Thomas Stearns Captured His Passion for Venice in Glass. A Piece of His Masterwork Could Command $500,000 at Wright

Stearns La Sentinella di Venezia

What you see: One of the three elements of La Sentinella di Venezia (The Sentinel of Venice), a 1962 glass sculpture by Thomas Stearns. Wright estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.

 

Who is Thomas Stearns? Born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Stearns came to the glassworks of Venini in Murano, Italy in 1960, and stayed for two years. He spoke virtually no Italian, had no previous experience with blown glass, and saw his design ideas scorned by the Venini factory’s grand master. Undaunted, he collaborated with a young house master, Francesco “Checco” Ongaro, and produced innovative sculptural pieces that heralded the arrival of the studio glass movement. Stearns died in 2006, at the age of 69 or 70.

 

The expert: Sara Blumberg, a consultant for Wright.

 

How did Thomas Stearns come to have a residency at Venini? This is a two-part answer. He was given a grant by the Italian government for glass and fiber art, and it came with a Fulbright Travel Grant. It was a combination of the two things.

 

About a month after his arrival Stearns showed a clay model and drawings to the grand master of Venini. And the grand master was… is ‘offended’ the right word? I think it’s the right word. It’s an island industry. Sticking to historical references is part of that history. A young man came in with a completely different notion of what to attempt. It flew in the face of traditional ideas of not just the Venini glassworks, but every glassworks on Murano. He was offended by it because he felt it indicated no respect for glassmaking and the way it was being done.

 

Why did Ongaro take the risk of working with Stearns? I think he was curious. It was a chance to prove himself and step up in the glassworks, which was not easy to do. He saw it as an opportunity. It was a very unusual circumstance to have a person like Stearns in their midst. It was probably a very exciting event.

 

What made it exciting for the Venini workers to have Stearns there? His being a foreigner is a major piece of the puzzle. And he was there on the floor, among the workers. In terms of the social hierarchy–Stearns speaks to this in his essay [you may have to scroll down to locate it]–he gave mixed signals. He was there to work, but he would take the director’s private launch back to [the mainland at the end of the day]. He could not be pegged.

 

How many pieces did Stearns and Ongaro make? There’s no way we can answer that. What we do know is there’s a very limited number of works in general. They weren’t made with an eye toward mass production. His pieces were sculptural glass. Certainly there was a great deal of loss in the making of the pieces. Records weren’t kept. We rely on understanding their rarity rather than any real count.

 

Stearns spoke pretty much no Italian, and Ongaro spoke pretty much no English. How did the two manage to work together successfully? The basic answer is that Stearns prepared design drawings [that were like] comic strips–a series of frames that showed one step, then the next step. And he made clay models to indicate the idea. They developed a language in common. There was a back-and-forth that has to do with the more technical aspects, but they were able to communicate and share as artists do.

 

So, explain what happened at the 1962 Venice Biennale. Venini submitted six works by Stearns, and they win a gold medal, at least briefly… The Biennale was about showing what the glassworks were capable of. You put your best foot forward. There was a lot of excitement within the company and without [about Stearns’s work]. Venini got a call that it had won the Gold Medal for Glass, but when they got to the pavilion, they discovered a blob of glue [on the display case] and no medal. They got another call saying the medal was withdrawn when they [the judges] learned the works were not Italian-made. Had there been any indication up front [that Stearns being American was a problem] they would not have submitted.

 

What was the fallout from that? It’s not known to us. At the time, we didn’t have that answer. But if you consider the place and the culture… again, this is a very small place, a very tightly controlled place. There’s a sense of tradition. It would be a scandal here [for a medal to be taken away because the designer wasn’t a native] but it was not a scandal there. It had to do with the pride of Murano. It was an outpouring of devotion to tradition. It may not make sense to us, but it made sense to them.

 

How did Stearns come to create The Sentinel of Venice? This is the last work he created [at Venini]. It was intended to be a three-part conceptual piece that was meant to speak to his time in Venice. He felt strongly about Venice as a place and feared for its safety. It was a tribute to a place where he spent a short but meaningful time. All his feelings about Venice are what he intended to imbue in the piece.

