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Highlights from Design Miami

Design/Miami continues to be one of my favorite satellite shows during Miami Art Week for its immersive installations and focus on design and art objects. Located next door to Art Basel Miami Beach, the anchoring event of Miami Art Week, Design Miami/ held its 15th edition with 33 galleries and 14 Curio presentations from 13 countries. The design show is a refreshing break from the fair fatigue of white-walled booths. Instead, you’ll find works presented in conceptual spaces.

Todd Merrill Studio is an exhibition-based program representing an international group of established and emerging contemporary artists, each sharing an underlying drive to push the materials that comprise their works to their absolute aesthetic limits. Their dynamic, unique, and frequently groundbreaking pieces stand at the forefront of today’s highly coveted collectible art and design.

As a marketplace for collectible design, Design Miami/ invites international design galleries to present curated exhibitions of museum-quality furniture, lighting and objets d’art dating from advent of Modernism (circa 1900) to the present day.

Friedman Benda’s solo installation by acclaimed multidisciplinary artist Daniel Arsham breaks away from the traditional constraints of a fair to transform the space into part domestic setting and part kunstkammer. Arsham developed and realized a fictionalized environment that is in dialogue with his home’s modernist architect, Norman Jaffe.

In my opinion, the show’s standout installation comes from Friedman Benda, a living space framed by glowing walls and furnished with pieces by artist Daniel Arsham.

Daniel Arsham’s Objects for Living presented by Friedman Bena, New York in a room installation with glowing walls.

The immersive installation breaks away from the traditional art fair constraints to transform the space into an imagined domestic setting. 

Sofa by artist Daniel Arsham on view at Design Miami/

The project began when Arsham developed a collection of objects in dialogue with his Long Island home and expanded it into a fictionalized environment.  In the first hours of the fair, Friedman Benda sold its entire presentation by artist Daniel Arsham.

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FENDI presents Roman Molds by Kueng Caputo

Another standout conceptual space was Roman Molds presented by FENDI, a collection from Zurich-based design studio Kueng Caputo. The conceptual space features ten architectural works crafted from Fendi’s soft leather into a structural material, giving it solidity and strength. The designers tried to push the material to look and feel different than usual expectations of leather by molding and forming it into seemingly weight-bearing materiality. 

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FENDI presents Roman Molds by Kueng Caputo

Louis Vuitton presented Objets Nomades, a collection of limited-edition, collectible furniture in yet another gallery booth inviting visitors to experience the pieces in the context of a living room.

Louis Vuitton presented Objets Nomades

This ongoing series of limited-edition, collectible furniture is imagined by some of the most creative designers of our times. 

Louis Vuitton presented Objets Nomades

The show’s entrance exhibit encapsulates the overarching theme for the entire event: the creative synergy between contemporary design, traditional craft and sustainability. 

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The Design Tourist, aka Karen LeBlanc, and show co-producer Chris Fletcher filming Pink Beasts at Design Miami/ for new episodes of The Design Tourist airing soon

I’m greeted by large pink sloths hang from the ceiling, Pink Beasts, an art installation by London-based Mexican designer Fernando Laposse. Several of his Pink Beasts were on view at Design Miami/ while many more were scattered around The Miami Design District as part of a 2019 Design Commission.

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Pink Beasts, an art installation by London-based Mexican designer Fernando Laposse. The pink landscape of Pink Beasts has been achieved by dying the sisal fibers with the natural dye made from cochineals, a tiny parasitic insect that is native to central Mexico and grows on the Opuntia cactus, commonly known as the prickly pear. Cochineals produce the world’s brightest natural red dye and were used by the Aztecs to color everything from textiles to buildings. The cochineals used in Pink Beasts are from an organic farm in the mountains of Oaxaca and the dyed sisal fibers have been harvested from agave plants in the Yucatán. The entire installation was handmade by a community of Mayan weavers of Sahcabá.

With Pink Beasts, Fernando explores materials and techniques native to Mexico, collaborating with likeminded textile designer Angela Damman as well as local artisans in Sahcabá, Yucatán. The artisans worked together to create creatures crafted of thousands of long, pink sisal tassels. Through the Design District, these hairy pink slots are suspended through the trees and arches. Sculptural hammocks also hang between palm trees, created in collaboration with Damman, featuring long, unbraided sisal manes, updating an otherwise traditional Mayan design.

“The Pink Beasts Project also empowered a community of women in the Yucatan of Mexico to actually make wages off of this. It took over 70 people to make this project become a reality. It’s also about empowering the artisans, ” says Luis Concepcion, who was hosting visitors at the exhibit on behalf of the artist.

By interacting with Pink Beasts at Design Miami/ and in the Miami Design District, visitors are reminded that contemporary design and traditional craft and techniques are not mutually exclusive—there are sustainable and organic ways to produce contemporary design.

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The Design Tourist, aka Karen LeBlanc with the Balenciaga Sofa by Harry Nuriev in collaboration with Balenciaga and Crosby Studios. The companies and designers teamed up to spread the message of sustainability through collectible furniture made from unused and damaged Balenciaga clothing.

