In Memoriam: Vladimir Kagan

April 11, 2016

We at Los Angeles Modern Auctions were saddened to hear of the passing of one of the greats of modern design: Vladimir Kagan, who died late last week at age 88. The German-born son of a cabinet maker whose family immigrated to New York in 1938, Kagan entered the world of mid-century furniture design like a fresh breeze. His sofas and chairs—with their sinuous curves, outthrust legs and sculptural presence—had a never-before-seen verve and vivacity, earning him a clientele that would include Marilyn Monroe and Andy Warhol. Vladimir Kagan taught Americans that modernist design could be sexy.

Lot 112 Vladimir Kagan Contour lounge Chair

Peter Loughrey, Director of LAMA, shares his personal thoughts about Vladimir Kagan:

“Vladimir Kagan went by Vladdy to his friends, and when I say friends I mean almost anyone who met him. In person, Vladdy was more than affable and charming; he was engaging. His genuine interest in design went far beyond his own seven decades of furniture production. Once when asked to speak during an unveiling of a new design in Los Angeles, he hardly spoke of the product itself, but instead showed up prepared with a PowerPoint presentation of his recent travels including images of various dinners, sailing vessels, and bridges by Santiago Calatrava. That’s not to say he didn’t promote his work; he did, and masterfully at that. Kagan was the last of a generation of self-made design legends that, in addition to their talent for craft, were equally adept at self-promotion. Like Sam Maloof or Craig Ellwood, his personality created a mystique around his work which subsequently gained a certain cache.”

Vladimir Kagan Signature

“His work was exquisitely appointed, many times in a bespoke manner that was unexpected in modernism. In 1950, at age 23, he opened a showroom (his second) on 57th street near Park Avenue in New York City having already designed a project for Marilyn Monroe and a fabulously chic lounge at the United Nations. Annually since the mid 1950’s, other designers and manufacturers would copy his designs albeit in cheaper materials or craftsmanship. Kagan created custom pieces for wealthy clients, but also worked with manufacturers to bring his aesthetic to a broader market.”

Vladimir Kagan Partner's desk Designed 1950 Custom 28" x 99" x 84" This was Vladimir Kagan's original partner's desk from his office on 57th street that he had built for himself at the age of 23. He shared this desk with his partner, Hugo Dreyfuss.

Vladimir Kagan, Partner’s desk, Designed 1950
This was Vladimir Kagan’s original partner’s desk from his office on 57th street that he had built for himself at the age of 23. He shared this desk with his partner, Hugo Dreyfuss.

Ebullient, gregarious, fun-loving (and always happy to help an auction house to catalogue his work), Kagan was a creative force to the end. He died in Palm Beach, Florida, where he was to unveil a new chair design in bronze. He will be deeply missed.


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