Mid-Century Art + Design - San Francisco

Prints, Paintings, Furniture, and other Mid-20th Century Artifacts. This blog will update our status and inventory. For questions or comments, please contact us at info@dustymodern.com. Or find us on twitter at @dustymodern. We like talking about this stuff.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Richard Reynolds - "Dance of the Atoms" - 1950

Oil on board, 24" x 18" $700

This is pretty exciting to me for a few reasons. First, I think it's lovely. It has a bit of action-painting energy, but with a light touch. As close as I can imagine to a painting capturing effervescence. It's technically odd, looking more like the product of some chemical process than of painting.

Second, it has a place in history. It was exhibited at the San Francisco Art Association's 70th Annual at the SF Art Museum (now SFMoMA) in 1951, along with Bothwell, Kuhlman, Loran, Martin, Pattinson and so on. The SFAA's Annuals featured many of the most important West Coast abstract expressionists.

It has some condition issues. Primarily, nail holes all around the edge of the painting, approximately 1/4" in. But I'd hazard that these were artist-made, as it was placed in a now-gone frame.

Click pictures to enlarge.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Krishna Reddy and a Beer

Do you know Krishna Reddy? An Indian sculptor and printmaker probably best known for this sculpture. I've always found his prints compelling. Tactile. Deep. Like this one:
And this one:

And this one, too:

So imagine my surprise, while I was enjoying a Racer 5 IPA with lunch, to discover a Krishna Reddy work in my glass:


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Houze Glass at Christmas

One of my more easily satisfied collecting interests is Christmas-themed Houze Glass. This is our small collection of them. The Pennsylvania company opened in the 19th Century, and continued on until well into the 20th. They may have done many things, but what I know them for are these mid-century small trinket trays/plates. They did them commercially as advertising tchotchkes for small businesses (e.g., a gold-printed portrait of the Kankakee Federal Bank home office), and made them for special-events - you might receive a "Happy Birthday!" tray in lieu of a card. They also decorated them for Christmas. I love the austere fonts (see "Merry Christmas" and "Noel" on the trees to the lower left of the picture), and the cartoon styling some of them have (check out the birds, lower right, from 1959, and the reindeer, top left). Graphic design that's perfectly period. Pretty common on eBay and Etsy. Always fun to discover one you haven't seen before, or to pick one up for a pittance. No need for collecting desperation, though, they made plenty of them.

John Levee Lithograph

John Levee lithograph. Circa 1955-60. 26" x 20" inches. Signed artist's proof ("epreuve d'artiste"). Edition size unknown, but other Levee prints from the era seem to be in the 20-50 range (his "A Preface and Four Seasons" portfolio from 1959 was issued in an edition of 150, plus an hors commerce aside of 20).

Very good condition. Some minor toning at the edges, and the paper is rough at the edges, presumably as issued.

Levee, an American who has long lived as an expat in France. is one of my favorite abstract expressionist / lyrical abstraction artists of the late Fifties. This is a great, chaotic, dramatic print.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Current Art Inventory

Unique works:
William Dole
Jules Engel
Giuseppe Napoli
Leonardo Nierman
Richard Reynolds
John Saccaro
Rolph Scarlett
Russell Twiggs
Glenn Wessels

John Axton
Jean Arp
Hans Burkhardt
Rolf Cavael
Bernard Childs
Roy De Forest
Leonard Edmondson
Johnny Friedlaender
Terry Haass
Robert Goodnough
John Hoyland
John Hultberg
Lee Krasner
Walter Kuhlman
John Levee
Frank Lobdell
Conrad Marca-Relli
Gabor Peterdi
Ludwig Sander
Jack Tworkov

Friday, March 2, 2012

Art Consulting Services

If you find yourself interested in acquiring Mid-Twentieth Century abstract art, from Abstract Expressionism, to Hard Edge and Post-Painterly Abstraction, I'd be happy to help find what you're looking for. More importantly, I'd like to guide you to things you didn't know interested you.

I can help source art for institutions and individuals, and perhaps educate you on your art choices. I'm particularly interested in matching collectors with underappreciated artists whose work is at least as impressive as that of many "names."

Services can range from gratis to a percentage of a purchase, and I'm always happy just to discuss mid-century abstraction.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Side Tables

A pair of interesting new side tables in the shop. One is a former stool, with a rush seat that has become fragile with age. I had a glass top made for it, and it's reborn as a table. A few water stains to the legs, but a neat repurposing, I think. $150

The other is an Alcoa table. Like the table above, this table's glass top is new. $450

Pictures should be "zoomable."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gabor Peterdi Prints

Peterdi (1915 - 2001) taught printmaking at Yale University,  the Honolulu Academy of Art, the Brooklyn Art School, and Hunter College. I think of him as one of the primary printmaking educators of the 20th Century, and also as a terrific abstract artist. We have a variety of his prints, including (but not limited to) "Glowing Tree," printed in 1958 in an edition of 30:

 and "Maui," printed in 1969 in an edition of 200:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Chair Can Make a Difference

Our apartment is modest, but sitting in the laundry room hoping desperately for cell phone reception isn't so bad in a 1948 Esavian chair with some succulents nearby on a sunny day.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Before He Was Warhol

From the May 1954 issue of Interiors. A picture of Warhol (hands over face), on a contributor's page for cover illustrations. We learn here that he's "a native of Pittsburgh." You don't say?

