Birth of the Modern



Peter Loughrey was a talented pioneer motivated by a restless enthusiasm, crucially driven by the willingness to communicate, to share and to discover. An intuitive feel for the burgeoning interest in post-war design led Peter to establish the nascent LA Modern Auctions in 1992 — soon to evolve into the very first dedicated auction platform of its type. Although the initial turnover those first years was modest, LAMA’s impact and resonance was to spearhead a new era of collecting. With these auctions Peter, together with his wife and co-director Shannon, swiftly developed an interactive platform for what was evolving as an increasingly globalised tide of enthusiasts, dealers, curators and collectors. His auctions became a raison d’être, justification to what many of us were at the time tentatively yet willingly exploring. Here, in these auctions, post-war design was spot-lit centre stage, and celebrated as a movement in its own right.

If these initial auctions consolidated and gave focus to the market, then they also gave us an identity — achieved very simply through the semantics of the company that celebrated ‘modern’. A simple and obvious choice, but so influential and less cumbersome than the prevailing options of "twentieth century" or "post-war." Auctions at that time were traditionally associated with antiques, and there was a general disinterest within the trade to consider anything less than seventy years old as having any cultural or collectible value. Although this market had been described as being "modern" for some years already in the US, the word had not yet been internationalised beyond American shores to represent a collecting movement.

LAMA was established at exactly the right time. The zeitgeist was perfect, and helped guide many of us. Around this time I returned from the US and was shortly set to curate my first design auctions for Christie’s in London. Peter’s catalogues during this explorative period were invaluable. Perhaps difficult to understand now, in our era of immediate communication, but the fully illustrated printed LAMA catalogues were the equivalent of a fanzine that would be passed around, photocopied and then memorised. Nowhere else at the time was contained the detailed information that could allow us, many thousands of miles away in London, to distinguish between an early or a late example of, say, an Eames LCW, or to be exposed to the furniture of Schindler or Neutra. And crucially, there were prices. The prices meant that the market was real. And every so often there would be something in Peter’s sales — a trophy lying in wait for the knowledgeable — that would yield a revolutionary price, setting new records and issuing concentric ripples that gave us the confidence to recognise that our passion for this material was no daydream.

Peter had the fortune to discover his calling, and the certainty to pursue it, his delight for discovery underpinned by curatorial seriousness. Together with Shannon, LAMA established a keystone in the foundations of the modern market, flag-bearers of international design and with a global message. Today LAMA co-anchors a dedicated and influential network of US auction sites, all specialised graduates of that early era of modern discovery. A shared mission is always the most pleasurable, so thank you Peter, for helping guide the way.

Simon Andrews
Curator and advisor
Andrews Art Advisory

Fulvio Bianconi

Born in Padua in 1915, Fulvio Bianconi initially rose to prominence as an illustrator, graphic designer and caricaturist working for Italy’s top companies during the 1930s. Designing for big names like Fiat, Pathé and Pirelli, Bianconi employed his passion for drawing as the creative mind behind one of Italy’s most prestigious publishing houses, Garzanti for over 30 years. However, it is perhaps his post-war collaboration with Paolo Venini and experimentation with glass which best defines his legacy as an artist.

On a business trip to Murano in 1947, Bianconi met with Paolo Venini who immediately recognized his talent and offered him a position as artistic director, a post which had recently been vacated by the celebrated architect Carlo Scarpa. Engaged on a free-lance basis, Bianconi’s arrangement with Venini was somewhat unusual but seemed to suit his idiosyncratic personality and artistic inclinations.

From the very beginning, Bianconi’s approach at Venini was entirely that of a fine artist, drawing inspiration from modern art, fashion and graphic design. As a cartoonist and caricaturist he was also able to re-envision cultural themes from Italy’s past and express them in a fresh, contemporary way. All of this was in fact encouraged by Venini, who seemed to have an innate understanding of Bianconi’s frenetic style and unique abilities.

From 1947 to 1950, Bianconi designed numerous series of sculptural objects and vessels including the Commedia dell’Art figures, Fazoletto (handkerchief) vases, Pezzati (patchwork) and con Macchie (stained) vessels, all of which have all now become icons of post-war Italian design. Sometimes surreal, often abstract, these series captured the spirit of the times and expressed the essence of La Dolce Vita and the exuberance of post-war Italy. While Murano had been demonstrating an awareness of modern art since the early part of the century, it is only with Bianconi that it found itself on equal footing.

Bianconi designed unique, modern art objects on a human-scale and for this, Murano glass was the perfect vehicle. From this point of view, one could say that Bianconi was instrumental in the liberation of Murano glass from its own cultural and historical definitions.

Auction Results Fulvio Bianconi