NEW YORK—I am well and truly gobsmacked. The Voulkos sculpture Rondena (1958) sold for $915,000 during Phillips’ Design Evening Auction. The record for a ceramic work on auction from the ceramics world (Jeff Koons and others have got higher price). The previous record for a work in ceramic of his on auction was set in 2010 by Cowans + Clark + Del Vecchio in Cincinnati fetching $105,750.
I know the piece well, its owners Stanley and Betty Sheinbaum, were friends when I opened the LA gallery and I visited it many times. It is a masterpiece and perhaps my favorite of all the sculptural works in the late 1950’s. It comes as a surprise as the art world has not been paying much attention to Voulkos as compared to Ken Price, Ron Nagle and John Mason.
This is from his key and most sought after period, the radical years between 1955-1968, the era surveyed by Glenn Adamson in the exhibition Voulkos: The Breakthrough Years at the Museum of Art and Design, New York. Later work such as the wood-fire stack pots are not held in as much esteem but this could change things. Those looking from more early work may have to wait. There is not a lot of pieces of this vintage likely to come onto the market.
Inexplicably high prices on auction are often aberrant, my rule of thumb is that it does not become a market standard until five purchases in the same ballpark. We hope it will hold. Kudos to Phillips for doing an excellent job of promoting this work, with an essay commissioned from Glenn Adamson, “Tower of Power”, vintage photographs and some help from Cfile as well.