Ron Arad's Sofa which sold for £90,500
Phillips first foray into design sales in London transpired on April 24th at its Howick Place showrooms. The sale came with a £1.4 million to £2 million estimate and made £2,282,513, comfortably over its high estimate, no easy feat in today's jittery (to say the least) market. The mid-century and contemporary design offerings included major works by French designers Jean Prouve, Charlotte Perriand and Le Corbusier, and "important" contemporary works by Marc Newson, Ron Arad and the upstart Martino Gamper.
The word important is a much-overused buzzword in the art world alluding to historical significance but rather referencing present market value and status. Accompanying the sale was a panel entitled "Rethinking Design", said by Phillips to be the first in a series of "think tanks" to coincide with opening previews, a service kindly provided by the auction house and outside furniture dealers. A think tank is an odd term to define a group of industry insiders espousing investment in a series of objects presently on offer; I'm fairly certain there was not much in the way of an objective, open, accountable process of analysis at the drinks party accompanying the discussion prior to the onset of the sale.
Of the 246 lots on offer, roughly 40 could be said to be of the contemporary variety of design, much of the remainder more conservative fare comprising what seemed like lot after lot of candy dishes and teapots. At times the works on offer in design sales resemble the contents of a boot sale (or flea market for US readers). Surely the time has come to bifurcate the mid-century and contemporary material into distinct sales, rather than continue to tax our collective short-term attention spans. Let Design Art live on its own; for better or worse that is the term that best encapsulates the notion of this burgeoning sector of the furniture market, a hybrid from the world's of art, design, and architecture resulting in new forms of utilitarian objects--if you can call certain pieces of contemporary design useable.
Simon de Pury is the Buster Keaton of auctioneers; he is not so much a physical comedian but uses his voice physically like a musical instrument, and coaxes bids with ad hoc, boisterous humor. And drum up bids he did, but he had better be good, as you are only as good as your last sale, and the next design outing is on June 12th in New York, on the heels of some of the London contemporary art sales which complicatedly have been bifurcated from the beginning and end of June.
Phillips de Pury