– In the 18 years since Sanford Smith launched his inaugural Modernism: A Century of Style and Design, the show has seen dramatic growth in both stature and maturity. Clearly over the past decade it has established itself as the premier venue for cutting-edge designs created between 1890 to 1990. The early versions of this show, while fun, often featured displays that lacked the seriousness that the period was deserving of. As Smith now rightfully contends, however, Modernism “is the show that blazed the trail, set the trends, made the market and maintains the standard.”
Modernism, now complete with a host of European dealers, brings together, he states, “the most daring design movements of the last century: Arts and Crafts, Memphis, Bauhaus, Art Deco, Art Nouveau and many more. Today it continues to define our understanding of the ideas and aesthetics of the century past.”
Modernism: A Century of Style and Design 1890-1990, opened for its November run at the Seventh Regiment Park Avenue Armory to a large and enthusiastic crowd. The show, featuring a preview party that is a benefit for the Brooklyn Museum of Art, also continued with its presentation of the Brooklyn Museum of Art/ Modernism Lifetime Achieve-ment Award that was present this year to Michael Graves, who according to the museum has been at the forefront of architecture and design for more than 35 years. Graves has received more than 160 design awards including the 2001 Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects and a 1999 National Medal of Arts presented by President Clinton.
A new award was also presented this year by the show and museum, the Design and Commerce award that was presented to the Swedish company Vitra and its chairman Rolf Fehlbaum. Vitra is a global furniture manufacturer that has created what the Brooklyn terms “creative products and architectural ensembles that are models of corporate initiative and excellence.”
The presentations attract a large crowd of showgoers, but many found it difficult to pull themselves away from the stunning booths that fill the cavernous armory. While there were several highlights in the merchandise that was offered at this years outing, one of the most intriguing booths was presented by Manhattan dealers Evan Snyderman and Zesty Meyers of R 20th Century.
Smith commented that the show is atypical of other Modern events as the rarest of the rare is offered by the premier dealers in the business. “Where else are you going to find one-of-a-kind rdf_Descriptions such as the prototypes for iconic designs that are offered on the floor here tonight?”
Another prototype of great importance to appear on the floor was offered by Philadelphia dealers Robert Aibel, Michael Graber and Cynthia Tyng of Moderne Gallery. The piece, a simple low and rolling wire framed chase lounge in a silver color, circa 1952, was designed for Knoll but never put into production, according to the dealers, due to the complexity and high costs associated with manufacturing the form. “It was just too complicated to be put into production,” said Aibel. “The sweeping lines are more sculptural than they are furniture designs.” The dealer commented that the piece had remained within the Bertoia family until recently.
Numerous pieces of stunning George Nakashima furniture also filled out their booth, including a “special bench with back” from 1976, a Minguren I coffee table, a radio cabinet and a double sliding door cabinet.
Hudson, N.Y., dealer Mark McDonald also featured a great selection of merchandise that had the crowd in awe. Included in his display was a chair by Alvo Aalto that the dealer commented was “the chair” that had been displayed in the Museum of Modern Art show “Architecture and Furniture” of 1937. The rare chair had been commissioned, according to McDonald, by harpist and composer Carlos Sezedo in 1931. Sezedo reportedly hired Aalto to produce a line of custom furniture for a school in Camden, Maine. Another of the highlights from McDonald’s booth was a rare Tapio Wirkkala coffee table, circa 1958, along with numerous trays by Wirkkala.
Brooklyn dealer George Gilpin also displayed a quality assortment of designer materials including a nice Eames six-panel screen, a Verner Panton red dyed molded plywood chair, an Eames DCW chair with original calf-hide covering, a Herman Miller ESU 400 from the first year of production and a rare Gambone slab sculpture.
Andy Lin of Lin Weinberg Gallery presented an entirely new look to his booth with featured rdf_Descriptions this year focusing on architectural interpretations in furniture from the Modern Age. Pieces by Deskey, Vollmer and Rhode were at the forefront of the booth along with a Paul Frankl lacquered and silver leaf stool, circa 1925, of which only a handful of examples are known. Another piece attracting a great deal of interest was a rare Jules Bouy skyscraper lamp.
Jason Jacques presented a stunning display of amphora including numerous pieces in the rare Klimt series with applied jewels and gold decoration. Also on display in the booth were iron jardinieres designed by Hector Guinard in the Nouveau style created for the Paris Metro entrances.
Arts and Crafts materials were available from both sides of the ocean with Philadelphia dealer John Alexander offering a superb selection of British materials including a rare settle by Edward Lutyens that was produced for The Drum Inn, Cockington, England, circa 1934. Another standout in the booth was a large inlaid cabinet by Shapland and Potter in mahogany with apple wood, pewter, mother-of-pearl and abalone inlays, circa 1900.
Arts and Crafts dealers Jim Messineo and Mike Witt of Boston’s JMW Gallery featured a wide variety of American materials ranging from a Harvey Ellis-designed fall front desk by Gustav Stickley to an extremely rare Marie Zimmerman copper petal-form bowl in the original patina. Messineo and Witt have long been known for their quality selection of art pottery and the offering had collectors gravitating towards their booth. At the forefront of the display were two Marblehead pots that had come from the Dr Herbert Hill estate, the founder of the Marblehead Pottery.
Alongside those pots were equally impressive pieces by Grueby including a rare seven-handle “Kendrick” designed vase and a Brower vase with iridescent gold and coppery glaze. Another of the accessories in JMW’s booth that was attracting attention from savvy collectors was an extremely rare watercolor of mountain laurel that had been executed by Zulma Steele from the Byrdcliff Colony.
The selection of Art Deco material around the floor was also stunning with numerous pieces in the booth of Philadelphia dealers Gary and Janet Calderwood at the forefront. Highlights included a Macassar ebony Dominique armoire with shark skin and ivory adornments, and a Modernist table by Michael Dufet with original parchment.
New York City dealer Frank Rogin presented an impressive display with a Osvaldo Borani bar circa 1940 constructed of pallisander and glass in his booth that was ticketed at $12,000, while a rare Gugiemo Ulrich walnut and glass desk, circa 1940, was attracting attention at $30,000.
Art dealer Patrick Albano of Chicago’s Aaron Galleries has been exhibiting at Modernism since the show’s inception and each year he returns with a stellar selection of Twentieth Century paintings, drawings and prints by the foremost American Modernists, Social Realists and Abstract artists. This year among the offering was a Jackson Pollock, although the piece that Albano seemed the most excited about was a painting by African American artist Beauford Delaney that had been included in the first Studio Museum show in Harlem.
Delaney, a celebrated artist who was part of the Harlem Renaissance during the 30s and 40s, moved to Paris in 1953 where he developed a distinct style of abstract impressionism. His artwork, according to Albano, became increasingly abstract and nonrepresentational over the years, with the artist dying tragically in a Paris insane asylum in 1979.
Modernism will return to the Seventh Regiment Armory in November of 2004. For further information regarding this show contact Sanford Smith Associates at 212-777-5218.