Mass-produced midcentury furniture by the Italian modernist Carlo Mollino can cost a few thousand dollars per piece, and his prototypes and custom works cause greater market stirs.
In 2005 and 2008, Christie’s in New York got seven-figure prices for 1940s oak and maple tables that Mollino created for a marquis in Turin. The designer worked in a vocabulary of hairpin turns, spikes and flanges. He was also notoriously moody and obsessive, and a daredevil who flew experimental planes, scaled mountains and raced cars.
His colorful biography adds to the appeal of the objects. “They have a huge aura about them,” said Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, the founder of the Salon 94 galleries in Manhattan.
A show with a few Mollino works from around 1950 (with five- and six-figure prices each) opens on Thursday at the Salon 94 branch on East 94th Street; display cases were designed by the British architect David Adjaye. The exhibition includes an ash bentwood chair and a resin-and-glass bookcase, made for a Turin publishing house, and aluminum boomerang light fixtures from a textile magnate’s apartment in Turin.
On Oct. 23 the Italian government blocked an auction at Christie’s in London that featured 30 pieces of 1950s Mollino furniture, which had long been installed in an Italian industrialist’s country house in the foothills of the Alps. The works, including oak and chestnut tables, chairs, cabinets and ceramic coat hooks, were deemed by the government to be treasures that could not be exported. (They were returned to their owner.)
On Dec. 10 Sotheby’s in New York will offer four 1940s oak chairs (estimated at $100,000 to $150,000 for the set) with split backs that a private collector found years ago at a Los Angeles tag sale. Mollino used the split-back design in ski resort and restaurant interiors, but no one knows where the tag-sale chairs originated.
The first American exhibition devoted exclusively to the work of one of the most influential and innovative figures of post-war French design. Featuring rare examples presented in historical living environments, the exhibition encompasses thirty unique pieces–many of which have never before been shown publicly–bringing to light the remarkable works of an oft-overlooked Modernist.
Born in France in 1925, Motte was part of a younger generation of post-war designers dedicated to an optimistic vision of industrialization and modern design’s ability to improve the lives of the masses. Following the reconstruction period, this group of designers embraced mass production as well as newer, affordable industrial materials as a means of realizing radically inventive forms.
A stolid devotion to contemporary forms, expressed using both traditional and newly invented industrial materials, established Joseph André Motte as one of the most visionary figures of his generation. Joseph André Motte: The Art of Living highlights the diverse breadth of materials that characterize Motte’s oeuvre and presents many of his most significant innovations in modern style. Featuring rare examples of Motte’s early work in rattan of 1954 to his transition to production furniture with Charron in 1958-60, the show is divided into two spaces that each focus on a distinctive period of this illustrious designer’s oeuvre.
Based on a 1954 Charron presentation, the first space will focus on Motte’s early work in plywood and rattan, and will feature a pair of the iconic 1949 Tripod Chairs and the 1954 rattan Sabre Chair, placed within a living room interior. These iconic designs exemplify Motte’s distinctive use of traditional techniques used to craft innovative modernist forms.
Motte’s designs for mass production and his experimentation with new affordable materials such as plastic, foam, and Formica will be represented in the second space, which will focus on Motte’s designs of the 1960s. This environment presents a 1960s chambre and includes a rare vinyl bed, the 1959 Light Table and a pair of nightstands made in luminous white opaline glass.
Joseph André Motte: The Art of Living, November 8 – February 9, at Demisch Danant, New York
In the late ’80s, before he became famous as a member of the Compton, Calif., gangsta-rap group N.W.A., Ice Cube studied architectural drafting at a trade school in Arizona. In the video, made for “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980,” the sprawling Getty Institute-organized collection of exhibitions on the postwar Southern California art scene, Ice Cube tours the Eames House in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood, marveling at the resourcefulness of the husband-and-wife team.
“Got off-the-shelf factory windows, prefabricated walls,” he says, sounding as if he were admiring a tricked-out low rider. “They was doing mash-ups before mash-ups even existed.”
For the exhibition Ice Cube wanted to recreate this famous photograph by Charles Eames sitting on a rare 1953 DAT-1 Chair.
The upcoming Important Design Auction at Wright includes this rare lamp, designed for the 1958 Venice Biennale. This example comes from the collection of Maruizio Albarelli, the director of Vetri Seguso d’Arte. Sold with original framed drawing and framed vintage photograph of this work.
