Published: December 7, 2004
Now in its 19th year, Sanford Smith’s Modernism, A Century of Style and Design, 1890-1990, has become a shining star among fairs of this genre. After the resounding success of this year’s Modernism Show, one can only surmise that this show, the forerunner of all Twentieth Century shows, has truly become Smith’s wonderchild. It has virtually single-handedly set the New York City Modern collecting scene ablaze.
The show is a diverse and fertile arena from which amazing things have been cultivated over the years. “This show is all about the best of the best,” stated Smith. “Not all that long ago dealers were content bringing common Nelson and Miller production pieces here, but over the past several years, they have raised the bar a notch or two. Now they are bringing prototypes that are truly icons of the many different Modernist periods that are represented by Modernism.”
Modernism has grown in leaps and bounds since the early years when kitsch was popular; it is hard to forget the lunchbox craze stimulated by the show in the late 80s. The classic designs of the 50s and 60s were at the forefront during the show’s formative years. Today, Modernism has matured to the point of offering cutting edge materials; virtually unique icons of the Modernist movement have become the standard fare.
While the diversity of the show is important, of greater significance is the importance of the diverse offerings. There are top-level representations from numerous periods of the fast-paced Twentieth Century market. Cutting edge designs ranging from the cubist-inspired child’s wagon by Gerrit Rietveld seen in the booth of Barry Friedman to the bold and flowing lines of French Deco designers such as Jules Leleu displayed by Calderwood Gallery.
Special commissioned pieces were commonplace around the floor, including rdf_Descriptions such as a Paul Frankl desk with skyscraper elements combined with Oriental influences in the stand of James Infante, one-of pieces by George Nakashima in the booth of Moderne Gallery, and a wonderful Frank Lloyd Wight leaded glass flag window prominently displayed by Mark McDonald.
Large crowds were on hand for the show right from the start of Wednesday evening’s preview, a benefit for The Brooklyn Museum, straight through until closing time on Sunday. Sales were strong throughout the run of the fair, November 11-14, and everyone we spoke with claimed their “best Modernism” to date. McDonald, who has been setting up in a front booth since Modernism’s inception, commented that he had a “very good show.”
“Actually,” stated the dealer, “it was the best show I have ever had in all my years doing Modernism. People came prepared to spend money and they were keying in on really good things. There was no one category that did well,” he said. The dealer reported selling glass, jewelry, ceramics, furniture and paintings. “Just a lot of good things that were relatively expensive.”
The Hudson, N.Y., dealer offered up a grand assortment of rare and unique material including a chest of drawers sculpture by Tejo Remy titled “You Can’t Lay Down Your Memories.” The rare Droog and Dutch design piece was from a very limited production run in 1991 and was an early seller from the booth. Other standouts included a Kem Weber stained ash, birch and leather “Airline” chair, 1934-35, designed for Walt Disney Studios, and a scarce Charles and Ray Eames ESU 211-C storage unit signed with the factory label.
Also offered, and sold early in the fair’s run, was a rare five-piece collection of enameled copper vases and a bowl by Paulo DePoli. McDonald explained that DePoli is considered to be the “great enamellist and when these pieces were sold as a group in 1964, they were sold as representing the best of his work.” McDonald purchased the pieces from the original owner in Italy this past spring and saved them for the show. “This show brings out the best stuff. I save a lot of things for Modernism. I know it will be appreciated and my reputation is on the line,” he said.
Moderne splits its booth with Nakashima on one side and French Deco on the other. The combination proved to be popular with Aibel commenting that he “had a great show. For us, it was one of the best shows we have ever done and definitely our best Modernism ever.” From the Deco side, the dealer sold a pair of club chairs by Dominique, a pair of “bridge” chairs by Sornay, a coffee table by Spadd, a rosewood Cubist cabinet and a burl wood end table. “We had to bring a new load in on Saturday morning for the weekend customers,” said an elated Aibel.
Another Nakashima standout came from the booth of California dealer Peter Loughrey. The Los Angeles dealer offered a unique special commission custom wardrobe constructed of black walnut with three massive slatted Pandarus cloth sliding doors. “This is the only tall cabinet with sliding doors that Nakashima ever made,” stated Loughrey, who had the piece priced at $62,500. Other pieces of interest in his booth included a Frank Lloyd Wright leaded glass window from the 1908 Avery Coonley house, an Alvar Aalto cantilevered club chair in the original zebra fabric and two Mies Van der Rohe MR20 chairs, one slung in black canvas the other in the rare original cane.