 

Does this piece of The Sentinel of Venice resemble the other two? It’s not markedly different, but it’s different. We’re talking a very similar coloration and idea. If you want to see the other two, you can see them online. [Here’s one of the three, which sold at Christie’s in 2001 for $102,800 against an estimate of $80,000 to $100,000; the other was broken and only exists as a shard.]

 

I realize we can’t hop in a time machine and watch Stearns and Ongaro make this piece, but can you give me a notion of how difficult it would have been to realize this segment of The Sentinel of Venice? A variety of techniques were employed. There are multiple elements here, all working in concert. That’s really where you encounter the difficulty. Combining techniques is exceptionally difficult because they fuse and anneal at different rates. It’s hard to control when you get this complicated or this large. What makes this piece unique is these techniques had not been combined in the past in this way, and in such a sculptural way.

 

How did Stearns’s work at Venini influence the American studio glass movement, which got its start around the same time he was in Italy? In a couple of ways. One was the sheer artistry and the experimentation of it all, experimenting with forms in a new way. That was one aspect. Another was the studio work–one or two people working in concert, doing very small projects. It’s different from making piece after piece as the glassworks was. There is no feeling that [Stearns works] are prototypes for mass production. They were viewed as sculptures, as artistic endeavors. It’s more about sculpture than utilitarian objects.

 

How often do glass works by Stearns come to auction? They’re rare. There were great losses [when he and Ongaro were making them]. A limited number of works come up. We’ve [Blumberg and her partner, Jim Oliveira] curated auctions for seven years and we’ve handled glass for almost 30 years. We see them every two or three years or so.

 

What’s the auction record for a Stearns, and for a work from Venini? The answer for both is Facades of Venice, which sold for $612,000 at Sotheby’s New York in 2016. There were two vessels in the lot, and they were sold as one lot.

 

What are the chances that The Sentinel of Venice will meet or exceed that sum? I hesitate to answer that, because I don’t know. It’s a possibility, absolutely. It’s an extraordinary event for it to come to auction and to have it in a collection that’s so focused on postwar glass. Facades, they got a good price for them. I think this is as exciting, if not more exciting. It’s very particular and thrilling.

 

Have you handled The Sentinel of Venice? Many times. It’s unlike anything I’ve held in glass. It has a beautiful weight. It’s a large piece for a piece of glass, very monumental. It’s a very exciting feeling to look at it and hold it. You can understand what his intention was, and you can feel the strength in it. Visually, it feels like a painting, from every angle. It’s really a painting in three dimensions.

 

How to bid: The piece from Stearns’s La Sentinella di Venezia is lot 160 in Important Italian Glass: A Private Chicago Collection, which takes place on May 23, 2018 at Wright.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Wright.

 

See Wright’s short biography of Thomas Stearns and read Stearns’s 1989 essay, The Facades of Venice: Recollections of My Residency in Venice, 1960-1962. [You may have to scroll down a bit to find it.]

 

Sara Blumberg appeared on The Hot Bid in June 2017, talking about a 19th century Italian macchie vase that ultimately sold for $8,450.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No One Can Do What British Potter George Owen Did. No One. A Covered Vase He Made in 1913 Could Sell for $21,000 at Bonhams

Fine Royal Worcester Reticulated Vase and Cover Bonhams

What you see: A Royal Worcester reticulated vase and cover, made by George Owen in 1913 and standing just over five inches tall. Bonhams estimates it at £10,000 to £15,000, or $14,000 to $21,000.

 

Who was George Owen? He was a British artisan who spent his entire career with Royal Worcester, which was founded in 1751 and still produces porcelain and earthenware. Born in 1845, Owen began his career in 1859, while he was barely into his teens. He enjoyed watching his colleagues who handled piercing work–making porcelain decorated with artful holes–and thought he could do a better job. He was right. He invented his own tools and techniques and he jealously guarded his methods. Owen died in 1917.

 

The expert: John Sandon, international director of European ceramics and glass at Bonhams.

 

How rarely do George Owen pieces come up at auction? Individually, they are scarce. We [Bonhams] sell more than anyone else, about half a dozen a year. Over the last ten years, we’ve had 50 pieces. Maybe a dozen a year are on the market worldwide.

 

Has anyone done a count or survey of the number of pieces Owen made? Because he was always secretive, he didn’t keep records. But I imagine maybe there’s a thousand. Over 40 years he produced pieces, each taking several months stretched over a long period of time.

