Historic objects that have gone out of production, or prototypes that never made it to the catalogues, now reissued by design manufacturers in collaboration with the foundations or heirs of designers, maintaining copyrights and bringing new glory to the works themselves.
In Italy the first player to industrialize historic pieces was Dino Gavina in 1961, with Bauhaus furnishings, followed by Cesare Cassina, with the furnishings designed by Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand, thanks to acquisition of production rights in 1965. On the other hand, design market events like Design Miami, aimed at collectors, now in its tenth edition, confirm the trend of collection of unique works from the 20th century. Why this vogue for the past? Probably, in a time of unstable mutations, vintage pieces of clear historical value can represent linguistic expressions in which most people can get a sense of cultural belonging. In an era of ‘syncretic’ and global perception of life and historical passage, these objects embody utopias, moments of extraordinary intellectual research – European modernism and its desire to invent a new world; the birth of furniture design during the Italian industrial boom; Radical Design and the rediscovery of the arts. And, as such, these objects symbolize a reassuring stability with respect to the unpredictable changes of our time. To try to explain this phenomenon, we sought out three different viewpoints on the value and the market for reissues and unique modern pieces. Francesca Molteni, curator of the Gio Ponti collection for Molteni&C. and of the traveling exhibition Vivere alla Ponti, says that reissuing means prolonging a cultural heritage. The series of furnishings was the result of observation of a bookcase by the architect from Milan, with a very timely design, but never industrialized. The question was whether the piece could be put into production today, using industrial techniques, at a reasonable price. “The challenge was to make the products in the original version, as far as the proportions and materials area concerned, but updating the production techniques to today’s standards. We did not want to make limited editions, since that would have clashed with Ponti’s vision, nor did we want to offer the items at high prices, because he never saw design as something exclusive. They are very timely pieces, due to the genius of their designer, the sense of proportions, the attention to detail, and because they are ‘easy,’ ready to coexist with contemporary furnishings. They are iconic, but close to today’s way of living.” This has been a long, courageous operation for the company, which from 2009 to 2012 presented the first pieces in the catalogue. The idea is to continue, to also reissue some pieces from the past of Molteni&C., though without attempting to take on the whole reissue market. “The collection,” Giulia Molteni, Marketing and Communication Director of Molteni&C Dada adds, “is aimed at people who love ‘good design’ and appreciate the great masters, people who know something about the culture of personalities like Gio Ponti, but are not necessarily collectors of modern vintage who can spend enormous sums for every single piece. We have avoided the formula of the ‘limited edition’ because it goes against the principles of industrial design, which saw mass production as a way to make design more democratic. ”From the side of the collector, we spoke with the dealer Nina Yashar of Nilufar, and with Rodman Primack, director of Design Miami. “I believe the added value of unique design pieces of the 20th century,” says Nina Yashar, “increasingly coveted by collectors, is conveyed by certain pieces that have made history. They are sure bets, to which people will always return, in a world where everything is rapidly consumed and quickly goes out of style. These objects conserve their beauty over time, their functional and aesthetic qualities. Design Miami has always stood out for the presence of vintage pieces, and this last year they prevailed over contemporary design. The market of collectors of 20th-century objects is expanding, because it is less risky: the pieces are documented by history, and they are easier to understand than contemporary art design. I hope vintage can be the starting point to shift towards the 21st century, towards more stimulating, experimental projects. The collectible design market is much smaller than that of contemporary art: the ratio is about 1:20. It is undoubtedly growing, and is still not subject to the kind of price manipulation and speculation one finds on the art market. Another difference lies in the fact that collectible design is also purchased for its function: many clients use one-offs on an everyday basis, in spite of their precious quality. The pieces rarely wind up in a safe. People buy vintage for the history it carries, for the beauty that is transformed with use.” On the difference between collectible objects of art and design, Nina Yashar specifies: “I believe an industrial design piece can be collected and appreciated in its true, aesthetic and functional essence, without having to be categorized as an art object. I agree with Gillo Dorfles when he says that design is ‘partially’ art, a way of making projects with an artistic quotient together with a marketing quotient. The design object does not have to be made with the goal of becoming an art object: it should correspond to its function, not just satisfy the whim of having something that is purely ‘artistic.’” Regarding the difference between reissues and modern vintage, Primack concludes: “Certain vintage pieces were produced in limited quantities. The designer was often involved in the production process, and these pieces reflect the technologies and ways of producing of a precise historical moment. These factors are joined by that of rarity, perceived as an added value because it brings a sense of bearing witness, as a sign of ‘originality.’ I have nothing against continued production, since many objects were invented precisely for that; but for me there is a difference between what was made during a designer’s lifetime, under his or her supervision, and what is reissued today. Were the designers still alive today, they might make the things with other technologies. Reissues and vintage do not necessarily have different markets: those who want unique pieces can also buy reissues. But there is a difference between the true collector and the ‘amateur’ who buys objects for interior decorating.”