In the early 1990s, so the story goes, Susan Weber—bypassed for a director position at her alma mater Cooper-Hewitt—set out to establish her own school, slapping down a cool $20 million, and the Bard Graduate Center was born. In only a few years, a New York Times profile declared she’d joined the ranks of pioneering women in the arts (Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney for the Whitney Museum; Abby Aldrich Rockefeller for the Museum of Modern Art), and rightly so. Not only did she found the school, Weber made a successful case for decorative art as a topic of scholarly study.
Weber, who received a Ph.D. from London’s Royal College of Art, remains director of the Bard school, and though her speciality is in British decorative arts and design of the 18th and 19th centuries, her personal interests are as broad as the school’s course offerings—from Swedish wooden toys to Chinese cloisonné.
Following the recent sale of her Upper East Side townhouse, Weber is setting up shop at this week’s Collective Design fair, mounting a special installation of 20th-century furniture and design from her own collection for the first time. Highlights include a Ruhlmann settee and writing table, and sales‚ projected at around $3 million—will go toward Bard’s scholarship fund. Weber is co-curating the exhibition, titled “Decades of Design,” with the help of Benoist F. Drut, co-owner of Maison Gerard, and it all takes shape inside a living room designed by architect David Mann.
In advance of the design fair, we asked Weber to point to the top nine works that have caught her eye.
As a design historian I am attracted to the work of innovative and important architects and designers. I enjoy the whole range of production represented here, from the most elegant one-of-a-kind work to the timeless mass-produced items. They all share a fresh design aesthetic that arrests and captivates the eye.
Renowned designer Max Ingrand created artworks for such diverse clients as cathedrals and ocean liners and is considered a leader among French glass artists in the middle of the 20th century. His work for interiors was similarly innovative as seen in the elegant elongated forms of these curved crystal sconces with their etched square inserts. These are one of his most appealing models for Fontana Arte.
This unrecognized Danish designer and sculptor won a Grand Prix at the Barcelona World Exhibition of 1929 and a Grand Prix at the Paris Exhibition of 1937. This playful set of three, with their beautifully cast oak leaf and acorn plates and leaping animal handles, are a charming example of 1920s design from Denmark.
Charlotte Perriand, a rare female voice among the avant-garde designers of the 20th century, created these functional stools for the ski resort Les Arcs in Savoie, not far from her grandparent’s home, a place she often visited as a child. Their chunky, almost rustic forms and use of pine echo the earthy mountain environment where they were to be used in.
Wendell Castle, considered a father of the American studio furniture movement, is still creating innovative work, as he has since the 1960s. Castle continues to challenge the boundaries between furniture and art, as seen in this whimsical organic form, both a chair and a piece of sculpture.
This intriguing table merges the two disciplines of art and design. It is an interesting example of the most sculptural work of the talented American father-and-son art-furniture makers, showing the beautiful casting and patination they were known to produce.
This vase, designed by Italian architect Carlo Scarpa, is an early example of his work in glass. The ancient amphora form, with its use of mottled glass, both echoes its ancient inspiration and brings a modern feel through its innovative use of material and vibrant color.
Jean Royère was one of the most creative French designers of the 20th century, a master of metalwork. The playful yet elegant line of the leg is classic Royère.