Opinion

In Search of Unexpected Design Treasures

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Lot 220: Charles & Ray Eames, Freestanding kiosk, Iron, walnut, plastic-laminated, and hand-painted surfaces, Only two known examples are thought to have survived after the fair was disassembled. Custom designed for the IBM Pavilion, New York World’s Fair, and fabricated by hand at DMI, Los Angeles, 1964, 192″ x 111″ x 122″, Literature: Neuhart, John & Marilyn. Eames Design: The Work of the Office of Charles and Ray Eames. (New York: Abrams, 1989, p.191). Estimate: $20,000–$30,000 (all photographs courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA))

I think I’ve admitted this before on Hyperallergic, but I love auctions. Not the big ticket auctions that grab all the headlines but the ones where it is still possible to find startling treasures. Traditionally, art and design auctions were the realm of dealers, connoisseurs, passionate collectors, and even art historians who watched them carefully in an effort to find a deal, a missing art historical link, or round out a collection with an unusual or rare find.

Flipping through the Los Angeles Modern Auctions’s May 19 Modern Art and Design auction catalogue, I came across an astonishing selection of pieces by architects, designers, and sculptors that I felt were too good not to share.

Lot 292 Shiro Kuramata Feather stool Designed 1990 Dyed feathers encased in acrylic, aluminum From the edition of 40 Ishimaru Company Ltd., Tokyo 21.25" x 13" x 16.25" The model was conceived for Spiral, a gallery and shopping complex in Tokyo Literature: Aikawa, Michiko. Shiro Kuramata. Exhibition Catalogue. Tokyo: Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, 1996. p 196. Estimate: $30,000 - $50,000
Lot 292: Shiro Kuramata’s Feather stool, Designed 1990, Dyed feathers encased in acrylic, aluminum, From the edition of 40, Ishimaru Company Ltd., Tokyo, 21.25″ x 13″ x 16.25″, The model was conceived for Spiral, a gallery and shopping complex in Tokyo, Literature: Aikawa, Michiko. Shiro Kuramata. Exhibition Catalogue. (Tokyo: Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, 1996. p 196), Estimate: $30,000–$50,000

From a exuberant Eames kiosk for IBM to a lamp designed by Philip Johnson that looks surprisingly like a similar item in his famed glass house, these are fascinating objects that ignite my imagination.

Sculptor Isamu Noguchi’s “Radio Nurse” (1937) is a beautifully designed baby monitor made of that brittle early plastic called bakelite. His first major industrial commission, “Radio Nurse” was accompanied by “a separate enameled metal receiver called the Guardian Ear.” If you thought the sleek industrial aesthetic was the invention of Dieter Rams, this object may make you think again.

And how often do we see a desk by artist Richard Artschwager? The attractive object with precise curves gives you a better understanding of his art that is often populated with furniture or built in three-dimensions with techniques that evoke the work of an artisan, which he obviously also was.

But my favorite in the lot is the kiosk by Charles and Ray Eames. This colorful canopy, complete with flags, was designed by the Modernist couple for the IBM Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It is an object of optimistic whimsy.

The charm of auctions for me is great, and not for the fact that they commodify art, but because they demonstrate that the vast majority of design and art is lived with and loved by people who were once enamored with things that they felt were worth saving, buying, and allocating a place for in their lives. I think anyone who enjoys art could understand that.

Lot 299 Philip C.Johnson Floorlamp Designed1952,this	example	produced	later Painted	steel,	aluminum Edison	Price,	Inc. 38.875"	x	26"	diameter	at	shade Designed	with	Richard	Kelly Provenance: Collection	Edison	Price,	Inc,	New	York; Rago	Arts	Auction,	February	2011,	New	Jersey; Modern	One,	California Exhibited: "The	structure	of	Light:	Richard	Kelly	and	the	Illumination	of	Modern	Architecture",	Yale	University,	 New	Haven,	August	23-October	2,	2010 Literature: Eidelberg,	Martin. Design 1935-1965: What Modern Was.	New	York:	Abrams,	1991.	p	204. Estimate: $12,000	- $18,000
Lot 299
Philip C. Johnson, Floorlamp (Designed 1952, this example produced later), Painted steel, aluminum, Edison Price, Inc., 38.875″ x 26″ diameter at shade, Designed with Richard Kelly, Provenance: Collection Edison Price, Inc, New York; Rago Arts Auction, February 2011, New Jersey; Modern One, California.
Exhibited: “The structure of Light: Richard Kelly and the Illumination of Modern Architecture”, Yale University,
New Haven, August 23-October 2, 2010, Literature: Eidelberg, Martin. Design 1935-1965: What Modern Was. New York: Abrams, 1991. p 204. Estimate: $12,000 – $18,000
Lot 358 Isamu Noguchi Radio Nurse 1937 Bakelite Zenith Radio Corporation Molded manufacturer's marks 8" x 6.5" x 5.5" Literature: von Vegesack, Alexander. Isamu Noguchi, Sculptural Design. Exhibition Catalogue. Weil am Rhein: Vitra Design Museum,2001. p 110. Estimate: $5,000 - $7,000
Lot 358 Isamu Noguchi, Radio Nurse, (1937), Bakelite, Zenith Radio Corporation, Molded manufacturer’s marks, 8″ x 6.5″ x 5.5″
Literature: von Vegesack, Alexander. Isamu Noguchi, Sculptural Design. Exhibition Catalogue. Weil am Rhein: Vitra Design Museum,2001. p 110. Estimate: $5,000 – $7,000
Lot 262 Philip H.Johnson Plaques(2) Designedandexecuted	c.	1930 Patinated	iron	and	bronze Studio 16.5"	x	9"	and	18"	x	9" Provenance: Philadelphia	Convention	Hall,	Pennsylvania	(1930-2005); Private	Collection,	California Estimate: $1,500	- $2,000
Lot 262
Philip H.Johnson, Plaques(2), (Designed and executed c. 1930), Patinated iron and bronze, Studio, 16.5″ x 9″ and 18″ x 9″
Provenance: Philadelphia Convention Hall, Pennsylvania (1930–2005);
Private Collection, California. Estimate: $1,500 – $2,000
Lot 286 Richard Artschwager Desk 1957 Americanwalnut Studio Signedand	dated	"R.	Artschwager	1957" 29"	x	66.25"	x	43" Exhibited: "Furniture	by	Craftsman",	Museum	of	Contemporary	Crafts,	New	York,	1957 Illustrated: Armstrong,	Richard. Artschwager, Richard.	New	York:	Whitney	Museum	of	Art,	1988.	p	15. Estimate: $7,000	- $10,000
Lot 286
Richard Artschwager, Desk (1957), American walnut, Studio, Signed and dated “R. Artschwager 1957,” 29″ x 66.25″ x 43″
Exhibited: “Furniture by Craftsman”, Museum of Contemporary Crafts, New York, 1957
Illustrated: Armstrong, Richard. Artschwager, Richard (New York: Whitney Museum of Art, 1988), p 15. Estimate: $7,000 – $10,000

 

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