 

Is the shape he used for this reticulated vase unique, or did he return to this shape over and over again? The shapes are never unique. They’re the factory’s vases. The same vase could be painted with flowers or other decorations. Owen adapted them by cutting holes in them. He added the pearls around the top–they’re his own invention. I don’t know of another piece that’s precisely like this. He did a small number of each shape, but no two are ever the same.

 

And he came up with his own tools and techniques to create these pieces? He worked in the Royal Worcester factory’s ornamental casting department. The [pierced pieces] were molded and they cut holes out. He thought he could do better without the molded pattern. He was the only one who tried to cut out holes without any guide in the mold. He developed his own tools to cut the tiny holes. A great many in the pottery industry like to make their own tools–there’s a long tradition of that. He supposedly got the steel for his tools from the staves of corsets.

 

How did Owen remove the tiny piece of wet clay waste from the body of the vase after he finished cutting a hole? He would dip the tool into something sticky [most likely oil or honey – Ed.] so with the last cut, it would stick to the tool. If it [the waste clay] did fall inside the piece, there was no way to get it out.

 

Punching thousands of tiny holes in a wet clay vessel makes it vulnerable to falling in on itself. How did Owen stop his works from collapsing before they reached the kiln? That’s a skill. If it was too wet, it would collapse. Potters learn over the years to get the right consistency. Owen’s difficulty was stopping the clay from getting too dry. To keep the shape, he had to handle it very carefully so it wouldn’t become distorted. Usually he managed to pick it up by the base or the top so it wouldn’t lose its shape. He must have been very careful with it. He had to cut each hole without putting pressure on it [the surface of the vessel].

 

Owen used what he called ‘wet boxes’ to rehumidify a piece so he could continue to work on it. How many wet boxes might he have going at once? He must have had a room full of these being worked on. Owen could work a piece for half an hour or an hour before it became too dry to carry on. His work took many hours. A bigger, more elaborate piece might go back into the wet box ten, twenty, forty times. We just don’t know.

 

Moving a piece in and out of a wet box raises the risk that it won’t make it to the kiln. The losses must… Once it was out of the biscuit kiln, there must have been a great sigh of relief.

 

And Owen didn’t let anyone at the factory watch him work? Not even his son, George Potter Owen? That’s always been claimed, but I don’t know how true that is. Craftsmen tend to be secretive to protect their livelihoods. If others learn to do it, they lose their work. They certainly don’t let apprentices learn too much. George Potter Owen may have had a go [at learning his father’s techniques] but he might not have been any good. That’s probably the case. It’s said that no one else, including his son, could do it. Different people at different times have tried to emulate George Owen. I tried too, and made a mess of it. It’s easy to cut big holes. Trying to cut smaller and smaller holes, keeping the holes even, and keeping them in even rows that are the same size–that was his great skill. No one has come close to what George Owen did, and they’ve certainly tried.

 

And while this might be an obvious point, let me hit it anyway–Owen did this on his own, without the help of a computer, which wouldn’t have been available to him anyway. He worked out the geometry for himself. He measured the circumference of a piece and planned it by putting tiny dots [on the surface]. We’d use 3-D printers to do this nowadays. Other than the little dots that you see on the clay sometimes, that’s all he did. Each piece is unique in that sense. There’s no other guide than what he achieved himself.

 

Was this vase a commission, or did he make it on spec? It wasn’t on spec, though he occasionally made special orders. He made the vases and the Royal Worcester factory bought them off him and sold them at a profit to a china shop or a department store. It would have cost two pounds when it was made in 1912, and it would have sold for three or four pounds. At the time, that would have been quite a lot for a single piece of china. Another in the factory would have done the gilding.

 

Bonhams has seven George Owen pieces in the May 2 sale. Is it unusual to have so many? It is. Most often there’s one or two. Sometimes there’s none. Sometimes there’s four. It’s a coincidence on this occasion that we attracted seven pieces. Lot 449 is one of two from the same consigner.

 

How have you seen the George Owen market change over time? George Owen works have always been expensive and costly. They were not appreciated in the 1960s, but in the late ’70s and early ’80s collectors realized they were something special and paid real money for them. I joined [the profession] in 1975, when a nice George Owen would sell for £700 to £1,000. At that time, that was a lot of money. It seems cheap now that they’re getting £15,000 to £20,000.

