Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Modern Wing, Art Institute of Chicago

"The Bathers," Henri Matisse

Chess Set by Man Ray

The Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago has opened this week after a 4-year anticipation and 294 million dollars in design and construction. The building designed by Renzo Piano extends the modern and contemporary art collection through the north wing of the Art Institutes's 130 year old classic design building. The sparkling modern expansion bridges the museum into Millennium Park and spills into the more flamboyant architecture of Frank Gehry's band shell.

The atmosphere of the modern wing is extremely tranquil and looks and feels modern in it's bright airy flow and environmental considerations in space and light. The roof garden provides natural noise and thermal heat installation, while the public gardens provide stunning views. The building was constructed with recycled and local materials where possible and is illuminated by photocell lighting. The towering steel and glass facades pay tribute to Chicago's hallmark architect, Mies Van Der Rohe, who also inspired the steel-rod suspended staircase for the Arts Club of Chicago.

As you enter the wing from either Monroe or the museum you are sucked into a bright, narrow minimalist hallway that offers nothing you would expect from a museum. The first floor houses rooms for temporary exhibits, (currently Cy Twombly) classrooms and The Modern Shop but absolutely void of any interest in it's corridor. Perhaps this will change as they curate sculpture for the main level or it was intentional for renting the space for events, but it feels more like a sterile office building than a museum.

Up the staircase - and if you get vertigo you may want to take the elevator - and you are on the second floor which displays several rooms of Contemporary Art, 1945 to 1960, and after 1960, much of which the museum never had room to exhibit. Another room of interest is Architecture and Design which displays tomorrow's classic modern contemporary furniture and lighting made by Capellini, Flos and Vitra, to name a few.

Up one more flight of stairs and you've arrived to what makes this whole expansion worth the visit; European Modern Art, 1900-1950. The museum is very proud to include in their collection Henri Matisse, "The Bathers by a River" a significant painting in size and in the cradle of cubism and surrealism and the story that follows in the works of Picasso, Juan Gris, Rene Magritte, Salvidor Dali, Mondrian and Man Ray. For me entering this room was like hearing Puccini while everything that led to it was merely the orchestra warming up.

I attended college at Columbia across the street and spent much of my 20's in the museum on Tuesdays (free day) getting inspiration or sketching paintings by Max Beckman or Giorgio DiChirico - so much of this collection is as familiar to me as an old friend. But to see it expanded and included with dozens of new acquisitions that contribute to the European Modern art genre is a special treat that will give me reason to revisit the Art Institute more often... that and the opportunity to dine at Tony Mantuano's Terzo Piano for lunch (always been a fan of Spiaggia) on the third floor.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Preview Mod

Hidden in an unsuspecting strip mall of A1A in Ft. Lauderdale is a most impressive 20th century modern home furnishings showroom called Preview Mod. The proprietors, Stan and Nikki hail from their British roots and find Ft. Lauderdale their home and an ideal home base for their store when they are not travelling to New York for an antique show or to buy and sell in Europe for the summer.
I first met them in their former location in Delray Beach and was impressed by their merchandise as well as their lovely manner. They seemed to have a great deal of knowledge of their inventory and it's creator, dates, value, etc., which is essential in this business especially when you are dealing in pieces that are not commonly familiar. And in a town where lucite lamps are abundant and Milo Baughman chairs are a dime a dozen, it's a breath of fresh air to find a dealer bringing something new (well, different at least) to the table.

For example, in a recent visit they display a Norman Foster "Nomos" table/desk designed in 1987 (yes, we are beginning to see 80's design in the vintage modern genre... sort of makes you feel old doesn't it) for Tecno, Italy $3,700. What makes this table so special is that (Sir) Foster designed only a few furniture items, this being the most interesting, while focusing his career as a highly praised architect of bridges, museums, airports and British courts.

Another item of interest in Preview Mod is this stunning "Sphere" dining table and 4 lucite/chrome chairs by Boris Tabacoff, France 1969, $9,500. What makes this set so special is both the condition and the rarity that it all survived the years together. It is shown with a Castiglioni "Frisbee" hanging light fixture and is back-lit by a Gio Ponti "Pirellone" floor lamp for Fontana Arte, 1967, $2,700.

