There were grumbles from a few disgruntled design purists when the Pavilion of Art & Design (PAD) transformed itself from a fair showing exclusively 20th- and 21st-century design and, in 2008, started to welcome dealers of 20th-century art too. But those who thought the change would condemn the fair to early retirement have been proved wrong.
Many design galleries feel PAD’s London edition (the parent fair in Paris is staged in April) is becoming one of the best places to sell their unique and limited-edition pieces. Some of design’s serious figures, including London gallery David Gill, the Milanese Nilufar and Paris’s Philippe Jousse, are returning after absences of two, or in Gill’s case, three years. Others such as Maria Wettergren, a Paris-based specialist in avant-garde Scandinavian design have finally got to the top of the (allegedly long and picky) waiting list for the first time.
The standard model of a design fair is to stage it in a tent near a big art fair (as in Miami and Basel), but the mixture at PAD lends a different dimension. Marc Benda, of New York gallery Friedman Benda, appreciates being able to “put a fantastic chair by Jean Royère in a context with a Bacon, a Picasso, a Donald Judd and an Ai Weiwei all within sight.”
Not everyone likes the mix, however. Some French gallerists recently told me they would never show at PAD, “next to all that decorative art and paintings in fancy frames”. But as Patrick Perrin, one of the fair’s directors, says: “Quality dealers in modern painting bring the big collectors and the big money.”
This year, Benda is bringing an ensemble of pieces by Ettore Sottsass, much of it of museum quality, with price tags to match. Sottsass is known for the patterned laminates and spiky geometric furniture he created as part of the Memphis design group of the early 1980s. The gallery started working with the grandee of Italian design three years before his death in 2007. “Our primary objective is to show what this man is about,” says Benda. “He’s been widely exposed but misunderstood too.”
Both Nina Yashar at Nilufar and David Gill are showing new work. In Yashar’s case it is by London-based Italian Martino Gamper, her strongest seller (pieces go up to €60,000 [$82,000], with buyers lining up) as well as design’s most rapidly rising star, Bethan Laura Wood. Wood is getting noticed for exquisite work that includes tables inlaid with intricate laminate marquetry and large-scale chandeliers made of Pyrex. Nilufar showed, and rapidly sold, the Pyrex pieces in Basel in June, for €8,000-€12,000. For London, Wood is making 16 new laminate tables with what she describes as “intense patterns based on ruffles, art deco architectural detailing, Welsh quilting and Edwardian collars”.
At David Gill, a pop-modern nickel-plated aluminium mirror by Fredrikson Stallard, water-polished to the highest shine, and with a hollow centre painted in heavily pigmented matte paint, will share space with a freshly finished wood and carbon fibre desk by Alexander Taylor, while omnipresent architect Zaha Hadid has created some new shelving.
“More people are looking at, and understanding, contemporary design now,” says Gill, who specialises in creating new pieces primarily with London-based designers. “The turnround seemed to happen three or four years ago. As the art market was spiralling out of control, the design market seemed finally to be settling in. People are becoming more sure of what they want, and have a better knowledge of the price structure. Much as you need to look at the materials and integrity of a piece, it’s also the case that a great name can make something in plastic and sell it for £2m [$3.1m].”