Hubert Burda Media

Design icons come on the block

Some of the most intriguing furniture pieces from the last century have come up at auction. But would you buy a stuffed panda sofa?

If names like Alessandro Mendini, Gio Ponti and Le Corbusier mean anything to you, then you’ll be heartened to know that auction house Phillips is presenting its first sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design in Asia on November 27 in Hong Kong. With one-third of the total 55 lots devoted to seminal furniture pieces in recent history, it is one of the biggest design auctions Asia has ever hosted.

As Sandy Ma, head of sale and associate director of 20th century and contemporary art explains: “There are now design fairs and major design museums in Hong Kong and the rest of Asia, which I think is reflective of the general trend.” The demand for iconic design pieces is on the rise in Asia, she adds, with collectors of diverse interests hailing from all corners of the region. The Japanese, it seems, have a special love for ceramic wares; Taiwan collectors have jostled for the works of Danish architect-designer Finn Juhl; while contemporary designers the likes of Marc Newson and the Campana Brothers have won fans out of the mainland Chinese.

In addition to the handful of Jean Prouvé designs, an Émile-Jaques Ruhlmann coffee table and cabinet from the 1920s, and even a monumental bowl by potter Dame Lucie Rie, these are the top five auction pieces you’ll find the most interesting.


Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret

“Advocate and Press” armchairs from the Chandigarh High Court, Circa 1955

US$43,600 – $51,300

Made from teak and hide, not only are these two chairs by the cousins original to the Chandigarh High Court in India, Le Corbusier and and Jeanneret built and furnished the entire government city in Chandigarh, which was Le Corbusier’s largest and most ambitious project. Earlier this year, the complex — which includes the Palace of Assembly, the Secretariat and the High Court — was one of 17 projects by Le Corbusier in seven countries to have been added to the list of Unesco World Heritage sites for their “outstanding contribution to the modern movement”.


Fernando and Humberto Campana

“Panda” Sofa, 2006

US$51,300 – $76,900

Brazilian designers and brothers Fernando and Humberto Campana may be known for the furniture they fashion out of ordinary materials like cardboard, rope and wood scraps, but so ingenious are the creations that many belong to museum collections and are sold at art galleries. Among some of their more whimsical pieces is this sofa made from fuzzy stuffed panda bears hand sewn on a canvas cover over an aluminium structure. This work is number 1 from an edition of 3, and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Estudio Campana.


Finn Juhl

“Chieftain” armchair, Circa 1950

US$$192,000 – $256,000

Designed by Danish architect Finn Juhl, credited for introducing Danish Modern to America, this superlative example of the Chieftain armchair was handcrafted by master cabinetmaker Niels Vodder out of Brazilian Rosewood. It was the synergy and symbiosis of these two artistic characters, which led to the creation of multiple masterpieces of 20th century design. “The reason why Niels Vodder became Finn Juhl’s cabinetmaker was that nobody else wanted to produce his furniture. They thought the furniture too strange and furthermore often technically complicated,” says architectural journalist Henrik Sten Møller. This particular piece has excellent provenance — it has been part of the Vodder family collection since it was made.


Wendell Castle

“Ghost Rider” rocking chair, 2010

US$128,000 – $192,000

Credited with being the father of the American art furniture movement, Wendell Castle makes furniture that look more like sculptures than actual things you sit on. Said to take inspiration from a Harley Davidson, the Ghost Rider is created from the stack-laminated wood technique Castle pioneered, which allows him to work in shapes and scales otherwise limited by traditional woodworking techniques. “I always had one ideal — to create furniture that was equal to sculpture aesthetically and would be accepted on the same level as other art forms, by both art critics and the public,” Castle has said.


Alessandro Mendini

“Poltrona di Proust” armchair, circa 1978

US$92,300 – $119,000

One of the most recognisable of iconic chairs, Alessandro Mendini’s Proust chair is a re-design of an 18th century Neo-Baroque style, but made completely relevant by being covered in hand-painted dots reproduced from a Paul Signac Pointillist painting. This particular chair in question was one of the earliest hand-painted examples (by artists Prospero Rasulo and Pierantonio Volpini) to have been realised. Other examples of the chair are now part of the permanent collections at museums such as the Belgium Museum for Applied Arts, Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf and the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein. An Italian, Mendini was a highly influential champion of design in the 1980s.