Q&A With Morgan Morris, Head of Collectibles, Design Shanghai

SLIDESHOW: A selection of pieces from Design Shanghai.

Within the regal, Neoclassical walls of the Shanghai Exhibition Centre, the fifth edition of Design Shanghai took place this week.

But even this enormous landmark — one of the largest buildings by footprint in Shanghai — barely contained the event, with installations, VIP lounges and Michelin-starred pop-ups spilling out into marquees and courtyards.

Buzzing with over 400 international and Chinese brands and designers, the show was divided into five sections, including Classic & Luxury Design, Collectible Design and Contemporary Design. World-renowned exhibitors such as Zaha Hadid Design, Swarovski, Lalique, Lasvit and Carl Hansen & Son were set side by side with home-grown names such as Yang House, Frank Chou and Maxmarko.

Speaking at the Design Forum were visionaries including Rabih Hage, Kelly Hoppen, Simon Rawlings, Yabu Pushelberg, Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance and Paolo Pininfarina presenting their success stories.

This year the fair drew some 65,000 visitors from 70 countries: a record. As a result of its popularity, the organisers will produce an inaugural design event in Beijing this year to coincide with Beijing Art Week in September.

Although design as a genre is still nascent in Asia, sales are on the up, according to the Detnk Collectible Market Report. In 2017 the Global Design Market total value increased by 16.7 percent, with the majority of sales taking place in the US, UK and Europe.

Billionaire sat down with American-born, Paris-based Morgan Morris, director of the Collectible Design Hall, to hear about the evolution of the event and the growth of collectible design in China.

Billionaire: You’ve been producing events and shows in China’s contemporary art scene for 18 years. How have things changed?
Morgan Morris:
Back in 2005 I co-produced with Bologna Fiere, the first international art fair in Shanghai, SH Contemporary, which took three years in the making. It was a very nascent phase of the contemporary art scene and complicated to get things done. There was little legislation for the import of artworks into China and the biggest challenge was finding fine art insurance and qualified handling agents who could offload the artworks when they arrived by freight or plane, accompany them and make sure they did not get damaged. For international galleries it was a huge gamble but many went for it, because they were interested in the China growth story.

When we first opened Design Shanghai in 2014 with the UK based partners Media 10, there was a lot of very positive response from the public and trade for mass market product design, although only a handful of collectors for collectible design. There was a two year process during which the public became familiar with differences between Collectible Design and mass market product design. Then suddenly in the third year it was like wild fire, people really understood. There was a lot of interaction and an extremely positive enthusiastic return.

We now see an enormous amount of very well-informed, cosmopolitan collectors, interior designers buying for their clients, brands interested in limited edition and property developers seeking bespoke rare pieces for their venues. Something I find awe-inspiring about the Chinese is that when their interest is piqued by something particular, they study it intensely and learn very quickly. This has been the case for the collectible design arena.

What actually is Collectible Design?

It’s limited edition design or unique one-off design. It’s an object which finds itself in thatbeautiful grey territory between architecture, design and art. We are also fortunate to be in a era where this openess of spirit and thirst for interactions and crossovers within the cultural arena are highly appreciated and encouraged.

The basic European standard for limited edition design is that an object has only a number of eight that have been produced, plus four artist proofs. That basic definition goes back to the great European bronze artists in the 19th Century like Rodin. In those days they used the lost wax technique, which incidentally was invented in China, where they would make a positive and negative mold, fill it with wax held in a casing and pour the bronze into it. It was considered that after the first four artists proofs plus the additional eight pourings, the mold was no longer true to the original and therefore the works were no longer originals. This also applied to post humous pourings used by the various estates of artists at this time. A limited edition collectible object is also different from product design in that it has an inherent investment value like a work of art as it is a signed and numbered limited edition, although and can be both a functional and non fonctional object. As these objects are created by artists or designers their value will grow with time due to thier precious and rare qualities. If one is to purchase a mass market product object this is not the case as once it is purchased as the quantity of production could be illimited.

Why is Collectible Design taking off so quickly in China?

In a city where you are one inhabitant amongst a population of 30 million, how do you differentiate from your neighbour? That is where limited edition design, art, and fashion play a big role, it is an expression of individuality.

We’ve had a rupture in the West with the concept of design. After the Industrial Revolution, anything that was handcrafted or design oriented was demoted to secondary rank, to "decorative arts", because it was considered linked to the hand, with no real inspiration or reflection or artistic practice. The Chinese never had that rupture. Sometimes when you speak to Chinese and say, this is design, and this is art, they are confused. Because for them, a master porcelain maker is a master artist So the collectible and artistic qualities of the object as a collectible item is embedded in the DNA of their traditional aesthetics.

We are also currently witnessing on a global level people a trend in collecting limited edition design. Over the past 2 decades we have witnessed the establishment of a very strong market for the collection of deisng items by visionaries such as Jean Prouvé, Frank Lloyd Wright, where people who were interested in their architecture, in time want to collect the objects they designed to inhabit those spaces. On a more contemporary level we are also seeing important galleries such as Gagosian or Almine Rech begin to exhibit designers such as Marc Newson or Marcel Wanders for their limited edition pieces.

Who are your favourite designers from this year?

One of the things I’m most proud of is the extreme international offering we have at the Collectible Design Hall at Design Shanghai with over 17 countries present. We have a Portuguese studio called Drama, for example, that have created a series called UTOPIA which they have decided to launch at Design Shanghai rather than launching in Europe or Portugal.

We also have a wonderful gallery from Moscow called Heritage Gallery, that has brought vintage Russian propaganda vases, chairs and tables. Especially in the context of this building, which was given from Russia to China in the 1950’s, the historical Vienna Silbur Manufacture which is doing special collaborations with artists the likes of Erwin Wurm among many others.

We also have for the third consecutive year Zaha Hadid studio and Gallery All from Los Angeles lauching the new collection by the architect Ma Yansong. Its very exciting to bring limited edition design back within a B to B product design show - its a unique model we have built with Media 10 specifically for China. Each year we get stronger and better and the response from our collectors, buyers and visitors is a very satisfying result.

For more information about Design Shanghai click here.

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