Maria Cristina Didero. (Photo: Stefan Giftthaler)
Maria Cristina Didero. (Photo: Stefan Giftthaler)

Design Miami’s Curatorial Director Sees Art Fairs as Powerful Platforms for Cultural Exchange

Maria Cristina Didero describes how innovations in the arts, design, and technology can lead us to live more harmoniously with nature and with one another.
By Mara Fisher
May 31, 2022
8 minute read

The concept of the Golden Age was first introduced by the ancient Greek philosopher Hesiod, around 700 B.C., in a reference to a mythical, long-gone era of ease and peace. The nostalgic term has since been used metaphorically across place and time to describe periods that have been propelled forward by cultural advancement and financial stability. The unbridled optimism and expansive thinking of these moments are the focus for the programming in the upcoming 16th edition of Design Miami Basel (June 14–19), taking place at the Swiss city’s Messeplatz. Organized around the theme “The Golden Age: Rooted in the Past,” the event seeks to explore the ways in which collaboration and imaginative power can help us to confront the economic, political, and social challenges of today. The fair will display works in a hybrid physical and digital format—all works on the show floor will be available for purchase on the organization’s website, which will offer live-streamed and exclusively digital design talks—in an effort to encourage visitors from around the world to engage with the works and ideas on view.

Debuting at this year’s fair is Podium, a selling exhibition of museum-quality works organized by Design Miami’s newly appointed curatorial director, Maria Cristina Didero (who will also lead the organization’s inaugural Paris edition later this year), that dives deep into the Golden Age subject. The Milan-based curator involved 30 pieces from galleries and studios worldwide in the project, which includes French artist Joy de Rohan Chabot’s gilded Millefiori Lamps (2021), presented by Paris’s Galerie Chastel-Marechal, and the late Italian architect Angelo Mangiarotti’s shapely Eros coffee table (1970), presented by Morentz Gallery from Waalwijk, the Netherlands. Other highlights will be the event’s 18 Curios—immersive installations created by a diverse roster of architects, curators, and gallerists in a format that subverts the traditional fair model—and the debut of Special Satellite Projects, a program of striking environments that counts Mexican Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s “Pulse Topology” (2022), a landscape of 6,000 lightbulbs and custom sensors that incorporates visitors’ heartbeats into its illuminating display; and “V Over M,” an exhibition of 100 just-minted Chrome Squiggles NFTs by Erick Calderon, the founder and CEO of the generative art platform Art Blocks, who creates work under the name Snowfro.

Elsewhere on the show floor, Design Miami Basel will celebrate historical and contemporary design from an international community of 34 galleries. Exhibitors such as Paris’s Galerie Matthieu Richard, as well as the Morentz Gallery, will present rare, iconic works by 20th-century design masters from Europe, North America, and South America, while contemporary displays include the brazen American designer Misha Kahn’s first solo show at the fair, presented by New York gallery Friedman Benda, that will feature new objects from acclaimed bodies of work (including cartoonish mirrors from his “Saturday Morning” series and objects from “Scrappy,” a line of woven pieces made in collaboration with Gone Rural, a female group of traditional weavers based in Eswatini) alongside efforts that utilize contemporary tools, such as V.R.

We recently spoke with Didero about the role of art and design fairs as global destinations for creative exchange, and the ways in which looking to history can help illuminate a path forward.

What major changes do you see happening in the design world right now?

We’re heading toward a more sustainable approach to different kinds of projects, and toward a more multidisciplinary approach to the arts. People are certainly becoming interested in the ways in which innovation across creative disciplines might lend itself to practical changes in the way we live, and that this could lead to real progress. But progress is good only if it is for everybody.

Is the role of the curator experiencing a shift as well?

Good curation has always been about bringing people and objects together in a way that promotes creative thinking and sparks thoughtful conversation, and that helps to change the way we see and interact with the world around us. I have always tried to narrate human issues via objects—and by that I mean touching subjects that are close to us, such as veganism, religion, and sustainability, among others. Now more than ever, in our thoroughly global context, it is vital that curators ensure they are platforming diverse thoughts and ideas from across the world. I have always believed that diversity is, in itself, the seed of freedom.

How do the projects that will be on view at Design Miami Basel speak to our current international, political, and cultural climate?

One especially timely presentation is the Curio created by Antwerp’s Faina gallery, titled “Stepping on Ukrainian Soil.” It offers a presentation of work by its founder, the Ukrainian-born designer Victoria Yakusha. She will show a layered tapestry that conjures the rich, black-colored soil of her home country, offered alongside furniture in the shape of fictitious animals. From the tapestry fall long strands that are reminiscent of umbilical cords, representing the primal connection of every Ukrainian to their soil.

Another beautiful and thought-provoking Curio will be presented by Singapore’s Particle gallery, which features an installation, by design duo Lanzavecchia + Wai, that I have been following since its inception. It is called “Veleni,” which in Italian means “poison.” Their work will be presented as a still-life of glass objects that serve as urgent reminders of the problematic relationships that humans have with the poisons we produce, and how close they are to us. The glass forms appear beautiful from afarbut upon closer inspection, viewers will discover that they contain pollutants that contaminate our water cycles.

Design Miami now integrates robust digital elements into its presentation. What does this increased emphasis on virtual experiences mean for the future of art and design fairs?

Art fairs, which have always been international in nature, offer brilliant platforms for cross-cultural dialogue and exchange. If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s the power of technology in uniting people around the world to come together and work creatively, even when it’s not possible to be together physically. I believe that hybrid events, like the ones we’re mounting at Design Miami, can offer a chance for the art world to overcome physical distance and borders, and to reach a truly global audience.

Tell me more about the “Golden Age” theme, and how you’re thinking about its relevance—in the design world and beyond—in this particular moment.

We are living through a pivotal era for mankind. We find ourselves in a time of crisis, with global challenges that we can only overcome if we all work together, harnessing the adaptability and creative genius that humans have displayed in previous times of crisis throughout our history. Therefore, the theme is a wishand a direct invitationfor us to collectively consider how innovation in the arts, design, technology, and most of all, mutual work, could lead us to live more harmoniously with each other, and with nature, in hopes of saving our planet.