 

What condition is this piece in? And how much does condition matter with a George Owen? It’s as it left the kiln. It’s perfect. No problems. But George Owen vases don’t bounce if they hit the floor. They can smash into dust if broken. Even tiny damage can make a difference. If a tiny little hole is nicked in a piercing, that can halve the value. I have to check carefully, row by row. If there’s a tiny nick, it’s no longer perfect, and a restorer can’t bring it back to life again. The fact that this vase is perfect is to its favor.

 

What is it like to hold? Every time you pick it up, it’s a pleasure. It’s light. It feels so fragile that the fact that it’s here at all gives you a bit of a buzz. It’s always exciting to have a piece like this. It calls you over to admire it–it’s one of those pieces.

 

How to bid: The George Owen reticulated vase with cover is lot 449 in the Fine Glass and British Ceramics auction at Bonhams on May 2, 2018.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

 

Also see a 2014 Bonhams video in which John Sandon and his father, Henry, enthuse over the artistry of a different Royal Worcester George Owen vase. Estimated at £60,000 to £80,000, Bonhams sold it for £65,200, or $92,623.

 

And also see the Museum of Royal Worcester’s web pages on its peerless artisan, George Owen, which shows him “working” on a reticulated vase that’s actually finished.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

RECORD! A Dutch Silver Masterpiece by Adam van Vianen Sells for $5.3 Million at Christie’s

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Update: The Adam van Vianen silver ewer sold for $5.3 million–a world auction record for the artist, and for any piece of Dutch silver.

 

What you see: A silver ewer created by Dutch silversmith Adam van Vianen in 1619. Christie’s gives the estimate as on request, but it could sell for seven figures.

 

The expert: Harry Williams-Bulkeley, Christie’s European head of silver.

 

What is a ewer? Why might Adam van Vianen have chosen this form? A ewer is a jug. This ewer is not standard. Work by Adam van Vianen was only in the richest homes. One should think of this as a work of sculpture, though it’s of ewer form. It’s made from a single sheet of silver. It’s an extraordinary demonstration of how he was able to manipulate silver to create fluid forms.

 

Adam van Vianen signed and dated the ewer in addition to placing his maker’s mark on it. Why might he have done that? He wanted to be seen as a sculptor in precious metal rather than a producer of workaday objects. This is not meant to be used. It’s meant to be marveled at.

 

Was this ewer commissioned? Do we know? It’s possible it was commissioned for presentation. The choice of the Marcus Curtius narrative [A Roman tale of a soldier who sacrificed himself to save the city] suggests a display of bravery, sacrifice, and loyalty. It may have been presented to a military figure. It could have been Prince Maurice of Orange, who liberated Utrecht, which was van Vianen’s hometown. It’s conjecture, but it’s a possibility.

 

How rare is it for an Adam van Vianen piece to come to auction? Incredibly rare. Two years ago, Christie’s had a plaque by him with a scene on it. Prior to that, we had a small sweetmeat dish in 2001.

 

Do we know how many pieces Adam van Vianen made? A survey done by a Dutch academic notes 22 items either signed by him or bearing his maker’s mark. Of those, only two [in addition to the ewer] are in private collections. One is a beaker, and the other is a sweetmeat dish. Van Vianen’s brother and son worked in a similar style. If a piece is unmarked, it can be attributed to the family.

 

Did Adam van Vianen work alone, or did he have a team? There’s always that 19th century romantic image of silversmiths working alone. Van Vianen would have worked with shop assistants on manufacturing, but the ewer shows his individual skill at manipulating metal. And he signed and dated it, which is unusual.

 

He would have produced the decorative elements on the ewer through a technique called ‘chasing.’ What, exactly, would he have done? Here, he’s working with very pure silver, softer than sterling standard. If you hammer the silver, you give it tensile strength. If you heat it to pink-hot and quench it, it’s soft again, and you can work with it [you can fashion the decorative elements on the ewer]. It’s an incredibly long process to work it again and again–it’s so intricately chased.

 

I realize we can’t hop in a time machine and watch him work, but is it possible to tell how long he would have worked on the ewer? Would it have been, say, two months or more? Yes. Something as important as this would have been a real focus for him.

