Contemporary design has traditionally been auctioned in specialized sales, but since Phillips de Pury & Company and Christie’s increasingly include design objects in their sales of Postwar and contemporary art, it has been as easily found in either category.
LONDON—Contemporary design has traditionally been auctioned in specialized sales, but since Phillips de Pury & Company and Christie’s increasingly include design objects in their sales of Postwar and contemporary art, it has been as easily found in either category.
The debate over whether to treat objects by such designers as Marc Newson or Ron Arad as works of art or of design is also reflected in the galleries. Following Newson’s groundbreaking first show with the Gagosian Gallery in early 2007, Arad has also made the leap to the fine-art gallery with his recent exhibition at the Timothy Taylor Gallery, London, which closed on May 9. At the Timothy Taylor show, prices were in the range of €60,000/1million ($90,000/1.5million). This was far above the auction record for Arad of $409,000, set at the Phillips design sale in New York in December 2007, but in line with the £1million price paid in a private sale by Sotheby’s for a work shown last summer in an outdoor selling exhibition of sculpture at Chatsworth House, in Derbyshire, England. Alexander Platon, the Sotheby’s specialist in charge of the show, would not identify the work (two by Arad were on display), but confirmed that price had been achieved.
Francis Outred, Christie’s new head of contemporary art in Europe, told ARTnewsletter that he would like to see the more sculptural works by these artists included in contemporary-art sales. Christie’s included several works by contemporary designers in its sale of 20th-century decorative art and design on April 7, which featured works by both Newson and Arad. The results were generally positive—though with some exceptions—as all but two of the six works by Newson and Arad found buyers.
The top lot of Christie’s £1.9million ($2.7million) sale was Newson’s “Pod of Drawers,” designed in 1987 and executed in 1999, which sold for £361,250 ($531,760) against an estimate of £150,000/250,000. However, that price was short of the $632,000 another Pod from the same edition fetched at Sotheby’s design sale in New York in December 2006. Newson also claimed the second spot among the top ten lots with his “Orgone Chair,” 1993 (executed prior to 1999), which sold for £193,250 ($284,464), below the estimate of £200,000/300,000. Either of these pieces would have looked at home in a contemporary-art sale; indeed, an earlier, non-editioned Pod sold for $1.05million at Christie’s contemporary-art sale in New York in May 2007.
An obviously functional work by Arad, “Cone Centre Table,” 1986, failed to sell (estimate: £15,000/20,000), as did “Fly Ply Dining Table and Six Empty Chairs,” 1994. Two more-sculptural works featuring his trademark curvilinear forms and mirror-polished stainless steel surfaces struggled to find buyers. “Two Legs and a Table,” 1989, which had been produced as a private commission before the designer created a subsequent edition of 20, sold for £43,250 ($63,700), below the £50,000/80,000 estimate. “Europa,” 1994, a 7-foot-wide undulating settee from an edition of 20, also just scraped past the bottom of the £100,000/150,000 estimate to sell for £109,250 ($160,800).
Broad Range of Offerings at Phillips
On April 30, Phillips held its London design sale, which covered a wide range of modern design as well as Postwar and contemporary. It was a sign of how far the contemporary market has advanced that the top lot, Newson’s aluminum-covered “Lockheed Lounge” divan, 1988, sold for a record £1.1million ($1.6million), far above the estimate of £500,000/700,000. In 1999 the work had gone unsold at Christie’s in London with a £35,000/50,000 estimate. Other versions from the same edition sold for $968,000 at Sotheby’s in New York in 2006 and for £748,500 at Christie’s in London in 2007.
Out of the 167 lots, 105, or 63 percent, were sold, for a total of £2.6million ($3.8million), just missing the estimate of £2.7million/3.8million. The offerings included 35 contemporary works dating from the 1980s through the present, of which 16 were sold. Another work by Newson, a set of four “Komed” wall or ceiling lights, circa 1966, sold for £61,250 ($90,000) against a £20,000/30,000 estimate, and three out of four works by Atelier van Lieshout found buyers, led by the fiberglass “Sensory Deprivation Skull,” 2007, which sold for £46,850 ($69,000), above its £30,000/40,000 estimate. Notable buy-ins included two works by Zaha Hadid, a black “Aqua” table, 2006 (estimate: £80,000/120,000), and a “Gyre” lounge chair, 2006 (estimate: £40,000/50,000). Two works by Arad—“Blo Void 4,” 2006 (estimate: £100,000/150,000), and the “Big Easy Volume II” lounge chair, 1988 (estimate: £50,000/70,000)—also failed to meet their estimates and went unsold.