Market Report Spring 2021
Carolyn Pastel of Pastel Advisory reviews the current state of the collectible design market—including high performing lots from recent Design auctions
Following on the heels of the bullish contemporary art market and recent NFT frenzy, the results of the main Design sales this spring indicate that the market is showing no signs of slowing.
In the not-so-distant past, lots surpassing $1M were few and far between, but this season a staggering 23 lots blew past that threshold—with the top lot, the Troupeau d'Éléphants dans les Arbres Table by François-Xavier Lalanne, selling for $6.6M at Christie’s New York. Other blue-chip designers reaching $1M+ this season include Claude Lalanne, Isamu Noguchi, Harry Bertoia, Diego Giacometti, and Tiffany Studios. Across the international Design auctions, the sell through-rates were consistently strong with records broken for new and emerging designers as well as established ones.
The season started off with a bang when the Collection of Michelle Smith, offered at Sotheby’s New York, quadrupled its low estimate and closed at $43M, with 100% of lots sold. Sotheby’s CEO Charles F. Stewart's Instagram post about the tremendous result noted “351 bidders from 39 countries competed in a ten-hour auction.” The expertly curated collection—presented with consideration in Smith’s Washington DC penthouse by renowned interior designer David Kleinberg—offered an impressive array of works by the most coveted names in the Design category: Les Lalanne, Alberto and Diego Giacometti, Lucie Rie, Jean-Michel Frank, Paul Dupré-Lafon, and Line Vautrin, among others.
Christie’s New York followed a month later with Paris in New York: A Private Collection of Royère, Vautrin, Jouve, a tightly edited collection of 56 objects that were originally assembled in the 1990s. The sale achieved a 267% hammer above the low estimate. Like the Michelle Smith sale, the lots were beautifully illustrated in-situ, presenting an aspirational look and style that resonated with art collectors beyond the collectible design market. Offering design works in context consistently proves to be a winning sales strategy.
Looking beyond the blue-chip historical names that have pushed the market to new heights, the strong interest in contemporary works by Ingrid Donat, Mathieu Lehanneur, the Campana Brothers, and others also contributed to the successful season.
The long overdue re-evaluation of the canon of art history has brought previously overlooked artists and designers to the forefront, adding to the robust and vibrant market. Phillips New York offered a weed pot by mid- to late-20th-century ceramicist Doyle Lane that more than tripled the low estimate. Lane participated in the original Objects USA exhibition 50 years ago but had received limited recognition until recently.
Lane’s work is currently on view at R & Company’s highly publicized Objects USA: 2020 exhibition. The show, as noted in the exhibition catalogue, “revisits and celebrates the original 1969 event as well as forges a bridge from the American studio craft movement to the current burst of activity.” The result for Lane at Phillips indicates there is a massive market opportunity to rediscover undervalued artists from the past.
As the global enthusiasm for Design continues to grow—and as we begin to reemerge into the post pandemic world—the record-breaking prices should continue to soar. Perhaps soon crypto will be the preferred currency to buy Lalanne. ◆
Pastel Advisory is an independent art consultancy and appraisal firm specializing in 20th- and 21st- century decorative arts and design, offering clients guidance for acquisitions, deaccessions, collection management, and appraisals. You can find Pastel Advisory on Instagram @pasteladvisory.