 

What is it like to hold the ewer? It’s incredibly tactile. Once you pick it up, you want to keep on turning it. The eye just dances across it.

 

Is it heavy? No. Because it’s so beautifully made, it feels like it’s the right weight. Heaviness would imply that it was cast, which makes it a different object, created with a different skill.

 

Do you have a favorite detail? That face peeking out from under the foot [of the ewer], because it’s so unexpected. It’s the last place you’d expect to see a human face. It’s looking out at you, and it has an ambiguous expression. [The face is shown in the fourth image on the lot page.]

 

Why will this silver ewer stick in your memory? As an object, it’s incredibly rare. This is the last chance for the market to acquire something of this importance by Adam van Vianen. It captures everything he’s known for–technical skill and extraordinary imagination. Work by the van Vianen family of silversmiths has never ceased to be celebrated. It’s like an incredible piece of jewelry, something to be marveled at.

 

How to bid: The Adam van Vianen silver ewer is lot 21 in the Exceptional Sale at Christie’s on April 20, 2018.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

 

See a Christie’s video of Harry Williams-Bulkeley showing and talking about Adam van Vianen’s spectacular silver ewer.

 

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SOLD! Woodworker Sam Maloof Made Maybe a Dozen Double Rocking Chairs. Bonhams Just Sold One for $35,000

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Update: The Sam Maloof double rocker sold for $35,000.

 

What you see: A double rocking chair, created in 2006 by the late American studio furniture artist Sam Maloof. Bonhams estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

 

Who was Sam Maloof? The California-born woodworker was the first professional craftsman to earn a MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellowship. He learned the fundamentals of his trade in high school and opened a workshop in 1948, after marrying and returning from World War II. Best known for his chairs, Maloof’s furniture resides in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He worked until he died in 2009 at the age of 93.

 

How many double rocking chairs did Maloof make? “There are around a dozen known,” says Jason Stein, Director of Modern Decorative Art & Design at Bonhams Los Angeles, noting that about four of those are in institutions. “There are very few in private hands. This is the first we know of to ever come up in the auction format.”

 

How hard was it for Maloof and his team to make a double rocking chair? “These pieces took a solid month to produce,” he says. “It’s more complicated, with way more spindles in the seatback. There are 13 spindles on this one, and Maloof double rockers normally have 13 to 15. A single rocker only has seven. Everything on a double rocker takes longer.”

 

When did Maloof start making double rocking chairs? “They came into play in the early 1990s. The single rockers started years before,” he says. “When he was fully developed in his craft, he was confident to make a piece like this.”

 

What details distinguish this particular double rocking chair, and what distinguishes Maloof’s furniture overall? “It has pronounced horns at the top, and the sleighs at the bottom come up beautifully at the back. It’s the most expressed version of this chair,” he says. “It’s incredibly sculptural, yet ergonomic. It’s a beautiful piece of art that you can also sit in. That was a thing with Maloof. He was a craftsman’s craftsman.”

 

This double rocker is made from walnut. Does that make it more desirable to collectors? “Walnut was his wood of choice,” he says, adding, “Throughout the American studio furniture movement, the majority of the works are made from walnut. They take advantage of the beautiful grain. You can create amazing compositions by working the grain.”

 

Have you sat in the double rocker? “Yes. It’s beautiful,” he says. “It’s something that’s incredible to look at and sit in and to feel, to touch. It’s highly tactile. It’s an interactive experience to sit in a piece of Maloof. You want to sit in it. You want to stay in it. It’s not just a sculpture. It’s functional.”

 

Have you sat in the double rocker with another person? “I have not,” he says. “But in looking at this chair, each seat in it is fully pronounced. It’s made for two. Each seat will totally support a person. They won’t spill into each other.”

 

What’s the auction record for a piece of Sam Maloof furniture, and what’s the record for a Maloof rocking chair? The overall record belongs to a conference table and a set of ten chairs, which sold at Bonhams for $194,250 in March 2006 against an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000. The Maloof rocking chair record was also set at Bonhams in April 2012 by a chair made in 1986 that fetched $80,500. Its estimate was $30,000 to $50,000. Both record-setting furnishings were made from walnut.

