Paul Evans - Design New York Thursday, June 8, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Double Coded: A Sculpture Front Screen by Paul Evans

    by Glenn Adamson


    A fascinating fact: forty years ago, Paul Evans founded a company called Zoom, Inc. The venture, a collaboration with his son Keith, was devoted not to telecommunications but to newfangled, electronically-activated furniture, which bore a strong resemblance to contemporaneous kinetic sculpture. The enterprise was not ultimately a success, but it certainly attests to this designer’s restlessly inventive nature. Throughout his long career, he wondered what the Home of the Future might look like, and then actually set out to create it, using all the technical and artistic possibilities at his command.


    “No work from Evans’ oeuvre demonstrates this better than the present screen, made in 1966, when he was at the zenith of his creative powers.”
    —Glenn Adamson


    No work from Evans’ oeuvre demonstrates this better than the present screen, made in 1966, when he was at the zenith of his creative powers. It is a masterwork of his widely admired Sculpted-Front idiom, which he had begun five years earlier, initially for a two person show with— Philip Powell at America House in New York City. The works in the series have rectilinear façades that are sub-divided into discrete compartments, each of which holds a unique geometric motif. These elements, suggestive of some code or rebus, are incredibly varied – some forged, some cast, either polished or matte, massive or linear – a fully developed lexicon, with the graphic character of an ideographic language.


    The screen, then, is a syllabary of metalwork, literally bursting with ideas. It is also exceptional within the series due to its large scale, all the more impressive because it is double-sided. The original client is unknown, but the work was obviously a major commission, presumably intended to serve as a room divider. A period photograph, taken in the garden outside Evans’ home and shop on Aquetong Road in New Hope, shows that it once hung in a steel frame; the great, articulated monolith would have hovered in free space. One thinks, perhaps, of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 – which was in production in London, as the screen was being made – and the comparison points up just how futuristic Evans’ furniture would have looked at the time. Like so much good science fiction, he pushed at the boundaries of the known, reframing ideas from the past to forge new, speculative possibilities.


    The present screen in the garden outside Paul Evans home, circa 1966.

    This was, of course, also a key theme of Abstract Expressionism, a formative influence for any artist of his generation. Works like Jackson Pollock’s Guardians of the Secret (1943) and Adolph Gottlieb’s Augury (1945) and The Seer (1950) all reflect the influence of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, while also, in their titles, proclaiming a visionary potential.


     Evans was hardly alone in transposing these barely contained energies to three dimensions. As scholars Edward S. Cooke, Jr., and Robert Slifkin have pointed out, his works strongly resemble those of sculptors like Jan De Swart, David Smith, and Louise Nevelson, all of whom also created gridded structures and then populated them with diverse gestures of signification.


    Evans’ background and motivations, however, gave him a distinctive perspective on the making of such abstract vocabularies. He had been trained, between 1950 and 1952, at the School for American Craftsmen in Rochester – founded, as America House was, by Aileen Osborn Webb – and, briefly, at Cranbrook Academy. These institutions instilled in him the approach of a “designer-craftsman.” (The first major exhibition to feature his work was, in fact, Designer-Craftsmen U.S.A., another Webb initiative, which opened at the Brooklyn Museum in 1953.) In this context, there was no inherent conflict between avant-garde aesthetics and repetition. Artisans thought of themselves as making progressive prototypes by hand, which could then be adopted for mass manufacture.


    Adolph Gottlieb, Augury, 1945. Artwork © 2023 Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY


    With the exception of a few textile and ceramic designers, this philosophy proved mostly aspirational, as it was difficult to achieve in practice. The premise was foundational for Evans, but he interpreted it in a very different way from most of his peers. Instead he followed in the footsteps of Harry Bertoia – who preceded him at Cranbrook, and also lived in Pennsylvania – maintaining full control of his artistic production, with each piece created from beginning to end in his own studio, while also implementing a set repertoire of generative techniques. This “theme with variations” methodology defined the major idioms – Forged Front, Argente, Cityscape, and the rest – which in turn defined Evans’ career. His creations were typically comprised of handmade modular parts, achieving a degree of efficiency while also ensuring that every piece would be unique. The strategy had the further advantage that customers could order various forms – a cube-shaped chair, table, bed, cabinet, or screen – in a range of different styles.

    It was arguably in his Sculpted Front furniture that the advantages of this approach reached their maximum impact. The works’ complex façades were executed by shop foreman Dorsey Reading (who, incidentally, owns a screen from 1969 that compares closely to the present example, though it is only one-sided). Evans would first sketch the motifs he had in mind for each work, establishing the specific techniques to be used, including the all-important matter of patination, which was to his work what oil paint was to Pollock or Gottlieb. Reading and the team would then get to work, enjoying a certain amount of improvisation in the process.


    Louise Nevelson, Dawn’s Landscape, 1975. © Artwork 2023 Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.  


    The results speak for themselves. In the domain of handmade modernist furniture, arguably only Wendell Castle and Evans’ fellow New Hope resident, George Nakashima, achieved a similar combination of prodigious output and outright adventurousness. When Evans was at his very best, his work transcended design as it was then understood. The two-sided screen is the perfect embodiment of his work, which was itself Janus-faced, oriented both to everyday functionality and to monumental sculpture. By making things that inhabited both of those worlds simultaneously, Evans implied that the conventional boundaries between them were arbitrary. He showed that it was eminently possible for a metal workshop to make sublime art, and conversely, that ambitious abstraction could fit organically into a domestic setting. In all these ways, we are still catching up to him now. Increasingly, we see the world of creativity just as he did: undivided.



    i See Edward S. Cooke, Jr., “Fashioning Craft/Crafting Fashion,” and Robert Slifkin, “Paul Evans and the Legacy of Modern Welded Sculpture,” both in Constance Kimmerle, ed., Paul Evans: Crossing Boundaries and Crafting Modernism (Arnoldsche/James A. Michener Art Museum, 2014).

    • Provenance

      Alice and Douglas Brownell, California, circa 1996
      Bruce Quarto, California, acquired from the above, circa 2006
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      "Old Crafts Fine New Hands," LIFE, July 29, 1966, p. 35 for a similar example
      Jeffrey Head, Paul Evans: Designer & Sculptor, Atglen, Pennsylvania, 2012, illustrated p. 46
      Constance Kimmerle, ed., Paul Evans: Crossing Boundaries and Crafting Modernism, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 2014, p. 60 for a similar example

Property from a Private American Collection


Rare two-sided “Sculpture Front” screen

Painted and patinated steel, bronze, gold leaf.
83 7/8 x 36 1/8 x 6 3/4 in. (213 x 91.8 x 17.1 cm)
Executed by Paul Evans Studio, New Hope, Pennsylvania. Interior edge welded Paul Evans 66.

Full Cataloguing

$70,000 - 90,000 

Contact Specialist

Benjamin Green
Associate Specialist
Associate Head of Sale
+1 917 207 9090


New York Auction 8 June 2023