The recent Sollo:Rago Modern Auction resulted in a personal best for the auction house with a record breaking $4.8 million yield for both days. Auction records were also set for several established Modern artists while other relatively unknown artists had their work brought to the forefront.
The sale was groundbreaking for including several recent artists, some from as late as the 90’s, and some whose work has yet to receive high acclaim in the 1,500-plus lot auction that saw 1,000 registered bidders and 18 active phone lines.
The difficulty in presenting any Modern sale is that photos are deceiving. Modern pieces in general are more impressive in reality than any photograph is able to capture.
A prime example was a Harry Bertoia stainless steel sculpture, “Willow,” which consisted of rods on a stainless steel base. This piece that was in the artist’s private collection and considered to be his most important piece was listed in the catalog as 96 by 53 inches, large to be sure, but the actual presence of the piece was awe striking. One by one, auction attendees entered through the main door and were visibly astounded by this imposing work of art. It sold for $108,000.
John Sollo said that no matter how many times he sees a piece before the auction the scale of it does not impact him until the actual auction setup where things appear different in groupings. For this and other reasons, David Rago has acquired a 13,000-square-foot annex near the main auction house to serve as a Modern showroom, displaying high-end items in room settings. This will be in place for the fall Modern auction.
Rago expressed his confidence in Sollo’s uncanny ability to foresee market trends in Modern. Years ago Sollo’s interest in Modern was inspired by a piece of furniture by Paul Evans. “I had never seen anything like it,” he said. It captivated him and he just couldn’t let go of it. At the time few people were interested in or even appreciated Modern. “People thought I was crazy and even my own family thought it was weird.”
Decades later Modern has become the hottest collectible market and Sollo still remains true to the artist. Evans’s work sold for staggering prices across the board Saturday, breaking previously established auction records. Sollo confessed that he is “laughing behind the naysayer’s back.” Rago said that “the more you see of Modern, the more you realize that Paul Evans is in a class by himself.”
The top Evans lot was an outstanding 1976 sculpture-frontwall-mounted four-door buffet with a slate top and an interiordrawer and shelves. It sold for the surprising price of $84,000against a presale estimate of $30/40,000, which represents thesecond highest price ever paid for an Evans piece. The highest wasa sculptural room divider that brought $90,000 at the lastSollo:Rago sale. Two pair of stunning sculpted steel cube chairswith gold velvet upholstery on swivel bases that were estimated at$9/14,000 sold for $25,200 for each pair, which set a record forthat form.
An exceptional and rare 1965 signed and dated wavy front buffet with riveted metal patchwork covered to case and a painted red interior sold for $51,000. It is believed that fewer than 75 wavy front buffets were ever built. Another piece of note by Evans was a custom-designed wall-hanging cabinet in sculpted bronze and rosewood with three interior shelves, 1970. This rare and exceptional piece that resembled an ominous sea creature ($9/14,000) commanded $45,000.
A fine and rare Argente welded aluminum sculpture on a black enameled pedestal base ($12/18,000) was part of Evans’s 1968 “Sculptures in the Fields” series. He created only three Argente masterpieces, which he photographed in a Bucks County field. The “Field” series is considered to be among the most rare and important of all of Evans’s work. This piece, which was accompanied by a copy of the original photo, achieved $31,200.
George Nakashima’s work is always a crowd pleaser but a Minguren I buckeye burl and walnut coffee table with a free-edge top on a walnut base, 1981, was exceptional. Marked with the original owner’s name, it doubled its high estimate of $60,000 when it sold for $102,000. The buyer, Galleria Ramis Barquet on 57th Street in New York City, purchased it for resale at its soon to open furniture gallery, Pelicano, Inc in Chelsea. Another important Nakashima large walnut coffee table with a single rosewood butterfly key on a sled base, 1973, also marked with original owner’s name, brought $66,000.
Phillip Lloyd Powell’s work performed well. An unsung hero inthe Twentieth Century Modern arena for years, Powell was not asprolific as many other collectible artists. “You have to be able toget it to collect it,” said Sollo. For many years Powell’s worksold well in his own locale of Bucks County, Penn., but did not doas well on the national and international level.
All that changed at the Saturday sale when Powell, who was sitting in the audience, watched while his work sold for unprecedented prices. A pair of his walnut New Hope armchairs sold for a record price of $19,200. A handsome walnut bench with a spindled back also commanded $19,200 against a presale estimate of $6/9,000. Powell later disclosed that the bench originally sold for $500.
A black enameled wood table lamp ($1,2/1,800) sold for $4,800 and a cherry low coffee table with legs mortised through a free-edge top, ($800/1,200, brought $4,500. Powell was ecstatic over the results. Today, Powell said he is “having fun in my old age” and still working for only a few clients.
A group of Paul Kiss items brought strong prices across the board. Chief among them was an imposing pair of wrought iron pedestals with gold marble tops, stamped P.Kiss/Paris that more than doubled its high estimate of $12,000 to achieve $32,400.
Christian Liagre pieces were in demand and brought high prices in virtually every lot. A pair of club chairs that were fully upholstered in white fabric under ecru slipcovers sold for $4,800 against a high estimate of $1,800 and a Christian Liagre/Holly Hunt pair of lounge chairs in ebonized mahogany with black hard leather sling seats brought $9,000 against a high estimate of $3,000.
An appealing Sam Maloof adjustable music stand with a cantilevered music tray on a swiveling shaft fetched $24,000. A Maria Pergay “Flying Carpet” daybed in stainless steel with a rich brown fabric cushion sold for $78,000. Pergay’s highest appeal was previously in her native France but has since become an internationally acclaimed artist in high demand across the globe.
Many novel pieces offered in this sale created enormous visual impact for the 500-page 1,554-lot catalog and the auction previewers as well. A standout was a signed Pedro Friedeberg gold and red painted figural mahogany clock ($4/6,000), 13 1/2 by 10 1/2 inches, which was selected for the catalog cover and yielded $14,400.
Its highly original design, made in 1974, had 12 single figural gold hands surrounding a red clock face with each hand holding up the number of fingers that represented the time value. The base of the clock was comprised of two figural red legs with gold toes. Interest in this item was keen and there was never a time at preview that people were not staring at it.
A signed Friedeberg butterfly chair with a human head andfeet and the seat painted with Op Art designs on a red painted basebrought $11,400. James Mont’s art ranges from the “almosttraditional” design to the “madcap.” In this case, a pair offoreboding gargoyles that stood as gilded wood table lamps($2/3,000) sold for $10,200.
A ceramics highlight was a Hans Coper spade form stoneware vessel that was rubbed with oxides, 8 3/4 by 73/4 inches. Rago was particularly pleased with this piece that was obtained from a small estate in St Louis. “This is an important ceramist and the piece should ‘smoke,”‘ he said. His expectations were realized when the item brought $19,200 against a high estimate of $7,500.
A Lucie Rie porcelain vase with a flaring rim under a bronze glaze with a blue and incised pinstripe rim and shoulder was marked with the artist’s LR cipher. This appealing 7 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch piece brought a surprising $16,800.
If there was a disappointment in the sale it was in a group of mirrored furniture by Serge Roche that was believed to be commissioned by French actress Martine Carol. Active presale interest in a set of dining room pieces indicated a good sale for the collection. In fact most pieces passed, probably due to the fact that they were too small for grand sized houses and too large for conservative sized homes or apartments, according to Rago. “The problem with furniture is that it has to fit.”
All prices reported include a 20 percent buyer’s premium. For information, 609-397-9374 or www.ragoarts.com.