Written by Nadine Rubin Nathan for Material Connexion, 2012.
Marva Griffin, Founder and Curator of Salone Satellite at Salone del Mobile, and International Press Relations of Fondazione Cosmit Eventi from Milan.
In 1999 designer Carlo Contin had the idea to arrange a group of uniform spokes into a simple geometric form. The result was an ingenious fruit bowl that caught the eye of Marva Griffin Wilshire, curator of the Salone Satellite, the showcase of young talent at Salone Internazionale del Mobile, Milan’s International Furniture Fair.
Contin was invited to exhibit his dramatic centerpiece and, while walking the Fair, Paola Antonelli, senior curator of Architecture and Design at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, knew it would be a hit when she spied its unique shape. A year later the Satellite bowl was for sale at MoMA’s Design Store (where it remains one of MoMA’s staples) and Contin’s career had taken off.
With the launch of the Salone Satellite in 1998, designers like Contin were finally granted access to the Salone Internazionale del Mobile. The new platform for young designers was the result of an enviable challenge that Manlio Armellini, then Cosmit International’s managing director in charge of the Fair, issued to Griffin Wilshire. The design maven immediately rose to the task. “I drew up a list of young designers that I knew was anxious to be in the Fair, selecting some names in Munich, London, New York, and Milan,” she recalls. “I asked them to spread the news among their colleagues.”
Griffin Wilshire set the criteria for “young designer” at under thirty-five years of age. (“After thirty-five I think designers are more than grown-up,” she says). She also extended the invitation to design schools and universities to bring along a select number of their graduates-to-be as a first experience at the Fair with the thinking that they would be back the following year to start their careers.
The good news spread quickly and Griffin Wilshire was soon contacted by hundreds of designers, architects, and creatives as well as universities and design schools all eager to be a part of the first Salone Satellite at the 1998 edition of the Salone Internazionale del Mobile. She set up a jury to assist her in selecting designers and invited emerging collectives such as Droog and the now-defunct Snowcrash.
With the Salone Satellite, Griffin Wilshire opened the door for hundreds to successfully launch their design careers, get feedback from the international press, and make the valuable connections necessary to get their products to market. Over the years Matali Crasset, Xavier Lust, Patrick Jouin, Harri Koskinen, Front, and many more were discovered by the design community partly as a result of this platform. “One of the most difficult things [for a young designer] is to approach the professional world,” says Alessandra Baldereschi who first participated in the Salone Satellite in 2002. “Marva invented the most effective way to concretely support young designers in the early stage of their career. The originality of her idea is the creation of a system that didn’t exist before, which can reduce that gap.”
This year the Salone Satellite celebrates its fifteenth anniversary with 170 booths and 750 designers—a massive leap from the 55 booths and 101 designers that Griffin Wilshire drew in for the first year. Eighteen design schools, from the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, China, Spain, Brazil, Macedonia, Serbia, Germany, Colombia, and Italy, will join the selected few.
As the show’s curator, a second hat that Griffin Wilshire wears as she remains Cosmit’s director of the international press, she is responsible for gathering an annual prestigious panel of experts for the selection committee. This year’s committee features designers Massimiliano Adami, Benedetta Mori Ubaldini, and James Irvine, architect and critic Beppe Finessi, and journalist Pierre Leonforte alongside Meritalia’s marketing director Vanna Meroni, Aldo Provini, the President of Rapsel, Tommaso Toncelli, the art director of Toncelli Cucine, and Flavio Maestrini, the director of Giornale dell’Arredamento. And Griffin Wilshire says that, as usual, talent has been selected from all over the world: “New Zealand to South America, U.S.A., Scandinavia, Italy, etc.”
Marva Griffin Wilshire was born in El Callao, Venezuela. One of eight children, she describes her childhood as normal and happy. “I grew up in a very big house with plants, flowers, and animals,” she says. In fact, her childhood home is what first attracted her to design. After moving to Milan in the seventies she began her career in PR for what was then the C&B Italia company (now B&B Italia), working with Piero Ambrogio Busnelli, the company’s owner and chairman. Next, she became the correspondent and representative in Italy for a number of Condé Nast Publications including Maison & Jardin, Vogue Decoration, American House & Garden, and American Vogue. Before joining Cosmit she organized the textile show Incontri Venezia (Fabrics for Furnishing) in Venice for eight years. And four years after she launched the Salone Satellite, Terry Riley, former Chief Curator of the Architecture and Design Committee at MoMA, invited her to become a member of the Architecture and Design Committee at MoMA.
It goes without saying that Griffin Wilshire and the Salone Satellite are credited by many designers for their initial success. “For my first Salone Satellite in 2000 I showed a Flex CD shelving, a lamp made of Styrofoam, and some crosses in plastic,” designer Lorenzo Damiani told Metropolis magazine. “The shelving unit was eventually produced by Montina and won several awards. I now collaborate with a lot of companies that I got to know through the Satellite. I’ve also self-produced a number of my prototypes.”
And still, more describe her as a mother figure. “She opened the door to the European design world for us,” says Japanese designer Akihiro Ito of Nendo, who exhibited at the Salone Satellite in 2003. “She is our Italian mother definitely.” Australian designer, Darcy Clarke concurs. And Swedish designer Daniel Rybakken, who first exhibited together with his school in 2008 before having his own exhibitions in 2009 and 2010 followed by a special exhibition/installation celebrating Salone del Mobile’s 50th anniversary in 2011, adds: “I would say that Marva Griffin is the single most important person for the beginning of the careers of many, many designers.” Rybakken credits the Salone Satellite with all of his awards, press, and collaborations with companies like Ligne Roset and LucePlan.
The Salone Satellite’s fifteenth edition is themed “Design <–>Technology.” “Technology today makes a better life and for young creatives that means understanding this and learning how to elaborate their projects,” says Griffin Wilshire. There is also a special exhibition of fifteen interpretations by fifteen designers, former and current participants in the Satellite including Baldereschi, Massimiliano Adami, Azumi, Big Game, Diego Grandi, Tobias Fraenzel, Staffan Holm, Satyendra Pakhalé, Donata Paruccini, Postfossil, Studio Adriano, Studio Juju, Sebastian Wrong, Nika Zupanc and ECAL (École Cantonale d’art de Lausanne). This year also marks the third edition of the Salone Satellite Prize, a competition to further facilitate the contact between supply and demand—between designers and manufacturers, between creativity and production. Participants are asked to bring one project belonging to the product categories of the biennial trade shows that run concurrently with the Salone Internazionale del Mobile. In 2012, these include Eurocucina (The International Kitchen Furniture Exhibition) and The International Bathroom Furniture Exhibition. “Marva Griffin has been a visionary in giving birth to totally new generations of designers,” says designer Satyendra Pakhalé. “We owe her a lot for the simple fact that she created a platform and chose us, giving us a possibility to be discovered by the world.”