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    Decorative Arts Diary
by James Zemaitis
 
     
 
Liz O'Brien, at Fifth Avenue and 61st Street
 
Modern furnishings at Liz O'Brien
 
T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings
Burlash and carved limewood figural console
ca. 1937
$14,000-$18,000 at Christie's
 
Grosfeld House
Lucite-molded, scalloped back side chair
ca. 1939
$1,500-$2,000 at Christie's
 
Tommi Parzinger
Brass-studded lacquer cabinet
ca. 1956
$4,000-$6,000 at Christie's
 
Mariette Cotton
Portrait of Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe) Infirmiere Pendant la Guerre
ca. 1918
$2,000-$3,000 at Christie's
 
41 Flees Soho
Fatigued by Soho's escalating rents, Liz O'Brien has moved her modern furniture gallery, 41, to the leafy surroundings of Fifth Avenue. Now eponymously called Liz O'Brien, the new shop is located at 800A Fifth Avenue at 61st Street, once the site of Pierre Cardin. O'Brien's chic decorator clientele will surely appreciate the proximity to Barneys and Bergdorf's.

Throughout the decade 41 played an important role in the rediscovery of American and French tastemakers from the 1940s and 50s, including the likes of Samuel Marx, T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, James Mont and Eyrie de Lanux.

The new space, with its large, open layout and generous natural light, is more exhibition-friendly than the corridor-like shop on Wooster St. On view Sept. 29-Oct. 30 is an exhibition of 24 large-scale color photos of Japanese fighting fish by the fashion photographer Hiro. Formerly in the collection of Halston, the pictures are very 1970s.

Chintz and Mirrors at Christie's Los Angeles
On Sept. 15 Christie's Los Angeles will bravely attempt to survey the contribution of interior decorators to 20th-century design with a sale called "Innovators of 20th Century Style." Several of the auction's stars, including designers T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, Tommi Parzinger and Samuel Marx, have established a strong market, largely because their stunning $10,000-$20,000 one-of-a-kind pieces are supported by lines of furniture developed for mass-consumption. Robsjohn-Gibbings, for example, simplified his neoclassical interior scheme for Conrad Hilton's famed Bel-Air residence in an edition of walnut dining furniture manufactured by Widdicomb in the 1950s. Because these items are readily available at local auctions, dealers can buy a console for $800, retail it for $3,000, and slowly develop a following among collectors.

But what to make of a monumental gilt-fiberglass mirror designed by Tony Duquette, manufactured for a client in 1996? Christie's specialists are gambling that unique designs, each tailored to match the velvet curtains and custom wainscoting of a particular apartment interior, will be snatched up by collectors looking for the next big thing in 20th-century furniture. At least one piece, a sexy lucite side chair upholstered in faux-leopard fabric that was manufactured by Grosfeld House in the late 1930s, should easily surpass the presale estimate of $1,500-$2,000. Good results are expected partly because lucite is the hot material of the moment, and partly because a detail of the exotic upholstery is used for the catalogue cover.

For those who prefer florals to fiberglass, proceeds from about 70 lots will benefit the Elsie de Wolfe Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes the decorative arts in America. De Wolfe, known as the "founding mother of the decorating profession," is pictured in numerous photos and paintings estimated to sell in the $600 to $5,000 range. Also for sale are a couple pieces of her furniture, watercolors of her elegant residences, and her correspondence, assembled in neat scrapbooks. Is there a cult-following for the social climbing cliché of fancy furnishings ("Lady Mendl," by marriage), willing to open their checkbooks for such décor the decorator herself might have shunned -- like a portrait of herself dressed as a nun-nurse (est. $2,000-$3,000)? We'll find out in a week.

Lamps Dim at Legendary Tiffany Gallery
One of the city's oldest dealers of Tiffany lamps has lost its lease. Weinstein Galleries quietly disappeared in mid-July, along with all the tenants at 793 Madison Avenue. This quaint, cluttered showroom of high-end American Art Nouveau lighting, known for its 120-degree temperatures in the heart of summer, was on the itinerary of Hollywood power brokers who shopped along the Avenue. Eileen and Harvey Weinstein (no relation to the celebrity Miramax chief) are major players in the absurdly strong Tiffany market, with numerous auction records to their credit.

Starting at New Jersey flea markets in the early 1970s, the Weinsteins built up a vast inventory of museum-quality Tiffany that increased exponentially in value as the decades progressed. They also developed the market for such lesser-known lamps as Pairpoint "puffies," elaborate Victorian confections of blown-glass in the form of apple trees and rose bushes that are collected by the likes of Barbra Streisand and Penny Marshall.

This wasn't the first time the Weinsteins lost their position on Madison Avenue. In 1995 they were forced out by Armani, but quickly found what they thought was a permanent home above Godiva Chocolates. Reached for an interview, a glum Harvey Weinstein noted that plans for a new space were on hold. At a time when the market continues to surge, however, clients can still seek out the Weinsteins for their expert advice via their website.

Alfons Bach, 1904-1999
Alfons Bach, a leading industrial designer of tubular-steel furniture and icon of 1930s modernism, passed away on Aug. 19 at the age of 95 in a nursing home in Pensacola, Fla. Born in Magdeburg, Germany, Bach emigrated to Manhattan in 1926. In the 1930s and '40s he designed for the Lloyd Manufacturing Company in Menominee, Mich. Influenced by the Bauhaus School, Bach's designs were streamlined to reflect American machine-age tastes. His work was included in contemporary industrial art exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in surveys of the century's design at the Museum of Modern Art. Several of his pieces are in the permanent collection of the Yale University Art Gallery. In 1994 Bach donated his drawings and papers to the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, where they remain today.


JAMES ZEMAITIS is the decorative arts specialist for artnet.com auctions.

 
 
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