Ron Arad – the art of design



The world of contemporary design is illuminated by a small number of bright stars whose popularity has an industrial production base, whose reputations have been confirmed by museums and whose prices are driven by galleries and auction rooms. Ron ARAD is indeed one of these design stars: from 20 November 2008 to 16 March 2009, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris is hosting a retrospective exhibition entitled No Discipline which will be transferred to the MOMA in New York (28 July to 19 October 2009) and then to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 2010. Along with Zaha HADID and Marc NEWSON, Arad is one of the three contemporary designers most appreciated at auction sales.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1951, Ron ARAD studied at the Jerusalem Academy of Art and Design. Having graduated, he moved to London in 1973, trained himself in architecture, and in 1981 founded his own design agency in Covent Garden, One Off Limited. His entry into the world of design was very « Duchamp-esque »: his first piece of furniture was an old Rover car seat with two metal tubes in semi-circular arcs acting as feet and arm-rests, The Rover Chair. At the time the work had the effect of a catalyst on the fusion of art and design. The chair was produced by One Off until 1989. Today the Rover Chair is so emblematic that Vitra produces two versions in limited series: one rusted, the other chromed and entitled Moreover. In 2008, the price of an original edition Rover Chair at auction was somewhere between €4,000 and €5,000. However, expect to pay triple this figure for one of the rarer models like the 1984 Rover Chair in red leather offered in Marseille in November 2008 (Damien Leclere). Estimated at between €10,000 and €12,000, the hammer fell at €15,000 (USD 21,000)!

Arad’s paintings and drawings, which first appeared at Contemporary and Modern Art auction sales at the beginning of the 1990’s, have remained reasonably priced. The « heros » of his paintings are in fact his pieces of furniture: a 2-metre painting of the famous Big Easy armchair sold for the equivalent of $3,757 in 2001(Cornette de Saint-Cyr, Paris). In 2008, Artcurial tried to sell a similar work for $20,000. However the painting was bought in as Ron Arad’s collectors clearly preferred to focus their bidding on the pieces for which he is most famous: his sculpture-furniture.

After 2000, Arad’s works increasingly generated 6-figure auction results. In Paris, on 28 November 2006 Artcurial hosted a very successful sale of a work entitled Loop Loom: this chaise longue in polished steel wire mesh (edited in 5 examples plus 3 artist’s proofs), sold for 4 times its estimate at €123,322 including fees, his auction record at the time. His price inflation continued the following month in New York at Phillips de Pury & Company’s Design & Design Art sale. On 14 December, 2006, the auctioneer offered a bookcase entitled Mortal Coil (edited in 20 examples) that doubled its low estimate of $50,000. In 2007 the price rise accelerated with the Christie’s sale in October of Two Legs and a Table at close to $250,000. Two months later Phillips de Pury & Company hit the jackpot when they presented D sofa, a sculptural sofa in polished stainless steel (in 20 copies) which quadrupled its high estimate. The auctioneer had estimated $100,000 at best; its buyer paid no less than $409,000 including fees!

In the current crisis context buyers are naturally wary of over-paying their acquisitions. As a result, the best Ron ARAD pieces offered at Phillips de Pury & Company (NY) on 17 December last remained unsold. The estimations for Wild Crow ($160,000 – $180,000) and for the prototype Oh-Void ($175,000 – $225,000) discouraged collectors and the four pieces which found buyers (between $8,000 and $40,000) remained prudently within their estimated price ranges.