This all makes for a lot of name dropping in copy but if you visit the store and preView these pieces in person, you would find Stan and Nikki anything but pretentious and consider calling your bank and your shipper to arrange to take these items home.

You can visit the showroom at 3321 NE 32nd St., Ft.Lauderdale (A1A & Oakland Blvd.) or on the web at Call ahead in case they are on the road or abroad: te. 954.565.1645

Friday, April 10, 2009

m.a.d.e. in miami


One of my favorite reasons for visiting Florida, outside of getting out of Chicago in the winter, is for the many great places to scout out vintage home furnishings. And when in Miami, you can do no better than Biscayne Boulevard where you can hit dozens of dealers within 40 blocks of each other that specialize in 20th century furnishings, art and lighting. Most of them specialize in American and Hollywood Regency designs from the mid century but the last few years has attracted a growing number of European dealers as well, specializing in American, Italian and French modern furnishings.
Before I became a dealer in 20th century furniture and art, I visited a store in this area called Belvair owned by Jeffrey Ligan. The space itself was incredible; a restored vintage building with soaring pillars, ornamental ceilings and mid century modern room dividers made from exterior building facades. As for the inventory - simply amazing. He was one of the first dealers I saw who where truly reinventing pieces - not just buying and selling. Metal lamps by Rembrandt where flawlessly replated in brass or nickel and brought up to date with decorative shades. Kent Coffey dressers where relacquered and hardware was restored to it's original luster. Parzinger casegoods and lamps looked as if they where just produced or preserved for the last 50 years.
Inspite of the falling home prices and rising home foreclosures in south Florida there are still a significant amount of dealers in the Miami area and more are attracted to the area as well as in Palm Beach. And for those who don't want the responsibility of operating a store, there is the Miami Antique and Design Expo. (M.A.D.E.) at 8330 Biscayne Blvd. In my last visit I was surprised to find that Belvair had moved into this multi-dealer space and sold his building to a New York dealer. M.A.D.E. is owned and operated by New York natives and brothers, Robert and Carl Massello. It did not take long for this store to catch on and it does not take long for the merchandise to move.. yes, even in this economy. The only thing better than M.A.D.E. is the addition of Belvair which makes M.A.D.E. Modlife's pick for Miami's best destination for mid century modern furnishings. You can find there inventory on
Next stop: Ft. Lauderdale.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Vagabond Ways

Born December 29, 1946, Marianne Faithfull grew up in London's swinging mod scene and began her career in the 1960s with the hit, "As Tears Go By" written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. The Rolling Stones were the most popular band at that time, along with the Beatles, and their music gained recognition in households across the globe. Marianne, however, found her way into the hearts of a smaller audience, but her career was large. She would go on to become an award-winning singer, songwriter actress and poet.

She vanished from the spot light and a tumultuous relationship with Jagger and excessive drugs after the her hit song Sister Morphine and returned to the scene in the late 1970's with a hit album, Broken English. This followed an even bigger album, Strange Weather, which was my original acquaintance with the British pop icon. With tracks like Times Square and the disco attempt of Sweetheart, I was hooked on her raspy hoarse vocals and her biting poetic lyrics.

She enhances her body of work with numerous scores for films including her hit, "Ballad of Lucy Jordon" and "Trouble In Mind" which contains one of my favorites, "The Hawk" featuring Mark Isham.

I did see her once in concert. In fact I was standing outside the Park West Theater in Chicago waiting for my guest to arrive when Marianne Faithful pulled up in a taxi to the front door, paid the driver walked up to the entrance, alone - no posse - looked at me and smiled as I held the door open for her. She nodded and thanked me in her raspy voice - which by the way is absolutely angelic in person. I was impressed by her lack of pretense. What class!

Her album Vagabond Ways is an autobiographical one and one, along with the above mentioned, I highly recommend. She may be a cult classic but she's truly Aces in my book... or blog.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What Is In A Name?

