Marianne Goebl at the Design Miami office, beneath David Hammons’s African-American Flag
Marianne Goebl watches James Bond films from the ’60s with a careful eye. She’s certainly fascinated by the array of super-villains who pop up onscreen in their quest to take over the world. But while most viewers are focusing on Agent 007 as he dodges bullets from Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s or Auric Goldfinger’s henchmen, Goebl is concentrating on those bad guys’ hidden lairs.
“They always had the most incredible secret headquarters,” she chuckles. “Those films’ set designers obviously put a lot of thought into how evil lived.” Indeed, if your devilish über-organization is poised for global conquest, shouldn’t your boardroom table be equally fearsome? And let’s not forget the lighting inside your inner sanctum: Nothing says sinister like recessed bulbs on a dimmer. “The architecture for power that was created for those movies was incredibly conceived,” Goebl adds.
That intellectual playfulness should suit Goebl well as the new director of Design Miami, the design fair now in its seventh year. Opening on November 30 with a record 28 galleries showcasing collectible furniture, lighting, jewelry, and objets d’art, the fair has gone from an Art Basel week sideshow to a main attraction. Indeed, now located under a tent directly across the street from Basel’s home inside Miami Beach’s Convention Center (and now co-owned by Basel’s parent company), the fair arrives with its own tropical blend of South Florida frisson—where else would you spot rapper Jay-Z intently shopping alongside the housewives of Fisher Island? “It’s Miami—what can I tell you?” quipped Design Miami dealer Cristina Grajales to The New York Times. “People are writing million-dollar checks in their flip-flops.” That’s meant a period of adjustment for the Austrian-born and Switzerland- and Miami-based Goebl—although she gives the transition a big thumbs-up. “I was immediately struck by the generosity and openness of Miami,” she says. “Coming from Europe, that’s a bit of a cliché about all of America. But there’s a certain welcoming spirit in Miami, maybe because so many cultures intersect here. Strangers will talk to you at the market. That would never happen in Switzerland.” And in her native Austria? “In Vienna, they’ll talk to you—but only to complain!” she jokes.
Stepping into the high-heeled shoes of former Design Miami head Ambra Medda, Goebl previously spent a decade at the Swiss design firm Vitra, having worked closely with heavyweight figures in the field such as Ron Arad and Zaha Hadid. But while those boldfaced names are frequently on the lips of art scenesters, Goebl stresses that Design Miami attendees shouldn’t confuse the two disciplines.
“We’re not an art fair,” she explains firmly. “Design Miami is about functional objects. Collectible, but still functional.” That boundary can be hard to discern, especially inside Goebl’s own Design District office. An invitation to an offbeat sculpture exhibition by Miamian Bhakti Baxter sits atop a magazine on experimental architecture. And beckoning to any visitor is a four-foot-long, absolutely adorable green alligator-hand-sewn with burlap-like jute and smooth patches of leather, decked out with fist-size wooden eyes and teeth, and sporting several handles which beg to be grasped. Yet stuffed with heavy wood shavings and a formidable inner skeleton, this alligator is no mere throwaway toy. Crafted by German designer Renate Muller, it’s intended to help children with special needs develop their physical coordination skills. It, ahem, also seems to have much the same effect on a certain attention- challenged journalist-particularly one who sheepishly looks up at Goebl, red-faced after realizing he’s been engrossed in playing with her alligator. “It’s OK,” Goebl says with a knowing smile. “It’s a design object—it’s meant to be used.”