Call it Millennium Art and Design, the new 21st-century style that is known for its pronounced sculptural sensibilities. Now, design dynamo Wendell Castle (b. 1932) is kicking it up a notch with his current exhibition at Barry Friedman Ltd. in Manhattan’s Chelsea art district with furniture that wins kudos as dynamic and brilliant. In terms of artistry, his new work in fiberglass, stack-laminated wood, stainless steel and aluminum can stand right alongside the high-tech Jeff Koons sculptures on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Castle pushes past the routine organic vocabulary to ply a far more refined interpretation of biomorphic forms and as a result masters a kind of softened monumentality. There’s nothing banal or excessive about these pieces.
Check out his Abilene Rocking Chair (2008) in stainless steel. It’s positively lyrical in terms of fleeting lines. An aluminum lounge dubbed Night on Earth (2007) is rather star-like in form, and pierced with small craggy holes. "There are no hard edges," says Castle, 76. "I like things that flow, and every example in some way explores balance," he says.
Castle’s innovative palette introduces color to furniture in an entirely new way. His fiberglass furnishings bear multiple coatings of a glimmering urethane paint, a favorite of hot-rod restorers. So a Castle chair in black is really iridescent with edges of blue when seen from different perspectives. The shimmering blues, purple and aubergine are seductive.
By the end of opening day on May 1, 2008, four museums had snatched up examples of Castle’s new works, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of National Design, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and the Brooklyn Museum. Plus, a private collector snared two chairs to be installed in his Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home. While some of the work is unique, others are editioned. This show will make design history and sell out in nanosecond.
Castle has long been favored by an insider crowd that includes Met director Philippe de Montebello and Miami collector Martin Margulies, even though his work can be found in 40 museums. But with this new show, he is certain to secure a far greater following in the hipster contemporary art world.
If you should miss the Castle show at Friedman, be sure to take in the 11th annual SOFA New York Fair at the Park Avenue Armory, May 29-June 1, 2008,where Friedman will spotlight Castle and his gallery’s other cutting-edge design artists.
Nice House, I’ll Take It.
Though the big auction firms have moved fast into the growing field of selling classic designer houses, Chicago auction-house titan Richard Wright has his share of scoops. Coming up at Wright’s sale on May 18, 2008, is a house in Chestnut Hill, Pa., designed by the world-renowned Philadelphia architect Louis Kahn (1902-1974). The 1959 house was commissioned by furniture designer Wharton Esherick’s niece and is set on a half acre. Its spare geometric form, done in concrete with large Apitong wood windows, is a predecessor stylistically to the architect’s acclaimed Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth and Yale Center for British Art in New Haven. The contemporary architect David Adjaye -- designer of the new Museum of Contemporary Art Denver as well as homes for yBa’s Jake Chapman and Sue Webster and Tim Noble -- has praised this house as "one of Kahn’s most important works."
The estimate for this icon of 20th-century architecture is a mere $2,000,000-$3,000,000, a figure that makes recent prices for sculptures by Damien Hirst or Alberto Giacometti seem woefully inflated. Interest in buying Modernist houses has "grown exponentially," Wright says, and yes, he now has international interest for the Kahn house. "Given the power of the British pound sterling, it’s perfectly conceivable that someone abroad will buy it," he says. Interestingly, when Wright sold Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #21 in Los Angeles a few years back, a Korean bought it and the underbidder was a Londoner.
If the Kahn house is too pricey, keep an eye out for the hip inventory of the Milan-based Nilufar Gallery, which is also going on the block at Wright. Nilufar is celebrating its 30th anniversary and the 80 lots are just a small portion of the inventory. The sale is packed with choice items by Carlo Mollino, Piero Fornasetti and Gabriella Crespi, artist, designer and high priestess of style in Rome whose furniture was favored by Gunther Sachs, Thomas Hoving and Princess Grace.
As for provenance, the trove even includes Fornasetti’s own bed. Done in enameled iron with plunging arrows, it’s 18th-century Sicilian and expected to fetch $20,000-$30,000. The late Milanese designer ordered up a pair of custom-made chairs with backs of crossed arrows in enameled steel and brass to match the bed in 1955. With Fornasetti so popular at present, that bedroom ensemble is bound to hit a new price high.
Lately, mid-century Italian design has been shooting through the roof, price-wise. One example of this trend is a Gio Ponti armchair, which he designed for the Hotel Parco dei Prinicpi in Rome. Wright thinks it will hammer down at $50,000-$70,000. Only two years ago, Wright says, one would have sold for a fraction of that, perhaps $10,000-$15,000, while a decade back, that particular lounge chair would have borne a $5,000 estimate.
Certain to snare the attention of the fashion set is an Andrea Salvetti chrome-plated, cast-aluminum chair from 2001. It’s tagged to make only $3,000-$5,000. That would be a bargain.
For those with a penchant for James Mont, the designer of choice for the gangster set that included Bugsy Siegel and assorted Mafioso, the sale include’s a 1955 console in silvered lacquer with pronounced cabriole legs -- very, very va-va-Vegas. Paul Evans with his rugged steel furniture, Philip Lloyd Powell, and other designers are also represented.
Chelsea Design Gallery on a Roll
Sebastian+Barquet now reigns as the art world’s ultimate conglomerate and its reach is surprising, bridging hipster design, Latin American painting and period frames from the 17th century. The entire enterprise is the brainchild of Mexico-born, Fuller Building-based Latin American paintings dealer Ramis Barquet (and an anonymous Scandinavian backer). Only this past summer, Barquet sold the plum Marc Newson Lockheed Lounge prototype for a cool $2.5 million to a California collector.
Sebastian+Barquet’s gallery in the Art Deco Starrett-Lehigh Building in West Chelsea is "style city." No less than Enrique Norten -- the starchitect tapped for the Guggenheim Guadalajara who is now doing a tower in Harlem -- fine-tuned the third-floor space. Icons of design like Jean Prouvè chairs and armoires and Charlotte Perriand bookcases are encased behind glass like exhibits in a Natural History Museum diorama, but Norton has revved up the chic factor. This gallery is a must-see for its new way of sparking attention in the design world.
BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times, the New York Sun and other publications.