Published: December 2, 2008
One of the most interesting of the annual events conducted at Park Avenue’s Seventh Regiment Armory is the Sanford Smith-conceived show Modernism. Now in its 23rd year, the fashionable event is a broad examination incorporating all of the cutting-edge styles and designs produced by the most avant-garde and chic designers during the Twentieth Century.
The show opened with a gala preview on Thursday, November 13, benefiting the Brooklyn Museum, and continued through Monday, November 17. Similar to the mission of the Brooklyn Museum, this fair is where a century of design meets today’s makers. It is also the venue for the museum’s tribute to outstanding contributors to the decorative arts and a distinguished collector.
The Brooklyn Museum, which historically has embraced new and emerging artists †it recently opened a newly renovated and specially designed Contemporary Arts gallery dedicated to diverse works or art created since 2000 †presented three awards over the course of the evening. The Lifetime Achievement Award recognized Betty Woodman, whose ceramics fuse form with art and imbue it with vibrant color. Stephen Burks, head of Readymade Projects, and the first African American artist to achieve international recognition as an industrial designer, received the Young Designer Award, and James C. Waddell received the Distinguished Collector Award for his superb collection of American industrial design of the late 1920s and 1930s.
Paramount Modernism, it was clear from works on display, embodied quirks of cut and design, exquisite craftsmanship and luxe finishes. This was immediately evident in the stand of Tony Subal Kunsthandel, Vienna, Austria. The centerpiece, a “Libro Chair,” was as much a comfort as the well-thumbed book that informed it. Designed by Gruppo DAM (Designers Associati Milano) in 1970, the chair resembled the pages of a book laid flat, its polyurethane black and white vinyl-covered foam cushions flipping in an organized flurry of comfort. Meanwhile, an Art Deco sideboard by Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann of highly polished mahogany and rosewood, with four doors and two drawers, embodied the standards of luxe.
Calderwood Gallery of Philadelphia devoted virtually its entire display to the exquisite French Art Deco works of Dominique. Collaborators Andre Domin, a self-taught artist, and Marcel Genevriere, architect, produced extraordinary Deco fashion furnishings of sumptuous materials. Their penchant for detail included door handles and silvered bronze plaques produced by Puiforcat. Typical of great works of art, the majority of the offerings were privately commissioned. One such piece was a sleek, understated palissandre cabinet, 83 inches long, with two doors, fastened with the original shagreen lockplate and nickel bronzed pulls and lockplate surround.
Another example of luxury unconstrained was a circa 1945 four-door sideboard with four doors, made of rosewood, walnut, ebony, mother-of-pearl and gilt bronze. Meanwhile, quietly dominating the wall space and accentuating the clean lines of the furniture were detailed depictions of “The New York Shops You Never See” by Witold Gordon.
Several themes cropped up throughout the show. One of them was the strong presence of Italian designers, including the Museo Casa Mollino of Torino. Representative Napoleon Ferraro said the object of the museo’s presence was simply to create awareness. Viewers were drawn into the booth by a scale model of Carlo Mollino’s 1955 racing car.
A few steps away, works from the Italian designers were for sale. At Brian Kish, New York City, a white lacquer credenza from Luciano Frigerio’s Desiree series stood out, as did an unusual set of chairs by Gianfranco Frattini that could only be termed “Industrial Empire.” Of mahogany, steel and brass, the 1950s offerings were topped with dusty violet upholstery.
Donzella, New York City, also paid homage to the Italians with a credenza by Silvio Coppola for Bernini. A large-scale cabinet in the Arts and Crafts tradition, but of highly polished walnut, was a showstopper. Of slatted construction with an overhanging top and reverse-arch feet, the unique piece was fitted with ceramic inserts. A rare cocktail table by the Americans Philip and Kelvin LaVerne, titled “Interactions,” of weathered and nickeled bronze balanced the offerings.
The LaVerne team’s work was again represented at Weiss Antiques, whose suite of chinoiserie-topped brass and pewter tables were attracting attention. The etched tops had been finished by burying them in chemically treated earth to produce the patina.
Dragonette also showed a cocktail table by the father/son LaVerne team. However, it was the brilliant yellow Fornasetti crescent moon-shaped child’s bed set well inside the booth that captivated audiences.
Moderne Gallery of Philadelphia covered the gamut of Modernism, from Art Deco to contemporary. A Eugene Printz cantilevered desk, circa 1930, of rosewood and brass captured the sense of freedom so prevalent in the designs of the earlier Modernists. This was followed by an iconic French Art Deco bowfront sideboard of burl amboyna with stepped ornamentation.
The realigning of Modern design in the later part of the Twentieth Century was made clear by Moderne’s presentation of studio craft works by contemporary American woodworkers. There was, for instance, Wendell Castle’s black walnut “Zephyr Chair” from 1978. Known as a premier source for George Nakashima, Moderne did not disappoint. The artist’s slab coffee table, also of American black walnut, and his Conoid bench were among several unique offerings. These were adorned with wood bowls by Edward Moulthrop, the self-taught Atlanta wood turner whose highly polished large bowls with clear finish are typically of elliptical or spherical forms.
Drama began at Liz O’Brien’s, where the centerpiece was a departure into the kitschy nature of Modern. A white cabinet from Grosfeld House married a French top with Lucite dowels used as door slats.
Bernard Goldberg took dramatic presentation one step farther with Frank Lloyd Wright’s set of six windows from the Francis Little House, Wayzata, Minn. (Although the house was razed in 1973, Wright-aficionados can see the living room and most of its furnishings in the Met’s American Wing.) Interestingly, the windows represent Wright’s early use of an industrial vocabulary in light screens and his first use of the triangle as a motif.
