$300,000 For Noguchi’s ‘My Arizona’ At Rago’s 20th Century Design Sale

LAMBERTVILLE, N.J. — The 20th/21st Century Design and Studio Jewelry, Glass and Ceramics auction, conducted in two sessions during a two-day sale overseen by David Rago, October 26–27, posted strong results from start to finish. Inclusive of the Saturday session, the auction posted an impressive $6.7 million for the 1,400 lots offered. An overall sales rate of 80 percent was achieved and the sale grossed a figure that fell firmly between the estimates.

“The overall sell-through rate was a bit lower than usual, but most unsold lots were of lesser value. The [studio jewelry, glass and ceramics] session, which brought in $1.02 million of our total, included the best collection of Modern ceramics brought to auction — 175 lots in all,” stated Rago in the days following the sale. “We established record prices for a number of artists. Modern glass was strong overall and particularly for work by Dan Dailey, Dale Chihuly and Lino Tagliapietra. The single-owner collection of Modernist jewelry that rounded out the Saturday sessions was likewise consistently strong, with the vast majority of lots finding buyers. Sunday’s Modern Design session was notable for the sale of Isamu Noguchi’s collection of preparatory works for his sculpture ‘My Arizona,’ a work about the World War II Japanese internment camps.”

The 20th/21st Century Design session realized $4.06 million.

Highlighting the auction was the offering of Isamu Noguchi’s hydrostone sculpture “My Arizona,” made by Gary Zeller in collaboration with Noguchi in 1977. After problems arose with Noguchi’s original sculpture, completed in 1943, the artist hired a restorer to conserve the original and make a mold from which new versions of the sculpture were cast using alternate materials.

The catalog explained the sculpture as Noguchi’s response to his teaching at the internment camps and further stated, “The exposed physical landscape of the camp is abstracted. A fluorescent pink Plexiglas plane reflects hotly down from its conical rise like the desert sun that Noguchi came to hate. The work’s title references the camp’s location as well as the USS Arizona, bombed and sunk in Pearl harbor where it remains submerged and with its crew entombed within. Noguchi’s addition of the possessive ‘my’ to the title is a heartbreaker: the edges of the sculpture mark the walls of the camp. For those imprisoned, there is nothing beyond.”

Noguchi left Zeller’s workshop in 1978, taking the mold with him, a Fiberglas version of the sculpture and one of the two cast in hydrostone. The second hydrostone casting was gifted to Zeller, as well as the original restored sculpture. The whereabouts of the sculpture that Noguchi took with him, along with the mold, are unknown, having “vanished.”

The two versions of Noguchi’s “My Arizona” offered at Rago were consigned to the sale by Zeller’s firm, Zeller International.

The catalog featured vintage photographs depicting Zeller and Noguchi working in Zeller’s shop with the sculpture. There was also an image of Noguchi’s studio with a version of the sculpture hanging on the wall.

The first of the lots offered was the Noguchi/Zeller 1977 collaboration version made of hydrostone and acrylic. Measuring 18 inches square and 5 inches high, the sculpture carried an estimate of $150/200,000. Bidding on the lot was intense, with it finishing at $300,000.

The second of the sculptures, the 1943 version that had been restored by Zeller and estimated at $300/500,000, failed to meet reserves.

From the estate of Princeton, N.J., collector Priscilla Barnum came 13 select lots of furniture by George Nakashima and a sculpture by Harry Bertoia, all of which had been purchased directly from the artists. The first of the lots was Bertoia’s sculpture titled “Devon Dunes,” 1959, that was accompanied by correspondence between Barnum and Bertoia, as well as the original shipping crate. The lot created quite a bit of interest, bringing $159,750, twice the high estimate.

Barnum’s Nakashima furnishings also did well, with a Conoid bench attaining $22,500, a Conoid chair with Green Mountain ottoman fetching $13,750, and a double-sized Conoid bed also making $13,250. Barnum’s Nakashima cabinet with slatted pandanus cloth-covered doors went out at $20,000, and a Minguren slab-form coffee table brought $28,750.

Other pieces by Nakashima included a George/Mira Nakashima Minguren II slab-form coffee table, measuring 15½ by 69 by 55 inches, that led the way at $59,375. A smaller Minguren coffee table from 1963 realized $30,000, a slab II coffee table achieved $25,000, and a triple bank dresser from 1957 went out at $17,500.

Other pieces by Bertoia included two “Bush” sculptures in patinated bronze and copper that sold for $22,500 each, and a large bundled wire sculpture from the 1960s realized $23,750.

Paul Evans pieces commanded serious attention, with a rare four-door Patchwork cabinet topping the selection at $37,500. A custom-made two-door Argente cabinet constructed of aluminum, consigned by the original owner who purchased it directly from Evans, sold for $36,250. A rare sculptural hanging wall cabinet did well at $27,500, a welded enameled steel, slate and bronze cabinet brought $28,750, and an unusual polished steel cylindrical cabinet went for $26,500.

A massive conference table by Phil Powell with chip carved walnut base accented with wrought iron sold for $35,000. A hanging wall cabinet by the artist in sectioned walnut, burl, rosewood and ebony also did well, bringing $26,250.

Other items included a pair of Gianfranco Frattini lounge chairs that made at $12,500, a Gio Ponti four-drawer dresser by Singer & Sons, $15,000; an Arman sculptural bronze table with cello motif, $22,500; a Jean Royere desk, $20,000; a Hans Wegner swivel chair, $15,000; and a Wendell Castle sculptural clock titled “Hard Times” that brought $20,000.

A small collection of Ed Moulthrop turned vessels included one in ash leaf maple that went out at $10,625, while a black walnut bowl realized $10,000, both selling well above estimate.

Items of interest from the early session included a Dan Dailey pair of sconces titled “Birds with Diamonds” that sold at $59,375. Blown glass included a Harvey Littleton sculpture titled “Implied Movement” that garnered $32,500, a Lino Tagliapietra “Dinosaur” vessel brought $28,750, and a Dale Chihuly Venetian vase realized $25,000.

A collection of Scheier pottery and art, acquired directly from the artists and displayed in the Scheiers’ Arizona home, which the collectors also purchased in 1999, was offered. Leading the group was an Edwin Scheier figural wood sculpture that sold for $11,250. Pottery included a large lidded vessel with figural finial and cartwheeling ladies decoration. In a gunmetal glaze, the rare pot attained $7,500.

 A single-owner collection of Modernist jewelry closed out the morning session with works by Margaret De Patta, Ed Weiner, Art Smith, Betty Cooke and Sam Krammer offered. Leading the way was a De Patta brooch from 1959 in sterling with beach pebbles and pearls that sold for $8,750. A Fringe necklace by Elsa Freund in silver with fused glass and earthenware brought $5,625, a sterling whale brooch by Krammer went out at $4,188, and a massive sterling necklace by Rolph Scarlett sold at $4,688.

Prices include the buyer’s premium.

For additional information, www.ragoarts.com or 609-397-9374.

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