Click on the picture to enlarge.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nelson Sofas

All the sofas in the store right now are George Nelson designs for Herman Miller circa 1955. All have been recently upholstered.

They include a Model 5073 three-seater sectional ($2400):

A four-foot Steelframe seating unit in black vinyl that may consist of lounge, bench or table units (price will vary):

And two six-foot Steelframe seating units, one with a three lounge configuration ($2400) and one with a two lounge, one table configuration ($2200):

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Buying mid century furniture and art at auction

Around the country, commercial auctions (I am not talking about eBay here) are held every day. In many metropolitan areas, auctioneers will hold “estate auctions” on a monthly/quarterly basis, selling the collected holdings of a variety of estates. For more sophisticated items – art, furniture, some collectibles – it makes better sense for an estate to sell at auction than to a home-estate-sale audience made up of people lined up to buy the deceased’s dishware.

If you find yourself online (many auction companies have online presences), discovering auctions rich in items at what seem like great estimated prices, there are a few things you should be careful about. I want to say the concerns are, “condition, condition, condition,” but  other things, like buyer’s premiums and shipping costs, also bear mention.

More after the jump . . .

Monday, February 14, 2011

Knoll and Knockoffs

I should start by saying that we have no Knoll items in stock right now. I'm just thinking about them. The various 1950's-designed, some still in production, Knoll sofas and club chairs are just beautiful. Simple, iconic, really well-made. They were intended for "contract" (office, essentially) uses, but are perfect in the home as well. They're popular, and often one of the first things a mid-century modern fan is turned on to.

A problem with collecting Knoll, however, is that people over-attribute to the company, and don't realize how many near-copies of the sofas and club chairs exist. There were at least eleven companies making furniture that could easily be mistaken for Knoll, and is often called Knoll by uninformed sellers. Companies like Steelcase made almost exact copies of Knoll furniture. Other companies, like Monarch and Metropolitan, made things clearly informed by the Knoll sensibility.

A brief perusal of some early 1960's design magazines reveals the above companies, plus Woodard, Domore, Albano, Lehigh, JG, Edgewood, Macey Fowler, and Directional, all making things that could easily be mistaken for Knoll. Does this mean you can never be sure? No. Many Knoll items retain original tags, some items by these companies may also be tagged. But if it's important to you that your Knoll chair be Knoll, it makes sense to be careful. Me? I don't care too much - a beautiful, simple chair is a beautiful simple chair. But I certainly don't want to pay Knoll prices for a Steelcase knockoff.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

In which I explain how eBay ruins everything

Guy selling a table on eBay decides, "what the hell, I'll try to get $1,000 for this table." Another person selling a similar, easily obtainable table sees this and thinks, "awesome! It's worth $1,000!" He, too, puts it on eBay. Neither one sells, but a third person sees them and says "I'll put mine up for $1,000, too! It's the going rate!" And so on.

Meanwhile, the rest of us find them at estate sales for a few bucks, and sell them for $200. eBay turns economics on its head (at least in the short term), by setting prices based on the hopes of sellers with no concept of what the actual supplies of and demands for the things really are. Of course, sometimes people will bite, and then economics just becomes a matter of chance. And we all want to win the lottery.

Rant over.

Oh, and here's a picture of a six-foot George Nelson for Herman Miller Steelframe unit, new upholstery. A few small tile dishes, too.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Hans Burkhardt Prints

Hans Burkhardt (1904-1994) was born in Basel, Switzerland, then came to the U.S., where he studied at Cooper Union and the Grand Central School of Art. From 1929 to 1936, he shared a studio with Arshile Gorky, who purportedly expressed that he had faith in only two young artists – Burkhardt and De Kooning. Burkhardt was an art professor at the University of Southern California, UCLA, and California State University at Northridge.

As I believe is true for many regional artists, his move from New York to California reduced his "art world" profile, so he is perhaps less well-known than he should be. Nonetheless, Burkhardt’s work can be found in the collections of many major art institutions, including the Guggenheim, Met, and Whitney museums in New York, the Corcoran in D.C., and the L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art.

