By: REBECCA BOWMAN
Photography by: BONHAMS
In some ways, art gives us the ability to time travel. Whether we’re admiring a piece in a museum or one that adorns the walls in our home, like a crystal ball, we’re able to see a moment in time as secrets unfold from the artists themselves.
Bonhams Modern Decorative Art + Design presents a rare collection this week at its much-anticipated spring auction in New York City that does just that. Items, some of which have never been on the market before, represent emblems of renowned artists’ craftsmanship. Think Harry Bertoia, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Coco Chanel. And while the names behind these pieces initially draw us in, it’s the underlying stories that illuminate their ingenuity and carve a moment for the observer to actually recognize and appreciate elements of the designer’s handwork.
Almost every piece embodies a story of the artist’s journey, defining techniques of their work and even life-long friendships. We see this in Robert Goossens’s “Mirror with a Crown of Wheat,” which presents a theme of stalks of wheat selected in homage to his close friend and collaborator, Coco Chanel. Stalks of wheat were used in numerous Goossens designs Chanel commissioned, who selected the wheat sheaf motif as a symbol of good fortune and prosperity.
Equally fascinating is the transparency presented in Claude Lalanne’s “Early Pomme Bouche,” and George Nakashima’s “Coffee Table.” Both of these show actual fingerprints from the artists, offering us a glimpse into the painstaking handwork that created them. Particularly with “Coffee Table,” we’re able to see every element Nakashima would include in his work.
And then there is the eclectic collection of 10 sculptures by Harry Bertoia, spanning his career from 1950s to the 1970s. In a letter talking about her father, Celia Bertoia expresses the artistry behind “Untitled” (Bush Form, circa 1970, estimate: $80,000-120,000).
“The larger bush is a magnificent full-bodied piece, inspired by the foliage around our home in rural Pennsylvania,” she writes. “These sizable dense bushes came late in Harry’s life, mostly in the 1970s. One of Harry’s assistants, Ed Flanagan, explained that he could weld many of the tedious repetitive parts of a sculpture, but that only Harry was able to complete certain tasks such as finishing off a concentrated bush form. Harry’s bushes, as well as his career, truly blossomed in his last decade. We might almost expect the bush buds to open as we view them. His life was rich with friends, success and family and he spread his joy to whoever came in contact with him or his work.”
The Bonham’s team behind this auction includes Benjamin Walker, who heads up the Modern Decorative Art + Design department and director, Dan Tolson. The collection will include 130 lots spanning from the late 1800s to the 1980s, with a handful of pieces from the 1990s up to 2017. Several of the items come from the original consigner and will surely capture their audience by their profound craftsmanship and origin story.
Attendees to Thursday’s auction will be delighted to note that it has been designed as an approachable event for first-time auction buyers and seasoned professionals alike.
Bonhams, 580 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022. Full catalogue can be viewed here.