MEMPHIS IN MIAMI: AN INTERVIEW WITH THE ART DEALER JOE SHEFTEL
The Memphis aesthetic may be having a renaissance of late, but few and far between are the original pieces that find their way into the rarified world of collectible design. It looks like that’s about to change this year with Design Miami’s ten-year anniversary: the “global forum for design” which opens its doors to the public this week, is inaugurating a new exhibition platform called Curio, intended as cabinets of curiosity showcasing special designers. And one of them, put together by Joe Sheftel, Maggie Clinton, and Leon Koenig (of Koenig & Clinton) will feature early Memphis pieces by the late Ettore Sottsass. With their bold colors and graphic patterns the dozen pieces — including the iconic Carlton shelving unit and two rare floor lamps — promise to stand out at Design Miami like feather boas in a church. PIN–UP caught up with Joe Sheftel a few days before the big Miami Memphis debut.
Why do you think Memphis has never really been exhibited at Design Miami or within a similar platform before.
I think that Memphis has been under-appreciated and that its influence on the creative world is only beginning to be recognized, this process can take time. Memphis’s innovative use of mass-produced materials may have also disoriented collectors. How can something so fabulous be made of linoleum and laminates? I believe our inclusion of early and later Ettore Sottsass sculptural objects shows that the conceptual strength exists through different bodies of works, and that the materials serve the concepts rather than vice versa.
Do you think this is a particularly relevant time to exhibit these works?
Looking around the art fairs, at Art Basel Miami Beach and NADA particularly, I think one can see how the colors and aesthetics of Memphis have permeated our visual landscape. Kids who grew up watching Pee-Wee’s Playhouse have now been making art for over ten years and Memphis’s groundbreaking choices have become part of our shared language. I am excited to draw a historical connection between this important moment in design and work being made today.
How did the collaboration between your gallery and Koenig & Clinton come about?
I have been an admirer of what Maggie and Leo are doing in Chelsea and appreciate the flexibility and breadth of vision they show in their exhibitions. When it turned out that we were both planning Memphis exhibitions in New York, Maggie and I had a conversation that blossomed into this collaborative presentation. We then learned about the Curio section at Design Miami and this project seemed to be a natural fit. This process has been a wonderful opportunity to have access to Leo and Maggie’s in-depth knowledge in this area.
Do you plan on continuing the gallery’s work with design after Miami?
Yes — we are opening a two-gallery Memphis exhibition in New York immediately after our Curio presentation in Design Miami. The first part of the show, produced in collaboration with Rudy Weissenberg, will open at my gallery on December 15. The second part of the exhibition will open at Koenig & Clinton on December 18. Design is an important part of my life and while I am keeping my focus on art, I am hopeful amazing opportunities like this collaboration will rise again.
Portrait by James Harris.