BEIRUT: The table, a four-meter-long, mirror-topped art deco monstrosity, once belonged to Coco Chanel, says Chrystyna Salam, curator of Otium’s Thursday auction – and the owner of most of its objects. Soft sounds of pain issue from two women standing beside Salam.
“It was too big when she moved to the Ritz,” she adds.
The table, made in 1940 by the French furniture company Jansen, is estimated at a base price of $20,000, and will be among around 100 ceramics, furniture pieces and modern period paintings that will be up for auction Thursday evening at the Villa Salam on Clemenceau’s America Street.
The event will be Salam’s first auction in Lebanon.
Salam recently moved with her family to the country, where she’s continued a long career in art dealing. Her specialty is 20th century decorative arts, something she peddled out of her own Paris gallery before coming here.
Halfway through her tour of the auction’s two dozen midcentury decorative ceramics, Salam pauses: “This is my love in life – apart from my husband and children.”
The Jansen table is the centerpiece of the auction’s furniture selection, which comprises mainly modernist-era furniture from the ’50s to ’70s. Some objects, such as an oak lounge chair designed by Guillerme et Chambron (starting at $5,000), are authentic examples of French modernism.
Other pieces, like a pair of organically shaped, tripod coffee tables, were made in Lebanon decades ago to mimic modernist-era furniture. Despite this, Salam says, they’re still valuable because of the level of craftsmanship.
Modernist decorative arts has seen a resurgence in the West, something reflected by big-box furniture makers, as well as the small upmarket product designers around Lebanon.
One of the benefits of buying auction, rather than inspired contemporary pieces for a few thousand less, is that their authenticity – and decades of wear – ensures you get what you’re paying for, Salam says.
Other star furniture pieces include a pair of free-standing, trapezoidal oak book shelves made in 1940 also by Guillerme et Chambron; a midcentury leather-upholstered trunk and stand set by Jacques Adnet and Gilbert Poillerat valued at between $25,000 and $30,000; the so-called “marshmallow canape,” a 1960 couch by Georges Nelson and Irving Harper that absolutely epitomizes the era; and a 1950 American set of drawers with elaborate, abstract tribal carving (one of Salam’s favorite items).
Some really funky examples of modern-era furniture with less value but equal spunk included three fiber glass lounge chairs in Pac-Man-like shapes (starting around $2,000 for a pair).
Decorative ceramics make up a quarter of the auction and the majority come straight from Salam’s private home.
She stops at pair of vessels, a black pitcher by Pol Chambost and a corked, painted carafe Orlando, a husband-wife pair of ceramists. “I hope these don’t sell,” she says.
The auction will also feature one piece from Madoura, the French pottery company and the workplace of one of Pablo Picasso’s many lovers.
Picasso sporadically designed sculptural and decorative ceramics for Madoura, where only a few dozen were produced before the prototype was smashed, Salam explained.
Salam’s decorative ceramics and furniture are accompanied by around 40 works of fine art by modern-era (mid-20th century) artists who worked in Lebanon, including Paul Guriagossian, Shafic Abboud and Louay Khayyali.
A work by Abboud (1926-2004) recently sold in Dubai for $300,000, said Nada Boulos, who’s in charge of the auction’s artwork. The one up this week, a personal homage to Lebanese poet Georges Shehade, is appraised at between $30,000 and $40,000. Abboud wrote in the corner of the painting: “Georges who taught me light.”
At Christies Dubai, Guriagossian (1926-1993) has a painting up for auction at the end of the month, which is estimated at between $600,000 and $800,000 and if it sells will set the record price for a Lebanese painter.
He has four pieces up for auction Thursday estimated at between $800 and $60,000.