Design takes centre stage



The third week of December 2010 sees plenty of activity on the design front with 900 lots being offered between Chicago (Important Design at Wright on 14 December), New York (Design Masters at Phillips de Pury & Company on 15 December and 20th Century Decorative Art & Design at Christie’s on the same day) and Brussels (Arts décoratifs, Design des XXe et XXIe siècles / Design for kids at Pierre Bergé & associés).

Market test
The first of these sales at Wright in Chicago on 14 December offers a highly diverse range of works by the star signatures of Modern Design – Harry BERTOIA, Roger TALLON, Serge MOUILLE, Maria PERGAY – alongside the more inventive works of Alchimia, Ettore SOTTSASS, Michelangelo PISTOLETTO produced in the 1980s.
For a number of the works offered at Wright and the other auction houses, these sales will represent a test of the design market which has been very up-and-down over the last two years.
For example, Mattia BONETTI’s astonishing cabinet “Strata” in steel (Wright) should sell within its new pre-sale estimated range of $50,000 – $70,000, having been bought in on 9 June 2010 against a range of $80,000 – $120,000 at Phillips de Pury & Company. Likewise for the buffet “Strata” whose estimate has been halved between June and December 2010. Among the more “classical” works, it will be interesting to see if Maria Pergay’s Table à trois plateaux mobiles will reach its estimate of $30,000 – $40,000 when a similar model only just made it to the equivalent of $28,000 in Paris in June 2008 (Piasa).

Christie’s stays classical …
Christie’s has decided to gamble on Emile-Jacques RUHLMANN. The idol of French decorative arts signed a result of $510,000 on 17 June 2010 in New York for a superb chest (Lasalle) in walnut, ivory and bronze. The catalogue for the 15 December sale does not contain anything quite as impressive but Christie’s is taking little risk by offering an alabaster and silvered-bronze chandelier from the 1920s, generally highly sought-after by collectors. In modest dimensions (53.4 cm diameter), the work is estimated at $180,000 – $240,000 whereas larger models generally fetch between $250,000 and $400,000 at auction.
With three lots signed Rulhmann, Christie’s is hoping to generate more than half a million dollars from this single signature. The Rulhmann lots include a pair of armchairs with their ottomans ($150,000 – $200,000) and a chest of drawers ($100,000 – $150,000).

… and Brussels goes eccentric
In Brussels, Pierre Bergé & associés is offering two types of work: affordable pieces from €80 to €1,000 in its Design for kids section, and more experimental work for adults by the young Belgian creators and Contemporary designers. Ron ARAD is one of the star signatures of the sale with five lots that could generate between €141,000 and €177 000. His famous Big easy mixed armchair in steel and blackened steel (numbered 13/20) is expected to fetch between €40,000 and €50,000. But the sale is also relying on the success of the designer Maarten BAAS, with 13 of his works being offered. Most of these will be from Baas’ Smoke series (burnt wood) and although the prices of these works do not usually exceed €18,000 (or $24,000), Pierre Bergé & Associés is hoping to post a new record for a “smoked” upright piano at €25,000 – €35,000.
Also to be watched, the auction debuts of Werner Neumann (Birchwood chest, estimated €8,000 – €12 000) and Francis Chabloz (with a prototype “chandelier” entitled Requin in perforated metal and LED lighting, produced in a limited edition of 12 and priced at €7,000 – €9,000).

Phillips offers the high end
Phillips is offering the most concentrated sale of the week with just 57 lots. On 15 December, it will be submitting not only a number of major works by classical signatures such as Rulhmann (rare Elephant armchair, estimated $180,000 – $240,000) and Charlotte PERRIAND (with an impressive six-metre long buffet $220,000 – $280,000) but also a work by the most speculative signature in the Contemporary Design field – Marc NEWSON. The piece offered is the famous Orgone Stretch Lounge from the Halsey Minor collection that Phillips bought in on 13 May 2010 against an estimate of $400,000 – $600,000. This time the work is carrying a pre-sale range of $350,000 – $450,000.
Phillips is taking another risk by offering a Sushi sofa by the Campana brothers (Fernando & Humberto CAMPANA). Before the meltdown of prices this work could have fetched $200,000 (cf Phillips de Pury & Company on 13 December 2007), but failed to sell against a low estimate equivalent to $130,000 in 2009 (Christie’s London, 27 October 2009). Phillips is offering the work in a more reasonable price range of $100,000 – $150,000, half the amount it fetched three years ago. The estimates have also been revised down for Zaha HADID whose Aqua table is announced at $90,000 – $110,000 compared with a result of $180,000 for the same object in 2008 (Phillips de Pury & Company, 12 June 2008).
Another star work of Contemporary Design will also be testing the market: Jurgen BEY’s Tree Trunk Bench announced at $15,000 – $20,000. Although Phillips de Pury & Company has clearly reduced its price estimates after the recent auction failures in the Design segment, it is also taking some risks: for example, it is offering a porcelain set (A “Cargo” of Pots) created by Edmund DE WAAL at $60,000 – $90,000.