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20th and 21st century classics go under the hammer at Phillips de Pury's annual design auction.

Phillips de Pury celebrates the finest examples of 20th and 21st century craftsmanship with its annual design auction, to be held in New York on December 13. Limited edition pieces from the world's most innovative designers help place furniture on a par with works of art as buyers and collectors vie for today's new antiques. Who are the new masters?


The biggest phenomenon of the contemporary art market of late has been the infiltration of design. Not since the early 20th century has design played such a prominent role within the sector, heralding the return of the "objet d'art." The emergence of events such as Design Miami/Basel, conveniently tagged onto Art Basel, and more recently, DesignArt London which runs concurrently with London's Frieze Art Fair, confirms the increasing importance of the bourgeoning market. "The design market is quickly merging with the contemporary art market and is rapidly becoming a field of extreme interest for collectors," explains design specialist Domenico Raimondo of Phillips de Pury in London. "We can predict that architecture is going to play an important role in the future of design and those pieces will become the ultimate collectible objects. In all its forms - drawings, cut-ups and architectural pieces - architecture encompasses all the decorative and innovative arts. The scales of pieces and the use of new technologies will make these objects prime collectibles in the very near future."

As contemporary art prices continue to break previous records, buyers are searching for unexploited avenues for investment, as well as complementary pieces that work in synergy with their prized art collections. Raimondo notes that the auction house frequently encounters the same clients across both markets and that the two sectors are essentially following the same route.

While furniture has always held a place within the antiques market, post-war pieces from Rationalist and Postmodern masters have become as influential as their Baroque, Rococo and Art Nouveau predecessors. Even present day designs are taking their place as future icons, making the design art market an attractive proposition for designers and an interesting area for investment. But what has sparked such fervent interest in pieces with such short histories? "It is interesting to see the grand objects and academic pieces with social perspective gaining international recognition by their success at auctions (designs by Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand to name a few). With the boom of contemporary art, it is a natural sociological development to see the rapid growth of the 21st century design market," Raimondo surmises. The most collectible names on the market range from mid 20th-century innovators Gio Ponti, Jean Prouvé and the aforementioned Charlotte Perriand to current big players, the Campana brothers, Ron Arad and Marc Newson, who famously broke earlier auction records.

The forthcoming sale also acknowledges the opening of an important new area – ceramics. This will be Phillips de Pury's first design auction to include "Studio" or "Contemporary Ceramics" - unique pieces made by artist/potters who primarily work with ceramics rather than by designer/artists who create designs for workshop or factory production. Main highlights of the sale include a 1986 sculpture by Ruth Duckworth, valued at around $16,000-$24,000, and a large sculptural form from the mid 1960s by Hans Coper, which, at an estimated $80,000-$120,000, commands similar figures to the top design lots. "Contemporary ceramics auctions have been a successful stand-alone auction category elsewhere for almost 20 years. Until relevantly recently, the 'design' sales contained a lot of furniture and 'design classics,' including ceramics that were made in relatively large quantities, and this was not a comfortable match for the handmade ceramics. But this has changed during the last five years to become much more focused on the pieces made as one-offs, the prototypes and the small editions. There is also an understanding of design, which is based on an exploration of the properties of a particular material," explains Ben Williams, the newly appointed head of ceramics. "In particular, we will be trying to explore relationships between the designers and ceramicists who were working during the same period and who were inspired by the same social and environmental conditions. In many ways, these will be far more relevant contexts within which to see ceramic art than in the traditional approach of the 'survey' sale."

Just how relevant these highly collectible markets will become remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: when the gavel drops on the final lot, a new design epoch will be defined.


The Phillips de Pury & Company Design sale will take place on December 13, 2007 at 2pm (EST), with items on view from December 7-13.

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