Will 2020 sustain the recent momentum of collectible design sales? Romina Provenzi discusses last year’s results with the experts.
WITH CONTEMPORARY COLLECTIBLE design becoming increasingly popular at auctions over recent years, a critical observer might wonder how the design market can sustain such unabated growth. Year on year new examples of innovative contemporary collectible design are brought to bidders’ attention, with several designers gaining substantial share in the overall sales of traditional auction houses. This year, the undoubted stars were the well-established French power couple Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne, now both deceased, whose prices continue to rise. According to architect and interior designer Rabih Hage, founder of the online resource DeTnk.com dedicated to contemporary collectible design, “the Lalannes have eclipsed all other designers at auction in the past year … Artists and designers become a commodity when they are recognised as ground breaking innovators and visionaries – and that’s what the Lalannes were. They knew how to mix the genres: art, design, functionality and above all humour!”
The autumn auctions suggested, however, that other designers too are seeing their values rise. Contemporary collectible design sold well at Sotheby’s. On 12th December in New York at the Important Design sale, the Campana Brothers’ ‘Panda’ sofa and puff sold for $52,500 (estimate $25,000-$35,000), and the ‘Sushi’ cabinet from the same designers fetched $47,500 (estimate $20,000- $30,000). Works by earlier designers such as George Nakashima, Jean Royère, Carlo Mollino and Jean Prouvé helped to bring in a tally of $9,125,625.
In Paris, on 28th May, the Important Design sale reached a total of €16,246,625 and included contemporary collectible design works by Studio Job, Ron Arad and Zaha Hadid, whose innovative ‘Aqua’ table sold for €31,250 (estimate €25,000-€35,000).
The star of the Important Design sale on 26th November was ‘Grandmother Clock’ by Maarten Baas, a leading figure in his generation (born 1978). The clock sold for a hefty €262,500 – well above its high estimate of €150,000. Jodi Pollack, Co-Worldwide Head of the 20th Century Design department at Sotheby’s, commenting on the recent market trend said: “Given the powerful momentum we saw this past year, 2020 should be an exciting year for the design market, which continues to show strong growth and global demand. Collection sales with distinct aesthetic identities continue to attract new buyers and lead the market to record heights. Buyers today are also increasingly discerning about quality.”
At Christie’s in London on 16th October, the Design sale surpassed £3 million and Thinking Italian Design achieved more than £4 million, while in Paris on 19th November the Design sale reached over €9 million. Commenting on the growing momentum in the design market, Jeremy Morrison, European Head of Design at Christie’s said, “2019 saw evidence of strength in every region. It’s particularly exciting to see that the market continues to grow, for example, with the highest total ever for our series of Design auctions held at Christie’s London last October, quickly followed by the highest total ever achieved for a various owner Design sale at Christie’s Paris in November. These results not only show that the market is strong, healthy and growing, but that our strategy of high curation and selectivity for our international sales is being positively received by our global client base.”
Edmund de Waal, ‘A Large bowl’, circa 2004. (Estimate £5,000 – £7,000. Sold for £18,750)
“2019 saw the highest totals ever for our London and Paris design auctions …”
Franz West, ‘Narcissus’ table, 2002. (Estimate $10,000 – $15,000. Sold for $15,000)
“… these results show that the design market is strong, healthy and growing”
In New York, the high demand for contemporary collectible design was demonstrated when ‘Banc’ Ottoman by Ingrid Donat sold for $93,750 (estimate $30,000-$40,000) on 13th December, while ‘Narcissus’ table by Franz West, the maverick Austrian artist who died in 2012, had previously sold for $15,000 (estimate $10,000-15,000) on 4th June. In London meanwhile, on 16th October, a star lot was ‘A Large Bowl’ by Edmund De Waal, which fetched £18,750, well above its high estimate of £7,000. Morrison remarked, “Most of our sales will include contemporary design and its performance is related to the commercial appeal of a work as well as the market’s awareness of the artist on display. But it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact geographical location where it’s best to sell contemporary collectible design. What is most important for clients is marrying the object or collection to be offered with the most beneficial moments in the market.”
At Bonhams, meanwhile, in London the Important Design sale achieved £548,388 on 27th November, while the Modern Design sales were even stronger, fetching $1,484,688 on 13th December in New York, and $1,155,084 in Los Angeles on 27th October. Ben Walker, Head of Modern Decorative Art and Design at Bonhams in New York, commenting on the positive performance, suggests that: “it’s in New York that our strongest area of collectibility has been Contemporary Design, having achieved record prices for works by François-Xavier Lalanne, André Dubreuil and Studio Job, and supported by good results for works by Maria Pergay. We expect to see more exciting works from such designers over the coming year.” His short-term forecast is straightforward: “the 2019 market for Modern Decorative Art and Design is showing continued growth in the US as we continue to develop our sales in New York and Los Angeles with the top end works continuing to command good prices; in particular, at Bonhams we continue to focus on Italian glass and are proud to extend our sponsorship of Venice Glass week in September.”
In this dynamic market, the French auction house Artcurial in Paris also collected excellent results last year. For example, on 19th November, a prominent Design and Italian Design sale fetched a total of €3.9 million, primarily driven by Italian Post-War masters, and the well sought-after work ‘Japan’ by the innovative,pioneering designer Charlotte Perriand, which reached a jaw-dropping €443,000, far above the hefty initial estimate of €300,000. Sabrina Dolla, Head of 20th and 21st Century Decorative Arts at Artcurial, commented that: “It was a year of consolidation for the French masters with the setting of new prices and records. But the novelties are rather on the side of the Scandinavian and Italian Design, with the arrival in the top ten of artists such as Paavo Tynell and Carlo Scarpa.”
Design sales at Phillips offered different collections of pieces in response to a diversified demand. On the 21st March in London, a strong appetite for Post-War Italian design was evident when eager collectors contributed to a tally of almost £2 million for the Casa di Fantasia. This was a unique sale of Gio Ponti works from the interiors of a Milan flat, designed by Gio Ponti in 1950s, which Phillips meticulously recreated in anticipation of the sale. Gio Ponti is achieving remarkable prices at the moment and his works also sold well on 17th October during the Important Design sale, which fetched more than £3 million, and the Design sale, which reached £3,311,500. In New York, the offering was different. Here, on 6th June, the Design sales offered classics of contemporary design such as ‘Butterly Love Seat’ (1965) by Wendell Castle, which sold for $106,250 from a high estimate of $80,000, and more recent works such as ‘Bon Bon Gold Chair’ (2010) by Marcel Wanders, which sold for $81,250 starting from an estimate of $30,000.
Also selling well above its high estimate of $150,000 was ‘Commode Galuchat’ (2014) by Ingrid Donat. In Hong Kong, meanwhile, Phillips adopted a cross-market strategy of mixing contemporary art with collectible design in its Contemporary Art and Design sales, reaching a tally of $30.6 million and of $34.8 million on 26th May and 24th November respectively, although design represented a limited fraction of total sales, with Nakashima’s market showing strength.
In 2020 tastes in design will continue to evolve, as new designers gain prominence through exhibitions in museums and representation in major galleries around the globe. As works by these designers find their way onto the secondary market, there seems no decline of interest or appetite amongst collectors. It appears that prices can only rise.
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