We have two small signed prints by Burkhardt, dated 1978 and 1985.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Answer is Risom

Jens Risom worked as a designer for Knoll beginning in 1941. He was drafted into the U.S. Army soon thereafter. On his return, he created his own company, Jens Risom Design. His ad campaign, featuring photographs by Richard Avedon and the tagline "The Answer is Risom," led to terrific sales. I scanned this ad page from the May 1954 issue of "Interiors."

Kørbing Lounge Chairs

I posted these last week, but wanted to say a little bit more about them. They were designed by Kay Kørbing and put into commission aboard the MV Assedo (Kørbing did a great deal of work furnishing cruise ships). In 2003, the ship was taken out of commission and broken in India. These chairs were salvaged from the ship by Peter Knego.

The chairs came to me in awful shape. The legs were rusty; the upholstery was demolished. Since then, the legs have been sandblasted and powder-coated (a painting technique requiring a high-temperature oven). The upholstery, straps, and cushions have been completely replaced.

They're as nice a pair of lounge chairs as I've ever seen. Click on the picture for a larger image.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Notes from a Trip to Palm Springs

Palm Springs holds a place in the popular imagination as a mid-century mecca, and while this may overstate its period glamor, it's not too far from the truth. Much of the landmark architecture was hidden behind gates we couldn't pass through, but there are many developments, such as Deepwell Estates and Racquet Club Estates, with some lovely, low, period style. We stayed here, and it's every bit as good as it looks:

We also had the great pleasure of meeting a bunch of folks in the mid-century furniture business. We spoke with folks at:

JP Denmark
Swank Interiors

And other places whose names I can't recall. Every one of these places has items worth seeing, and people worth talking to.

It really was a great place. Looking forward to returning, and trying to decide if it will be worth it to participate in Palm Springs Modernism Week in February.

Friday, November 26, 2010

We're Open

Friday the 26th (today) through Sunday the 28th, noon to 6 p.m.

Closed next weekend though (December 3, 4, 5). Following weekend TBD.

Just come in this week, to be sure!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Appraising Mid-Century Furniture

I've had a couple folks come in and ask for appraisals. I'm happy to do it (you'd better be able to come up with ideas of value when you're buying and selling), but I also have to be honest - it's an incredibly science-less science. When I'm selling something for $500 that someone on 1stdibs is selling for $4000, there's more than a little play. When I see a pair of chairs selling at one place for more than a set of six is at another, there's a lack of consensus on value.

Why does this happen? I think there are a few reasons. First, there's really very little information available to demonstrate scarcity, or lack of it. Production runs are unknown, as are surviving quantities. The best we can do is ask "how often do we see these come up for sale?"

Second, people have differing opinions on condition issues. Does refinishing help or hurt? Is a small gouge a big problem? There doesn't seem to be strong consensus.

Third, and this is the one I can least account for, is audience and knowledge. The auction audience has little time for Knoll sofas or Paul McCobb Planner Group products. These were mass-produced and are visibly non-scarce. Nonetheless, the general consumer market seems to be willing to pay quite a bit more for these things. So should I appraise based on the possibility of an enthusiast's impulse, or based on the cool eye of the sophisticated buyer? The unlimited wallet of the SiliValley interior design client (which really can warp prices), or the more cautious mid-century fan?

The internet has also led to a breakdown of traditional ideas of retail, auction, and private party sales. Everyone on craigslist and eBay thinks of themselves as retailers, who should receive top-dollar for their items. This creates further confusion about pricing. If a price is visible on eBay, maybe that represents something. That eBay seller may sit on the item for years, hoping for that magical sale that never comes, but the unrealistic prices asked by some folks are nonetheless data points that have to be considered.

In short, appraisal is inexact, a bit chaotic, and you can get a lot of different numbers on the same thing.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thinking about Warhol

Sotheby's just sold an Andy Warhol Coke Bottle painting for $35 million. There's not much to say about this, other than to note that when an artist becomes a universal symbol (well, for an incredibly tiny universe, anyhow) for "culture" and simultaneously appeals to our senses of whimsy and simplicity - "it's a Coke bottle! What's to think about?" - finding bidders is probably easy.

I'm not a big Warhol fan. I often look at his work and think it was high concept at the time, but also hedged its bets - not just commenting on iconicity, but cynically and easily trading in it. You'll get more of us to buy when we have our own simple, transparent associations with your subject.

That said, I'm really happy to have this in my collection:

It's from the 1964 "One Cent Life" book and portfolio of prints. Like many of the prints, it's accompanied by a Walasse Ting poem (it's really Ting's book). Unlike a lot of the Warhol stuff I see that seems so dry and end-of-empire, this one gives us what seems like a bit of joie de vivre. This is an icon (that's Marilyn, right?) taken apart and trafficked in, but with careful composition and the excitement of contrasting color. Despite the disembodiment, this is lively.

