Milan Furniture Fair | Honing Their Craft

MILAN -After four solid days (and nights) of seeing, talking, and breathing design here, I'm happy to report that I am leaving for home inspired and refreshed. The fair itself was predictably conservative - companies are trying to appeal to the greatest possible number of consumers - but outside the fair, hand craft, imagination and optimism ruled. Zanotta's Trans-Forma exhibition, under the direction of Fabrica, offered witty re-imaginings of the company's classics, like Tak Cheung and Jade Folawiyo's transformation of the iconic 1970 Quaderna console table by Superstudio, with its distinctive grid pattern, into Dining Table Doccia (Italian for shower). The Dutch designer Maarten Baas showed little furniture, concentrating instead on a smart, provocative and funny exhibition called "Real Time" at Costume National's showroom. Baas turned movies into clocks, all of which subvert our assumptions about telling time. The most mind-bending of these was a film of what looked like a digital clock but was, on closer inspection, a labor-intensive piece of performance art in which an almost-invisible human was stenciling L.E.D. numerals by hand. And the German master of lighting, Ingo Maurer, outdid even himself for sheer poetic beauty with "Lacrime del Pescatore" ("Fisherman's Tears"), a series of nylon nets hung with tiny crystal teardrops. Designers, even in these trying times, haven't lost the audacity of hope.Pilar Viladas is the design editor of The New York Times Magazine.

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