Harry Bertoia

(1915 - 1978)

LA Modern Featured Artist Harry Bertoia

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While teaching and working at the Cranbrook Academy in the late 1930s, Italian-born artist Harry Bertoia began creating jewelry, which marked his first use of metal as an artist medium. Before this venture into such an unfamiliar form, Bertoia entered Cranbrook as a painting major, but found himself drawn to the metal shop. In the exploration of jewelry making, he was faced with a very different set of challenges, one including the high cost of precious metals during World War II that prohibited him from making larger pieces. His welded bronze and silver brooches highlight Bertoia’s fascination with simple, organic forms blended with repeated voids. According to John Willenbecher, “The jewelry forms he developed were highly sculptural in approach despite their small size.”

After working for Charles and Ray Eames in the Molded Plywood Division of the Evans Product Company, in 1950 he moved to Pennsylvania to work for Knoll Furntiture, where he designed his famous “Diamond Chair.” Knoll’s Bertoia Collection allowed him the means and flexibility to begin working on large-form sculptures. As he was working on a sculpture that consisted of several standing rods, he accidentally broke a rod, causing it to crash into another rod, resulting in a sound that resonated deeply with the artist. According to Bertoia himself, this sound “initiated a deliberate gesture in search of understanding what a group of wires would do.” Throughout the 1960s, Bertoia created over 100 sound sculptures consisting of rows of flexible copper rods that sway when touched or blown, producing various tones depending on the length and mass of the rods. He referred to this sonorous atmosphere as Sonambient, the resulting environment created by the gentle clangor of the rods. He explored this fascination for the remainder of his life, even creating public sound sculptures in addition to his various other public fountains and metal installations.

Also an accomplished printmaker, Bertoia’s work can be viewed in his Italian birthplace and dozens of American museums, including the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

Literature:
Schiffer, Nancy N., and Val O. Bertoia. The World of Bertoia. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 2003. Print.

  • Harry Bertoia  Untitled (sculpture)
    • Lot 169
    • Harry Bertoia 
    • Untitled (sculpture)
    • executed c. 1975
    • Studio Welded and patinated bronze and copper
    • 7.5″ x 8″ x 6.5″
    • Provenance: Private collection (acquired from the artist).
    • December 16, 2012 Auction 
    • Estimate: $9,000 – 12,000
    • Realized: $11,250
  • Harry Bertoia  Untitled (early monographic work)
    • Lot 170
    • Harry Bertoia 
    • Untitled (early monographic work) 
    • Early 1940s
    • Colored inks and oils on mat board
    • Board: 8.875″ x 6″; Frame: 16″ x 13.125″
    • Literature: Nelson, June Kompass, Harry Bertoia, Printmaker, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1988, pp 58-60 (similar examples).
    • December 16, 2012 Auction 
    • Estimate: $6,000 – 9,000
  • Harry Bertoia  Untitled (Relief)
    • Lot 171
    • Harry Bertoia 
    • Untitled (Relief) 
    • Bronze
    • Unmarked
    • Sculpture: 6.25″ x 6.5″; With stand: 8.75″ x 6.5″ x 2.75″
    • December 16, 2012 Auction 
    • Estimate: $2,000 – 3,000
    • Realized: $1,875
  • Harry Bertoia - Sound Sculpture
    • Lot 215
    • Harry Bertoia
    • Sound Sculpture
    • Circa 1965
    • Gilt Bronze
    • 9.5″ x 4.125″ x 4.125″
    • December 11, 2011 Auction
    • Estimate: $15,000 – 20,000
  • Harry Bertoia - Brooch
    • Lot 220
    • Harry Bertoia
    • Brooch
    • Circa 1946
    • Studio
    • No markings
    • 3.875” x 2.625”
    • Provenance: From the collection of James Byrnes, Los Angeles
    • March 6, 2011 Auction
    • Estimate: $5,000-7,000
    • Realized: $21,875
  • Harry Bertoia Sounding Piece
    • Lot 222 (left)
    • Harry Bertoia
    • Sounding Piece
    • Circa 1965
    • Studio
    • Sold with packing crate made by Harry Bertoia
    • 45.25” x 12” x 12”
    • Provenance: Acquired directly from the artist
    • March 6, 2011 Auction
    • Estimate: $40,000 – 60,000
    • Realized: $63,750
    • Lot 223 (right)
    • Harry Bertoia
    • Sounding Piece
    • Executed circa 1965
    • Studio
    • Sold with packing crate made by Harry Bertoia
    • 33.5” x 8” x 8”
    • Provenance: Acquired directly from the artist
    • March 6, 2011 Auction
    • Estimate: $30,000 – 50,000
    • Realized: $42,500
  • Harry Bertoia - Untitled (Sonambient)
    • Lot 101
    • Harry Bertoia
    • Untitled (Sonambient)
    • Sounding sculpture, Bronze
    • Five rows each having 50 rods
    • Executed 1961
    • May 22, 2005 Auction
    • Estimate: $30,000 – 40,000
    • Realized: $56,762.50
  • Harry Bertoia - Rare large sculpture
    • Lot 311
    • Harry Bertoia
    • Rare large sculpture
    • 1965, Bronze
    • 55”h
    • May 21, 2000 Auction
    • Estimate: $25,000 – 30,000
    • Realized: $40,250
  • Harry Bertoia - Painting
    • Lot 313
    • Harry Bertoia
    • Painting
    • Circa 1949
    • Oil on linen
    • May 21, 2000 Auction
    • Estimate: $12,000 – 15,000
    • Realized: $23,000
  • Harry Bertoia - Sounding Sculpture
    • Lot 314
    • Harry Bertoia
    • Sounding Sculpture
    • c. 1968, Welded Bronze
    • 51”h
    • May 21, 2000 Auction
    • Estimate: $25,000 – 35,000
    • Realized: $29,900