While many of us have long considered the idea of buying and collecting design objects as a legitimate pastime and the art scene now grudgingly allows design to be traded within its (indirect) vicinity, the design-art scene itself still practices its own form of segregation by dividing the contemporary from the historical. There is a noticeable barrier between galleries focusing on mid-century modern design pieces and those choosing the slightly more perilous path of contemporary design. This segregation makes sense within traditional fine art mores – you won’t often find a gallery that would specialise in dealing, say, Piet Mondrian and Thomas Demand, let alone hang them in the same room. But collecting and dealing in design is a different ballgame to that of fine art and it is an area where there is still plenty of potential for rule-breaking.
There are one or two design galleries at the vanguard of design collecting that are making a success out of facing down conventions and one of those two is Nilufar. Owner Nina Yashar believes in mixing up the generations: she shows young unknowns side by side with museum-worthy historical design objects in her extensive gallery on Milan’s smartest shopping street, the Via della Spiga. The Nilufar gallery shows have become must-sees during the annual the Salone del Mobile Milan furniture fair as well as the DesignMiami /Basel and Frieze fairs and Yashar’s instinct for quality in innovation is increasingly well respected. Much of the impact of her shows comes from her adventurous juxtapositions, which, she says, are not simply for the sake of eclecticism, but “absolutely necessary”. “I think the dialogue between the historical and contemporary is fundamental”, she explains, “they give relevance to one another – I never show contemporary design on its own”.
Tehran-born Yashar began her career as a gallerist back in 1979 dealing in antique oriental carpets. It was not long before her interests spread to carpet designs from Europe including examples from Sweden. It was on a carpet-buying trip to Stockholm in the late 1990s, she says, that her love-affair with furniture design began. Whilst exploring the city, she came across some mid-century modern furniture pieces that really fascinated her: “so I just bought some”, she says, “without really having any background knowledge about what they were, and when I got them back to the gallery and showed them to friends they said: ‘oh you have bought Alvar Aalto, Hans Wegner and Bruno Mathsson’”. There then followed exhibitions (particularly Crossings in 1999 and 2001) where she began mixing modernist furniture with 17th Century Tibetan and 19th Century Indian carpets. Yashar’s eye for fine work continued to prove true and she had a series of shows over the following years with pieces from innovative 20th century designers such as Gaetano Pesce, Barnaba Fornasetti, Roger Tallon and Paul Evans.
It was in 2007, however that Yashar really caused waves amongst the design establishment. She gave over her booth at the DesignMiami/Basel fair to a young, unknown designer called Martino Gamper who proceeded to saw up a collection of Gio Ponti furniture designed for the Hotel Parco dei Principi on site and recompose them into his own works. When Gamper repeated the exercise with 100 chairs that he remixed into 100 new chairs at an exhibition entitled Onehundred at Nilufar in Milan that same year, it caused a sensation…