Leigh Keno’s auction house held a tight but lucrative sale with 13 lots making $3.4m:
Lot 1 was a newly discovered Chippendale tea table signed by the important Philadelphia cabinetmaker Henry Cliffton that brought $1,895,500, nearly quadrupling the pre-sale low estimate. Keno stated, “The table is truly a tour de force of pre-revolutionary rococo design and carving in Philadelphia. I recall my excitement when I discovered that the signature “Henry…” , in chalk on the underside of the top was that of Henry Cliffton, famous for having signed and dated the earliest example of Rococo furniture extant-a high chest at Colonial Williamsburg. The table is a rosetta stone of American furniture that sheds light on some of the world’s most famous 18th century creations by some of the best carvers in Colonial America”. Known as the Potter-Crouch-Jordan Family tea table, it has descended in the family of the original owners for over 250 years and remarkably, retains its original finish. Keno noted that “of the four factors that can be used to evaluate a scalloped-top Philadelphia tea table – quality, rarity, condition and provenance – this example ranks at the very top, representing the apogee of Philadelphia Rococo craftsmanship.”
After spirited bidding in the room, and on phones and internet, a 1973 Copper and Brass S.621 Untitled, Hanging, Six-Lobed Multi-layered interlocking forms with a sphere in the third lobe sculpture by Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-1913) brought $965,000-almost four times its high estimate. “The result for the Asawa is a new record for an example dating to the 1970’s as well as world record for any Asawa work under 80 inches in height. An important aspect of this astonishing work is that the artist was videotaped in Robert Snyder’s 1973 documentary Ruth Asawa: Of Forms And Growth. In the film, she describes the labor-intensive process involved in bringing to life her unique creations, a clip of which can be found on the Keno Auctions website. Snyder has stated that the video captures, “…the intensity and sensitivity that pervades her life…we experience her humanness, and her views on art, growth and life itself.” Her works, each unique, are three dimensional drawings in air and by their very existence inspire us to redefine negative space, its relationship with the object itself and with the viewer.
The phone lines were also ringing for two Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976) works. A diminutive sheet metal, brass and wire 1968 standing mobile, “Pig’s Tail”, soared above its estimate of $50- 100,000 to bring $365,000, while a brightly colored gouache, “Spotted Orb and Pyramids” from 1956, made $78,750. Commented Keno “We had bidders from all over the world, including Australia. The market for great quality modern and contemporary art with strong provenance is extremely robust. The high number of active internet and telephone bidders in this sale from around the world was witness to this fact.”