This is a story about a ghost artist invented by two men who began a business entity specializing in decorative arts made mostly of metals. Over 40 years ago, Jerry Fels operated Renior of California; a jewelry house that designed and produced collections of copper jewelry. Teaming up with Kurt Freiler, they began a company which designed a variety of home accessories including wall sculptures, andirons, portrait busts, lamps, etc., and made from various metals including copper, steel, brass, bronze and other mixed medias. Combining their two names Jerry and Kurt, they created the fictitious art mark Curtis Jere (pronounced Ger' ray) which is displayed on all pieces.
It is not uncommon for an art house with more than one artisan to produce under a signature. Lee Reynolds was the signature of multitudes of "original paintings" and other decorative arts that was produced for three decades by Vanguard Studios. Certainly, any art house that gains national and international appeal and produces mass quantities could not be created by the individual who signs it. In fact, the "Curtis Jere" stamp always bears the same signature in black, "c.jere" followed by the copyright symbol and the year it was produced. I suppose a name that suggests a European background would be considered far more avant garde than using the names of an unknown team or company such as the name Artisan House, which is the company Curtis Jere pieces are still produced.

If you think the explanation of who C. Jere is somewhat complicated, try calculating the value of the works. Five years ago, I began collecting pieces uncovered from antique malls and ebay auctions all across the country, fetching anywhere from as low as $5 for a tabletop metal sculpture from the 1980's to $500 for a wall sculpture from the 1970's. Today, you can find the identical pieces listed on (a web host of antique retailers) for as low as $700 and hovering well over $5,000 for the sought after"raindrops" wall sculpture.

Now a retailer can ask $10,000 for their C. Jere but it doesn't mean it is worth it or they will ever get it. The piece is only worth the most recent of auction records which is largely relative to the collectors bidding, the demand and economy at the time of the auction. The most sought-after Jere pieces tend to be the copper and chrome abstract (starburst, raindrops, etc., ) and organic shaped (leaves, trees, etc) wall pieces, lamps and tall scultpures produced in the 60's and 70's. The more tourist-scene pieces such as the "Paris Cafe" or bird sculptures fetch far less amounts generally under $100 on ebay. So the value of a C. Jere greatly depends on where you buy it and what it represents.

Buyer Beware: A retailer may attribute their piece to C.Jere just because it is made of metal. I've seen this happen very often, in fact, there are C. Jere attributions currently on 1stdibs that clearly are not but there is no law against false attributions on these web hosts, including ebay. I've sold pieces that exceed the quality of any "C.Jere" production but sometimes, for some it's all in a name, albeit a fictitious one. If that is how you roll than be sure to identify a signature, every authentic piece will bear it, unless it has been replated.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Like a Blirgin

I wish the thank the many personal friends and friends of Modlife for their complimentary emails and for checking out my blog. I realize I am a blog-virgin (Blirgin) and have a way to go before I am well versed in the many features so I really appreciate the positive feedback so early in the game. I am especially appreciated to Joe Kunkel, who paid a personal visit to the store after checking out the blog, especially since Joe is perhaps the original blogger of mid century modern furnishings well before the birth of the blog.
Several years ago Joe maintained a website providing information and an online store as a supplement to inventory he sold at Broadway Antique Market (BAM) in Chicago. He later became a realtor for Baird & Warner, specializing in Modernist properties in Chicago and the suburbs.

I first met Joe shortly after I opened my first location then again later when he represented the sale of a mid century modern home in the north shore. He then took me to a new listing of a Keck & Keck home which had barely been altered from it's original 1950's state. The two of us walked around this home like a couple of archaeologists uncovering primitive artifacts that could lead to the mysteries of Atlantis or Noah's Ark. For purists as ourselves, these modernists homes deserve the preservation or restoration in respect to the vision of the architects and designers who implemented them. As I am not against updating a moldy bathroom or removing the asbestos in the basement or even adding an addition which blends with the integrity of the architecture, when I hear of the amateur renovations people make on their historic, albeit modernist homes, I feel they have committed a mortal sin.

