Peter’s Auction Pick of the Day: Isamu Noguchi Chess Table

May 18, 2016

It’s a pleasure and a privilege to bring an example of the rare Isamu Noguchi Chess Table to auction. The table is not only a seminal work in the development of organic modernism; to my mind, it also embodies a perfect union of art and design, being, as it is, sculptural and functional at once.

Lot 184, Isamu Noguchi, Chess Table, 1944-1947
Lot 184, Isamu Noguchi, Chess Table (designed 1944-1947)
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

In fact, the table was first presented as a work of art. Noguchi contributed it, along with a set of game pieces he designed, to one of the most remarkable art exhibitions ever mounted in the United States. “The Imagery of Chess” opened on December 12, 1944 at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. The show was organized by Marcel Duchamp—a chess fanatic—and the Surrealist painter Max Ernst. Among the thirty-two extraordinary participants (one for each chess piece on the board) were Alexander Calder, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, and André Breton, each of whom produced chess sets in addition to Duchamp, Ernst, and, of course, Noguchi. Dorothea Tanning, Arshile Gorky, Roberto Matta, and Robert Motherwell contributed chess-related photographs, paintings, and sculptures. John Cage even created a piece of music specially for the exhibit.

Lot 185, Isamu Noguchi, Rudder coffee table, 1949
Lot 185, Isamu Noguchi, Rudder coffee table (designed 1949)
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

For all the genius on display, a Newsweek critic described Noguchi’s entry as “the most beautiful piece in the show.” Architect and writer George Nelson—who, the following year, became design director of the Herman Miller Furniture Company—purchased the original table. In 1947, Nelson put two Noguchi designs into production: the Chess Table and the glass-topped coffee table with an articulated wooden base—now a modern design icon. By one count, fewer than a dozen examples of the Chess Table were produced. Here is one of them.

LAMA is also offering a Rudder coffee table, which harkens the same biomorphic, sculptural functionality Noguchi employs in the Chess Table.

Lot Information:

Lot 184
Isamu Noguchi
Chess Table
Herman Miller, designed 1944-1947
Model no. IN-61
19″ x 26.25″ x 26.5″

Literature: Design 1935-1965: What Modern Was. M. Eidelberg. 1991. 107.

Estimate: $100,000–$150,000
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 185
Isamu Noguchi
Rudder coffee table
Herman Miller, designed 1949
Model no. IN-52
15.75″ x 49.5″ x 35.5″

Literature: Museu do Design: Luxo, Pop & Cool. exh. cat. 1999. 62.

Estimate: $25,000–$30,000
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

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