LAMA BLOG

Just In: Harry Bertoia Monotypes

October 27, 2016

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) is delighted to present to the market a number of monotypes by legendary Italian-American artist and designer Harry Bertoia (1915 – 1978). These unique works will be up for auction in our March 5, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Harry Bertoia, Series IV, c. 1945 (1 of 3)
March 5, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

Born in Italy, Bertoia followed his brother to Detroit as a young man, where he began taking classes in jewelry-making. In 1937 he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where he learned painting and, later, taught metalwork until 1943. Cranbrook was home to a rich community of designers and architects such as Walter Gropius, Maija Grotell, Carl Milles and Eliel Saarinen, who invited the then 24-year old Bertoia to remain at the academy after his studies and manage the metal-working shop. During this time, Bertoia became a regular visitor to the graphics department, where he tried block-printing, woodcuts and lithography. None of these methods “were suitable to my temperament,” as Bertoia explained in 1961 and he continued to experiment until he arrived at his favored technique: the monotype.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Harry Bertoia, Series IV, c. 1945 (2 of 3)
March 5, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

The monotype enabled Bertoia to pursue chance in his work, which he produced by laying printer’s ink on a table, covering this with paper and drawing on the other side, often with his eyes closed. He described the providential result as “a drawing that has to come from within, and this is very probably why I am so attached to it.” Thrilled with this new method, Bertoia went on to produce hundreds of monotypes, a number of which were sold to Hilla Rebay, the director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and went on to be exhibited in a group show there in 1945.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Harry Bertoia, Series IV, c. 1945 (3 of 3)
March 5, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

That same year, these three prints from Series IV were exhibited in Bertoia’s solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art. The curved lines of these works evoke astral forms, their lush swirls arcing gracefully across the page. They hover on the boundary between abstraction and figuration, suggesting cosmic landscapes or geometric shapes in equal measure. Each one was produced as a single imprint, rather than an edition. For Bertoia, works such as these functioned as, “a way of learning. A way of finding truth […] I draw what I don’t know in order to learn something about it.” He described his pursuit of innovative methods, such as drawing on the back of the page to reduce visibility, as “a great advantage, for it necessitated inner vision to take over the function of the eye.”

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Harry Bertoia, Untitled, c. 1960
March 5, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

Untitled, produced circa 1960, bears a more overt relationship to Bertoia’s sculptural practice. Another unique monotype, the myriad free-form shapes are scattered across the page in a playful, almost child-like manner. Quasi-diagrammatic in nature, Bertoia described these prints as “notes for future reference.” These graphic works served to generate ideas and multiple possible iterations for the artist’s sculptures, though they also stood as works in their own right, since many years often elapsed between the two-and three-dimensional renderings of a form.

The March 5, 2017 auction presents an excellent opportunity to acquire a series of unique works by this highly-renowned figure of 20th century art and design. Bertoia’s work belongs to numerous major public collections, including the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.

Bertoia, V.O., Schiffer. N. The World of Bertoia. 2003. 19-22

Lot information:

Harry Bertoia
Untitled
c. 1960
Monotype on paper
Bears the inscription in graphite “3036” verso
Sheet: 12.5″ x 25.375″
Estimate: $1,500 – 2,000
March 5, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

Harry Bertoia
Series IV (3)
c. 1945
Monotype on paper
1 bears an inscription in graphite “IV, 1” lower left margin of sheet; 2 bears an inscription “Harry Bertoia Series IV 2” in graphite verso; mat bears an inscription in graphite “Bertoia/1945/SFMOMA” verso; 16: bears an inscription “Harry Bertoia Series IV 16” in graphite verso; retains San Francisco Museum of Art label verso; mat bears an inscription “Bertoia/1945/SFMOA” verso
Comprised of Series IV 1, 2, and 16
1: Image: 10″ x 10″; Sheet: 11.5″ x 11.625″; Mat: 16″ x 16″; 2: Image: 10″ x 10″; Sheet: 11.625″ x 11.5″; Mat: 16″ x 16″; 16: Image: 10″ x 10″; Sheet: 11.75″ x 11.5″; Mat: 16″ x 16″
Exhibited: San Francisco Museum of Art, 1945
Estimate: $5,000 – 7,000
March 5, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

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