The entire portfolio is pretty fascinating. It features - and occurs early in the maturation of - Pop Art (including prints by Lichtenstein, Dine, Indiana, and Ramos) but also makes a few nods to the previous decade's Abstract Expressionism (Mitchell, Francis, Van Velde). It is made up primarily of New York artists, but also includes folks from around the world.

I'm thinking of putting it on display at some point, but I'm not sure about the logistics.

Anyhow, to see some of the other prints in the portfolio, you can have a look here:


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tubbs Chair

I'm a sucker for string chairs. They may not be especially practical (I'm scared to sit in them), but they look elegant, futuristic, and mathematical - take a seat on the graph. This will be in the store in a week or so.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

John Hoyland Print

I'm pretty excited about this. An early (1964) John Hoyland print in a very small edition (only 17 were printed). Hoyland is a British abstractionist and member of the Royal Academy of Arts. To read more about him, go here. When I obtained this print, it had some condition issues that needed to be addressed. After careful conservation work by the terrific Anita Noennig, it's looking just great. The picture really doesn't capture its combination of boldness and delicacy. It's quite large as well - the frame it's in is 40" wide by 29" tall.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Scene from a New Gallery

From our first weekend. The prints on the left side will be the subject of our first show - Late Career Prints from the New York School. They include Sam Francis, Jack Tworkov, Ibram Lassaw and Conrad Marca-Relli. If you want a better view, you'll have to come by! We will have an opening reception on the evening of September 24, from 5-8 p.m.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

California Abstraction

The William Dole collage and Don Clausen painting in the store are discussed below. Right now, in addition to those, I have a John Saccaro watercolor, and a Guy MacCoy painting. The Saccaro is from 1958. It is black & white and jarring and slashing and terrific. He is one of the important exponents of "The San Francisco School." This work is notably different from his oils. The MacCoy painting, "Pagan," is multi-colored and sharp-edged. It probably dates from the 1960's. It comes from the shuttered Fresno Metropolitan Museum.

Here is the Saccaro watercolor:

Friday, August 13, 2010

Art Descriptions

Preparing labels with descriptions of the prints and paintings so I don't talk everyone's ears off about them - "Oh, I love this one, this guy is from . . . "

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Now Open

Opening tomorrow. Hours will be Friday - Sunday, noon to six. Come by!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Opening Soon

I need to frame a few things and figure out how I want to hang everything, but I'm close to opening. Probably a "soft" open next week.

Furniture stock

Right now we have a Muriel Coleman desk, a McCobb Planner group small credenza, a Knoll credenza, a George Nelson steel frame sofa and coffee table, a pair of Eames DCM's, a collection of American of Martinsville pieces, and a sofa of unknown make - I would guess Thayer Coggin. A few other smaller pieces as well.

Friday, July 23, 2010

SFMOMA's "Calder to Warhol" Exhibit

I have prints from many of the artists in this exhibit. From the 1964 "One Cent Life" portfolio, I have works by Roy Lichtenstein, Joan Mitchell, Sam Francis, and Andy Warhol. This was a large edition, but its prints are hard to come by. I also have an unusual Agnes Martin print (she made very few), and a selection of Ellsworth Kelly lithographs (see the entry below).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

William Dole - In the Mirror

This piece was exhibited by the Pasadena Art Museum in its "California Collage" show in 1962. This collage is later in the history of abstract expressionism, but it's as good an example of pure composition as I've ever seen. This is what abstraction is supposed to be - great choices, placement, and balance. Based on this alone, Dole should be mentioned with the greats of California abstraction - Diebenkorn, Kuhlman, Corbett, Dugmore, and others.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

We Have a Logo!

Designed by graphic artist and designer Brian Mello. I am really crazy about this. It suggests the Herman Miller logo, while having a gravity all its own. It's also in Futura, the font of the future - and today. Thanks to Brian for his phenomenal work.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Here We Go

Dusty Modern will be opening in San Francisco in August 2010. It will feature fine art, prints, furniture, and other artifacts from the 1940's through the 1970's, with an emphasis on the sweet spot in between. The opening show will feature a few late-career prints by New York School abstract expressionists, including Marca-Relli, Tworkov, and Lassaw. We'll also have many other prints and unique works on hand, as well as furniture from Florence Knoll, Paul McCobb, Muriel Coleman, and others. Here are two of the prints we'll feature in our opener.

A Conrad Marca-Relli print from 1977, produced in an edition of 75. Marca-Relli is a key New York School collage artist, who produced a series of prints for Poligrafa in the late Seventies. We have a few from this series, none of which I've seen for sale in the U.S.

Ibram Lassaw was primarily a sculptor, but made a lovely set of synapse-like prints in the early Seventies. This print is from 1970, in an edition of 100. Early in the Fifties, he was a member of "The Club," which included artists like Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline, and Ad Reinhardt.

Updates soon on the start date and additional inventory.