There are auctions that are auctions and auctions that are events. The Betty Lee and Aaron Stern Collection (Phillips New York, 10am on December 17 2013) is the latter. Indeed, I would urge any fan of 20th century ceramics, especially the artists featured: Lucie Rie, Hans Coper, Gertrud and Otto Natzler and Ken Price, to buy a copy of the oversize auction catalog while stocks last.
In full disclosure, I have been friends with the Sterns for more years than a gentleman would admit. We have reconnected recently at the Ken price museum openings in New York and Los Angeles. Betty Lee and Aaron were great supporters of our gallery both in New York and Los Angeles and more broadly of the studio pottery movement itself. So my partner, Mark del Vecchio, and I not only witnessed this collection grow year by year but have also contributed to its assembly. Now the couple is downsizing and are releasing part of their collection.
The catalog is exceptional for three reasons. First of all there is Betty Lee’s impeccable eye. She found the best so the assembly of works is breathtaking, particularly of Coper and Rie. The Natzler pieces are handsome. Her interest in Price is different, more quirky and, well, adult.
Secondly, the quality of the ceramics is given full expression with object photography that is about as a good as it gets, communicating every nuance in the glaze and surface handling from Price’s brush strokes to Rie’s organic gold glaze and Coper’s abraded slips.
Thirdly, and for me this was the treat, the catalogue allowed me to revisit, through images, the way in which the collection was displayed in their New York and Connecticut homes, with a palpable respect for the artists, sensitive groups, custom display furniture and exceptional lighting. The Metropolitan Museum’s antiquities department could not have done better.
CFile will present two posts on this auction next week. One on the largest survey of Price’s X-rated pottery ever published (outside the Phillips’ catalog) and the other on a portfolio of over one hundred vessels by Coper and Rie. Do not miss either.
Image above: Detail of Ken Price’s Unit 6 from Happy’s Curios, 1972-1978. Estimate $300,000 – 400,000. Photo Courtesy of Phillips Auctions.
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of CFile.