Balenciaga and Crosby Studios team up to spread the message of sustainability through collectible furniture made from unused and damaged Balenciaga clothing. The Balenciaga Sofa by Harry Nuriev in collaboration with Balenciaga draws inspiration from an overstuffed recliner and is made from unsellable clothing and off-cuts from the Balenciaga warehouse.  Nuriev is the founder of Crosby Studios. A booth spokesperson tells me Nuriev was very calculated in the placement of each article of clothing in the sofa stuffing.

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For Design Miami/ 2019 (December 3-8), Balenciaga has collaborated with artist, architect, and furniture designer Harry Nuriev to advocate for environmental accountability by creating a functional artwork using discarded Balenciaga clothing.

“He had a very thoughtful artistic approach to using the clothing as if drawing or painting to give the sofa a patchwork effect.  The sofa is very eco-friendly and sustainable. The cushion casing is made of a disposable polyethylene rather than vinyl or bad plastic,” she explains. 

The Balenciaga sofa is a proof of concept communicating ideals about sustainability and consumerism through art. 

The beauty of botany is the big idea captured in the resin furniture of artist Marcin Rusak.

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Sarah Myerscough Gallery presents White Perma by Marcin Rusak The multidisciplinary artist Marcin Rusak continues to explore the beauty of botanical arrangements, this time bound in off-white resin in the latest variation of his Perma furniture collection.

Rusak’s White Perma collection is represented by Sarah Myerscough Gallery. To create his Perma furniture collection, Rusak bounds dried flowers in off-white resin in and slices the material lengthwise to reveal petals, stems, and buds. Their anatomical intricacies on view appear like veins in marble or cavities in fossilized stone. 

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Marcin Rusak’s sculptural furniture pieces of flowers in white resin

“The pieces have a lovely narrative because Mark comes from a family of flower growers. His grandfather ran a flower business so he grew up around these wonderful greenhouses. I think his art evokes a feeling of decay or melancholy,” says Freya McLeavy, Sarah Myerscough Gallery.  Each piece is a sculptural work as well, playing with the idea of form and function.

Design finds that caught my eye and captured my imagination at Design Miami/ include a collection of sculptural chairs by Functional Art Gallery.

Functional Art Gallery’s stand will reinterpret the Abstract Gallery from Peggy Guggenheim’s groundbreaking 1942–47 gallery Art of This Century, placing contemporary artists in conversation with the historical setting.

The Berlin-based gallery was established by Benoît Wolfrom and Javier Peres in 2018 to promote young contemporary designers to an international audience.

FunctionalArtGallery2The gallery’s mission is to help shape the discussion between art and design and to further increase the presence of cutting-edge design within the larger art world.

FunctionalArtGallery6Functional Art Gallery works with artists and designers who push the line between aesthetics and purpose, form and function, perception and intent.

The Nalgona chair by Chris Wolston presented by The Future Perfect, made me smile for its humorous take on the human form expertly designed as functional furniture.  The woven chair is crafted of 100% Colombian Mimbre (Wicker) harvested in the Colombian Amazon.

The Nalgona chair by Chris Wolston presented by The Future Perfect

Wolston says the human form of his chair riffs on the iconic shape of the plastic Remax Chair, ubiquitous through Colombia, and the playful humanoid quality found in pre-Columbian ceramics.

Nalgona chairs/ Chris Wolston, 2019/ Colombian mimbre (wicker) and steel/ Courtesy of The Future Perfect

Each year, Design Miami/ commissions several art installations tied to its curatorial theme. This year’s theme was “Water” an extension of its on-going focus on the earth’s elements.

JRH5889 DELTA 1 PS HiResThe art installation Roots called attention to “alarming changes in nature and our environment” including disappearing forests and wildlife, polluted air and oceans, rising sea levels are rising, and an increase in extreme weather phenomena. Delta Air Lines and the Sacred Space Miami presented Roots by Atelier Marko Brajovic, curated by Ximena Caminos and produced by Alberto Latorre. The idea behind the art is to stimulate cultural and artistic responses to environmental change. 

IMG 7580The Roots pavilion is a self-supporting aluminum branching system wrapped with fine custom-made ropes and was designed by a parametric software mimicking the natural growth of a mangrove rooting system. In the middle of the pavilion, a large deck is used as a collective space for ceremonies and for three traditional Amazonian hammocks from which visitors can experience the immersive documentary SACRED COCA.

For more on the artist and highlights from Design Miami/, stay tuned for new episodes of The Design Tourist filmed during Miami Art Week. 

For more on what’s new and next in travel and design, subscribe to The Design Tourist Channel and sign up for the blog email.

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a freelance writer living in Orlando, Florida with many published bylines in magazines, newspapers, and multimedia sites. As a professional lifestyle writer, Karen specializes in art, architecture, design, home interiors and personality profiles. Karen is the writer, producer and host of the streaming series, The Design Tourist ( that brings viewers a global dose of design inspiration with episodes featuring the latest looks and trends from the world’s premiere design events and shows. She also publishes a quarterly magazine on design travel that you can read by clicking the link: Her journalism background includes seven years on-air experience as a TV news reporter and anchor covering a range of issues from education to politics. Her educational credentials include a Master of Arts in Mass Communications from Northeast Louisiana University and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Louisiana State University. Throughout her career, Karen has written and produced dozens of documentaries and videos for educational, commercial, corporate, and governmental clients and appeared in many TV and video productions as a professional host.

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food. 

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