THE POTENCY OF PROUVÉ
Prouvé’s Maison Tropicale -- a modernist icon -- sold for $4,968,000 Tuesday evening at Christie’s New York. Hotelier Andre Balazs purchased the house, which Christie’s had installed in Long Island City, Queens, on the East River. Balazs owns the Chateau Marmont in L.A., The Mercer in NYC and The Raleigh in Miami.
"I’m a long time admirer of Prouvé," said Balazs. While he paid $5,028 per square foot for the 988 square feet of space -- the size of a pre-war one bedroom apartment -- the restored home lacked any heating, plumbing, bathroom, kitchen or interior walls.
The seller was Paris dealer Eric Touchaleaume, who plunked down $1.5 million to restore and install the house in Queens. Touchaleaume spirited the bullet-ridden, rusted, decrepit house away from Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo, along with two others approximately eight years ago. Christie’s estimated the house at $2-4 million.
Although the 1950-51 residence topped the prior Prouvé auction record -- $680,000 struck at Sotheby’s New York December 18, 2004 for a pair of green steel "Porthole" doors for a Tropicale that never made it to Africa -- the Christie’s house ranks in third place price-wise for a Modernist trophy. Top of the heap is Philip Johnson’s 1950 guest house designed for Blanchette Rockefeller and located at 242 East 52nd Street, which sold for $11,116,000 million against a $3.5-$5 million estimate at Christie’s New York on June 8, 2000 (reportedly to Ronald Lauder). And second place goes to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s 1951 Farnsworth house outside Chicago. That glass structure sold for $7,511,500 million at Christie’s New York on December 12, 2003. Manhattan realtor Aby Rosen, who owns Mies’ Seagram building and the Lever house, and is now a confirmed preservationist, had been gunning to snap up the masterpiece and transport it to the Hamptons -- but lost out to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
At the auction on Tuesday, a total of four people vied for the Maison Tropicale. Driving the price was its historical importance. Considered the father of Modernist innovation, Prouvé pioneered mobile prefabs. His three Maison Tropicale prototypes were designed for French colonists in Africa.
Only a few years ago, Touchaleaume sold a Maison Tropicale to commodities trader-turned-architectural-historian-and-preservationist Robert Rubin. Rubin cleverly restored his house, and toured it to Yale University as well as the UCLA Hammer Museum, and recently gifted it to the Centre Pompidou Foundation, where it now sits atop the Paris museum. "Five million people a year see the house," says Rubin.
As for Touchaleaume, he aims to use his sale proceeds to restore the third Maison Tropicale. "It will be the center of a nomadic museum and fund a Prouvé study center," says Touchaleaume.
And where will Balazs set up his trophy? "Somewhere sunny," he says. He declined to site the location. Could it end up in St. Barts? Stay tuned.
EDMOND LACHENAL AT JASON JACQUES
Dealer Jason Jacques’ website (www.jasonjacques.com) sports the headline "Pot Dealer," and a marihuana leaf wrought of French art porcelain patterns. In person, Jacques’ demeanor is more East Village than swish Upper East Side art gallerist. Even so, he is raising a ruckus in haute collecting circles with his latest exhibition, "Edmond Lachenal and His Legacy," on view until July 17, 2007, at his gallery on 29 East 73rd Street in New York. The vessels on offer reveal a little-known but dazzling area of Art Nouveau and Japonisme.
Jacques is no ordinary ceramics dealer; he is a trailblazer par excellence. Just when this area of collecting has been disregarded by contemporary art hipsters, Jacques is luring entire new audiences to the atelier-made rarities of Lachenal, who snared coveted gold medals at both the 1893 World’s Fair as well as a 1900 World’s Fair. Lachenal’s sculptural, organic forms with rich, flowing flambe glazes are arrestingly visually.
"’Eccentric,’ ‘flamboyant’ and ‘rhythmic’ describe Lachenal’s work," says Jacques. Contemporary Paris designers and architects are huge fans of both Lachenal and Théodore Deck.
Proof of Jacques’ ability: In the past five years, his sales have shot up tenfold. Buyers from his current exhibition include a private art collector with a superb collection of German Expressionism. Curators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other institutions turned out for the show opening.
Grab this show. Some of the work is breathtaking, and it’s a veritable course in a little-known area that is bound to garner further attention.
CERAMICS SEMINAR IN LONDON
Brit organizers Brian and Anna Haughton’s International Ceramics Fair & Seminar kicks off at the Park Lane Hotel in London on June 14-17, 2007. There’ll be porcelain classics from the likes of Meissen, Chelsea and Bow galore -- but some of the most enticing examples are well-suited for contemporary art fans.
Private dealer John Smith (formerly of Mallett Antiques) is showcasing the glass of Danny Lane, while Adrian Sassoon will be featuring the pottery of Kate Malone and the glass of Rachel Woodman and Colin Reid. Danny Lane’s carved and sandblasted Goldfish piece is £18,000.
Collectors and curators from all corners of the globe zero in on this fair for not only prize examples but also the top-tier lectures. The starchy London Observer dubbed this "the most intellectually stimulating art event of the summer." It’s a must for both seasoned and novice collectors.
TORD BOONTJE MONOGRAPH
Dutch designer Tord Boontje plies the contemporary art/design axis with utmost creativity. He’s racked up no less than two exhibitions at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and fine-tuned designs for Swarovski and Target. His installations cost a fortune -- but now there’s a modestly priced alternative: the first monograph devoted to his oeuvre, Tord Boontje by Martina Margetts (Rizzoli, $75). Stencils, perforated pages, textured and woven pages make this a decidedly artistic tome.
BROOK S. MASON is chief correspondent for Art & Antiques.