Carlo Mollino - The Collector: Icons of Design New York Tuesday, December 16, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Carlo Mollino, Villa Scalero, Turin, 1959
    Fulvio Ferrari, Turin
    Galerie Denys Bosselet, Paris
    Marc-André Hubin, Avenue Foch, Paris, 1986
    Mara Cremniter, Paris
    Barry Friedman Ltd., New York, 1994
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1997

  • Exhibited

    "Carlo Mollino: Cronaca," Galleria Fulvio Ferrari, Turin, October-December 1985
    "Design Italian Style: Furniture by Carlo Mollino and Carlo Graffi," Barry Friedman Ltd., New York, May 1-July 11, 1997
    "George Nakashima and the Modernist Moment," James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, June 9-September 16, 2001

  • Literature

    Fulvio Ferrari, Carlo Mollino: Cronaca, exh. cat., Galleria Fulvio Ferrari, Turin, 1985, p. 133, figs. 221-22
    Germano Celant, “Gaetano Pesce: Un appartamento a Parigi,” Domus, no. 681, March 1987, p. 59
    “Storia di Sedie. Il progetto italiano dopo il 1947,” Domus, no. 708, September 1989, p. 96, fig. 7
    Roberto Gabetti and Fulvio Irace, Carlo Mollino 1905-1973, Turin, 1989, pp. 25, 37
    France Vanlaethem, Gaetano Pesce, Architecture Design Art, Milan, 1989, p. 95
    François Burkhardt and Claude Eveno, eds., L’étrange univers de l’architecte Carlo Mollino, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris,1989, p. 34, p. 119
    Irene de Guttry and Maria Paola Maino, Il Mobile Italiano Degli Anni '40 e '50, Bari, 1992, p. 210, fig. 9
    Fulvio Ferrari, Carlo Mollino Polaroid, Turin, 1999, n.p.
    George Nakashima and the Modernist Moment, exh. cat., James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, 2001, p. 60
    Rossella Colombari, Carlo Mollino: Catalogo Dei Mobili – Furniture Catalogue, Milan, 2005, p. 34, fig. 39, p. 36, fig. 46
    Giovanni Brino, Carlo Mollino: Architecture as Autobiography, Milan, 2005, p. 125, fig. 289
    Fulvio Ferrari and Napoleone Ferrari, The Furniture of Carlo Mollino, New York, 2006, p. 48, fig. 61, p. 200, figs. 413-14, p. 230
    Fulvio Ferrari and Napoleone Ferrari, eds., Carlo Mollino: Arabesques, exh. cat., Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Milan, 2007, p. 263, fig. 102

  • Catalogue Essay

    The present lot is registered in the library of the Museo Casa Mollino, Turin, as number CM414-1.

    Phillips would like to thank Fulvio Ferrari and Napoleone Ferrari, Museo Casa Mollino, Turin, and Barry Friedman, New York, for their assistance cataloguing the present lot.

    Mollino designed a set of eight side chairs for his office at the Turin Polytechnic’s Faculty of Architecture, where he was a Director. Six chairs were produced in a natural finish, of which four remain at the Polytechnic, one is in a private European collection, and the location of the sixth is unknown. Two other chairs, originally painted black, never appeared at the Polytechnic. Mollino gifted one, now in a private collection, to his friend and client Ada Minola. He installed the other, the present lot, in 1959 in his Villa Scalero garconnière, a small apartment where the chair served literally and figuratively as the support for many of his Polaroids of subsequent years.


    Through singular work, artists express themselves, with their inner essence, and animate canvases, music, architecture, and even chairs, offering “poetry.”

    What makes this object so special?

    It is necessary to clarify that Mollino was not an industrial designer; he was not interested in designing objects for industrial production, which would require compromising the object in order to keep down production costs, to allow for mass production, for packaging, and so forth. Mollino’s furniture is unique and was expensively handmade by extraordinarily talented cabinetmakers with a very specific method, described by one of his students:

    “Mollino used to shape an idea and make a technical drawing, specifying the construction method and adding notes on various aspects. I used to pick up these drawings from his studio and with Apelli convert it on a 1:1 scale on spolvero paper. Mollino used to come (running like a fawn), to check, review, amend, and then approve or redesign with a graphite pencil. Production was next. Hard times for the craftsman...”1

    (It needs to be mentioned that for the present chair Mollino made a 1:1 drawing.)

    With this chair, Mollino synthesized two different, apparently opposite, aspects of making art: the romantic, for which “art is expression of a feeling/emotion,” and the rational, according to which “the useful is art.” This is the foundation of how Mollino works, a man who was able to condense different worlds and to visualize things with a Zen heart.

    As illustrated in the Polaroids which appear here, Mollino makes visible, with an immediate photographic representation, how he intends the chair to be a synthesis of the female body’s perfection of beauty and sensuality, represented by the chair’s physiognomy, which alludes to the female form. On the other hand this chair is formally perfect: it is well-planted to the ground; the back is segmented to account for the human backbone; and the seat, modeled to be as comfortable as possible, is functional and ergonomic.

    This chair embodies and testifies to the history of human tradition. Mollino had a strong knowledge of ancient history and culture and was able to penetrate to the essence of objects. It is from the Alps tradition that Mollino deduced the structure of his chair: comparing this example with a traditional 19th-century Alpine chair, from which Mollino took his inspiration, it is clear that the two share the same height, the same inclination to back and legs, the same simple and perfect technique used to mount the back, the same seat and legs that give this chair an incredible structure. It is a refined and functional elegance, the work of an engineer.

    This particular example, which he personally owned, was burled and finished with black shellack typical of a piano bench, an ulterior expression of a sort of “musicality” that, once again, transcends and unifies.

    Turin, November 2014

    Pier Carlo Jorio in: Ferrari, The Furniture of Carlo Mollino, Phaidon, 2006, p. 16

  • 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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Important side chair, designed for Carlo Mollino's office at the Facoltà di Architettura, Politecnico di Torino

Painted beech, painted brass.
37 3/8 x 14 3/4 x 20 1/8 in. (94.9 x 37.5 x 51.1 cm)
Produced by Apelli & Varesio, Italy. From the production of 2 black-painted chairs.

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $758,500

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The Collector: Icons of Design

New York Auction 16 December 2014 5pm