Floor Lamp, by Flavio Poli, Exhibited: Venice Biennale, 1958, Italy, Estimate: $20,000–30,000, Auction at Wright
An unambiguously future oriented rendering of a ‘traditional’ clock and barometer combination (no reason to suppose that the future should not contain inconstant atmospheric conditions). Figures set in Akzidenz provide a connection to the earliest phase of the Braun programm, when it was first adopted as the corporate typeface. Beautifully sealed up within these perspex vitrines. Domoset is wall-mountable. Clock and barometer swivel in their cases to permit a vertical or horizontal arrangement; they can be removed altogether and hung independently. A detachable stand allows use as a desk set. The domoset forms part of the first analogue wall clock series, formed of domodisk, domo fix, domo flex and domo desk.
Braun AB 21 domoset, by Dietrich Lubs, Available at das programm
In the year 2008, the American designer George Nelson (1908-1986) would have celebrated his 100th birthday. To commemorate this occasion, the Vitra Design Museum exhibited the first comprehensive retrospective of his work. Nelson was one of the most influential figures in American design during the second half of the twentieth century. With an architectural degree from Yale, he was not only active in the fields of architecture and design, but was also a widely respected writer and publicist, lecturer, curator, and a passionate photographer. His office produced numerous furnishings and interior designs that became modern classics, including the Coconut Chair (1956), the Marshmallow Sofa (1956), the Ball Clock (1947) and the Bubble Lamps (1952 onwards).
As design director at Herman Miller, a leading US manufacturer of modern furniture design, Nelson had a major influence on the product line and public image of the company for over two decades. He played an essential role in bringing the company together with designers such as Charles Eames, Alexander Girard and Isamu Noguchi. Early on, Nelson was convinced that design should be an integral part of a company’s philosophy, and by promoting this viewpoint, he also became a pioneer in the areas of business communication and corporate design.
As an architect, designer and writer, Nelson was deeply interested in the topics of domestic living and interior furnishings. In the bestselling book Tomorrow’s House (1945, co-authored with Henry Wright), he articulated the groundbreaking concept of the “storagewall”. The walls of a house, Nelson explained, could be used to store things by transforming them into floor-to-ceiling, two-sided cabinets. A revolutionary idea at the time, it anticipated the flood of consumer goods that the economic boom in the western world would soon produce, turning the single-family home into a small warehouse.
Nelson designed several private homes, including a New York town house for Sherman Fairchild (1941, together with William Hamby) and Spaeth House on Southampton beach (1956, together with Gordon Chadwick). As a committed proponent of industrial building methods, Nelson published numerous texts on the topic of prefabricated architecture. In the 1950s he developed the “Experimental House”, a modular system of cubic volumes with Plexiglas roof domes which owners could assemble into personal habitations according to their own spatial requirements.
In addition to his preoccupation with architecture and the domestic interior, Nelson intently pursued the topic of office furnishings. Besides designing the first L-shaped desk, he played a major role in the development of Herman Miller’s Action Office, and in the 1970s he created his own office system, Nelson Workspaces. Similar to Nelson’s home furnishings and experimental architecture, this system was based on a variety of modular elements that could be freely combined.
The extraordinary diversity of design tasks taken on by the Nelson office extends far beyond the field of furniture design, although the latter forms the basis of his reputation today. Numbering among his clients were many large corporations including Abbott, Alcoa, BP, Ford, Gulf, IBM, General Electric, Monsanto and Olivetti, as well as the United States government. In his New York office, which he established in 1947 and ran for more than three decades, Nelson employed over fifty people at times, including familiar figures such as Ettore Sottsass and Michael Graves. Along with exhibitions, restaurant interiors and showrooms, George Nelson & Company designed kitchens, flatware and dishes, record players and speakers, birdhouses and weathervanes, computers and typewriters, company logos and packaging, rugs and tiles.
Anyone who has yielded to the luxurious embrace of an Eames lounge chair is well acquainted with its sensual and aesthetic pleasures but Charles and Ray Eames, the husband and wife team behind the enduring classic furniture designs are less familiar.
