Spring Auction Prices for 20th Century Modern Furniture, Art, and Porcelain

In two sessions March 10th at Sotheby’s, New York and a February 5 sale at Rago Arts and Auction Center, Lambertville, New Jersey, bidders competed for works by many top 20th century designers in various mediums.

The most buzz was generated by 148 lots selling the afternoon of the 10th which were consigned by Mid Century expert and guru, Mark McDonald. McDonald has been a major player in Mid Century design since 1983 and considered an expert in his field.

An Eames model 420-C storage unit with embossed sliding panels by Herman Miller, 1950-1952, brought $31,250 against a $15,000/20,000 estimate. Another Eames storage unit byHerman Miller in metal and plywood sold for $46,875 (est. $25,000/35,000). A 1970s Paul Evans Studio metal Manhattan coffee table—so-called because welded blocks forming the base resemble the Manhattan skyline—was hammered down at $25,000 (est. $10,000/$15,0000). A Tapio Wirkkala laminated birch Leaf platter, once owned by furniture designer Edward Wormley, caused a few gasps when it soared over the $20,000/$30,000 estimate to bring $59,375.

McDonald’s collection also included fine art. A 66” square acrylic on canvas, Four Blue Five, by Thomas Downing, 1962, sold at $62,500 (est. $20,000/$30,000). A 1960s metal department store entrance sculpture by Stefan Knapp pulled in $12,500 (est. $3000/$5000). An iconic 1972 Mao Tse-Tung by Andy Warhol, 36” X 36”, sold for $50,000, exactly in the middle of a $40,000 to $60,000 estimate.

McDonald’s sale was preceded the morning of the 10 by Sotheby’s regular 20th Century Design Auction. Although the sale encompassed works from the full century, a substantial number were from the 1930s to 1980s. At the early range of those dates, an oak/leather/chrome desk from the 1930s by Jacques Adnet sold for $80,500 (est. $40,000/$60,000) while a more recent small walnut cabinet dated 1989 by George Nakashima brought $25,000 (est. 10,000/15,000). Several works by Wharton Esherick brought strong prices with the top Esherick piece, a 40” table, which sold for $46,875 (est. $15,000/20,000).

The rising interest in Esherick pieces surfaced at David Rago’s Art of the 20th Century sale in February. A signed Esherick 1939 chair in oak and wrought iron brought $100,650 blowing away the $25,000/$35,000 estimate. A 24” X 26” Esherick bookstand from 1956 also easily passed its estimate bringing $25,620 against an expectation of $12,500/$17,500.

By Mark Chervenka for Ruby Lane

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