For a long time design has been trying to squeeze into the territory occupied by an ever-inflationary art market and the oddness of the fit often shows. In Miami the attempts to establish a separate design district beyond the art fair itself created an awkward spread, and now that the two disciplines are back together again, with Art Basel Miami Beach and Design Miami side by side, design curators seem to be trying harder to give their area of interest the heft to be noticed beside the glamour and the cachet of wealth that adheres to art.
At the June edition of Design Miami, in Basel, Galerie Patrick Seguin's daily assembly and disassembly of a Jean Prouvé house proved an irresistibly theatrical event, and Miami is working hard to match it.
The focus this year is on Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), the eccentric visionary engineer whose ambitious, oddly ageless ideas still exert a powerful influence on architecture and design. His "Fly's Eye" dome is a curious sci-fi truncated globe with retro, pop art piercings, conceived as a low-cost shelter framework capable of being delivered by aeroplane. Here, on the lawn outside the fair, the dome (from the Craig Robins' Collection) looks like a crashed alien pod. Also here will be "Bucky" Fuller's Dymaxion 4 car, a 1937-patented 3-wheeler which would have been able to hover and fly, if only the technology had been around.
British architect David Adjaye has been named as Design Miami Designer of the Year (an unusual accolade for an architect) and his challenge is to create a structure to compete and compel. He's an experienced creator of pavilions, his collaboration with Olafur Eliasson ("Your Black Horizon") exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2005, was one of the most memorable of recent years; "Horizon", shown at the Albion Gallery in London in 2008, was also compelling. For Miami he's building a structure with a triangular plan, hollowed out to create a space pierced with ovoid holes which recall Fuller's dome.
Elsewhere Rirkrit Tiravanija will be curating a show of his own work from Craig Robins' Collection which looks, at least in proposal form, a little like PR for the Design Miami linchpin. Architect/composer Christopher Janney has a show at the Moore Building. Joyfully colourful Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes is creating a Cartier Foundation-commissioned installation of Cartier/Miami bling – a bejewelled mobile in oversized boho-hippy beads at the Collins Building while Pringle Scotland are launching a pop-up show with artist Liam Gillick.
The unenticing "curated pop-up" seems to be the big motif this year with shows created by Maison Martin Margiela, Dior and Marni reinforcing the fashion/art/design axis that helps to get faces out to parties. The word "curated" is emerging as the biggest cliché of the era, akin to the 1980s tag "designer", attached to anything from jeans to shades. Only the art world appears not to notice this.
On show at Design Miami itself is the usual cool selection of work by Prouvé, Poul Kjaerholm, Harry Bertoia and others (including a gorgeous 1970 leather chair by Alain Douillard) augmented by contemporary works by Konstantin Grcic, Martin Szekely, Studio Job, Wendell Castle and an intriguingly modernist-retro cabinet by South Korean designer Bahk Jong Sun.
There are the usual institutional and gallery installations including some which seem spurious, most notably the de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space Looks at the Bigger Picture, a show about the installation of art which doesn't even pretend to have anything to do with design but is still being billed as part of the programme. It is a great gallery though.
Miami has been an intriguing experiment in the dynamics of the urban distribution and dispersal of art and design space and installation. The design district remains an interesting effort, a collection of some genuinely compelling buildings which was beginning to become a piece of real city in a notoriously dispersed city. But the removal of Design Miami back to the orbit of the art fair has shifted the dynamics again. It will be interesting to see if the events become more coherent as design builds momentum but at least it always has the city itself to fall back on. Who wouldn't want to be in Miami as the winter sets in?
Art Basel Miami Beach and Design Miami run from December 1-4. www.designmiami.com