Their partnership and multifaceted careers — they’re credited with both reinventing the concept of the chair and putting the playfulness back into modernism — are explored in Eames: The Architect and the Painter, Jason Cohn and veteran broadcast producer Bill Jersey’s well-crafted, straightforward and insightful documentary. A must for those with an interest in modern design, the film’s portrait of an unconventional marriage during the 1950s, and the alchemy that fueled a professional collaboration between intensely creative personalities, who perfectly complemented one another, should extend its appeal beyond the ranks of subscribers toArchitectural Digest and Dwell.
Narrated by James Franco, the First Run Features doc opens theatrically in New York and L.A. November 18, and will have its broadcast premiere December 19 as part of the PBS American Masters series.
Described by those who knew them as a union between “a painter that didn’t paint and an architecture school drop-out who never got his license,” the pair initially dedicated themselves to a utopian vision of promulgating beauty to a broad audience through high quality, low cost, mass produced furnishings. Together they helped transform 20th century design in the post-war era.
A photographer, furniture designer and a filmmaker who made over 100 shorts including the much imitated Powers of Ten, Charles was a charismatic, workaholic visionary driven by a voracious intellectual curiosity. Their Venice, California studio, likened to a circus and Disneyland by those who reminisce about working there, was built on the model of Renaissance art studio with the master at the top of the pyramid and a host of talented assistants executing his vision.
Not surprisingly, Charles often overshadowed his wife but the film goes to some lengths to correct the misperception that he was the only Eames who counted. A painter with a keen design sense, exceptionally gifted in the realm of color and a notorious perfectionist, Ray’s aesthetic contributions to the design process were crucial to their success, a fact not lost on her husband who once acknowledged, “Anything I can do, she can do better.”
She was also an obsessive collector and maker of notes on cigarette papers. Her illustrated letters to Charles, along with some 350,000 photographs and voluminous documents archived at the Library of Congress, and shared with the filmmakers, are a delightful reflection of a teeming creative mind.
The doc incorporates archival photographs, television appearances, clips from Eames’ films as well as footage of the futuristic IBM Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and the couple’s trendsetting Pacific Palisades home, perched on a bluff overlooking the ocean and filled with fine art and an evolving collage of objects and contraptions that caught their eye. Family members, historians, critics and fellow artists, who worked with or simply admired them, add pertinent commentary, while editor, Don Bernier, smoothly integrates a wealth of material and contributions by multiple lensers.
Buy it here: Amazon
Fifty years ago, the IBM Selectric typewriter was introduced to the public. In the 25 years that followed, more than 13 million of the typewriters were sold. The machine, designed by Eliot Noyes over a period of seven years, transformed typewriting by allowing the use of different fonts and dramatically increasing the speed at which most people could type. Unlike other typewriters, which struck the paper with hammers, it used golf ball-like type heads embossed with a full set of alphanumeric characters. The ball zipped along in close proximity to the paper, tilting and rotating as necessary to lay down characters on the page almost instantly. Thanks to that head, the typewriter was the first of its kind to eliminate carriage return.
The aesthetic design of the Selectric was the responsibility of Eliot Noyes, an architect and industrial designer who served as consulting design director to IBM for 21 years. Noyes drew on some of the sculptural qualities of Olivetti typewriters in Italy. The result was a patented, timeless shape, and a high-water mark for IBM’s industrial design and product innovation.
The US Post office has included the Selectric in the new series of stamps in honor of Pioneers of American Industrial Design.
In this fresh look at the work of Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999), the Petit Palais reveals for the first time the part played by photography in her creative process, both as a source of inspiration and sometimes as an actual component of her pieces. When she joined the Le Corbusier/Pierre Jeanneret studio as furniture design associate in 1928, she at once began using photography for her preliminary studies, then as a means for observing the “laws of nature” — in the mountains, especially — and the urban context. This provided her with inspiration for her experiments with forms, materials and spatial arrangements. The exhibition also particularly emphasises her passion for objects found in the course of her walks; in their distancing of the rationalist spirit of the 1920s, these brought greater flexibility and formal freedom to her work.
Charlotte Perriand 1903-1999: From photography to interior design
April 7 – September 18, Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris
Wright is set to auction this sofa designed by Alexander Girard for Herman Miller client, Braniff International Airways. Signed with applied inventory label to leg: [Braniff International Airways Property No. 107089].
Sofa, model 66303, by Alexander Girard, for Herman Miller, 1967, Auction at Wright, Estimate: $6,000–8,000