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When it comes to collecting 20th century modern design, no one knows trends like John Sollo—Antiques Roadshow appraiser, author, and curator of Rago Arts' (October 27-28). During the 2006-2007 season, this auction grossed close to $10M, rivaling Sotheby's and Christie's in sales of American modern design. But unlike those houses, was among the first to make vintage modern its specialty. Sollo says that one of the reasons he is drawn to this category is, "Modern collectors are like no other group. Collectors aren't buying a Nakashima table because it is the missing piece in their collection; they buy because it inspires them." Contemporary collecting is largely driven by aesthetics on a personal level, but a savvy collector has a sense of the market. Here, Sollo breaks down the trends, the deals, and the designers to watch in Modern Design.
Scandinavian furniture has been a best seller since the 1990s. "The look is so livable and so enjoyable; it has a come-sit-in-me quality that few can dislike," says Sollo. Collectors of modern design were historically male, but with the resurgence of Scandinavian furniture, the modern market opened up to a broader audience and has stayed that way ever since.
Major Players: Finn Juhl, Hans Wegner
"It's the hottest market right now," notes Sollo, "the fact that they are usually made by an individual and not a manufacturer is really appealing to collectors." There is a back to basics movement going on and the handmade quality of crafts makes them stand out at auction.
Major Players: Wharton Esheric, George Nakashima, Paul Evans
Post-War Italian Furnishings
Decorative and colorful, but sophisticated. "It is not as inviting as Scandinavian furniture but that's why it sells—it's edgier," says Sollo. "The takers are usually very cosmopolitan; it is perfect Park Avenue."
Major Players: Fornasetti, Geo Ponti, Ico Parisi
American and European post-war ceramics are finally getting the attention they deserve. "It's an incredibly exciting market because it is profoundly untapped," says Sollo. Very little academic work or cataloging has been done in this category. The history of modern ceramics, he points out, is being written as we speak. "If I could give one piece of advice to new collectors it would be: Invest in ceramics now."
Major Players: Peter Voulkos, Betty Woodman, and Axel Salto
American Deco has been popular since the 1970s, but the trend has been slowing in recent years. "The market has matured and American Deco has fallen on hard times recently," says Sollo. Deco pieces aren't reaching the hammer prices they used to, he notes, but this could be the perfect time to buy for those who love the streamlined look.
Major Players (still in the game): Paul Kiss, Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, Paul Schreckengost
"A genuine and inherent beauty will always sell but natural materials are selling better than ever," says Sollo, who speculates that the "green" movement is sparking this trend. Wooden dining tables and coffee tables sell the fastest because "their shapes tend to be more expressive and showcase design well—like big canvases blurring the lines between object and furniture," he says.
What to Buy Now:
Richard Devore, ceramicist
His "technically challenging and brilliantly conceived pieces" are slowly coming to the secondary market at a fraction of their original price.
Wendell Castle, furniture maker
His collections from the 1960s and 1970s have always sold for top-dollar, but his work from the 1980s and 1990s is equally beautiful, and be had for a fraction of the cost.
Albert Paley, metal artist
"His work has caught its market," says Sollo. Paley has always been a respected metal worker, but now his work is finally being appreciated.
See our slideshow for a look at the big sellers, the steals, and our favorite pieces available in the Sollo Rago Modern Auction, Oct 27-28.