8 Things
Libby Sellers, Design Gallerist

Had you peeked into London gallerist Libby Sellers’s diary for the week of the Milan Furniture Fair earlier this month, you would have seen all the requisite stops on the circuit: Rossana Orlandi one afternoon, Lambrate and Tortona the next, plus a stop at Satellite and a time out for breakfast at the Four Seasons with Alice Rawsthorn, who was her boss when she was a curator at the London Design Museum. There was time made for shopping — Sellers is a self-admitted clothes horse, having transformed most of her London apartment into a walk-in closet — and for a visit to the 10 Corso Como gallery and bookstore. But despite what you’d expect from one of the world’s most respected supporters of emerging design, who for the past two years has commissioned work from and produced pop-up exhibitions with talents like Max Lamb and Julia Lohmann, Sellers did not walk away from the fair with an arsenal of new relationships to pursue. Her talent scouting is done before she even gets there, in graduate degree shows and over the internet, so that in Milan — unlike the rest of us — she gets to relax and enjoy the show.

When we asked her to reflect on her time there and share her impressions and inspirations, eight examples of which follow in this slideshow, her answers weren’t at all indicative of what hot young things you can expect her to work with next. Some of them catalogued simple joys she found in a Marti Guixe tea towel or a bread-making workshop, while others shed light on her creative point of view and the factors that drive her to take on new talent. The show she liked best, for example, exhibited the results of a residency in Turin that challenged young designers to explore their own motivations and methods. “Design has to have a reason,” Sellers explains. “I’m not interested in it being a modernist mantra of form follows function. If it’s vacuous and self-indulgent it’s of no use to anyone, but if it pushes a boundary or asks a question or answers one — that’s critical design, and that’s what I’m after.”

Scholten_Baijings Vegetables

"Scholten & Baijings’s somewhat beguiling vegetable series, on show at Rosanna Orlandi, was my unexpected highlight of the fair. Reminiscent of Vermeer’s still life studies in 3-D, they offered a beautiful counterpoise to the Dutch design duo's earlier 2-D print experiments in the Amsterdam Armoire, which was on display with Established & Sons on the other side of town." Photo by Yves Krol


In the newly colonized Lambrate district of Milan, Sellers bought a Marti Guixe tea towel, one of a series made by the fledgling tablecloth company Flat Design. "I'm not sure what they added to a conversation about design, but I've always been a fan of Guixe’s work, and the physical manifestations of it are rare. He's producing more now, but during his anti-designer phase it was difficult to buy into his work, so it was a nice opportunity for me to do so. And then I went and bought five pairs of shoes and four dresses," she laughs.

IN R_00

"As contemporary design struggles with its conscience to remain both valid and critical in the face of ever-diminishing resources and a super-saturated market, I admired seeing the fruits of Barbara Brondi and Marco Raino’s Turin-based IN Residence workshop, which sought to raise such issues through projects by Peter Marigold, Formafantasma, Julia Lohmann, and other rising stars. IN Residence invites designers to a hotel in Turin, putting them on the spot by giving them a topic and making them respond to it through their work." The Ten Small Atlases show in Lambrate gave each designer who participated in the workshop a platform to display a recent project, alongside the story of its creation. Photo by Davide Farabegoli


"It’s a great way to push designers and make them question their own practice," Sellers adds. "I think that’s necessary, particularly for emerging designers. The result is very critically acute and conceptually strong work." Above: An object from Julia Lohmann's Settlements series, inspired by marine protozoa and their interaction with oceanic pollution and on display in the Ten Small Atlases show.


Posters all over the city advertised the launch of Maarten Baas's Real Time iPhone application, which democratized an earlier museum piece by the Dutch designer. "I thought I’d downloaded it pretty quickly, but I was obviously just one the many thousands who were showing their latest app off over breakfast that morning. Unless I’ve missed a trick, it’s a shame it can't be used as a screen saver, but it's a brilliant way to own an original Baas for the bargain price of 99 cents."


"I got to Apartamento magazine and Design Marketo's Food Marketo installation just as they were taking the results of Alexandre Bettler’s bread-baking workshop out of the ovens..." Photo by Amanda Alessandrine


"...Fortunately the Enzo Mari paperweight exhibition upstairs (pictured) was an engaging distraction from the smell of freshly baked bread, as the results were too charming to eat."


“My first (indulgent) port of call is usually 10 Corso Como, getting both my bearings and my fashion fix in before the hoards of other Salone tourists start filtering through. This year was no different, but having just written a book for HSBC Private Bank about collecting design, I spent more time upstairs in the bookstore than ever before — going through their wealth of stunning publications for layout suggestions, analyzing paper stocks, and cross-referencing indexes and contents pages to make sure I’d covered all the basics in mine.”


“Having spent three years studying Renaissance art and architectural history and many years attending the fair in Milan, it’s odd that I never made time to book a viewing of da Vinci’s Last Supper painting for Duke Ludovico Sforza and his duchess Beatrice d'Este in the Sante Maria delle Grazie. This year a friend suggested we do it, and it was well worth the wait. The light coming through the parapets above the apostles’ heads was glorious, and the pomp and pageantry to gain access to the painting (a series of vacuum chambers) adds to its mystique and mythology. However it was its quiet assuredness that I found most inspiring, its not having to compete with everything that was going on outside.”


"I’ve always felt I needed a purpose to browse, or even justify simply entering, the venerable institution G. Lorenzi. This year I invented one. So while my father is about to get an extraordinarily beautiful, hand-made Castello pipe accessory, I got the legitimate opportunity to pore over the thousands of unique and often bizarre selections of cutlery, smoker’s requisites, and gentlemen’s grooming accessories — and upon selecting the gift, watch them prepare and wrap my purchase."


"I was surprised by how many people asked if I was planning on showing anything, as I’ve never thought of the trade fair as platform for international galleries," says Sellers, whose most recent show, pictured above and featuring a series by Dick van Hoff, stretched across both London Design Week and the Frieze Art Fair, affording her crucial access to collectors. "But this year there were noticeable challenges to that convention, with more galleries springing up in new areas like Lambrate and international dealers using the Salone to give further air time to their stable of designers. Given that the entire city gives itself over to one great big pop-up event, perhaps I could reconsider."