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Peter’s Auction Picks of the Day – The LACMA Collection at LAMA

October 3, 2012

The LACMA Collection at LAMA

Sunday’s auction marks a rare opportunity to acquire design and decorative arts from a major museum (with a majority of the items from the renowned local collector, Max Palevsky). Sixteen lots are being sold by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to benefit future acquisitions. The majority of these lots fall into two categories: Pre-Modernism and Art Deco/Streamline Moderne.

The Birth of Modern:

Some of LACMA’s finest offerings are from the era that gave birth to the modern aesthetic. The Glasgow School is represented in our sale by Lots 139 through 143, while the English school is illustrated in Lots 145 and 146.

Lot 142, Ernest Archibald Taylor’s Inlaid Bookcase, has one foot in the 18th century and another in mid-20th century. The top half is a nod to the Arts and Crafts movement, with Victorian inlays thrown in for good measure, while the base is clean and terse by comparison, as was the Glasgow form-follows-function style.

Speaking of Eames, yesterday’s blog sang the praises of another outstanding LACMA offering: Charles and Ray Eames’ fabulous red Lounge and Ottoman (Lot 152). This incarnation is from the Lounge’s golden age of late 60s and sports their highest quality leather, in a rare and original technicolor red, (the deep grain contrasted with the smoother leather offered later on). The lounges from this era were upholstered with a combination of foam and duck down which gives the sitter a different feel than the pure foam filling from later on – and of course the frame is rosewood from a magical time before that species of tree was placed on the endangered list. LAMA’s Director of Modern and Contemporary Fine Art, Peter Loughrey, avers, “I’ve had over 100 examples of this design pass through my hands and I think this is the most interesting and exciting example I’ve ever seen.”

Another piece from the early era (c. 1892) is a knockout of a Fireplace Surround from the Chicago School (Lot 144). The intricately carved wooden design bears striking similarities to Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler’s designs for the Interior of the Chicago Stock Exchange from about the same time. The design, as is the hallmark of the Chicago School, is both spare and intricate, grounded in the Gilded Age with an eye toward everything to come.

Art Deco/Streamline Moderne:

This rightly beloved era is spotlighted in Lots 147-151, as well as Lots 153-154. As they say in art school, let’s compare and contrast the two eras for a moment…

With Lot 146, the Occasional Table from the English School (c. 1900), we see a designer heroically pushing past the material limitations of his era to achieve a form that at first glance would look perfectly at home in a 1963 showroom. Upon closer inspection, however, one can see the steps he had to take to achieve this “effortless” effect. The curved underside is cut into sections, as the mahogany wouldn’t allow the artist to bend the wood into one continuous form. A thin mahogany strip is then laid on top to hide the seams.

In contrast, by the time Alvar Aalto emerged in the 1930s, he was able to achieve designs both similar to and beyond his proto-modern forefathers by utilizing materials and techniques unavailable to the craftsmen of that earlier time. In Lots 147-150, Aalto harnesses the malleable properties of plywood to seamlessly bend elegant curves into his works.

While French Deco was more statuesque, with references to Africa and Asia, the American school of Deco had an eye to the future, to speed, to planes, trains, and fast cars. Gilbert Rohde’s work is warm and inviting, yet muscular and streamlined. The chairs in Gilbert Rohde’s Dining Suite (Lot 154) seem to be thrown back against the force of their own speed.

We’ll let Dan sum it all up, “LACMA’s contributions help turn our 20th Anniversary Auction into a comprehensive survey of Modern Design from William Morris in the 1870s to today, with everything in between.”

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