Design, the rising star of the auction market

Image 1: Booth of Galerie Hervouet at PAD Paris 2016 Photo: Courtesy of the gallery Booth of Galerie Hervouet at PAD Paris 2016
Photo: Courtesy of the gallery

Over the years, design has become increasingly popular with bidders the world over. Already well established with serious collectors, design has caught the eye of a   new audience thanks to dedicated exhibitions, fairs and art shows.

While contemporary art remains the undisputed leader of the auction pack, design appeals to a wider audience thanks to its accessibility and entry point prices. It os no secret that it is easier (and cheaper) for an art lover to purchase an Eames chair compared to a painting by Basquiat.

And auction houses are well aware of this fact. Through both thematic and general sales, design is now high on the agendas of the biggest art market players.
For example, French auction house Piasa, has chosen to focus almost exclusively on design sales with objects and pieces of furniture from the 1940's to 1970's. Expect to find expert masters of design such as Oscar NiemeyerJoaquim Tenreiro and Gio Ponti in their catalogues.

The auction house Piasa holds design previews in their space at Rue du Bac in Paris © PIASA The auction house Piasa holds design previews in their space at Rue du Bac in Paris © PIASA

Piasa's most recent sale on June 2, 2016, titled 'Design Selected,' reached a profit over £920 000 (€ 1.2 million) (including fees). A piece of furniture by Roger Fatus, which was estimated to sell for £15 000 to 23 000 (€ 20 000 to 30 000) reached and incredible £105 700 (€ 138 800.)

Artcurial is another auction house who have a dedicated design department. In May 2016, their Scandinavian Design and Design sale, which comprised of 138 lots sold, realized a total of £2306070 (€ 3 010 975.)

Rare brass ceiling lamp by Carl-Axel, circa 1940. Sold for € 108 400 (€ 30 000-40 000 ) © Artcurial Rare brass ceiling lamp by Carl-Axel, circa 1940. Sold for € 108 400 (€ 30 000-40 000 ) © Artcurial

Newly established auction houses are trying their hand at design. Last month, at Fauve Paris the gavel came down at £78 500 (€ 102 500) for François-Xavier Lalanne's Agneau (1997) which was initially estimated to sell in the region of £23 000 to 38 300 (€ 30 000 to 50 000.)

An international trend

It is not only in Paris that auction houses are enjoying the success of design. The Milan Furniture Fair remains a firm event on the calendar for design collectors, as does the DMY International Design Festival in Berlin, and the 100% Design fair.

In London, the expansion and relocation of the Design Museum in Kensington again shows the growing interest of the public. Today, even antique dealers are mixing ancient and modern pieces in their galleries. Some dealers are now even dedicated exclusively to the sale of design from the 20th century.

Galerie Pouenat in Paris © Galerie Pouenat Galerie Pouenat in Paris © Galerie Pouenat

A few years ago, design was the prerogative of the Scandinavian market, now, today it is adored by the U.S. market.

Peter Kjeldgaard, director of design for the Danish auction house Bruun Rasmussen, explains: "The interest is global, but the buyers mainly come from the United States, Britain, Belgium, France and Netherlands. (...) But it was the Japanese who started the trend. They are particularly fond of Finn Juhl and Niels Vodder."

Peter Kjeldgaard, director of Design department at Bruun Rasmussen Peter Kjeldgaard, director of Design department at Bruun Rasmussen

He went on to add that he is a little worried about the future of the Danish cultural heritage: "About 99% of the objects go abroad, and for us it is a big concern."

Today, big names in Scandinavian design are among the most popular works of design in the world. Arne JacobsenAlvar AaltoVerner PantonBorge MogensenHans J. WegnerPoul Henningsen are among the precursors that have profoundly marked the history of design and whose popularity is increasing at auctions and in galleries.

Set of Eight 'Seagull' Chairs, designed by Arne Jacobsen (Danish, 1902-1971), ca. 1969, for Fritz Hansen Set of Eight 'Seagull' Chairs, designed by Arne Jacobsen (Danish, 1902-1971), ca. 1969, for Fritz Hansen

Tips for purchasing 

Design is particularly well adapted to the auction industry. Auctions allow you to acquire an object at the right price, far from the high prices of the primary market.
Buying design at auction adds reassurance that the piece has been researched by an expert. A crucial factor, as it is the authenticity and provenance of a piece of design which separates it from imitations on the market.

A Design exhibition held by Piasa in Paris © PIASA A Design exhibition held by Piasa in Paris © PIASA

Before the sale, make inquiries on the object. Call the auction house to ask for additional information, ask for the condition reports (document detailing the condition of the object) and go to the exhibition to view the object which usually takes place a few days before the sale.

Finally, remember to check the logistics before buying design at auction. Beforehand, ask about the storage and transport conditions of the auction house.

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