In the 20th century, the line between craft and art often converged. Artisans morphed ceramics into functionless sculptures. Sculpture became furniture. Ettore Sottsass, Jr., who cofounded Memphis Design, made a vase shaped totem that holds nothing but its value. Yonel Lebovici made pop art giant safety pins and electric plugs into lighting. Jose Zanin Caldas made a "Root" sculpture into a table base.
We saw all these at Phillips Southampton this weekend, among more functional forms, to be auctioned at the Phillips Design Sale (in NYC) on December 9.
"At Phillips, we specialize in 20th and 21st century art and design," Phillips Design Department Head Cordelia Lembo told us. "Many contemporary art buyers are also filling their homes from our design sales as part of their collecting practice. There is quite a lot of crossover between these broad categories." This sale shows the scope: from turn of the century ceramists to contemporary Joris Laarman "Cumulus" marble ($60,000 - $80,000) and Marc Newson "Orgone Chop Top" polished aluminum ($80,000 - $120,000) coffee tables.
Front and center in its catalog is the monumental, rare Peter Voulkos clay sculplture, titled "Black Bulerias." It's one of a handful of privately owned sculptures from the high period of this potter, among those credited with making ceramics into a fine art form. "Peter Voulkas, who has traditionally been associated with the world of craft," said Lembo, "is one of those artists who has had, in the last 10-15 years, increasing attention through museum shows, academia and in the marketplace."
There is an equally rare Giacometti "highly collectible" lamp for sale valued between $150,000 - $200,000.
Lembo and Phillips Design Specialist Kimberly Sorensen walked me through the Southampton pre-sale viewing. There were a lot of rare and significant ceramics from premiere dealer Jason Jacques, divesting antiques to focus on his gallery's contemporary collection. That includes Adrien Dalpayrat's Art Nouveau pottery, with its signature oxblood glazes, famously collected by Peter Marino. The sale also includes famed ceramicists Lucie Rie, Hans Coper, Taxile Doat and George Ohr, aka the Mad Potter of Biloxi.
Peter Voulkos, Black Bulerias Estimate: $600,000 - $800,000. (Photo: Courtesy of Phillips Auction)
Dreaming of La Dolce Vita? There are many Italian post war pieces for the home. "The star among the group is a coffee table by Gio Ponti ($70,000 - $90,000), the Italian architect who was one of the most prolific and influential designers of the 20th century," Lembo said. "This sale gives you an idea of his scope, from this oversized table to diminutive lounge chairs."
Pieces from the Estate of Vladimir Kagan, include two iconic sofas, the Barrel and L Shaped and his own personal furniture, including a signature rocker with upholstery embroidered fabric by his wife, needlework artist Erica Wilson.
Another standout is the Marcel Wanders "Bon Bon Gold" chair, from the "Personal Editions" series ($30,000 - $40,000), in which textile is impregnated with resin, marrying the soft crocheted look to a hardened material.
"Some of the most ambitious artists, ceramics and furniture makers throughout the 20th century were really trying to take their medium out of craft and bridge it with art," Design Specialist Kimberly Sorensen told us. She showed us a Wendell Castle contemporary stainless steel "Abilene" rocker ($50,000 - $70,000). "It completely redefines what a piece of furniture can look like."
Looking for a different price point? The Kagan sofas are $7,000 - $15,000 and stylish Italian furniture start at $5,000. You might even sell them later at a profit!
Phillips Southampton is located at 1 Hampton Road in Southampton. For more information, visit www.phillips.com.