Bertoia in South America

Galeria Don Hatch and Caracas

By the mid-1950s Harry Bertoia’s artistic career was taking off, he was designing furniture for Knoll and had already completed several important large-scale commission works including a Multi-Plane screen for the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company designed by Gordon Bunshaft and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and a suspended sculpture for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology designed by Eero Saarinen. His furniture designs and masterpiece sculptures opened many doors and introduced Bertoia’s work to an international audience and interestingly to Venezuela.

The U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela (1958) designed by architect Don Hatch features a Multi-Plane screen by Harry Bertoia.

Venezuela at mid-century had an appreciation for modern design aesthetics both in regards to architecture and sculpture. In 1958 Bertoia completed a screen for the US Embassy building designed by the architect Don Hatch in Caracas, Venezuela. Hatch who had established himself in Caracas in the 1940s also ran a high-end gallery and decorative arts store, Galeria Don Hatch, where Bertoia’s sculptural works both small and large-scale were sold. Galeria Don Hatch would also host several exhibitions dedicated to the art of Harry Bertoia from the 1950s through the 1970s.

In an interview with James McElhinney in 2009, American art dealer Rachel Adler discusses Bertoia in Venezuela recalling that “every house had a Bertoia.” One notable interior to feature Bertoia’s work is Villa Planchart designed by Gio Ponti in 1956.

Sculptures by Harry Bertoia featured in the foyer and living room of Villa Planchart, Caracas designed by Gio Ponti.

Front and back cover of an exhibtion pamphlet, Caracas 1977.

Original sketch for the present lot by Harry Bertoia.

Harry Bertoia

Harry Bertoia was a true Renaissance man well-versed in the language of art and design. Born in San Lorenzo, Italy in 1915, Bertoia relocated to the United States at the age of fifteen and enrolled at Cass Technical High School in Detroit to study hand-made jewelry. In 1937, Bertoia was awarded a scholarship to attend the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where he was drawn to the mostly empty metal shop and, after two years in the program, was invited to head the department.

At Cranbrook, Bertoia was introduced to a number of designers whose names would become synonymous with mid-century modern design. Here he met Eero Saarinen, with whom he would collaborate on numerous architectural projects, and Charles and Ray Eames with whom, for a short period during the war, he would work for at the Molded Plywood Division of Evans Products in California. In 1950, Bertoia moved east to Pennsylvania to open his own studio and to work with Florence Knoll designing chairs. Bertoia designed five chairs out of wire that would become icons of the period, all of them popular and all still in production today.

The success of his chair designs for Knoll afforded Bertoia the means to pursue his artistic career and by the mid-1950s he was dedicated exclusively to his art. Using traditional materials in non-traditional ways, Bertoia created organic sculptural works uniting sound, form and motion. From sculptures sold to private buyers to large-scale installations in the public realm, Bertoia developed an artistic language that is at once recognizable but also uniquely his own.

Today Bertoia’s works can be found in various private and numerous public collections, including: The Art Institute of Chicago, Denver Art Museum, Milwaukee Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., Museum of Modern Art, New York, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

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