Carlo Mollino - Design Evening New York Thursday, December 13, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Marquis Vladi Orengo, Turin, circa 1949
    Acquired from the above
    Phillips, London, "Design," September 26, 2013, lot 147
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Literature

    "Casa verso la collina," Domus, no. 265, December 1951, pp. 16-22 for images of the commission
    "The Baroque Spirit in a Modern House," Interiors, no. 112, December 1952, pp. 88-91 for images of the commission
    Fulvio Ferrari and Napoleone Ferrari, The Furniture of Carlo Mollino, New York, 2006, illustrated pp. 194, 225

  • Catalogue Essay

    The present lot is registered in the library of the Museo Casa Mollino, Turin, as number CM 400.

    Phillips would like to thank Fulvio Ferrari and Napoleone Ferrari from the Museo Casa Mollino for their assistance cataloguing the present lot.

    Carlo Mollino designed the present pair of bedside tables for the residence of Vladi Orengo, an Italian filmmaker and publisher of art books. For this interior Mollino eschewed floor-to-ceiling walls in favor of open transoms and folding doors. Long trough-like ceiling lights, reminiscent of architectural beams, ran from one room to the next, leading the eye across the space, while furniture, such as an audaciously cantilevered cabinet, subtly divided the main entrance from a seating area. The sum of these elements created a sense of unified space; as Interiors noted in December 1952, “This single body, firmly bound by continuous elements which belong to the construction itself, is a composition to live in without any need for change.” Perhaps this theatrically organized space, divided by moving partitions and flooded with light, was also an homage to Orengo and his work in film.

    A number of Mollino’s most iconic designs, such as his trestle dining table, his maple plywood “Arabesque” tables, and his adjustable daybed (sold at Phillips, New York, "The Collector: Icons of Design," December 16, 2014, lot 17) come from this important interior. All of the furniture, which was executed by the Turin joinery firm Apelli & Varesio, played an integral role in the overall composition of the space and related to the other pieces. For example the swivel element on the bedside tables recalls the larger cabinet cantilevered at the entrance with rotating doors. Both pieces feature the combination of tempered glass with natural varnished maple, which he also used for the desk in the study, the dining table, and the “Arabesque” tables.

    While Casa Orengo was carefully planned as a continuous space, the dynamically poised furniture, from the tightly curved bentwood “Arabesque” tables to the cantilevered cabinet and even the diminutive swiveling bedside tables, also lent a sense of frisson to the interior that is so characteristic of Mollino's furniture. Mollino achieved this dynamism by pushing materials and structures to their absolute limits.

    Mollino demonstrated this effect, though more subtly, with the present pair of bedside tables. The tables’ glass tops were designed to be fixed into the wall, effectively inverting the typical structure of a glass-topped table. That is, whereas typically a glass top rests on the underlying structure, in this case the glass becomes the structural component that supports the wooden base. Mollino’s inventive design relied on the strength of the tempered Vitrex glass, a material he experimented with widely. A photograph from the later 1930s shows Mollino standing on a piece of furniture to test, or perhaps demonstrate, the strength of tempered glass. The design also lends a sense of lightness and magic, as though the tables are hovering in space. Several other carefully considered details round out these miniature masterpieces: the varnished maple drawers pivot inwards on a brass pin, making it easier to access the contents while in bed, while a gently carved recess allows for easy access without disrupting the organic, pared-down form.

  • Artist Biography

    Carlo Mollino

    Italian • 1905 - 1973

    Carlo Mollino made sexy furniture. His style may have grown out of the whiplash curves of Art Nouveau, but the sinuous lines of his furniture were more humanoid than vegetal, evoking arched backs and other body parts. Mollino was also an avid aviator, skier and racecar driver — he designed his own car for Le Mans. His love of speed and danger comes across in his designs, which MoMA curator Paola Antonelli has described as having "frisson."

    Mollino had no interest in industrial design and the attendant constraints of material costs and packaging. His independent wealth allowed him to pick and choose projects, resulting in an oeuvre of unique, often site-specific works that were mostly executed by the Turin joinery firm Apelli & Varesio. Apart from a coffee table that he designed in 1950 for the American company Singer & Sons, his furniture never went into production. Notwithstanding the support of Gio Ponti, Mollino's design contemporaries largely dismissed him as an eccentric outsider. However, the combination of scarcity (Mollino only made several hundred works in his lifetime), exquisite craftsmanship and idiosyncratic "frisson" has rightly placed Carlo Mollino in the highest tier of twentieth-century design collecting.

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Property from a Private Miami Beach Collection


Unique pair of wall-mounted bedside tables from Casa Orengo, Turin

circa 1949
Maple, glass, brass, painted steel.
Each: 5 x 19 x 14 in. (12.7 x 48.3 x 35.6 cm)
Executed by Apelli & Varesio, Turin, Italy. Glass produced by Vitrex, Italy. One glass shelf acid-etched VITREX.

$150,000 - 250,000 

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Design Evening

New York Auction 13 December 2018