During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.
What you see: A unique “dressoir” made by Studio Job in 2006 that combines imagery from its Perished and its Industry series. Bonhams sold the dressoir in June 2019 for $187,575, a record for a Studio Job piece.
The expert: Dan Tolson, specialist in modern decorative art and design at Bonhams.
Could we talk about Studio Job–what it is, what it’s known for? They’re designers from the Netherlands, a man and a woman, Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagel. They do furniture and lighting that blurs the line between contemporary art and design, and they’re very successful, very highly regarded. They’re proudly Dutch, and they’re still there now. They had a retrospective at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York in 2016.
Was this piece in that show? It wasn’t, but it had pieces from the Perished series. When Perished came out in 2004 or 2005, a debate was going on about how global warming affected species, and the effect of man on nature. It was in the ether at the time. People were talking about the environment. This is a very clever statement in a piece of design.
Is this piece typical or atypical for Studio Job? One reason why it did so well [at auction] is it features the Perished design. The series was like this cabinet–dark wood inlaid with lighter wood. The pattern was animal skeletons. I very clearly remember when it came out. It was very shocking, very bold. No one has done anything like it. This combines two Studio Job patterns, Perished and Industry. It was commissioned by a friend of the designers.
What makes the piece so shocking and bold? Marquetry, obviously, goes back to the 1500s or 1600s. It’s a well-known historical medium that no one had used for a modern graphic. It’s a symmetric pattern of skeletons, objects, missiles. It’s like contemporary art, but using an old furniture technique. That’s why the series is so popular–it takes a traditional furniture-making technique and turns it on its head. That’s what great design does. There’s great skill in a designer making you look at something old-fashioned or tired and making it relevant again.
What do we know about how it was made? I don’t know the process, but I imagine it involves computer-assisted design. It’s a combination of modern and traditional in how it’s made. It’s a key piece of design from this period.
What is a “dressoir”? Is it a word that Studio Job coined, or is it an established term? They’re Dutch. “Dressoir” is Dutch for dresser. It’s like a sideboard.
Does the Perished series typically pair macassar ebony and bird’s eye maple? It either used rosewood or macassar ebony and paired it with bird’s eye maple. They all have the same aesthetic, dark to light. I like it because a lot of contemporary design doesn’t use natural materials. It’s nice to see natural materials being used in a modern way.
Did Studio Job invent any new motifs for this commissioned piece? No, it’s a combination of the two. They didn’t come up with anything new.
One of the photos Bonhams sent shows a pair of primate skeletons with entwined tails, and four names underneath. What is the significance of the names? The names are the family that commissioned it. It’s a dedication.
Did the family use it? They did.
How? For storing clothes.
And the commissioner consigned it, correct? Yes. Because Studio Job are contemporary designers, it [accepting commissions] happens quite often. It’s not unusual.
Studio Job wouldn’t do something like this on spec? Generally, an important piece like this would tend to be commissioned. You can’t go into a store and pick it off a shelf.
Studio Job launched in 1998. When did the secondary market for its works begin? I would say probably 2004, 2005, 2006 their works started appearing on the auction market. Studio Job are young designers. To do that well on the secondary market speaks to their skills. Few contemporary designers have that success on the secondary market. And they’re still very active. It’s going to be amazing to see what else they design over their career.
So their career has legs? In thirty or forty years’ time, they’ll be a name like Gio Ponti and Jacques Ruhlmann are names? I think so. They’re definitely not a flash in the pan. In 2004, 2005, 2006, there was an appetite for their work back then at auction. The fact that they’ve kept a level of attention, if not increased it, is pretty significant for a designer. They’ve kept consistently relevant, which is hard to do in art or design.
What’s your favorite detail of this piece? I like the sloth skeleton in the central panel, which is hanging upside down, positioned how a sloth would be. And I like that the skeleton is quite smiley. They’re friendly skeletons. It’s a joyful piece. It speaks to Studio Job’s talents. The way things are arranged in the pattern is quite captivating. I’ve been staring at this thing for a month now, and it’s impossible to get bored with it. There’s so much to look at. I’ve only just realized the sea creatures are on the bottom and the planes and dragonflies and birds are all at the top.
What is it like in person? The combination of those two woods has a great warmth to it. You can see the striations in the dark wood, and the bird’s-eye maple has a dappled effect. The dark striped wood with pale spotted wood has a great 3-D feel to it. In a way, it looks too clinical in the photos. It burns out all those details. You don’t see them unless it’s in natural light.
The dressoir measures 37 1/2 inches tall, 78 3/4 inches wide, and 13 3/4 inches deep. But how big does it seem to be in person? It’s hard to get a sense of its proportions [from the photo]. When you see it, it’s quite a small size. That’s not a negative. It’s quite accessible and usable, a very easy piece to have in a home. It’s elegant in its size and scale.
What was the estimate? $40,000 to $60,000.
What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone.
With the winner? No, with one of the underbidders. There was a huge amount of interest in it. It came down to two bidders who were absolutely passionate about it. It was a career highlight for me, and I’m personally very pleased for Studio Job as well. They deserve this kind of success in the secondary market. Their work is superb. Very few living contemporary designers command those prices.
How long do you think this record for a Studio Job piece will stand? What else could challenge it? I think it will stand for a long time. I was unaware of this because it was a private commission. It combines the two most popular Studio Job patterns. I don’t think it’s going to be topped for the next two or three years.
Why will this piece stick in your memory? I’ve spent a lot of time with it over the course of four, five, six months. Because I’m a design specialist, I see so many things all the time. It takes something special to hold my attention. This one holds my attention consistently. It’s like a piece of good art you never tire of. I look at it and see new things all the time. And in the design world, it checks so many boxes–it’s a beautiful object, it’s functional, it’s a good piece of design, it references historical techniques in furniture-making, and it makes intellectual references to the environmental issues we’re facing globally. It’s quite, quite major.
Images are courtesy of Bonhams.
Studio Job has a website.
Dan Tolson appeared previously on The Hot Bid talking about a unique Sami El-Khazen/Arredoluce ceiling light, created for the 1964 World’s Fair, which sold for $32,500.
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