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Cordelia Lembo of Phillips shares her expectations for the upcoming Design auction in New York

Next week in New York, Phillips will present its second livestreamed Design auction, following the first in London last month. The livestream model may have been a necessary pivot in response to the conditions of the pandemic, but the new format didn’t get in the way of success. The London auction broke records with six-digit sales of works by Claude Lalanne, Shira Kuramata, Marc Newson, and more.

The July 29th Design sale includes 121 lots that span the 20th and 21st centuries across a range of media. Highlights include lamps by Alberto Giacometti, important mid-century French furniture and lighting, and a number of sure-to-be-in-demand ceramics by Austrian-born British potter Lue Rue, which were acquired from the estate of American journalist Claire Frankel.

As we all are navigating the new normal, we reached out to Cordelia Lembo, Head of Department in New York and Vice President of Design at Phillips, to ask about her expectations for the upcoming livestream auction.

Écossais and Tête de Femme Table Lamps by Alberto Giacometti, c. 1934-35. Photo © Phillips

What can you tell us about the two Giacometti lamps?

There are two Alberto Giacometti lamps in our auction: a bronze Tête de Femme Table Lamp, estimated at $120,000-180,000, and a plaster Écossais Table Lamp, estimated at $100,000-150,000. Works by Alberto Giacometti, in all the mediums in which he worked, are highly sought-after, and his market has been consistently strong for many years. These lamps are considered blue chip with global appeal. Based on the performance of other examples of Alberto Giacometti we have offered in Phillips Design auctions in recent years, we expect these to perform quite well. 

Important Argentier by Charlotte Perriand, 1927. Photo © Phillips

What should we know about the rare Perriand sideboard?

This is a highly important work from very early in Perriand’s career. She was only 23 when she designed it in 1927 for the Salon des Artiste Décorateurs, where it was extremely well-received. It demonstrates her incredible talent and ambition at this young age.

To me what is so striking is how adeptly she was able to interpret the Art Deco style just months before she began working for Le Corbusier, leaving the salons behind for International Style Modernism. She went on to have a decades-long career and was hugely influential on a global scale. Many of her designs were mass-produced and re-editioned throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, and the works produced in smaller numbers have been sought after by collectors for decades. Her work from the 1930s is particularly prized, but pieces from the 1920s, especially in this style, are extraordinarily rare. 

Tahiti Lamp by Ettore Sottsass, 1981. Photo © Phillips

The sale features a number of postmodern works produced between the late 1960s and early 1990s? Have you seen growth in this category beyond the biggest names, e.g. Sottsass and Kuramata? Is this category destined to remain niche?

Broadly speaking, yes, there is increased focus on this period, and there have been a number of gallery and museum shows devoted to its movements and makers in recent years. I would not describe it as a niche category—or even a single category for that matter, since it contains so much. We are seeing a lot of young collectors gravitating towards work produced in this period, who are discovering many of these designers and movements for the first time. And yet, the prices are as often as not driven by experienced collectors who have been aware of this material for a long time, often since its inception.

Crochet Chair by Marcel Wanders, 2006. Photo © Phillips

What is your outlook for the contemporary market?

I hesitate to talk about the market for contemporary too broadly—at this point that term refers to at least a 30-year period that encompasses so many movements and makers. From an auction standpoint, I think there is an appetite for material that’s taken on icon status—for example, Marcel Wanders’s Crochet Chair—alongside a genuine curiosity about young designers who are newer to the secondary market like Jay Sae Jung Oh.

Unique Integrated System (Construction 2) Vanity by Bruno Gregory, 1987. Photo © Phillips

What are some unusual lots that may not be on our radar but should?

I think our team would unanimously point to Bruno Gregory’s Integrated System (Construction 2) Vanity, which was designed for Studio Alchimia’s Imaginary Bathroom installation. It is one of five Constructions that Gregory created between 1986 and 1987 that reference Futurism alongside contemporary computer technology.

The idea of Studio Alchimia producing a display for what was essentially a trade show is delightfully absurd, and as much as that may have been part of the intention, it’s interesting for us to remember that in the 1980s—or 1990s or early 2000s for that matter—there were not many exhibition venues for conceptual or collectible design. 

Unique Low Table by Claude Lalanne, 1998, sold for £312,500 at Phillips London in June. Photo © Phillips

What did you take away from the success of the Phillips London auction last month? 

Phillips' first live-streamed auction was our Design sale in London on June 19, and we achieved 33% above the high estimate and set seven new auction records. It was a resounding success for our livestream model, for our overall sales strategy, and of course for the design market as a whole.

As an industry we entered this season with trepidation due to the global pandemic and closures of physical spaces, but via our early successes we have realized that the market is buoyant and resilient. For New York, we pulled together a terrific sale showcasing our signature curation of works by designers from across the 20th and 21st centuries, which resonates with our clients.

Settee by Wendell Castle, 2006. Photo © Phillips

Any final thoughts to share about the design market amid the pandemic in 2020?

Looking back on the last six months, Design appears more compelling than ever—as a tool for problem-solving in the larger sense and in a very immediate and practical sense. We saw incredible results in our recent Design auction in London, and demand appears strong across our market. It will be interesting to see how the events of this year influence interior design and collecting practices. ◆


Phillips New York Design takes place 29 July 2020 11am EDT