John Alexander Ltd beckoned collectors to step into an enclosed booth. Drawn by a magnificent Christopher Dresser cast iron and Carrara marble hall stand placed in one of the booth’s outside bays, one wondered what exquisite offerings might linger within. Those who took the time to find out discovered such treasures as a gun cabinet by Ernest Jimson of the Cotswold Group.
From functional to abstract, the furnishings continued to make their statements. This thread began at Gary Gilpin, Brooklyn, N.Y., where corrugated cardboard furniture from Frank Gehry’s “Easy Edges” series had “sold” buttons on them early in the evening.
J. Lohmann hit the post-Modernist groove with Stefan Wewerka’s black chair titled “Klassenraumshul.” Its seat and back angled with front legs of saber form, the chair had the silhouette of a horse bowing. This was offset by a “Dolphin Tail” chair of highly polished aluminum from a limited edition by Mark Brazier-Jones, circa 1989.
Z Modern then advanced the recycling concept with a showing of Tejo Remy’s wedding dress Rag Chair, 2008. The booth also showcased a Remy recycled drawer sculpture, produced by Droog Design. Droog’s mission is to foster creative uses of recycled materials. An updated version of Gerrit Reitveld’s classic chair, interpreted in Lego blocks supported by an aluminum infrastructure, offered an interesting commentary on how design invades every aspect of life, including play.
Nearby, at Mark McDonald’s, was Gerrit Reitveld’s seven-room, two-story de Stijl dollhouse. Built from renderings of a house that was eventually realized, the house contained a spiral staircase, working doorbell and zinc kitchen table, among other accoutrements. The dealer also went large, showing four monumental mosaic glass panels from Miami’s Caribbean Hotel, 1940. Classic Modernism was represented by George Nelson’s modular shelving unit and a nine-drawer jewelry case of rosewood on a porcelain stand.
Todd Merrill, New York City, brought Modernism up to date with a massive Zaha Hadid bench. The foundry proof that was shown was subsequently produced by Max Protetch in an edition of 12. Flowing and organic in form, the design was computer generated. A yin-yang desk that opened to six drawers and two shelves, half brass and half black laminate, doubled as a dining table.
Elsewhere, Gail Garlick of Good Design, New York City, gave buyers an opportunity to reevaluate the works of John Vesey, once a favorite of the Duchess of Windsor and Cecil Beaton. Of particular interest were the folding aluminum chair based on a Directoire folding stool and a Maximilian lounge chair based on the Cuban veranda chair.
The next best thing to lounging would be a bed. The only one to been in the show was by Sue et Mare, France, circa 1920′5 at Two Zero C Applied Art.
Designers often mine unusual materials to turn classic concepts into breakthrough designs. Such was the case at Modernity, Stockholm, which showed Aldo Tura’s lacquered goatskin-covered wooden dining table.
At Lobel Modern, skins gave the rock star touch to otherwise clean designs. A snakeskin cocktail table was among the first items sold. An ostrich table, snakeskin lamps and lampshades and snakeskin-banded picture frames commanded steady interest. At one end of the booth, a large brass and glass credenza with soft, round ends was filled with Murano glass by Anzolo Fuga. It provided a delicate counterpoint to the furniture.
Converso, Chicago, provided a bit of whimsy with a black and white zebra coat rack of carved wood and bongo-style metal end tables.
Island Weiss opened the show up with sculptures by Strong-Cuevas. At the front of the booth, “Space Totem, a bronze with antique black patina sculpture supported by a stainless steel frame, rose several feet into the air from its pedestal.
Nothing showed off the Southern California Modern lifestyle that seems to have been custom-made for the glass and steel designs of the Modernist architects better than Slim Aarons’ photograph, “Poolside Gossip, Palm Springs, 1971.” Documenting the era, it was photographed at the Edgar Kaufman House designed by Richard Neutra. Shown at Staley-Wise, it was but one of many in the collection that captured the culture of the second half of the century. Bruce Lawrence’s black and white gelatin silver print of Woody Allen and Cleopatra Jones, 1972, nailed the New York lifestyle.
For accessories, buyers could select from a wide range of decorative arts. JMW Galley, Boston, offered tiles, ceramics and paintings. Newcomb and the Cleveland School of Ceramics were both well represented. A small but outstanding painting by Arthur Baggs, founder of the Marblehead Pottery, showed the influence of Arthur Wesley Dow. From a much later period, and equally notable, was Edna Wolff Maschgan’s painting of a black boy in a red Eames chair. Although dramatic, it was reminiscent of Robert Henri’s portrait from another era of a small black boy in a Victorian chair.
Alastair Crawford, New York City, featured a Georg Jensen silver lamp with grape motif that was so rare that the dealer said he had come across only a couple of them throughout his career. A 1920s silver Jensen-produced mantel clock of classical design by Johann Rhode, with beading and chase work, proved another rarity.
Mondo Cane presented a Carl Auböck display of smalls. The designer’s sense of humor was apparent in the aorta vase and trumpet ashtray, to name a few.
It would be remiss in a show about Twentieth Century design to not include studio jewelry and clothing. Sally Rosen showed a vintage gold bracelet by Armaldo Pomodoro among her treasures. Drucker Antiques offered a Wiener Werkstätte enameled brooch depicting a child. And finally, Katy Kane’s Vintage Clothes seemed to attract a never-ending crowd with fantastic pieces by Yves St Laurent and other period designers.
The next event for Sanford Smith will be the Outsider Art Fair with new dates and a new location. The show will take place January 9‱1 at 7W New York, located at 7 West 34th Street. For further information, 212-777-5218 or www.sanfordsmith.com .
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