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May 14, 2007 

High-end design auctions are muscling their way into the already crowded May auction calendar, in New York City as well as at other houses nearby. Typically the big two auction firms, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, schedule their design sales in June and December. But, anxious to get a jump on their rivals, some of the upstart auctioneers are pushing ahead with earlier sales. And, more importantly, the booming auction market is bringing some truly desirable objects onto the block. A brief sampling:

* Phillips de Pury & Co. conducts its huge, two-part sale of more than 450 lots of cutting-edge contemporary art on May 17-18, 2007, and then promptly launches a sale of almost 300 lots of modern and contemporary design on May 24, 2007.

Lots in the sale range from a complete Art Nouveau Paris Métro entrance by Hector Guimard, ca. 1900, estimated at $450,000-$550,000 (lot 5) to a 1989 silver-plated edition of a tray designed by Kazimir Malevich that is valued at $7,000-$9,000 (lot 286).

Other lots include a pine "Equipment de la Maison" bookshelf from ca. 1947 by Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret (est. $80,000-$140,000), a zebrawood-veneered desk and chair designed for the Salon des artistes décorateurs in 1936 by Jean Royère (est. $80,000-$120,000), a "Granito" table by Jean Prouvé from ca. 1945 (est. $30,000-$40,000), a pair of adjustable teak and cane armchairs by Finn Juhl from 1955 (est. $45,000-$50,000) and a prototype dining table made of a slab of glass on an asymmetrical stainless-steel base in 1990 by Oscar Niemeyer (est. $30,000-$50,000).

* Wright auction house in Chicago is conducting a set of three design auctions on May 20 and 22, 2007, offering about 325 lots the first day and 225 the second, plus a special sale devoted to works by Harry Bertoia.

The range of items is particularly striking. To take three examples, only a few lots apart: a galvanized steel Pierced Table by Isamu Noguchi, an example from the Gemini G.E.L. edition from 1982-83, is estimated at $40,000-$50,000 (lot 129); a Philippe Morel BestTest1-400 chair from 2004, made of cut and laminated elm based on an algorithm that echoes natural selection, is estimated at $10,000-$15,000 (lot 133); and a Carlo Bugatti chaise from ca. 1900, complete with rope fringe, is estimated at $10,000-$15,000 (lot 136).

Contemporary lots also include a 1989 example of Zaha Hadid’s suede-upholstered Woosh sofa (est. $100,000-$150,000) and several works by Ron Arad.

* Freeman’s, the Philadelphia auctioneer, has set its 20th-21st century design auction for May 19, 2007. Among the offerings are a selection of pieces by George Nakishima, a signature Komed chair by Marc Newson (est. $12,000-$18,000) and a fascinating mid-20th-century French mail sorting desk by an unknown designer (est. $1,200-$1,800).

Also coming up this week -- the New York debut of a prototype Maison Tropicale by Jean Prouvé, going on the block as part of Christie’s design sale on June 5, 2007, with a presale estimate of $4 million-$6 million. Originally built in the Congo, the house was brought out of Africa by Paris dealer Eric Touchaleaume and is on view at Silvercup West on the Queens side of the Queensborough Bridge, beginning May 17, 2007.

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