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Looking for Quick Cash, Sotheby’s Raids Design School for Young Talent

Hoping to find new growth and fresh hype, the famed auction house hopes to propel young Dutch designers into the ranks of international stardom.

Sotheby's

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For the global auction-giant Sotheby’s, contemporary art markets have dwindled in the current recession. But they’re still looking for young talent, which can be bought low and sold high. So they’re turning to design schools. This May, Sotheby’s is teaming up with the Design Academy of Eindhoven, to sell the works of top students from the 2009 graduating class.

The projects for sale are like set-decorations from Sprockets. They include a closet/bath tub designed by Anna ven derLei, which was meant to
recreate the standard undressing/relaxation ritual found in traditional
Finnish saunas (above) and an inflatable cube, designed by Yoeri Treffers for getting away from it all:

Sotheby's

You’d be forgiven for wondering two things: Who the hell would buy this stuff? And what the hell is Sotheby’s doing?

But the move makes a certain sense. Contemporary, one-off design only recently became a hot trend among art collectors. As a result, it’s relatively cheap: For someone buying a $200,000 painting, a $50,000 sofa might seem like a deal. And the market is relatively untapped: Where MFA programs in art have collectors scouring the graduation shows, few people pay attention to design programs. So its easier to find and claim youngsters such as Maarten Baas, Nacho Carbonell, or Tomas Libertiny–all of whom went on to sell pieces for tens of thousands at auction, just a couple years out of school. (Brad Pitt recently bought one of Carbonell’s first collections for $119,000.) The prospect of finding the next Marc Newson–whose Lockheed lounge originally sold for a few thousand dollars in the late 1980s, but recently sold at auction for $2.2 million–would be tantalizing for anyone.

Eindhoven, the most prestigious design program in the Netherlands, was an easy bet for Sotheby’s–together with the Royal Academy of Art in London and a couple other international programs, they’re one of the few that regularly turns out new stars. In fact, Carbonell and Libertiny both graduated from Eindhoven in 2007; Baas, who’s already become an established talent, graduated from there in 2002.

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[Via Core 77]

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About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.

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