This year, for the first time, Christie’s Frieze Week season kicks off with a new evening auction showcasing two complementary categories: design and photography of the 20th and 21st centuries. Masterpieces of Design and Photography, on 3 October in London, features works by major names such as Diane Arbus, Gio Ponti, Gilbert & George, Andreas Gursky, Allen Jones and Robert Mapplethorpe, among many others, with estimates ranging from £20,000 to £1,500,000.
These 39 objects ‘underline the extraordinary expansion of creativity from 1875 to the present,’ says Francis Outred, Chairman and Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s in London. ‘It’s really a survey of the past 150 years in these two great fields.’
The artists featured in this sale ‘have responded to technological evolution by inventing new approaches’ to convey their vision of the world. For example, no fewer than six different photographic processes can be seen in 15 photographic works. Each of the 24 designed objects in the sale, meanwhile, ‘uses a unique set of materials, from hand-blown glass to porcelain; from steel mesh to stainless steel and riveted aluminium,’ Outred says. ‘These are all, for me, sculptures more than they are objects. And their function comes second to their form.’
Sale highlights include Allen Jones’s 1969 sculptures, Table, Chair and Hatstand. In these works, which double as purposefully provocative pieces of household furniture, three exaggerated feminine figures are contorted into subservient poses. Praised and reviled in equal measure, these icons of British Pop Art capture the zeitgeist of the 1960s, particularly the sexual undercurrents that ran through the commercial advertising industry. Created at the height of Jones’s career, the works were acquired in 1969 by the pioneering collector, filmmaker and photographer Gunter Sachs, and remained in his possession for the next 43 years.
In Andreas Gursky’s May Day IV, a sea of semi-clad revellers pulses to an unheard beat. Executed in 2000 and stretching more than five metres in width and two metres in height, it is the second from an edition of six photographs, examples of which are housed in the Kunstmuseum NRW, Düsseldorf, the Kistefos Museet, Oslo and the Castello di Rivoli, Turin. Capturing a split second of frenzied activity in intoxicating detail, it is a consummate example of Gursky’s ability to distil chaos into a single, crystalline image.
Among the auction’s leading design pieces, Gerrit Thomas Rietveld’s 1919 ‘Elling’ sideboard is one of the most articulate examples of furniture as art, mirroring the evolution of minimalism and conceptualism in painting and sculpture. A member of the Dutch collective De Stijl, founded in 1917, Rietveld embraced the group’s bold use of line, plane and colour. The ambient, deconstructed imagery of painters Theo van Doesburg, Bart van der Leck, and Piet Mondrian, among others, found its counterpart in Rietveld’s experimental abstractions.
At the other end of the 20th century, Marc Newson’s pioneering piece, Lockheed Lounge, inaugurated a new aesthetic language for the 21st century and confirmed Newson’s status as a designer of unparalleled sensitivity. ‘It’s really a futuristic object,’ says Outred. Lockheed Lounge sold for £2,434,500 in 2015 — the highest price achieved for a contemporary design by a living maker.
Another sale standout is Robert Mapplethorpe’s Self-Portrait, an edition of three platinum prints, two of which are held in the permanent collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and the J. Paul Getty Museum / Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles. An icon of 20th-century portraiture, the work was made the year before Mapplethorpe died in 1989, aged just 42.
As if confessing his physical frailty, Mapplethorpe clutches a cane topped with a shiny metal skull. ‘For me, this is one of the greatest self-portraits in the history of art,’ says Outred. ‘This platinum print really gives a lesson in how you can look at photography in the same way you can look at painting.
‘When I look at the incredible breadth and depth of objects that we have in this sale,’ Outred continues, ‘it really says to me that there is no way to define photography and design outside of the art world.’
Masterpieces of Design and Photography is on view at Christie’s in London from 26 September to 3 October