One of the most stunning and colorful booths in the show was presented by Barry Friedman and it featured a variety of rdf_Descriptions ranging from the colorful Modernist child’s wagon by Gerrit Reitveld, circa 1920, to a red and black laminated Corian “Oh Void 2” chair by Ron Arad, 2004. The New York City dealer, whose private collection will be sold at Sotheby’s on December 17, also offered a Marc Newson polished aluminum and blue painted “Event Horizon Table” designed for Pod, circa 1992. The aircraft-influenced piece, one of an edition of ten, sold for an undisclosed price soon after the show opened.
Benjamin Macklowe of Macklowe Gallery offered a desk and cabinets made on commission by Camille Gauthier for a French family. The pieces, recently purchased directly from the family, had been executed circa 1900 for a “man’s office.” A grand selection of Tiffany lamps were also offered including a 16-light Lily lamp with extremely rare green and white shades. Another noteworthy lamp was a 22-inch Peony in wonderful hues and mounted on a cushion library base.
Chicago dealer Wright erected a sophisticated booth that included a grand selection of materials including furniture by George Nelson, sculpture by Harry Bertoia and chairs by Hans Wegner. The most interesting display in the booth, however, featured a collection of pottery. The dealers had designed a wonderful green shelving unit to house a collection of 60-plus pieces of Rosenthal Studio Line pottery, all in white. “They are all from the 60s and 70s,” commented Richard Wright, “We put the collection together over the past five or six years and Julie [Wright] designed the installation.” Filled with geometric pieces accented with textural vases with organic forms, the collection sold shortly after the preview opened on Wednesday evening.
Hughes Magen, Magen H Gallery XX Century, put together an impressive stand with a cabinet designed by Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret, 1943, dominating the center of the booth. The New York City dealer also featured a unique massive room screen by Pierre Szekely made up of 130 pieces of distressed pine. Commissioned for an architect from Paris, it was priced at $250,000.
New York City dealer Jason Jacques offered a wonderful selection of porcelains with a receptive audience snapping up quite a few examples. “We sold the best Amphora dragon vase that we have ever seen,” commented Jacques. The piece left the booth early during the preview. An icon of French architecture from the Nouveau period was a balustrade executed for the L’Hotel Guimard, Paris, by Hector Guimard. It was priced at $110,000.
Calderwood Gallery offered a grand assortment of French Nouveau furniture, several pieces of which sported sold tags soon after the show opened to the public. A Jacques Adnet chrome and lacquer serving cart with mirrored trays was among the first rdf_Descriptions to sell, followed shortly after by a Macassar, ebony and burled elm cabinet with nickel pulls by Eric Bagge that the dealer termed a “great modernist design.” Also offered were a pair of stylish arched back upholstered and relief worked club chairs by Jules Leleu. “This is the first time in 25 years of being aware of these chairs that we have actually seen them in person. They were originally exhibited at the 1929 Salon des Artistes Decorateurs and we had seen pictures of them, but these are the first ones we have ever been able to offer,” stated Janet Calderwood.
The “Single Rietveld Chair,” 1991, by Ron Arad, mild steel and adjustable, was among a large selection of desirable chairs in the booth of Historical Design, New York City. Other chairs included a Marcel-Louis Baugniet, a Rietveld “Steltman” chair and a Paul Laszlo “McCulloch” chair. From the selection of objects came a pair of Winnebego Indian Memorilas, 1924, in rare red glazed terra cotta by Frank Lloyd Wright.
English Arts and Crafts dealer John Alexander was having a good show after moving several pieces from his stand. Among the early rdf_Descriptions to sell from the booth was a massive Rosewood bookcase with relief carved friezes that the dealer believed to have been made in the Channel Islands. The circa 1925 Arts and Crafts piece measure more than 12 feet in length and stood 6 feet tall. A Richard Riemerschmid armchair with spindled-barrel form back was another rdf_Description to sell right off the bat from the booth.
George Gilpin’s booth is always a popular stopover and the Brooklyn dealer reported making ten sales on opening night. His list included a Wormley side table, a Wegner chair, a Nakashima sofa, a Romer coffee table and several lamps.
Following Modernism tradition, two awards were handed out during preview with Sam Farber honored with The Brooklyn Museum/Modernism Lifetime Achievement Award. Farber has created kitchen implements with creative Modernist flair and ease of use, especially for the elderly and arthritic, since the 1960s. Among his companies are Copco, OXO International and his most recent, WOVO.
The Brooklyn Museum/ Modernism Design and Commerce Award, now in its second year, was presented to General Motors. Its stylistic advances from the sweeping forms of the 1930s into the high finned Cadillacs of the 1950s were recognized.
Sanford Smith & Associates next event will be the Outsider Art Fair scheduled for January 28-30, at the Puck Building in New York City.
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