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Robust market for modern design powers Palm Beach Modern's Nov. 21-22 sale to $1.5M finish
Gino Sarfatti for Arteluce (Italy) chandelier, $23,750. All images courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions.

WEST PALM BEACH, FLA.- The market for modern art and design was put to the test in a two-session sale held Nov. 21-22 at Palm Beach Modern Auctions and came through with flying colors and a $1.5 million total. The 700 beautifully presented lots attracted more than 125 guests competing onsite against five constantly engaged phone lines and an Internet console that buzzed with activity from start to finish. In all, more than 1,200 online bidders from 15 countries signed up for the event, which was PBMA’s largest ever. Afterward, purchases were shipped as far afield as Japan, Australia and Chile.

“There were strong sell-through rates in virtually all categories, and prices realized were consistently high, both in the art and furniture sections of the sale,” said PBMA auctioneer and co-owner Rico Baca. “In the auction business, it’s always a case of supply and demand. Because there’s currently so much demand in the marketplace for premium-quality modern design, consignors to this sale felt confident about bringing us their best pieces.”

Among those “best pieces” was a Harry Bertoia two-sided metal sculpture that was one of 10 commissioned by and displayed at the First National Bank of Miami. The work was also exhibited at Sotheby’s Feb./March 2014 event titled “Bertoia – A Celebration of Sound and Motion.” Living up to expectations that it would reach the top of prices realized, it sold well within its estimate range for $112,500. (All prices quoted are inclusive of 25% buyer’s premium.)

A Wolf Kahn (German/American, b. 1927-) impressionistic oil-on-canvas of autumn foliage came with provenance from Shaheem Gallery in Cleveland and two prestigious private collections. The signed, 56.5- by 58-inch painting changed hands for $37,500.

Both an original Kumi Sugai (1919-1996) painting with Sotheby’s provenance and a signed Willem DeKooning lithograph, #15 from an edition of 50, exceeded pre-sale expectations at $13,750 (each). It was a good day for lithographs overall, with many of today’s most collected artists appearing in the spotlight. Among the most sought-after lithos were works by Briton David Hockney, $13,750; and Americans Jim Dine, $8,125; Ed Rusha, $5,315; and Frank Stella, $3,750.

A signed, limited-edition Ellsworth Kelly (American, b. 1923-) lithograph titled Colored Paper Image XVII, #10 from an edition of 22, swept past its $6,000-$8,000 estimate to settle at $15,000. And there was no shortage of interest for a large (61.75- by 43-inch), signed Francis Bacon (Irish/British, 1909-1992) limited-edition litho, 51/200, titled The Human Body (Study for Metropolitan Museum). With provenance from Marlborough Gallery, New York (1970) and Vincent Motzel of Palm Beach, Florida, it more than tripled its low estimate at $12,500. Against a confident pre-sale estimate of $10,000-$15,000, a Tom Wesselmann (American, 1931-2004) signed, limited-edition lithograph titled Bedroom Blonde Doodle with Photo, 73/100, commanded $13,750.

PBMA followed its hunch that a Kiseok Kim (Korean/American) anime-style acrylic-on-canvas portrait of a redheaded girl with doe eyes would prove appealing. “It sold above estimate for $8,125, which was an excellent price for an artist whose work had only been seen at auction a few times,” said Baca. “We liked the artwork and felt that collectors would respond to it, so we included it in the sale.”

Sculptures by Larry Mohr (American, 1921-2013) had met with success in two previous PBMA sales, and the winning streak continued on Nov. 22nd with nine newly emerged pieces from the artist’s estate. Leading the group were two abstract aluminum sculptures, dated 1975 and 1977 respectively, which sold for $5,500 each.

From the mainstream point of view, furniture is considered utilitarian, while art is regarded as decorative. “But among collectors of modern design, those lines blurred long ago. Furniture is art, and art is indispensable to room décor – it’s not an optional go-with,” said Rico Baca.

PBMA’s solid foothold in the modern and contemporary furniture market evidenced itself convincingly on Nov. 21-22. A classic George Nakashima Minguren I coffee table with extensive documentation, including an original receipt from the artist dated 3/13/73, surpassed its estimate to land at $16,250. From Directional’s Cityscape furniture line, a Paul Evans-designed cabinet of mixed metals and wood with three sets of doors easily met expectations at $11,875. Other furniture highlights included a pair of Mies van der Rohe for Knoll Barcelona chairs, $6,250; and a pair of Ubald Klug Terrazza Furniture System convoluted leather sofas, $9,375.

Chandeliers have become “statement pieces” in people’s homes, Baca said. “Often they are the first visual impression to greet a visitor to someone’s home or workplace,” he noted. The many enviable “new classics” in PBMA’s November auction included a marvelous Gino Sarfatti for Arteluce (Italy) chandelier with upward facing light cones positioned around a spiral track. It garnered $23,750. A massive Sputnik-style brass chandelier festooned with many dozens of tiny light orbs dazzled as it rose to $12,500. Doubling the illumination cast by the many stunning light fixtures in the sale, a rare Max Ingrand #1657 by Fontana Arte (Italy) sold within estimate for $20,000.

Palm Beach Modern is currently accepting consignments of art, furniture and luxury goods for its Premier Winter Auction slated for February. For further information, call 561-586-5500 or e-mail

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