1. The other Kravis
The most important design collector west of the Mississippi? Hands down, it’s the relatively quiet George R. Kravis II, whose brother Henry and his Museum of Modern Art chairwoman wife Marie-Josée have long secured art-world headlines. Now, George and his collection are close to garnering their rightful center-stage position in the international spotlight.
George’s hometown museum, the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, is dedicating a new downtown branch to showcase his collection along with one of Native American Indian Art. The Kravis holdings, focusing overwhelmingly on 20th-century design, are housed in a 1927 brick warehouse, appropriately enough, with redesign of the space in the hands of Manhattan architectural firm Gluckman Mayner Architects, who oversaw Dia:Beacon. This new 30,000 square foot Philbrook project is set to open in 2012.
"I’m drawn to design objects that were part of daily life," says Kravis. The collection could be considered a Machine Age textbook of icons such as Isamu Noguchi’s prescient baby monitor Night Nurse, which was developed in response to the tragic Lindberg kidnapping, and furnishings by Peter Behrens and Paul Frankl, among others.
"David [Hanks, who serves as Kravis curator as well Montreal Museum of Fine Arts design curator] says I have enough to recreate the MoMA ‘Machine Age’ show," says Kravis, who is still actively acquiring on the fair circuit and from other sources as well. Kravis was spotted at Design Miami.
Already Kravis is thinking outside the box in terms of the exposure of his collection. "We might open early in the morning and also extend evening hours to secure a wider audience," says Kravis, who plans on multiple events, including lectures.
Prediction: Kravis alone may just singlehandedly launch a must-visit design-museum triangle: the Art Institute of Chicago, the Indianapolis Museum of Art (distinguished by stellar curator Craig Miller) and now the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa.
2. Philippe Denys Paris auction
The auction of the inventory of the late Belgian design dealer Philippe Denys, whose esthetic captured admirers globally, reined in a strong total when sold by the Pierre Bergé salesroom in Brussels on Dec. 15, 2010. The 567-lot auction of works by Denys’s favorite designers, such as Poul Kjaerholm and Alvar Aalto, made €2,637,937, far surpassing its €1,000,000 estimate.
The top lot was a 1955 Poul Henningsen (1894-1967) monumental wall light in white lacquered aluminum commissioned for the concert-and-cinema hall Scala in Denmark. It flew past its €60,000-€80,000 estimate and fetched €200,000 ($263,080).
Phillips New York sold a duplicate of the model on the same day and realized $212,500 for it. Looking ahead, the Denys provenance is certain to catch collectors’ favor.
3. Tomasso Brothers in London
Primarily specializing in sculpture, the Leeds-based Tomasso Brothers Fine Art has just debuted a 3,000-square-foot gallery off of London’s snazzy Pimlico Road. The firm has taken the second floor of antique dealer John Hobbs’ former quarters. While 17th-century French bronzes and Fragonard landscapes abound, antiques make up 30 percent of the Tomasso inventory. A pair of Rococo Roman gilded consoles have already been snapped up at the new location for a hefty six-figure sum. The buyer was European.
Other big-ticket items include a pair of 18th-century Italian urns cut from ancient Roman porphyry columns, tagged in the neighborhood of £400,000, and a monumental Italian 1680 tortoiseshell, ebony and ivory cabinet for £750,000. "Our new buyers for decorative arts span Europe, the United States and South America," says Dino Tomasso, who with his brothers Raffaello and Giovanni runs the expanding establishment.
4. Guy Regal and Newel team up
Two Manhattan antiques establishments -- Guy Regal and Newel -- are merging their operations into a single flagship location at the latter’s 425 East 53rd Street premises. In 2009 Regal formed a partnership with Newel, best known as the ultimate prop house for practically every movie filmed in New York City along with such television fare as Gossip Girl and the HBO hit Boardwalk Empire, not to mention the spiffy Ralph Lauren windows.
As to shuttering his East 60th Street townhouse gallery, Regal replies, "Today, 50 percent of all my inquiries are internet initiated." With his Internet growth hovering in the 20 percent range annually, he is seeing new interest from overseas, including Korea, Japan and Australia.Regal and Lewis Baer, who heads up Newell, are taking antiques to a new level of retail presentation. Regal will command 4,000 square feet on the first floor. "The new space is twice the size of my former quarters, laid out in seven rooms, boasts 15 foot ceilings and done up to the nines," says Regal. Newel will maintain five entire floors of antiques -- and keep iPads handy to help guide clients through an inventory that spans six centuries.
5. In the museum: Van Cleef and Bulgari
Haute jewelers Van Cleef & Arpels and Bulgari are leading the pack of luxury brands when it comes to securing greater visibility on the museum exhibition calendar. Van Cleef has latched onto Cooper-Hewitt curator Sarah Coffin to oversee "Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels," slated for the Manhattan museum Feb. 18-June 5, 2011. The exhibition focus is Van Cleef as a design house and its creation of an American style as laid out in 300 jewelry examples and small objet d’art.
Right now the exhibition "Bulgari: 125 Ans de Manficence" is headlining at the Grand Palais in Paris until Jan. 12, 2011. It’s the first large-scale retrospective by a jewelry house since the Grand Palais opened 100 years ago.
Francesco Trapani, CEO of the Bulgari Group and grandson of the founder, sees the show -- which boasts more than 600 sparklers -- as a powerful way to "enable us to increase Bulgari’s awareness in a strategic market for luxury goods."
But the show doesn’t end in Paris. The exhibition, which draws heavily the Bulgari archives as well as private collections, is going to hit the Far East circuit. Already scheduled are stops in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong for 2011. Specific venues will be announced at a later date.
6. New high for Chippendale
Sotheby’s London notched up a star-blazing price for a George III Chippendale commode at its New Bond Street premises earlier this month, demonstrating that the market for top 18th-century English furniture is on fire. The serpentine Harrington commode strongly attributed to Thomas Chippendale skyrocketed to £3,793,250 ($5,980,438), tripling its presale estimate and smashing the prior world record for any piece of English furniture sold at auction. Dating from 1770, the marquetry commode in rosewood and tulipwood trimmed with delicate gilt lacquered brass commode came from Elvaston Castle in Derbyshire.
Sotheby’s English furniture expert Henry House reported the commode "was keenly contested by five bidders." Three bidders duked it out after the lot hit $£1 million. The final winner of the battle, and buyer of the commode, remains anonymous.
7. Vintage book club
Goldman Sachs veteran Kinsey Marable, who practically pioneered the entire genre of vintage stylebooks and helped propel Diana Vreeland’s book Allure to $5,000 megaprice levels, has just jump-started a new venture. Now he’s heading up the Private Library Book Club. What makes Marable’s latest enterprise remarkably different from humdrum book clubs are its vintage offerings, like Cecil Beaton’s Dairies and Alexander Liberman’s The Artist in His Studio.
With an A list clientele including Charlotte Moss, Oprah and former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine already in hand, Marable is now casting a wider net. "I know these books which encompass our rich cultural history can reach a broader audience," says Marable.
BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.