In Appreciation of the Chair
- 8 October 2019
“A chair is still a chair,” says Burt Bacharach, “even if no one is sitting there.” And while a chair is not a house, it can, despite its basic ergonomic qualities, also be a most precious and regarded treasure. Such would be the case with “Dragon” armchair (c. 1917) designed by Eileen Gray, which sold at Christie’s in 2017 for an record-breaking US$28M. Now, what could possibly get a something created essentially as a perch for a person’s bottom, soaring to such astronomical heights? One reason could be name recognition. The late Zaha Hadid’s Z-chair is a consistently well-performing furniture on the global auction block, as are pieces by award-winning designer Craig Van Brulle that retail anywhere north of US$70,000.
Another important consideration that can send high-end furniture skyrocketing is who’s well-appointed home it came from. In 1996, Sotheby’s had an extrodinarily successful auction of the estate of Jackie Kennedy Onnassis, a highlight lot was the oak rocking chair belonging to President Kennedy. On a completely opposite side of the spectrum, the late actress Zsa Zsa Gabor’s 2018 standing-room only auction at her home sold such prized items as a Louis XV-Style Walnut and Caned Window Bench with Associated Side Chair. In the case of the aforementioned “Dragon” chair, a hefty price was paid because it belong to the exquisite collection of designer Yves Saint Laurent.
Perhaps those who place a premium on auction-worthy seating shouldn’t be confused for those who enjoy “art for art’s sake.” Maybe their investment mindset revolves more around “functional art,” in the same way that some collectors are drawn to fine jewelry (wearable art?) versus something you hang in your living room (frameable art?) For whatever the reason, all over the world, in some of the most notable auction houses, a good seat is worth a good fight.