MIAMI – This week’s iteration of Design Miami, the fair set to open on Wednesday and run alongside Art Basel Miami Beach, will be notable for more than just the usual mix of items that blend art and function. It will also be the first edition whose content has been overseen by Design Miami’s new curatorial director Wava Carpenter, appointed in April.
However, Ms Carpenter, 47, is anything but new to the fair: she was its first employee 15 years ago and has been involved in it intermittently, in various capacities, since.
“She always had a hand in what we did,” said Craig Robins, co-founder of Design Miami. “This is where it becomes official; it’s on a larger scale, and she has more responsibilities.
Starting in 2006, Ms. Carpenter worked full time for five years at the fair, which has its roots in a one-off event, Design 05. For several years she worked for two design-focused websites but continued, initially, to work for Design Miami on a part-time basis. In 2019, she returned as a consultant. His responsibilities included, among other things, organizing conferences, writing catalog texts, curating exhibitions and working on designer collaborations. She was also involved with DM / BX, a retail website, which Design Miami launched in September.
“Storytelling, in a way, is a line of everything – why something is interesting, why it’s worth knowing,” Ms. Carpenter said over tea at a sunny beer garden near his office in Miami’s Design District, about a 15-minute drive from South Beach. “It’s true in writing articles. This is true in the curating of exhibitions. This is even true in the merchandising of an online store.
As Curatorial Director, Ms. Carpenter oversees the content of the Design Miami fairs in Florida and Basel, Switzerland. (The most recent Swiss edition, in September, was hosted by her predecessor, Aric Chen, although she was involved in other aspects of the event.) Podium, an offshoot of Design Miami that was presented in Miami last year and held in Shanghai this month, is also part of its sphere. (A release in Doha, Qatar is slated for next spring.) She will also continue to work with DM / BX.
For the past few years, Design Miami shows, including Podium, have had a theme. The theme for December, designed by Ms. Carpenter, is “Human Kind”. The intention, she said, is to “speak of leveling hierarchies,” including, she added, “all creatures on earth, and among humans as well.”
The interpretations of this theme are diverse. Southern Guild, a Cape Town gallery, will exhibit ceramics that examine the culture of the indigenous Xhosa culture of South Africa, for example. Chicago’s Volume Gallery will feature works by Los Angeles artist Tanya Aguiñiga; the book is a commentary on threats against blacks, aboriginals and other minorities.
Its commitment to inclusion is nothing new. “Wava has always been a strong advocate and champion of unrepresented studio artists and emerging young talent,” said Ashlee Harrison, director of the Americas for Carpenters Workshop Gallery (no connection to Ms. Carpenter).
Ms. Carpenter recently co-hosted an exhibition at the New York location of the Carpenters Workshop Gallery through Anava Projects, an organization she co-founded in 2019 to help socially conscious artists expand their reach. (She remains active in Anava, even in her new post.). Entitled “The New Guard: Stories from the New World”, it opened last month. It includes pieces from artists like Anubha Sood and Susannah Weaver.
“I really enjoy working with young designers and helping them get opportunities,” Ms. Carpenter said. “I enjoy trying to make those connections so that they have a head start.”
Ms. Carpenter was born in Indianapolis and raised in Astor, Florida, approximately 300 miles from the Miami Beach tent that will house Design Miami. It was, as she put it, “a kind of Florida in the middle of nowhere.” She was interested in art from an early age, inspired in part by her maternal grandfather, a commercial artist who worked on projects such as painting murals in homes and churches and designing lighting fixtures. .
After earning an undergraduate degree in humanities and philosophy in 2003 at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Ms. Carpenter moved to Miami and was hired by an art restorer, which led to her helping to modernizing hotels like the Sagamore Hotel South Beach. “I started working with interior designers and I was like, ‘I love this!’ She said. This passion inspired her to move to New York City, to pursue an MA in History of Decorative Arts and Design at Parsons School of Design in partnership with the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, which she obtained in 2006. More late that year, she returned to Florida to work at Design Miami.
Ms Carpenter lives with her partner, René Morales, chief curator at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, and their 10-year-old daughter in Miami’s Roads neighborhood, about five miles south of the Design District.
Although Design Miami has grown since its inception, one thing has not changed: the absence of a universal term to describe the creations it exhibits, which are sometimes referred to as collectible design, or, alternatively, functional design. .
“It’s definitely a job that doesn’t fit the definitions,” Ms. Carpenter said, “but I like supporting this work that doesn’t fit very well.”
It is a category which, she added, “does not live strictly in the art world”.
“I like to call it design. “