Masterwork by Ceramist Peter Voulkos to Lead Phillips’ December Design Auctions

  • NEW YORK, New York
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  • November 27, 2017

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Peter Voulkos, Rondena

On Tuesday, 12 December, Phillips will host its final Design auctions of the year with the Evening and Day Sales in New York.  These auctions will present an opportunity for collectors of all levels and interests to acquire exceptional examples of 20th and 21st century Design. The Day Sale will begin at 10am, offering over 100 lots, with works by Fausto Melotti, Harry Bertoia, and Carlo Scarpa, among others. The Evening Sale will take place at 5pm, including 31 lots with works by Peter Voulkos, Jean-Michel Frank, Alberto Giacometti, and Eugene Schoen. Six works from the esteemed collection of Betty and Stanley Sheinbaum will be offered across both sessions.


Meaghan Roddy, Phillips’ Senior Specialist, Design, said, “Our Design sales across the globe this year have seen a strong response from the market, with works performing well across all genres – from French and Italian design to American craft. The December auctions in New York will provide an exciting chance for connoisseurs and enthusiasts to acquire rare-to-the-market works that figure prominently within the history of design.  We are honored to have had the opportunity to work with the Sheinbaum estate in offering works from this highly esteemed collection, including Peter Voulkos’ Rondena, a truly magnificent work that serves as a testament to the artist’s importance, as well as the Sheinbaums’ enduring contributions to the field.”


Leading the Evening Sale is Peter Voulkos’ Rondena, executed in 1958, from the Sheinbaum collection. The Sheinbaums were tremendous proponents of American craft during their lifetime.  Recognizing the lack of exhibition venues for craft, the couple founded two highly successful galleries exclusively devoted to contemporary craft on the West and East Coast, both of which were operated by the nonprofit Fairtree Fine Crafts Institute established in 1971. Widely acknowledged as the leading figure of postwar American ceramics, Voulkos was keen to produce ceramic sculptures on a large scale and was particularly interested in the relationship between color and form. Exhibited in the seminal solo show Ceramics, Sculpture and Painting by Peter H. Voulkos at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1958–1959, Rondena belongs to a small group of works that radically changed the concept of ceramics. With echoes of de Kooning’s women and Matisse’s cut-outs, these works are widely considered some of his best and most historically significant. Rondena is undoubtedly the most ambitious of the works from this series and it has remained in the Sheinbaum family collection since it was acquired by them in 1959, just a year after its creation. 


Also highlighting the Evening Sale are several works by Jean-Michel Frank and his contemporaries. Frank’s radical yet sophisticated style earned him the patronage of compelling figures, from the Parisian couturier Elsa Schiaparelli to American millionaires Templeton Crocker and Nelson A. Rockefeller. Yet he was much more than just a society decorator. He operated at the very center of interwar Paris’s artistic and intellectual life. This group of seven lots in the Evening Sale, culled from several private European collections, are a celebration of Jean-Michel Frank’s inventive use of materials, from the mica-covered table to the obsidian lamp (both illustrated left). Each of these austere objects exhibits perfection of form, stripped of everything but the essential and independent of historical references and styles. The dignity and beauty of the materials hold forth, unencumbered by excess ornament. Alberto Giacometti’s “Figure” floor lamp falls within this group, as well.  The work comprises part of the collection of decorative objects that Giacometti created for Frank between 1932 and 1940. One of the first to discover Giacometti’s talent, Frank commissioned over seventy designs from the sculptor, which he prominently featured throughout his interiors. Giacometti created the present lot for Schiaparelli, likely for her private mansion on rue de Berri, which was designed by Frank in 1937.


An important and unique cocktail table by Eugene Schoen will also be offered in the Evening Sale.  A central figure in American museum exhibitions of the late 1920s, Schoen’s furniture was most frequently produced by the New York cabinetmakers Schmieg, Hungate and Kotzian, who fulfilled Schoen’s vow of producing “one of a kind” pieces comparable in quality, finesse and sophistication to works produced in Paris. The present triple-tiered table was famously exhibited in The Architect and the Industrial Arts, the landmark Met exhibition of 1929.  The Bakelite-surfaced tiers are framed in bronze, with the graduating crescent-form levels imitating the shifting of gears or camera shutters. The fluted nickel-plated legs are a clear Ruhlmann reference, but the overall effect is one of American modernity, and the underlying purpose of the design is most likely for a unique American entertainment of the Prohibition era, the Manhattan cocktail party.

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