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Five picks from the Palm Springs Modernism Show

February 21, 2013|By Scarlet Cheng

For proof that Modernism still spins it magic, witness the crowds that descended upon the Palm Springs Modernism Show & Sale last weekend. Though final attendance numbers wouldn't be available until after Modernism Week ends this Sunday, the design exhibition at the Palm Springs Convention Center did have 82 dealers, about 10 more than last year, and they ranged from elegantly spare midcentury furnishings and geometric paintings to ostentatious vintage jewelry and clothing. Among the highlights:

The Control Light designed and fabricated by Mitchell Bobrick, 1950s, 65 inches tall. Reform Gallery in Los Angeles showed this whimsical floor lamp. An iron tripod frame holds a black ceramic housing for a single bulb. A disc-shaped diffuser/reflector is made of fiberglass filaments that look and feel furry. In the '40s, Bobrick made storage cabinets with tubular legs and wall, table and floor variations of these lamps under the Controlight label. He made these himself, in his garage in Silver Lake. You occasionally see them in Julius Shulman's historic architectural photographs. Reform's price for this one: $3,200.

Executive desk designed by Karl Springer, circa 1989, 71 inches wide and 40 inches deep. House of Blu of San Diego received much attention for this luxuriously over-the-top desk ($20,000), designed by the man famous for his attention to craft and for his use of unusual materials, such as tortoise shell and the Asian sharkskin known as shagreen. This Deco-inspired desk is kidney-shaped, with a single drawer and two pedestals. It's covered with what was called "goatskin parchment," goatskin that had been cut and fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle over a hardwood core, then covered in a lacquer. Before his death in 1991 Springer had showrooms in New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo. House of Blu's Dawn Maier has authenticated this piece by contacting the original interior designer who ordered it directly from Springer.

Stoneware pots by Laura Andreson, 1950s, 5 to 6 inches tall. Called "the doyenne of ceramics in California in the 1940s and '50s" by art historian Elaine Levin, Laura Andreson was largely self-taught and learned the art of ceramics through experimentation. The artist, whose name also can be found in archives spelled Andresen, mastered her craft so well that she established the ceramics department at UCLA and taught there for nearly 40 years. At the Palm Springs show, Dharam Damama of Los Angeles had two small blue-green pots from the 1950s, before Andreson switched from stoneware to porcelain. They have incised decorations -- one with vertical lines ($550), the other with a small square pattern ($600) -- and both are signed and dated on the bottom.

Sterling silver necklace designed by Bent Knudsen, 1950s, 14.5 inches long. Knudsen jewelry, made by the husband-wife team of Bent and Anni, is the epitome of Danish modern design: Elegance meets function. Each small triangle strung along this sterling silver necklace is articulated, following the contours of  the neckline. The Knudsens opened their shop in 1952 and were carried by Tiffany and Georg Jensen stores. The couple also were purveyors to the Danish royal family. Most pieces are signed “Bent K,” as is this one ($1,600 through PlanetGlass.net of Los Angeles), although Anni was active in the studio.

Curved sofas designed by Greta Magnusson Grossman, circa 1942, each 8 feet long. A museum retrospective last fall, a surging auction market for her work and the reissue of some of her midcentury designs have propelled Grossman into the design spotlight, but her back story remains largely unknown among the general public. Grossman moved with her jazz bandleader husband to Los Angeles in 1940 and managed to relaunch her career with home furnishings billed as “Swedish modern.” Her shop in Beverly Hills sold lamps, rugs and furniture, and it boasted a client list that included actresses Greta Garbo and Joan Fontaine. At the Palm Springs show Fat Chance of Los Angeles showed two matching Grossman sofas ($48,000). They have been reupholstered in a textured beige fabric, but the bones are there -- the tufted backs and the sweeping curves, which fit cozily around a coffee table like two parentheses.

Palm Springs Modernism Week closes on Sunday. Look for more dispatches from the desert in the days to come.

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Corrected: An earlier version of this story listed the prices for the Laura Andreson pots as $550 and $650. The correct prices are $550 and $600.

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