 

How have you seen the Maloof market change over time? “When I started in the early 1990s at Butterfield & Butterfield, single rockers were $12,000 to $15,000. There’s been an ascent over the years,” he says. “It’s always popular, and we’re always excited to get pieces by him. This time we have four lots by Maloof, including a single rocking chair.”

 

Why will this Maloof double rocking chair stick in your memory? “This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to work with this form–to be with it personally, to be near it, and to work with the consigner to bring it up for auction. It’s an exciting moment for an auction house specialist,” he says. “And it’s exciting to see where the market is going to take it, where it’s going to go, and who’s going to acquire it. I’m curious if it’s going to go to an institution or a private collector.”

 

How to bid: The Sam Maloof double rocking chair is lot 236 in Bonhams‘s Modern Decorative Art + Design auction on April 17, 2018 in Los Angeles.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

 

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Wendell Castle’s Spectacular Limited Edition Stainless Steel Abilene Rocking Chair Could Fetch $120,000 at LAMA

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What you see: A limited edition stainless steel Abilene rocking chair, made in 2008 by Wendell Castle. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimates it at $80,000 to $120,000.

 

Who was Wendell Castle? The Kansas-born artist was a dean of the American studio furniture movement. He gleefully and deliberately erased the line between sculpture and furniture. He was an artist in residence at the Rochester Institute of Technology and kept a studio near Rochester, N.Y. His pieces are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Smithsonian Institution; and the White House. Castle died in January 2018 of complications of leukemia. He was 85.

 

Is the Abilene rocking chair a design that Castle originally made in the 1960s and revisited in 2008? “It’s purely 2008, but you can look at rocking chairs that he made in the 1960s, and you can see the through-line,” says Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA. “Wendell Castle thought he was part furniture-maker and part artist. The soft curves of this are maternal and embracing, and at the same time, it’s masculine. The 1960s chairs have the same thing–big and bold, yet soft and curvaceous.”

 

What makes this a Wendell Castle design? What visual signatures mark the Abilene rocking chair as his work? “Wendell Castle emerged when designers and craftspeople were working in a reductionist aesthetic,” he says. “He reacted against the reductionist aesthetic, people who were paring down and reducing forms. He had the capacity to combine masculine and maternal shapes in part by broadening his materials. His work has a thickness that ran contrary to others of the era. Others thought, ‘How can I create with the least amount of material?’ Castle thought, ‘I want to make a leg thicker than normal if it’s closer to my artistic vision.’ This certainly has that. The rails of the rocker that swoop into the warmest are bigger and more massive than you would expect.”

 

How often did Castle work in stainless steel? Is this the only instance of him using it? “He worked in various materials,” he says. “He’s best known for working in wood, but he worked in metal. I don’t know if he did another stainless steel chair, but he did bronze stools.”

 

This is number four of the edition of eight. Where are the other seven Abilene chairs? The second from the series sold for $81,250 on an estimate of $50,000 to $80,000 at Christie’s New York in March 2014. Loughrey believes the edition sold out and the rest likely remain in private hands or institutions.

 

What’s the auction record for a work by Castle? The record-holder is a 1980 ‘Victory’ chair and desk sold at Christie’s New York in December 2015 for $221,000 against an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. The record for a single stand-alone work belongs to a 1963 rocking chair that sold for $204,000 against a $90,000 to $140,000 estimate at Rago in 2008. The next highest is a 2009 rocking chair that sold for about $180,000 against an estimate of about $134,000 to $201,000 at Tajan in Paris.

 

Do those results tell us anything about how this Wendell Castle rocking chair might perform at auction? “I would hope so!” he says. “The rocking chair is definitely a form he returns to. All three are completely different, but if you line them all up, you can see the Castle vocabulary flowing through them.”

 

What is it like to sit in? “It’s incredibly comfortable, and incredibly heavy,” he says, noting that it weighs about 400 pounds. “It takes two strong men to lift it. It’s a sculpture that sits in place. You can’t push it to another part of the room. When it’s set, it’s set.”

 

I imagine the Abilene rocking chair reflects Castle’s talent–he could make something so heavy look as light as a wisp of smoke and feel as comfortable as any other rocking chair. “Even as an artist, Castle understood the dynamics of the human form and how it interacts with the sculpture,” he says. “All his chairs are created to interact with the human form. It’s not something only to look at. It’s completely functional.”

