Design Miami asks: what’s the meaning of America?

Design Miami asks: what’s the meaning of America?

Design Miami (November 27 – December 6 2020) returns to the Design District’s Moore Building, in Miami, Florida. The design fair unveils Podium, a new exhibition concept featuring gallery highlights, independent studios and a showcase on the theme of America(s) curated by Aric Chen

Design Miami has changed format for 2020: staging an in-person fair inside the city’s iconic Moore Building, a former furniture factory where it made its debut in 2005. Titled Design Miami/Podium, the 16th edition of the design fair (November 27 – December 6 2020) presents 139 pieces from 57 designers and 10 international design galleries following the theme of America(s). An exhibition by curatorial director Aric Chen will further expand on the meaning of America, with pieces ranging from 18th and 19th century Folk and Native American art to the works of George Nakashima and Isamu Noguchi and even two (nearly complete) Camptosaurus and Allosaurus skeletons excavated from Wyoming (‘we wanted to really deconstruct the notion of this word: America as the land goes beyond us as a species,’ explains Chen).

The galleries’ works on show will simultaneously be available to view and purchase online via Design Miami/ Shop, unveiled earlier this year, and complemented by a dynamic program of virtual talks on themes that offer new points of view on American design, architecture and being Black in America and the role of craft. At the Moore Building and across the Design District, some of Design Miami’s historical partners (from Fendi and Perrier Jouët to Lexus) build on the theme with visually striking and thought-provoking satellite installations.

Design Miami and the concept of America(s)

‘The question of what America is has loomed large. And with this [theme], the fair wants to re emphasise the role of design as part of broader conversations,’ says Chen. Devised a year ago, this theme has since acquired new meaning as well: ‘being aware that the fair would happen soon after the election, it seemed like a really good time to reflect upon the meaning of America through design, craft and the decorative arts. Certainly the events since then really affirmed the urgency of the topic: not only because of the election but also the Black Lives Matter movement, the George Floyd protests and a lot of long overdue reckonings and discussions that have been going on. It made the topic more relevant than ever.’

Isamu Noguchi Lamp
Design Miami 2020
Aove, Akari floor lamp by Isamu Noguchi. Below, an example of Hopi Salako, a traditional Native American figure presented by Jed Foutz, whose Shiprock, Santa Fe, gallery specializes in Native American art that he combines with Japanese craft and mid-century furniture

Chen stresses that the exhibition curation offers different perspectives on the theme, and weaves together a diverse set of narratives. ‘We have a lot of contemporary works that comment on equity and on issues of real immediate urgency, but we also wanted to have a little bit of fun with this and so we expanded on the notion that America means different things to different people, also acknowledging that America is a concept that goes beyond people.’

A process of discovery and inclusivity

The exhibition offered a process of research and discovery to Chen, highlighting the work of influential 20th century ceramicist Earl Hooks, whose space in Gary, Indiana was one of the first black-owned and operated fine art galleries. ‘There are some of these figures who I wasn’t aware of which, for me at least, speaks to the point that a lot of these voices have not been given the attention that they deserve up until now. It was also important to not rewrite histories, but to really add to them,’ he continues. His selection also includes pieces by contemporary talents such as the ceramics of Isaac Scott, drawn from photographs he took of the Black Lives Matter protests in Philadelphia earlier this year. 

Earl Hooks ceramics
Isaac Scott Black Lives Matter ceramics
Above, an Earl Hooks ceramic sculpture. (image courtesy of Moderne Gallery). Below, pieces by Isaac Scott, drawn from photographs he took of the Black Lives Matter protests in Philadelphia

‘I think design is big enough to accommodate everyone,’ concludes Chen. ‘Culture and history is not a zero sum game. And so I think it’s important to grow contexts. We, as cultures and societies, really need to reevaluate things that we took for granted, we need to critique problematic aspects of our past and present. And we also need to tear down certain unfair and unjust structures that have been in place for too long, but once we tear things down we need to think about what we build up in its place.’ §

Highlights from the fair and its Design District satellites:

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