How do digital design fairs compare to reality?

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It’s a Saturday in early May and my schedule is, as you might expect, busy. “Come on now, go up the stairs,” says Italian curator Alice Liechtenstein, leading a group of us through Schloss Hollenegg, the 12th-century Austrian castle where she lives with her family and hosts an annual design exhibition. “Look at the courtyard,” she tells us, drawing our attention to the vines spilling out from outside the property, one of the many inspirations for this year’s back to nature-themed show, titled “ Walden ”. Birds chirp, leaves rustle, and Liechtenstein, in a fern-covered dress, merges with the foliage.

Familiar faces come in and out of the tour: Kristen de la Vallière, the founder of Say Hi To, and her boyfriend, designer James Shaw, as well as artist-designer Katie Stout and her Miami-based gallery owner, Nina Johnson . I say hello before I duck – off to Frieze, where collective design reappears after a hiatus last year with an exhibition curated by Libby Sellers on the history of color. I see impressive Albers – a Josef, an Anni – as well as contrasting colored ceramics by Cody Hoyt and Hella Jongerius, and new works by Sabine Marcelis, Jochen Holz and Tanya Aguiñiga before rushing to “Imagined, for uncertain times ”. an exhibition organized by Soft-Geometry, where I can’t wait to see new fantasies evoked by Voukenas Petrides, Vidivixi and Serban Ionescu.

Italian curator Alice Liechtenstein usually hosts an annual design exhibition at Schloss Hollenegg, the 12th-century Austrian castle where she lives with her family. This year, the showcase, titled “Walden”, took place online.

Photo: Courtesy of Schloss Hollenegg for the design

All of this, of course, took place as I sat at the dining table in my one-bedroom apartment in Queens, New York, where I spent the majority of my waking hours during the last three months. This big stack of business cards I ordered in early March, anticipating a wave of fairs – the Architectural Digest Design Show, Frieze, NADA, Salone del Mobile, ICFF, NYCxDesign and dozens of exhibitions in between. both – well, it’s probably sitting in the mail room at One World Trade Center. Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, almost all trade shows, art fairs and exhibitions have been canceled or postponed IRL. But many have found some form of reincarnation online. And my calendar, completely emptied in March, started to fill up again in May. I sent my RSVP. But I started to wonder: can a digital design fair or an online viewing room really hold up?

The disadvantages of a digital fair are easy to point out: you can’t get close to the works. You can’t see the brushstrokes in a painting, discern the nuances of a ceramic glaze, or feel the luxurious (or not-so-luxurious) quality of the upholstery. You cannot walk around a room, seeing it from all angles. And you are not likely to have any of those stopping reactions in your tracks to a picture on your computer screen. But perhaps the biggest difference is the obviously missing social element – those five-second sightings that we all complain about but secretly love, that probably keep us from really seeing as much of what we’ve come to. see. Too often, I leave a show or a vernissage and I say to myself, I will come back later and really see at work. Usually I don’t.


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