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DECORATIVE ARTS DIARY
by Brook S. Mason
 
What’s new, what’s old and more importantly, what’s swish and investment-worthy as 2006 draws to a close? You know, the kind of thing for blue-chip holiday shopping? In our feverish market, there’s plenty out there.

1. Amber -- it’s the new coral. The latest sign of that fossil resin striking a deep chord in the fast-paced contemporary art world is "Polke-Bernstein-Amber" at the East 77th Street gallery of dealer Michael Werner. For this exhibition, the German painter Sigmar Polke used his skill with resins for a series of works that approach the luster and color of amber, and they could not be a more fitting backdrop for a treasure trove of raw chunks of amber, some millions of years old, as well as kunstkammer objets on offer from Munich dealer Georg Laue. 

An 18th-century games box has smaller boxes nesting inside, with each box covered in a patchwork of amber slivers, some cut so thin as to be translucent. A Northeast German amber-handled knife and fork dating from the 17th century come in a trim, slender shagreen (stingray or sharkskin) case that would be the envy of Giorgio Armani. An amber spoon made in 1700s Germany is precious, with its handle a series of roundels and its back delicately engraved -- one early example was snared by the Wadsworth Atheneum. This exhibition, which runs to Jan. 13, 2006, is a must see.

2. Lalanne -- trendy animalier furniture. Claude and François Xavier Lalannes animal sculptures, especially their sheep, were the darlings of the Yves St. Laurent collecting crowd way back in the 1960s. Now, Reed Krakoff, executive creative director of the Coach leather goods firm, has put his considerable marketing prowess behind the exhibition of sculpture by the Lalanne’s at Paul Kasmin Gallery in Chelsea. He has also published a stylish book on the French couple and their oeuvre.

The furniture is a bronze zoomorphia, with, for instance, a fireplace mantel taking the shape of a glowering baboon. The price: $300,000. Hit Kasmin Gallery a.s.a.p., since these functional sculptures have touched off a real feeding frenzy.

3. Nakashima -- how the prices do rise. Sotheby’s New York sale last week of the acclaimed Arthur and Evelyn Krosnick Collection of ca. 65 works by George Nakashima (1905-1990) proved that the Japanese American designer is the de Kooning of the 20th-century design world. While the massive Arlyn Table, which bore a $300,000-$500,000 presale estimate, fell short of the $1 million mark, it did sell -- for $822,400. Celeb collectors of Nakashima’s craggy burlwood furniture include Julianne Moore.

Those who missed the auction can head to Sebastian + Barquet at 601 West 26th Street in Chelsea. Backed by Latin American paintings dealer Ramis Barquet along with a Norwegian investor, this showroom is a reincarnation of Pelicano, the gallery that formerly occupied the space.  Sebastian + Barquet commands a massive inventory of 20th-century design, including over 20 Nakashima pieces, whose prices range from $7,000 to $250,000.

Our advice? Skip the plainer pieces and snap up the more rugged examples, which seem bound to increase in value. "The furniture appears a modest buy compared to contemporary art," says Jose Lobon, who previously worked at Sotheby’s and now heads up the showroom.

4. Editioned furniture -- multiples of the millennium. The multiples craze is sweeping the design world, with Design Miami seeing major sales of editioned works by Droog, the Dutch design collective, earlier this month. You could even say these multiples are tomorrow’s tried-and-true antiques. But word to the wise -- Dutch designer Marcel Wanders is about to open a string of retail stores across the country, so the jury is out on whether this kind of saturation will be good for the market.

5. Paul Evans -- the latest investible. Baroque-moderne metal furniture by the mid-century designer Paul Evans (1931-1987), once relegated to lesser fairs, is reaching the same price points as Regency tables. One of his sculptural hanging sideboards skipped over its $70,000-$90,000 estimate at Sotheby’s last week and climbed to a hefty $132,000. Based in New Hope, Pa., Evans began making such pieces from welded and enameled steel as well as slate and wood in 1964. 

Evans furniture can be found at George Gilpin in Brooklyn and Gallery Moderne in Philadelphia.

6. Art deco glass -- a prize collection. At its Madison Avenue outpost (just south of the Whitney Museum), the London firm Mallett is featuring a set of Orrefors cobalt blue dinner glass. Dating from 1930, the 19-piece set contains pear-shaped saltshakers, stepped hexagonal plates and eight candlesticks. With the Swedish glass works Orrefors claiming the Grand Prix at the 1925 Paris Exposition Universelle, much of this maker’s work is notable. Mallett has displayed the set in an 18th-century mahogany breakfront which is a fitting backdrop for the appealing glass. 

7. Books -- the best of Cecil Beaton. The European and American address books of the stylish but oh-so-catty Brit photographer who lensed endless royals are on offer at Potterton Books, which can be found online as well as in the Decoration & Design Building on Third Avenue. Beaton’s diaries are a social-climbing publicist’s dream, containing Garbo’s address as well as those of Doris Duke, decorator Dorothy Draper and Randolph Hearst. Interestingly, Beaton scratched out Warhol’s number. Perhaps they had a major league dust up. The collection includes 70 books by Beaton, some now out of print, as well as the guestbook for his 1980 Manhattan memorial service are included. The price: $45,000

8. Josef Albers -- collectible tea cup. Phillips, de Pury struck it rich with the spare 1926 tea glass, complete with saucer and stirrer, by the abstract painter and designer. The spare object was hammered down -- careful now! -- for a stupendous $268,000 against a $60,000-$80,000 estimate on Dec. 14, 2006. Those hankering for one like it may just go on wishing. Albers made only two known examples of the piece, the ultimate signal of the partnership of industry and art. The other is at the Museum of Modern Art. Expect other design objects by the storied Bauhaus professor to soar in price.

9. English pottery animals -- on the run. "They’ve got a naiveté that appeals to folk art collectors," says Paul Vandekar, who presides over the Upper East Side establishment Earle D. Vandekar of Knightsbridge. He finds most clients prefer their animals in pairs. One particular type of late-18th-century Pratt ware (cream colored earthenware painted in fab colors) is hardly routine. Some like horses come with different brightly colored blankets. A single animal can run about $6,000 and matched pairs go for higher amounts.

10. Perfume bottles -- scents and dollar sensibility. You know the scruffy, very tired ones, spotted at pedestrian tabletop fairs? Well, price-wise, some of those bottles have hit the big time. Last month, at Rago Arts auction house in little Lambertville, N.J., a Lalique bottle purchased at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1936 sailed up to a monumental $216,000. The "Tresor de la Mer" bottle was from an edition of 100, and still had its original presentation box and Saks price tag.

Will liquor bottles be next on the deco arts radar screen? Tune in next year.


BROOK S. MASON is chief correspondent for Art & Antiques.