From minimal to maximum. From the iconic to the outrageous. Auction highlights and previews, design trends, photos, stories, philosophies and the allure of vintage modern design and decorative arts.


Auction lot watcher: Phillips London 4/30/09

The London gallery of Phillips de Pury and Company's April 30 Design auction will test the international market for purchaser's and consignors of high design.
Several pieces are worth noting:

Rare and important ‘Lockheed Lounge’, 1987-1988
Fibreglass-reinforced polyester resin core, blind riveted sheet aluminium, rubber-coated polyester resin. 88.9 x 63.5 x 152.4 cm. (35 x 25 x 60 in.) Produced by Basecraft for Pod, Australia. From an edition of ten plus four artist’s proofs and one prototype.

‘Blo Void 4’, 2006
Anodised and mirror-polished super-plastic aluminium, woven aluminium mesh. 120 cm. (47 1/4 in.) high Produced by The Gallery Mourmans, The Netherlands. Number three from an edition of six.

Important bed, c. 1970
Brushed and polished stainless steel, painted metal, fabric. 219.7 x 191.8 x 210.8 cm. (86 1/2 x 75 1/2 x 83 in.) Produced for and retailed by Maison Jansen, France. In collaboration with Jansen, Maria Pergay designed the present model, a canopy bed for the Shah’s wife, Shahbanu Farah Pahlavi.

Unique wall-mounted bar unit, c. 1954
Rosewood-veneered wood, wood, mirrored glass, painted metal, glass, sculpted bronze, brass.

Paul Evans and Wendell Castle at Rago Auction 4/25-26

Paul Evans
Exceptional three-paneled patinated steel room divider with gold leaf edges and metal ceiling and floor mounted frames (not pictured), ca. 1957. Each: 90" x 26" x 8 1/2" Lot 102 Estimate: $60,000-$90,000

Wendell Castle
Exceptional sculptural single-drawer writing desk, en suite with desk chair, 1980. Carved signature: Made by S. Proctor and W. Castle and W. Castle 80. 29 1/2" x 67 1/2" x 36 1/2"; 20" x 24 1/2" x 26"Lot 549 Estimate: $70,000-90,000


Claude and Francois Lalanne Furniture and Design

From an exhibit at Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, NY 2006-2007

From Christie's Yves St. Laurent auction 2009


Eileen Gray 'Satellite' Lamp Sells for $3.8 million at YSL

In cream-painted aluminium, composed of three superimposed flat rings in ascending scale mounted in alternation with three stepped conical shades in descending scale. Estimate $775k-$1 million.

Brancusi Sculpture Sets Record at YSL Auction

A sculpture by Brancusi entitled "Portrait de Mme. LR", which is part of the Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Berge art collection, is presented Saturday Feb. 21, 2009 at the Grand Palais in Paris. The sculpture set sales records Monday night when a collector bought it for $36,792,835

YSL Auction sets records for Matisse, etc.

A painting by Henri Matisse sold Monday for euro32.1 million ($41.1 million) _ a record auction price for a work by the artist _ at an art sale from the estate of Yves Saint Laurent, Christie's said.

The sale came at the start of a three-day Paris auction of art from the collection of the late French fashion designer that some are calling "the sale of the century."

A Piet Mondrian painting that had inspired one of Saint Laurent's most memorable dresses sold for nearly euro20 million.

Sales reached euro206 million ($263.6 million) in the auction's first day _ marked by six world record prices for works by individual artists at auction, Christie's auction house said. Fierce bidding in the cavernous, glass-topped Grand Palais museum hall quieted concerns that the global financial crisis might damage the auction's prospects.

"I never doubted the success of this sale," Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent's longtime partner, told reporters after the auction. "When you have a collection of this importance, and of this demand, you stop being an amateur art lover _ and you become more or less an expert."

Matisse's 1911 oil painting "Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose," (The Cowslips, Blue and Rose Fabric) sold for a total of euro35.9 million, including the buyer's premium, Christie's said.

Mondrian's 1922 painting "Composition in Blue, Red, Yellow and Black," with rectangles of saturated colors that had inspired Saint Laurent's 1965 shift dress, sold for euro19.2 million ($24.6 million), or about twice the pre-auction estimate. A wood sculpture by Constantin Brancusi entitled "Madame L.R." went for euro26 million ($33.3 million). Those prices exclude the buyer's premium.

Christie's officials said they were still working on confirming the identities of the buyers, who mostly came from North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Eileen Gray 'Dragons" chair sells for $28 million at YSL Christie's

In the form of unfurling petals, upholstered in brown leather, the frame in sculpted wood, lacquered brownish orange and silver and modelled as the serpentine, intertwined bodies of two dragons, their eyes in black lacquer on a white ground, their bodies decorated in low relief with stylised clouds

The unique and remarkable 'Dragons' armchair was acquired from Miss Gray by Suzanne Talbot, the first patron to provide her with an opportunity to create a complete environment. The exotic, symbolist character of the piece situates it conceptually within the first phase of Miss Gray's creative cycle. It aligns with the figurative panels and screens that can be traced to her first public exhibit in 1913 and the first published feature on her, in British Vogue, of 1917; it has an altogether different spirit from that evidenced in reductionist features such as the 'brick' wall panelling and screens that gave the Suzanne Talbot apartment so radically modern a character. The armchair distils all that was so personal and so magical in the first, intimately expressive phase of Miss Gray's career -- surprising, imaginative, subtly sculpted and crafted, it is a masterpiece of invention and execution.