Not long ago, before ebay taught people the value of their attic treasures, weekend renovators would replace a murano chandelier for something new at "Hardware" lighting store - or throw away an Eames lounge chair and replacing it with a brand new recliner. And if that fit the design aesthetic of your home, I say, "Go to it!" But if your working with the bones of good modern architecture, don't deface it with commercial grade graffiti. Consult with a modern enthusiasts.. you'll find one in your closest metropolitan area... we are everywhere!
Joe is also President and Co-Founder of Bauhaus and Beyond and you can sometimes catch Joe as a keynote speaker at Modernist shows, but I would highly encourage you to check out his website at And if you are in the market of buying or selling a Mod home.. he is your man.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Check Mates

Picture it... the space age of the 1960's and in a technologically advanced America where business is looking forward to modernism, the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) launched a marketing program to advance the selling of ALCOA aluminum products. The players: Austin E. Cox A.S.I.D. of Austin Enterprises and the advertising agency Ketchum, McLeod & Grove. The game: Chess.
Chess? What is modern about Chess? Well the design is for one. In 1962, Austin Cox designed these sleek pieces which were cut from aluminum bars and packaged in protected wood cases and blue plastic windows. The pieces range in size from 4 7/8" for the King down to almost 3" for the pawns. They appear the same untainted color in the box but as you remove the pieces from it's holder the opposing pieces bare a black tint on the sides.

The designs subtract the typical symbols of chess pieces to simple forms, i.e., the Queen is represented by a crown, the bishop is a cross, the knight is a shield and the King, is fittingly, the symbol of ALCOA.

So why Chess? Well, it actually is symbolic as well. The game of chess is associated with intelligence and problem solving. A literally strategic move for the company and the executives they did, or wished to do business with who could proudly display the set in their offices with the mounting capabilities on the case.

I have typically seen the set in the 30" case but there is a variation of this set in a smaller format in which all pieces are identical in size and fit in an 18" long case. I have bought and sold these sets over the years and have seen them increase in cost considerably up to $3,000 retail.

In a recent trip to Palm Springs, I uncovered a rare set I have never seen nor have seen since. The pieces are stored in an 18"x18" box and the pawns depict a fist holding an axe. As opposed to mounting the display case it is actually the checkerboard on the opposite side. Very clever design and is a part of my private collection.

The other sets, however, are available at Modlife and retail $595 for the 18" case set and $895 for the 30" case set. And if you check out our ebay store you'll find a rare chess set made by Avon in the 1970's which where individually sold as men's aftershave and hair care products. This collectors set comes complete with boxes and most of which still have the Avon product in the bottle. SEXY!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Valentines Day

My Funny Valentine

It's that beloved holiday that creeps up on us every year to remind us that we need to buy a Hallmark card and some chocolates, or reserve a table at a dark-lit restaurant in a lame attempt to appear, "romantic." And, if you think that is annoying, try being single and reminded that you don't have a date on Valentines, just as you were getting over your insecurities from New Years Eve. In, fact, the two holidays are so obviously consumer-driven for the "couples" that it should be labelled, "Amateur Night part 1" and "Amateur Night part 2."

It seems odd that we should even attach romance to a Christian holiday that originated by recognizing martyrs - all of whom served the church and had suffered and died for it. Mmmm.. maybe it isn't such a stretch from romanticism.

All I know is modern love is something not preached by the church or by David Bowie. And for this Chicago-born Italian, Valentines day marks the anniversary of the Valentines Day massacre which celebrates its 90th anniversary. For those of you who missed school that day, the Valentines Day massacre took place in 1929 in a Chicago garage where 7 men where gunned down after forced to face a wall by what they believed to be a police raid. These raids where common during the prohibition era. The victims where part of the Irish north side gang led by Bugs Moran and believed to be murdered by the Italian south side gang led by Al Capone. The garage was demolished in the 1960s and is now a landscaped parking lot.

Nothing romantic about this story, but it does give me an idea of what to do this weekend. I'm filling a flask of Baileys and sharing it with one of my many Irish friends, if not all I can pile into my Range Rover and drink in the parking lot of 2122 N. Clark St. where that bloodbath occurred. Maybe I'll even pick up some cannolis.

