Peter Marino is Design Miami’s first recipient of the Design Visionary Award. Here, Fair Director Rodman Primack sits down with the architect, artist and designer to discuss his meteoric rise, his first museum show and how a childhood ailment may have been the greatest asset to his career.
Rodman Primack: Your work is so different, I don’t even know how to categorize you as a person in this world in terms of architecture, design, interiors and collecting. There was no one before you that did all of it in this way.
Peter Marino: I know what you’re saying, but oddly enough, if you look back at McKim, Mead & White, Stanford White—in his Beaux-Arts splendor—was intimately involved in every detail of the interiors. He even went on annual buying trips to Europe. What I discovered from reading his biography is that he was doing the same thing as I am—buying furniture for his wealthy clients’ homes.
RP: One of the things I got from working with you that I take with me everywhere is this: really good things, regardless of where they come from, invariably look good together.
PM: If the same person is curating them, oddly enough, it works. They are not doing it consciously. You’re freebasing your Jungian subconscious a lot when making design decisions. It will work. A lot of times, clients ask, “Does this go with this?” Nothing goes with anything. It is an aggregate collection of different things, which make new recipes.
RP: What got your attention as a child?
PM: I had an unusual childhood. I didn’t walk until I was 7. So when you’re immobile and sitting in a room, you become hypersensitive to your surroundings. I can walk through a person’s apartment, just once, and can draw you every single room before I get out. It goes through my pores. I see the chair, I see the carpet, I see everything.
RP: Was there a moment when you encountered something life-altering? For me, it was a David Hockney painting.
PM: I always loved and created art. One of the things they do with children who don’t walk is they encourage you to paint. And I was very good; I wanted to be a painter. Remember, I went into architecture and design from a fine-arts school. I had a very different background from most in my profession. I find that the architects today who are truly unique all have somewhat of a different background. Santiago Calatrava has a medical background. I find that fascinating.
RP: Where did you study?
PM: I went to Cornell’s School of Fine Arts, Architecture and Planning. You could graduate with a degree in any of the fields, depending on which you took more courses in. I took most of my classes in architecture. That was in the ’60s when there was a lot happening with Pop Art. I grew up with Life magazines of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning and I remember thinking, “Awe! These guys are my heroes!” Unlike what I was seeing in architecture… New York was being ruined by dreadful beige-brick buildings by architects given colossal opportunities and just doing mediocre work. And I thought, “Why is mediocre okay in architecture?” Look, I’m pretty artistic, and I needed a job and thought I could make a good architect.
RP: Did your natural inclination toward art bring you clients with the same affinity?
PM: My first client was Andy Warhol and he introduced me to my next 10 clients. Of course, it was through art that I got everybody. If you’re Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent, and Andy Warhol tells you to hire Peter Marino, you don’t think the art connection is 100 percent there? Now, I can’t say that I advised Yves and Pierre in any way, shape or form. First of all, I was very, very young and it was me who learned from them. But the art connection has always been there in a very strong way.
RP: How is this upcoming show at the Bass Museum of Art going to showcase your broad vision?
PM: Every room has a great example. The gallery, underwritten by Louis Vuitton, I think is one of the most amazing because it shows the process. We are going to show All Grown Up, a piece by Richard Deacon, whom I commissioned for the Louis Vuitton store in Singapore, which I then used as inspiration for the store in Beverly Hills.
RP: One of the things I enjoyed about working with you is you would pick up an object and be able to get across what’s intrinsically beautiful about it and translate that into what we need.
PM: And that translation is the creative process, and the creation of fine arts. It is the translation, the interpretation and the digestion that is the act of creating fine art… Whenever you look at a painting and want to know if it’s really great or really shit, keep looking. It has to be great for you or it’s not going to work. The custom-design profession is hard. You are helping people find themselves in a visual way. When it comes to visual astuteness, you can’t acquire it. I had it by the time I was 7 years old.
RP: How often do you encounter a client where you realize you can’t create a language for them?
PM: It will happen one in every eight; it just happens. I have people who really appreciate what I do. You can talk shorthand with them and that’s great. How much does Design Miami deal with branding? Because design and branding are tangoing lately.
RP: That’s a really interesting question. There’s this desire for the brand to be identified in certain ways. And now, the brands themselves want to have this identity as a design or building.
PM: Architecture is a really forceful way to do it. I’m excited for my own involvement in the fair to be recognized as somebody interested in the chair as well as the building. In a lot of ways, chairs are harder to design than buildings.