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Magazine    May 2002

Utopia for Sale

Arne Jacobsen Swan settee, ca. 1950; estimate $2,500 to $3,500

Jacobsen prototype aluminum chair,
ca. 1957; estimate $6,000 to $8,000

Mexique bookshelf by Charlotte
Perriand, with Jean Prouvé and
Sonia Delaunay; $28,000 to $30,000

For the past 20 years, musician Michael Boyd has studiously collected modernist furniture, amassing thousands of pieces that have filled the houses he has shared with Gabrielle, his wife, who fuels his appetite for acquiring avant-garde furniture designed by 20th-century architects. After donating 60 blue chip designs to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1998, the Boyds have now decided to sell off a large chunk of their holdings—almost 500 items—in what is sure to be one of the most significant auctions of international modernist design in the United States.

Brokered by Peter Loughrey, whose L.A. Modern Auctions is now a part of Butterfields, the sale will take place simultaneously in Los Angeles and on-line at www.butterfields.com on May 19.

Included are the rarest as well as the most readily available examples of chairs, tables, glass, silver, graphics and other items—even a 1972 Citroen—produced during the modernist movement, each piece thoroughly researched by Michael Boyd, who has sat on the architecture and design boards of the museums of modern art in both San Francisco and New York. What unites these modernist icons are their quality, the originality of their forms and their representation of both utopia and utility. As Boyd explains in the auction catalogue:

“Utopia suggests ‘what if’ idealism, while utility calls to mind a world of function and pragmatism. … For all the netherworld dreaming and artfulness that goes into their creation, objects must be born into the physical world via basic and sound engineering governed by empirical laws.”

The Boyds loved and lived with their furniture, but when the sheer quantity of it outgrew their exceedingly larger and larger domiciles and they had to house part of their collection in storage, they realized that the time had come to let go. Utility, for the moment, had to take precedent over utopia. But treasure hunters as they are, the Boyds plan to continue feeding their collecting obsession. “We are form fanatics and always will be,” notes Michael Boyd. “If we want to continue the search, we must make room.”

Gio Ponti chairs designed in 1936 for the Montecatini Corp. in Italy; estimate $50,000 to $60,000. Lino Sabbatinni silverplate coffee and tea service, 1957; estimate $5,000 to $7,000

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