And when I get home, I have several episodes of Love American Style, that 70's sitcom that featured short vignettes of love stories often starring television personalities such as Karen Valentine and John Davidson. Ah, a perfect mod evening.
Happy V.D. all!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Josep Maria Subirachs

Once while travelling in Spain I visited the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona; a very well known cathedral designed by the famous architect Antoni Gaudi. I've seen it in books and magazines and was excited to see it in person. What I wasn't familiar with was the contemporary facades of the nativity, or the "Passion Facade" of the basilica which was designed by the 20th century Catalan painter and sculptor, Josep Maria Subirachs. While there has been controversy over his lack of concession to the style of Gaudi, which is suspected as with any contemporary spins on beloved legends of accepted art, the facade has become Subirachs most popular works.

I took several photographs which were rather tricky as there was a considerable amount of construction surrounding the installation at the time. As a former photographer, I couldn't let that stop me... I've put myself in greater dangers trying to get the perfect shot, but I'll leave that for another blog.

My next visit in Spain was the beach community of Sitges, a lovely town 35km south of Barcelona. My travelling companion had booked accommodations at an art hotel called Hotel del Arte Estela, about 10 minutes from town but it was modern, hip and near the marina which boasts great restaurants serving up tasty paella and sangria. The Estela Hotel represents some of Spain finest painters and sculptures, well displayed in the lobby, for sale in the gallery or painted as a mural in your room. As I walked past the lobby to my room a brutal, figural sculpture caught my eye and as I got closer to it, I noticed the signature labeled on the piece: Subirachs.

For those of you who visit museums, art galleries, surf the net or know anything about the world in which you live, these are very fundamental experiences that create a love for an artists work. To find yourself stopping to notice an artist's work that you have aesthetic connection to, only to discover that it is the same artist to whom you are repeatedly responding.

When I returned home I did some research and found several works from Subirachs and I am officially an educated fan. I could go on about his numerous works including public monuments, his strong drawings, the mathematical applications in his art, etc., but this is a blog, not a post graduate thesis. I will, however, leave you with this documentary slide show I produced featuring some of the Subirachs strongest works and a handful of my photographs of the Sagrada Familia and the Hotel Estela.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Now who can forget the absolute mod madness of the quirky comedy show LAUGH IN? The show always ended in a beloved segment in which the players poked out of windows on a psychedelic painted wall and threw lame one-liners at each other, most of which were bloopers resulting in hysterical laughter. This is Modlife's pick for most valued mod moment of the psychedelic 70's family hour... though it's pretty neck to neck with the Brady Bunch's "Sha Na Na" number.

Letter from the Publisher

Welcome to the Modlife, Inc. blog!

When it was first suggested to me to start a blog I thought, "Yeah, right, like I've got nothing else to do... blogs are self-serving pastimes for people with too much time on their hands and no one reads them anyway." I mean, seriously, all the time I spend on a computer I never read anyones blog. I do research, catch up on the news, browse ebay, sometimes craigslist, surf youtube and read endless mundane updates of friends on facebook - but never waste my time reading a blog.

So why write one? Well, there's a great deal of information that I have learned over the past few years as a dealer in Mid Century Modern furnishings that I want to document and share. but I'm not referring to the information we can all find on websites like Architonic, Design Within Reach or from the trades. All good resources, by the way - I've learned much myself from them. I'm interested in the less iconic underdogs.. the b-sides of modernism that we don't see in catalogues or in the homes of the new modern enthusiasts who are craving Eames lounge chairs and Saarinen tables. Don't misunderstand me. I love those items too. They are classics and I have them in my home as well. But there is little to teach and nothing more to learn about these standards.

So I will introduce to you what in modern design excites me. Documented, research and plucked from photo archives, I will feature modern furnishings and objects that you may never have seen or have but knew nothing about, but, hopefully will come away with an understanding and appreciation. And, just to keep myself from being too dry and preachy, I will stir in some pop culture moments in the mid-20th century history, just to add some vintage modern flavor.

I hope you enjoy the blog and visit our store and website. Thanks for reading.

Robert Zizzo
Modlife, Inc.