami, the fair dedicated to collectible design that takes place twice a year: in Miami every December, and in Basel every June.

With a background that includes chairing the auction house Phillips’s London office, directing Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles, and working as the specialist for Latin American art at Christie’s, Primack straddles the worlds of both art and design. A collector of both art and design in his own right, he has been described as the perfect person to broaden the reach of the fair.

Blouin ARTINFO has caught up with Primack in Basel, in preparation for next week’s Design Miami/ Basel.

Artinfo: What has been your agenda for Design Miami/ Basel?

When I was handed the reins, three years ago, the fair was in a very healthy place, ready to grow. Sometimes, when you take on a job, there’s a bunch of messes you have to clean up. But my predecessor, Marianne Goebl, had already done such a great job with the fair.

We have focused on expanding the platform. It’s less about trying to make the fair bigger, more about refining the experience, bringing other voices into the gallery program: this year, for the first time in a couple of years, we have a gallery that specializes in Art Deco. It’s less about quantity or scale, more about how in depth we can tell the story of the 20th and21st century design.

Artinfo: You have previously spoken about connecting the fair to the broader developments in science and technology. Is that still an area of interest?

Certainly it is. Innovation in technology and materials is always interesting: to me, my colleagues, collectors of contemporary art and design, and to the world in general. Sometimes it’s not just about what’s showing up at a gallery, but concepts, ideas, conversations, that affect us in general. For example, Brynjar & Veronika – this year’s Designers of the Future – work with different materialities, from carbon fiber to rope, crystal, trying to push boundaries of both traditional and new materials.

Artinfo: What new, exciting things can we look forward to in Basel 2016?

On Monday night [June 13], we are supporting UNAIDS with a vernissage, followed by dinner with Duran Duran, and an auction of design objects, curated by Simon de Pury. Using the platform for a philanthropic cause has not happened in Basel before.

Among the exciting exhibits this year is our Design at Large program, which I initiated when I took over, is curated by an invited figure from outside our world – someone who has an interest in design, and a vision, but isn’t an art curator. This year, it’s Martina Mondadori, the editor of Cabana Magazine. Martina is looking at gardens, the relationship between the constructed ‘natural’ world, and the world of [manmade] structures.

Jacques Lacoste is bringing an important, intact collection of Giacometti, all coming from a single residence. The Design Curio exhibition by Dansk Mobelkunst has a very important and rare pair of lights, which come to life inblack light. Patrick Seguin has again done an incredible Prouvé structure, with an incredible story: originally at Maxéville factory near Nancy, it was intact but had been incorporated into a development, and had become a sex club. They’ve discovered it and restored it, and now it has come to the fair.

Artinfo: How do the Basel and Miami fairs differ?

Primack: Basel is a bit more traditional: it’s original, longer established. All the fairs, not just Design Miami, end up being a bit more serious.

Miami has a different energy: more free, more experimental, both because of being in the Americas, and the way it has developed, the audience. Significantly more people come to Miami than to Basel.

Artinfo: Is the collectible design market still catching up with the art market?

Primack: The collectible design market is smaller than the contemporary art market, but growing, consolidating. People are attracted to the pricing: there’s so much important work, with great provenance and history, that’s still relatively affordable. I think we’re still seeing it in its juvenile form. Even the vision and the idea is only 12-15 years old. It didn’t feel like a cohesive market until Design Miami was founded and gave a platform for international galleries to come together in one place, and not in an antiques fair. Today, the design collectors’ market is much more related to contemporary art, than to the antiques market.

When I first started, very often you would see an incredible art collection surrounded with terrible furniture: meaningless, uninteresting, unimportant, empty furniture. Now, people are applying the same values and interests to every object in their home as to their art collection.

I also noticed, years ago, that art collectors were trying to create residences that looked like art galleries: blond wood floors and white walls, the simplest of Modernist furniture. Now, they are getting more confident about mixing it up, challenging that look with color and pattern, and more interesting furniture combinations.

Design Miami/Basel runs from June 14th through 19th in Basel, Switzerland.