NEW YORK — Nearly a decade after she co-founded Design Miami/ at the age of 23, wunderkind curator Ambra Medda opens her new hybrid design fair/magazine L’ArcoBaleno today in her most daunting marketplace yet: the Internet.
“I’m relatively spastic online,” Medda admits to ARTINFO. “I’m not tech savvy at all.” Despite her fluency in five languages, terms like social media, SEO, and SEM were until recently part of a completely foreign lexicon. In turn, launching her online venture also required translating the concept for the older, more traditional gallerists of the design establishment: “They ask me, ‘Oh, so you’re selling furniture via email?’” Medda relays, affecting a heavy Italian accent, “and I say ‘Well, not really.’”
The act of translation summarizes the project as a whole, as literally as it does figuratively. “L’ArcoBaleno” is Italian for “The Rainbow,” an apt name for a site that plans to sell a broader spectrum of inventory than real-life sales conventions would allow. Buyers can scroll through the site and read an interview with Johanna Grawunder or a historical look at Atelier Fornasetti, as well as browse works that span Verner Panton to Nacho Carbonell, listed by dealers throughout the world. With a click the site computes shipping costs, and once the purchase is complete, that dealer sends the object — be it Swedish portable synthesizers or Hopi Native American doll — straight to the collector’s door.
A similarly wide spectrum informed Medda’s choice of collaborators: starting with L’ArcoBaleno CEO Oliver Weyergraf, a former executive officer at e-commerce sites eBay and erento; and extending to an advisory board that includes hip hop mogul Pharrell Williams, London-based and African-born architect David Adjaye, Greek shipping heir Stavros Niarchos, London designer Tom Dixon, and a slew of gallerists from various continents. “They represent different constituencies,” says Medda. “Because [the site] is supposed to speak to a global audience, it’s essential that we have different points of view.”
Medda’s other mission, on a broader reach of inclusivity, is to “demystify the market.” The reluctant older dealers who “rarely even have a landing page” initially found Medda’s insistence on displaying prices for each item quite perplexing (the spectrum there ranges from a $50 Max Lamb bowl to a $155,000 pair of 18th-century vases), but she was adamant: “The market is very tricky; there’s a lot of overlap in people selling secondary market pieces. I understand the game, but if someone who hasn’t been a longtime collector doesn’t know how it all works, and they want to buy, let these people buy. Let them know who made it, why this is so amazing, and yes, sell it. It’s commerce, people.”
Her own novice on the Web, a sharp contrast to her design expertise, resulted in a site of minimal design — sans serif black fonts and the most basic of layouts — that allows the objects and editorial to speak for themselves. “It needed to be really simple and intuitive,” Medda explains, adding, “It’s the stuff we’re interested in. It’s not much more complicated than that.”