Cultured Magazine

Summer 2014

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62 CULTURED DRIVEN BY DESIGN Dennis Freedman, creative director of Barneys New York, is the inaugural curator of Design At Large, a new platform at Design Miami featuring monumental installations pushing the traditional boundaries of design. Here, Zesty Meyers, co-founder of R & Company, sits down with Freedman, a longtime collector of design, to discuss the poetry of objects, Arte Povera and what happens when a house becomes a warehouse. Zesty Meyers: When did you first develop a taste for design? Dennis Freedman: I was interested in design by the time I got to college and started to read Abitare, Domus and Time magazines. A pivotal moment for me was a Christie's sale in London in 1998 that included an early Capitello. That was my first purchase and I should have bought it for less. I realized after that it probably would- n't fit into my small apartment––it barely made it and took up half my bedroom. ZM: Did you use it to sit on? DF: Not really! I wasn't afraid to, but all the things I'd been interested in were important pieces. ZM: Who, or what impacted the way you collect? DF: Simon Andrews was a big part of my early collect- ing. He was holding sales at Christie's South Kensing- ton and selling key pieces. ZM: Those were great sales. DF: There were very few collectors at the time. I had lit- tle money but I was coming back with about six pieces from every sale. I saw it as an opportunity to form a strong collection. I felt that the 20th century was the most interesting period of design, and I had the chance to buy museum pieces. ZM: Were you influenced by art and radical design? DF: There was a cross pollination with Arte Povera, which I am very interested in. In Italy there were these architects in Florence that were interested in issues like how cities develop. They couldn't build the cities be- cause they didn't have the backing, but they made fur- niture. They were also exploring new materials being developed like polyurethane foam. It was the first time you could make a piece out of a mold. The pieces were also comments on commercialization. I love 18th and 19th century furniture, but as a collector, it doesn't have any interest to me. ZM: So 1998 is when you really started collecting? DF: Yes. It wasn't a period about function as much as it was about exploration of ideas and materials. It was much more based in that kind of conceptual thinking than the shape of a leg. ZM: Are there pieces that you have and cannot use? DF: I would say 95 percent. ZM: Do you keep them hidden in boxes? DF: No, I bought a house that was a former garage with high ceilings. I have a couch and two chairs next to a fireplace and the pieces literally fill the rest of the space. I also had to lease a warehouse. ZM: I sat on a panel with one conservator who said that to preserve these materials, you should store them in boxes and not ever look at them. DF: I get it from a museum's point of view, but when I buy a piece, I like the idea that it's been used. In some places, they develop a patina, which is really important. My Capitello is aged and cracked in a way that is ab- solutely beautiful. I rarely care about condition because I hope it's been used. One of the most amazing pieces I have is the UP7 by Gaetano Pesce—that big foot. Mine is a prototype that was never sealed by black paint. It is now a ruin and parts have fallen off. It's still beautiful and it's 10 times more poetic than the one that's covered in black. ZM: Is there now a younger generation that's interested in this era or is this really just about to be discovered? DF: There is no other period of design that explores the same issues and questions. If anything is closer to how an artist thinks, it's this period. It's ironic that everyone is obsessed with buying paintings and becoming an art collector. In terms of design, this period is clearly the most aligned and it has nothing to do with design art. That wasn't even a concept. If someone's truly an art collector and cares about ideas, how couldn't they be drawn to this? ZM: Most people just buy designs to fill their house without thinking about concept. DF: I tried to buy as much radical Italian design as I could. It was clear design did not stop in 1973, but it changed. That was when I got more interested in Studio Alchimia, which was challenging at first because it is a lot about finality and not good taste. I bought the most incredible prototype Mendini light fixture at a sale in Vi- enna. I would start seeing more pieces here and there, but it takes a great deal of effort to uncover reference materials. ZM: Did you go contemporary? DF: Yes, I have Yaris' foam chair and lounge, which I had to convince him to sell to me. I got the Cinderella table, by Jeroen Verhoeven, which is an extraordinary piece. There's a large part of contemporary design that doesn't interest me though, unless someone has strong conceptual ideas and then executes them in a way that they create something poetic. ZM: I would love to see these designers come out to the public in a different way. I think what you've col- lected is way past trend. DF: I have no interest in trend. I got hooked on this when I realized that there are very few art or design pieces can you build when you're making around $40,000. I knew I could do it. It was very clear to me that I had the chance because no one was recognizing the talent. They weren't really thinking about that period and they weren't being featured largely in catalogs. ZM: Do you think more people are getting turned on to the idea of collecting design? DF: I see more people interested in design on a much wider scale. It's not only for certain people, like it would have been in the past. People who are intellectually cu- rious will find that these are pieces with real content and are part of the history of the 20th century in the most catechistic times. The best part is when you dis- cover a piece out of nowhere. There's a sculptor that lives in Paris that was making pieces out of resin. I had never seen anything like it and I bought it on a payment plan. Sure enough, it was shown at a really important show. I had never even heard of her. And now the table and four chairs are so valuable. ZM: It sounds like you're ahead of the curve. DF: It's very visceral. You either see something that has poetry or you don't. ZM: We see it happening more on a global level now. DF: That's true, but it will always be a small group. It's still radical design even 50 years later. It is extraordi- nary that it's maintained its power. I collect Italian light- ing from the 70s and there's no light fixture today that can compare to any of those pieces. ZM: It's amazing to see the industry go so far in the op- posite direction. DF: They were exploring how light hits the edges of Plex- iglas and now we have new materials. They weren't in- terested in lighting up a room, but were interested in self-lighting the piece. The work from 50 years ago is still in so many ways more forward thinking and radical than anything being produced today. That is the testi- mony of the power in many of these pieces. PORTRAIT BY JUERGEN TELLER

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