Design to Collect this Week: Phillips Head of Sale Cordelia Lembo Highlights Standout Lots

In tandem with our continued partnership with Phillips, we spoke with Head of Sale Cordelia Lembo about iconic design, material artistry, and opportunities for new and seasoned collectors.

Artsy: Your sale is highlighted by a rare and unusual Ron Arad piece.  What inspired this work and how does it tie into to his larger career?

Cordelia Lembo: Titled after a Richard Rodgers song from the musical Oklahoma, this work was conceived in 2009, the same year as Ron Arad’s retrospective titled “No Discipline,” at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. He had a powerful body of work behind him, and in some ways we see different aspects of that career reflected in this piece: the ambition of scale and construction, exploration of the various qualities of steel and fact that it is a utilitarian work (it can be used as a bookshelf) that presents as a contemporary art installation.

A: Can you tell us about the scale of the work?  Was it a challenge to install?

CL: Yes, in that it took a team of art handlers two days and required a wall of exceptional load-bearing capacity. But the work includes a set of full-scale templates that are used to mark the specific placement of the mounting hardware for each state, so in a sense it was a straightforward exercise. We are presented with new and ever more daunting installation challenges each season, and we do our best not to be intimidated! It is important to us to make the point that these are objects to be lived with, and we are always ready to advise clients in that effort.

A: Your auction is also highlighted by exceptional seating in interesting or period upholstery, by the likes of Royère, Chareau, and Ponti, among others. Can you elaborate on these important pieces?

CL: I love this observation, indeed we do have a number of exceptional examples of twentieth-century upholstery! This kind of specialized upholstery is often said to be a dying craft, and we are amazed at the ingenious techniques involved in creating these works. The treatment of upholstery as a sculptural medium was one of the great innovations of 20th century design, and Royère one of its masters. We are pleased to be offering a pair of “Œuf” chairs and a “Relax” sofa and pair of armchairs, some of the best examples of his facility in this medium.  The pair of chauffeuses by Pierre Chareau, one of which was included in the recent exhibition at The Jewish Museum, is a wonderful pairing of form and pattern, with a cubist shape and original Jean Lurçat tapestry seats.

A: What are other iconic examples of 20th century French or Scandinavian design on offer?

CL: The Finn Juhl “Chieftain” armchair is certainly one of the most iconic of all Scandinavian chair designs. This is a fantastic example, with the original leather seat and armrests displaying a beautiful patina. The single “Semi-metal” chair by Jean Prouvé is another spectacular example of an iconic chair design that retains its original seat, though intact it has now faded from its original red color. We are all quite enamored with Barbro Nilsson’s “Finspong, ljusbrun” rug, a pattern that has done quite well at auction, seen here in an unusual square dimension. When examined closely the inclusions of greens and blues on a golden brown and chartreuse ground appear almost jewel-like.

A: For a new collector, what 21st century design should they be paying attention to?

CL: I would advise a new collector the same as any other: they should be paying attention to the things that interest them, whether that is because they are drawn to them or even in some cases repelled by them. The concept of design, and how it is defined as both a discipline and collecting category is rapidly changing, and we all have so much to learn as the field develops. We are still in the early part of the 21st century, so I would encourage new collectors to look at contemporary design as broadly as possible.

A: What about the more unusual pieces in the sale from the late 20th century?

CL: We have the three works by Steven Holl from a New York apartment that he designed in the late 1980s. No context can rival the spectacularly intact interior that they came from, and yet having been taken out of that context I am fascinated by how well they stand on their own, and how current they feel. These three pieces have had a particularly positive response from our team and so I am curious to see how they perform at auction, and what that might mean for the secondary market for late-20th century architect-designed furniture.

A: Can you tell us about the Ponti and Fornasetti collaboration (Lot 6)?  Why was Fornasetti such a prolific and popular collaborator?

The appeal of Piero Fornasetti’s artistry is as clear to us today as it was to his contemporary collaborators. Fornasetti’s captivating designs and his lithographic transfer technique were well-suited to Italy’s lively approach to modernism. Gio Ponti first encountered Fornasetti’s work at the fifth Milan Triennial in 1933, praising it in an article in Domus. They began working together in 1940, and then very often in the 1950s, collaborating on both private interior commissions and on retail production. Ponti was quite effusive about Fornasetti, once stating that were he to write a book about his career, a chapter might be aptly titled “Passion for Fornasetti.”

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