Should the Art World Open to Design?

Should the Art World Open to Design?

Source: Artsper for Galleries.

Design and art are very distinct disciplines, even though they are similar in many ways. And if design is generally included in the art market, a design object and a work of art are treated differently depending on their nature. Thus, they are consciously kept at a distance. But if you look at the subject from a buyer’s point of view, the differences fade away.

Design and art have many points in common

François-Xavier Lalanne’s bathtub / sculpture, Hippopotame I, at the crossroads between art and design 1968/1969. © Les Arts Décoratifs / Photography: Christophe Dellière © Adagp, 2022

The factor most used to differentiate a work of art from a design object is the existence of an external constraint at the time of creation. A designer answers a question, solves a problem, makes a use possible… While the artist creates to convey a message, to transmit an emotion, or even simply for the act of creating. The artist has no obligation as to the functionality or use of his final object.

However, the lines between art and design are often blurred. Some works of art have functionality, and some design objects are purely decorative. The two disciplines are sometimes so close that it is impossible to determine where exactly the line between them is. But do they really need to be so clearly delineated? After all, the designer has an artistic vision and the artist is inherently a designer…

Design and art appeal to the same buyers

A work by Damien Hirst alongside chairs by Hugues Steiner and a table by Jean-Marie and Marthe Simonnet in a Connecticut home designed by Joe Nahem. © AD Magazine / Photo: Simon Upton.

Art is sometimes considered more “intellectual” than design, because it exists for its own sake and without inherent functionality. But the knowledge deemed necessary in art also applies to design. Design has also evolved with history, is part of visual cultures and responds to specific iconographies and styles. Spotting or judging a valuable design object requires the same skills as for art: a trained eye, a good visual analysis, but also knowledge of history and market trends.

Art and design are both luxury products, subject to very similar considerations. To the uninitiated, the popularity of a Lucio Fontana painting may seem as absurd as the price of a single Jean Prouvé armchair. Indeed, it is not the nobility of the materials or the number of hours of labor that justify the price of these objects, but rather elements mastered by the experts: the historical context, the status of the artist, the interest of the collectors for this last one in particular, or for the movement in which it is registered…

A painting by Joan Miró, Le Passage de l’oiseau-migrateur, sold for €6,845,750 (left) and a bronze door knocker signed by Diego Giacometti, sold for €151,200 (right) at the Hubert de Givenchy sale in Paris in June 2022. © Christie’s

Art and design are collected in tandem, and to understand this, one need only look at the auctions of family collections: those of the Krakoff couple at Sotheby’s New York and Hubert de Givenchy at Christie’s Paris, to name but two, achieved stratospheric results and even reached new records for design. Beyond the value of a prestigious provenance, these sales above all demonstrate collectors‘ great appetite for a catalog combining the best of art and design, the latter usually being separated in dedicated sales.

Design and art respond to the same motivations

The Lockheed Lounge Chair by designer Marc Newson broke the auction record for a living designer when it sold for £2,434,500 at Phillips in London in 2015. © Phillips Auction.

Let’s start with status: a designer sofa brings a certain prestige to the buyer, just like a work of art by a renowned artist. These acquisitions are proof of good taste, of connoisseurship, and can allow the buyer to show off to his peers.

Another factor can motivate the purchase of art as well as design objects: the support of young creation. Indeed, a collector can have at heart to support a young designer as well as a young visual artist.

It can also be financial reasoning: a design object, like a work of art, is an investment that may increase in value over time. Armed with a good knowledge of the market, a collector can opt for design as well as art to expand his collection and make a good investment.

Finally, both design and art are destined to be part of an interior, to be placed on a wall or to furnish a living room. This decorative dimension makes it natural for any potential buyer to have access to a catalog combining design and art.

The value of the global art market from 2007 to 2021, in billions $ (left) and the value of the luxury design and furniture market from 2012 to 2021, in billions € © Statista

Comparing the art and design markets over the last decade, we can see that the former has a fluctuating trend from year to year, while the latter is experiencing stable growth. Admittedly, the amounts are higher in the art field. But perhaps this trend illustrates that design furniture is perceived as a more concrete investment, less volatile than works of art? Whatever the case, this promising market is not expected to be slowing down anytime soon.

Design and art are sold by the same players

Artsper’s design catalog

Many market players have realized that the affinity between art and design makes their association more than advantageous. Leading the way? The PAD (Pavilion for Arts and Design), which has been bringing art and design together for years in major cities, and whose 2022 Paris edition was a great success. But also the international Art Basel group, which combines dedicated Design Miami/ and Design Miami/ Basel events with its titanic fairs every year.

The digital market has also caught up: various platforms now offer their customers the opportunity to discover paintings by famous artists alongside signed chairs. Following a growing demand from galleries as well as collectors, for example, Artsper opened its catalog to design objects in early 2022. For any amateur, from now on, lamps, seats or tableware are just a click away. This is also the case at Singulart – and at Selency, which has expanded its furniture and design catalog to include artworks.

Between design and art, creators who skillfully mix the two

Roy Lichtenstein’s stunning Brushstroke Chair and Ottoman, 1986-8 © National Gallery of Art, Washington / Photo : Wikiart

One only has to look at Daniel Arsham’s Falling Clocks, or a chair by Anacleto Spazzapan to understand that art and design are sometimes one and the same. And these two artists are not the only ones to blur the definitions between the two disciplines… They are not the first ones either: the work of Alberto Giacometti, for example, appears as much in modern art sales as in those dedicated to design. And before him, Calder and Dalí had already designed cigarette holders and chess sets! So, contemporary artists collaborate with design brands, and designers create works of art. In this case, why keep the two spheres distinct and separate when their creators themselves treat them in a fluid way?

Art and design of tomorrow, hand in hand?

In a world where buyers like to have access to everything, quickly and easily, it seems natural to offer design alongside art. Especially since the target audience for a pair of Claude Lalanne’s Ginkgo armchairs is no different than the one looking for a Georges Braque painting… Both sellers and buyers would benefit from being able to navigate the spheres of art and design in a unique, enriched experience. What about you, have you ever thought about opening up to design?