by Jerry ElengicalJun 07, 2022
Collectible, a contemporary design fair dedicated to collectors' pieces, especially unique or limited-edition furniture self-produced by designers or made by craftsmen, was held from May 20-22 in Belgium. Galleries and maisons d’éditions, independent designers and interior design studios, collectors and journalists met again after more than two years at the Vanderborght Building in the centre of Brussels after the long stop caused by the pandemic.
While the post-pandemic landscape is a topic that has been debated and, in some cases, exhausted, it seems to me necessary to return to it here for various reasons, some personal and some general.
It was exactly on March 7, 2020, during the days of the third edition of Collectible, that the Italian Prime Minister announced the lockdown of a large part of northern Italy, officially beginning a historical period that still has some after-effects on our daily lives. However, this seemed to me to be the first real event in which a return to normality was perceived: masks were absent even in planes and public transport, but above all, workers finally seemed to be back to having long-term plans and visions – perspectives that seemed impossible only a year ago. The most important – and not too much discussed – factor is the transformative capacity that the pandemic has had on a sector that, more than others, relies on human relations, the ability to tell stories, and the direct relationship with the material.
So I tried to gather some opinions and feelings from the protagonists of Collectible to understand what the world of experimental design has learnt from the pandemic.
Liv Vaisberg, co-founder of the fair with with Clélie Debehault, talks about the challenges faced by the Collectible team: "We tried to continue our programme during the pandemic in other ways. We created the online platform Collectible Salon and organised exhibitions together with galleries and institutions we work with. But nothing replaces a live edition. Especially for design, it is important to touch the material, feel it, smell it and use it. We are really happy that this can happen again. Moreover, Collectible is more than a fair where exhibitors showcase their work. It is a community, which we are glad has been maintained despite the two-year closure. We see that many exhibitors are genuinely glad to meet each other."
We must emphasise the excellent work done by the fair last year, in which regulatory uncertainty and an unstable healthcare environment shuffled the cards several times (Liv Vaisberg herself confessed to me the great struggle). In addition to the online platform Collectible did an excellent editorial job through which the spirit and work of the different participants emerged.
Of the same opinion are the representatives of the Il·lacions gallery in Barcelona, which is among the participants with a more significant history (it is useful to remember that the collectible design movement is quite recent). The gallerists tell us, “It is nice to be able to talk directly to people again and show them the qualities of the materials, which is something that cannot be replicated online. In reaction to the health crisis we have improved the utilities of our website, adding product information to help users and collectors buy directly online."
My feeling regarding the galleries present at Collectible is that the more established and experienced ones have struggled a bit to radically change the way they communicate and sell functional art, while many newcomers with more confidence in the social world have appeared naturally and taken advantage.
This is the case of Dirt Gallery in Amsterdam, whose birth is closely linked to the pandemic.
"We were working in the event world with pop-up happenings, photo shootings, museum openings, temporary restaurants... with the arrival of the pandemic the industry completely stopped. So we tried to adapt to the unusual context and activate our studio in a different way. We started with a flower exhibition to bypass the restrictions. It seems that flowers in Holland are a primary commodity and those kinds of shops stayed open," Florine van Rees and Jeroen Dijkstra, founders of Dirt, told me.
"From the first exhibitions, where we sold hand-painted ceramic fruits, we became very popular and started exhibiting different kinds of objects, creating our own network of designers that we met during the pandemic months. We also advertised their work with photo shoots and gave them visibility on Instagram. Of course, we also have an online shop that has worked quite well and continues to do so independently of the physical exhibitions."
The detail of the flowers – which I found curious – links Dirt with another gallery based in Copenhagen. Indeed, Julius Værnes Iversen, founder and creative director of TABLEAU explains that the set design presented at Collectible is closely linked to their activity in the Danish capital. "We sell flowers in our gallery, which makes us different from many other similar spaces. This also allowed us to stay open during COVID. Of course the openings have helped to sell pieces, although our increased sales are due to the international market. Just on March 8, 2020, we opened an online gallery, which helped us a lot."
Julius Værnes Iversen also tells us why he thinks collector's design is getting more attention from the public in recent months.
"I think it is because people have been staying at home a lot. That's why they felt the need to give space to functional art, which is not the kind you hang on the wall, but which can be used in everyday life. It seems to us that people are much more interested in design now."
One trend I noticed, which distinguishes the 2022 edition from the 2020 edition of Collectible, is the presence of many affordable items (compared to the normal prices of limited editions): accessories or small objects priced from 150 euros. In other words, a type of product that appeals to a broader public than the elitist collector's market.
Giving clear-cut opinions on upcoming trends in this world is very difficult. It is an industry that is still very young and whose rules have to be written down (unlike those of art). However, following this niche gives us a lot of information on many general tendencies.