Modern Furniture Prices for 2009. Market Trends

The market for mid- to upper-range modern furniture and decorative arts in 2009 is flattening as the global economic downturn spreads into the antiques and collectibles markets. The market for mass modern seems to have peaked in 2008 and is now completing a flattening phase tending towards lower prices for lesser pieces and flat prices for rarities.
Modern decorative arts are still bucking the downward price spiral experienced in the antiques market recently.
The retail markets for high end are spotty as dealers fight in smaller circles for less goods. Buying trends for mass modern seem to be slowing as bargain shopping is the order of the day. Decorative arts, in particular remain strong as precious metal prices rise vs. the stock market.
Prices at local and regional auctions for named pieces are strong against the nationals and online auctioneers as bargains in the high end realm seem lesser and lesser daily. Mass modern and decorative arts by better manufacturers, even later, are flattening in price with few exceptions. Dealers and collectors are still willing to pay high prices for better pieces of studio work, one offs, or custom designs by a handful of better-known 20th century designers and architects, but the frequency of these offerings at auction seems to have diminished in the last quarter tending towards a future of less lots at higher prices as stalwart auction houses are calling consignors to lower reserves on previously estimated items to 'clean out the pipes.' Consignors seem to be leaning conservative on both consignments and reserves.
As in other recessionary years, rarities, provenance, collections, sets and multiples are what the market seems to want in 2009.


Monet oil painting tests art market

A stunning Monet oil painting of his wife Camille reading in a rich meadow sold for well below its estimate last night, providing a critical clue to the state of the art market in the recession.

The sale of Monet's Dans la Prairie, left, at Christie's in London, which had a pre-sale estimate of £15m, highlighted the difficulties. It sold for £11,241,250.


John Thain and the $1000 wastebasket

Fornasetti wastebasket

Investing in 20th century design makes good business sense. Hundreds of ‘dealers’ have ‘democratized’ interior design and collecting. The 20th century design industry moves millions of dollars of wealth in a gray market between buyers and sellers at all demographics. Investing in modern design is relatively inexpensive (compared to fine antiques and art) and John Thain’s $1000 wastebasket, however absurd, is likely more profitable and recession-proof as any investment his stockbrokers sold to investors.
20th century designers like Piero Fornasetti, Gio Ponti, Aldo Tura, Carlo Mollino and Paul Evans all produced wastebaskets and bins for various manufacturers, and market values for these pieces (especially by Mollino) have steadily risen in the past decade beating returns from both the Dow and the S&P 500.
Just as market makers (like Thain’s Merrill Lynch) offer liquidity for stocks and bonds, auction houses like Sotheby’s, Wright and Philips and e-Bay act as design market makers for 20th century design. Common household items designed by famous designers and architects sell at auction and in retail galleries for exceptionally high prices; wastebaskets, candleholders, ashtrays, flatware and kitchen accessories.
For investment purposes we like anything by Alessi, Swid Powell and Rosenthal. Pieces by Phillippe Starck, Richard Meier, Robert Venturi, Pierre Cardin, Gabriella Crespi and Ettore Sottsass are also likely to appreciate at a fast beta and remain in high demand by both dealers and collectors.

(r: Ettore Sottsass, l: Paolo Portoghesi, both for Alessi)


Len Janklow Op Art Acrylic Sculpture 1970's Modern

Len Janklow (American 1919-2006) created kinetic mixed media works from his home studio in Tamarac, Florida in the 1970's, 80's and 90's. This is a unique piece purchased directly from the Artist shortly before his death in 2006. It stands on a lacquered illuminated pedestal also by Janklow.


Le Corbusier on Mass Production 1927

"A great epoch has begun.
There exists a new spirit.
Industry, overwhelming us like a flood which rolls on towards its destined ends, has furnished us with new tools adapted to this new epoch, animated by the new spirit.
Economic law inevitably governs our acts and our thoughts.
The problem of the house is the problem of the epoch. The equilibrium of society today depends upon it. Architecture has for its first duty, in this period of renewal, that of bringing about a revision of the constituent elements of the house.
Mass production is based on analysis and experiment.
Industry on the grand scales must occupy itself with building and establish the elements of the house on a mass production basis.
We must create the mass production spirit.
The spirit of constructing mass production houses.
The spirit of living in mass production houses.
The spirit of conceiving mass production houses.
If we eliminate from our hearts and minds all dead concepts in regard to the house, and look at the question from a critical and objective point of view, we shall arrive at the 'House Machine,' the mass production house, healthy (and morally so, too) and beautiful in the same way that the working told and instruments which accompany our existence are beautiful.
Beautiful also with all the animation that the artist's sensibility can add top severe and pure functioning elements." 
-Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, 1927