'Pioneering' US collector's legacy could bring $1.5m

On December 17, Sotheby's will offer property from the collection of noted event planner, Robert Isabell (1952-2009) who, for more than twenty years, was at the helm of nearly every major event hosted by the upper echelons of New York society.

Mr Isabell's career flourished at Studio 54 in the 1970s, and he later lent his spectacular taste and creativity to charity galas, club openings, magazine launches, White House Christmases and society weddings, birthdays and funerals.

He designed birthday celebrations for Bette Midler, holiday celebrations at the White House for the Clintons, charitable galas for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York City Ballet, and events of all type and size for friends and clients such as Whitney Houston and Calvin Klein.

His imaginative style always struck the right chord, whether the event was lavish or understated, and it was with that same level of refinement and care that he created a unique retreat for himself in Greenwich Village, according to ArtDaily. 

In it, he meticulously juxtaposed important pieces by American studio designers Harry Bertoia, Paul Evans and Phil Powell, with prime examples by the French masters of the midcentury: Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand and Serge Mouille.

He punctuated the space with lush greenery and playful Pop and Contemporary lighting from Vernor Panton to Tokunjin Yoshioda.

The offering of approximately 130 lots is estimated to sell for a total of $1.5m.

Prior to the auction, the collection will be exhibited in Sotheby's 10th floor galleries from December 12-16, 2009.

Among the highlights of his collection are comprehensive offerings of the work of Paul Evans and Harry Bertoia, as well as many of their contemporaries.

Isabell's collection includes a diverse group of significant works from Evans' most noted series including one of his masterworks, a Sideboard from the Sculpted Front series, circa 1970s, estimated at $60-80,000.

Other highlights include a monumental Bar in welded and enameled steel, gold foil and slate, circa 1960s, estimated at $40-60,000), and a Hanging Cabinet from the Vertigris Loop Copper series with a book price of $25-40,000.

The December auction will also include works by Evans collaborator Phil Powell and other regional American craftsman such as Warren Esherick, Wendell Castle and Smokey Tunis are also represented.

Mr Isabell's first collecting passion in the 1990s was French midcentury modernism and a small collection of superb strong examples by the biggest names in the category - Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand and Serge Mouille - will be going under the hammer.

One of Prouvé and Perriand's most well-known collaborative works is among the highlights of the December sale - a Bookcase from the Maison du Mexique, Cité Universitaire, Paris, circa 1952, estimated at $60-80,000.

Jean Prouvé's own Bibliotheque bookcase, circa 1950, priced at $30-50,000, will also be offered, in addition to a number of other forms.

Mr. Isabell was constantly refining his collection and among his more recent purchases is a spectacular "Nickel Couch" - by Johnny Swing - valued at $15-20,000.

Conceived of patinated metal and nickels and executed circa 2006, Isabell purchased the piece directly from the artist. It will be the first piece by Swing to appear at auction.

"Robert Isabell's collection includes the most vibrant garden of organic design by the New Hope School ever assembled," commented James Zemaitis, Senior Vice President and Head of Sotheby's 20th Century Design Department.

"Long before most collectors had even heard of Evans and Powell, Isabell was putting together an environment of works by these craftsmen, with more famous artists such as Bertoia and Nakashima, which resulted in one of the most remarkable interiors in New York."

"He was also a pioneering American collector of Prouvé and Mouille, and his legendary eye made it possible to unify French industrial modernism and American studio sculpture in a single seminal experience."

The market for investment quailty furniture has been extremely robust of late with an Eileen Gray designed leather armchair, owned by Yves Saint Laurent, selling for 21.4m euros.

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