 

Wendell Castle died in January 2018. How might that affect how this lot performs at auction on February 25, 2018? “It may affect it to some degree,” Loughrey says. “Typically, works are not dramatically affected when an artist dies. It may get a few more people’s attention. But it’s not easy to answer. It’s an old wives’ tale that if an artist dies, their prices immediately go up. If there’s a dramatic stock market selloff before the auction, that will affect it [the final price of the rocking chair] way more than him passing away.”

 

Why will this stainless steel Wendell Castle rocking chair stick in your memory? “To me, it’s exciting to see the arc of his career,’ he says. “Very early on, he created rocking chairs, and returned to the form and expanded on it and used his vocabulary in new and different ways. There’s distinct rocking chair progress over a 50-year period. This is instantly recognizable as a chair. At the same time, it’s functional as a piece of modern sculpture,” he says, adding, “And it will be memorable to me because I had a connection to him. I sat on panels with him, I interviewed him, and he was incredibly generous in helping me with cataloging things correctly. Now that he’s gone, it’s going to be a little emotional for me.”

 

How to bid: The Abilene rocking chair is lot 144 in LAMA‘s Modern Art & Design Auction on February 25, 2018.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot Bid: Click the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Wendell Castle has a website for himself and another for his art-furniture collection.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

 

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RECORD: Phillips Sells a Roy Lichtenstein Sculpture for $10.3 Million

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Editor’s note: With the arrival of the holidays, The Hot Bid shifts its focus to world auction records. 

What you see: Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight, a 1996 limited edition painted and patinated bronze sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein. Phillips New York sold it in May 2017 for $10.3 million, an auction record for a sculpture by the artist.

Who was Roy Lichtenstein? He was an American pop artist who rose to prominence on the strength of his brightly colored comic book-style works. While Lichtenstein sculpted several dozen pieces during his five-decade career, he is probably best known for his paintings. In January 2017, collector Agnes Gund consigned his 1962 oil on canvas, Masterpiece, to raise money for her criminal justice reform efforts; the painting made headlines when it sold for $165 million. Lichtenstein died in 1997, at the age of 73.

Before I saw this piece, I hadn’t thought of Lichtenstein as a sculptor. How prolific was he? “Sculpture was a big part of his practice from the very beginning. He started in the early to mid-1960s,” says Scott Nussbaum, Phillips’s head of 20th century and contemporary art in New York. “If you go to the website of his foundation, you can see year by year what his production was, in all media, shapes, and sizes.”

Why did Lichtenstein make Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight? “He painted it first–it was an element within a painting that he did in 1995, called Nude with Bust,” he says. “He created it after the original painting was done.”

The sculpture focuses on a female subject. Do Lichtenstein works that feature women do better at auction? “Yes, but I think that’s true of every artist,” he says. “The female form is the most commercial form. If it’s what most people would consider a sensual form, it’ll sell better. That’s true across the board.”

Lichtenstein himself actually owned this piece. How did that that fact enhance its value? “I think it added value in the sense that the provenance on this is excellent, coming directly from the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, and the fact that he held it and did not sell it adds to its allure,” he says. “People want to know that art was owned by great collectors, or institutions. The excellent provenance added to its reception in the market.”

What is Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight like in person? “It has an incredible presence to it,” he says. “You really feel you are near a significant work of art. The more time you spend with it, the more you appreciate it. It’s not just a depiction of a beautiful woman, it’s a beautiful moment–two moments, one in sunlight and one in moonlight. Our audience fell in love with it, and it drew people into the gallery just to see it.”

Why did the sculpture do so well? “It was a fantastic result that shattered the auction record for a sculpture by Lichtenstein,” he says. “It’s a very rare object. Though it’s an edition, it’s very closely held. All are in good homes, and it’s unclear if another example will appear on the market anytime soon.”

How long do you think the record will stand? “It’s impossible to say. With this market, it’s difficult to predict anything,” he says. “I think this sculpture is one of his best, if not the best. I think only if another from the series [comes up], or one of a handful of really monumental sculptures that he produced in the 1960s could exceed that price. I think it will stand for a while.”

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Phillips is on Twitter and Instagram.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Phillips.

Also, if you scroll down on the webpage for the Phillips lot notes on Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight, you can see a video that shows both sides of the sculpture.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.