Masterworks  21 November 2017

The Chair of Tomorrow

In 1939, New York held its first World’s Fair in over 80 years—The World of Tomorrow. One of the most expansive and well-attended, the fair ushered in a new era of modern design with works by Walter Dorwin Teague, Le Corbusier, Norman Bel Geddes and more.

Pioneering industrial designer Donald Deskey made his international debut at the fair working with the Royal Metal Manufacturing Company to design a series of furniture forms including sofas, love seats, tables and chairs. The suite of eighteen pieces captured the essence of modernity for which the fair was themed, and through material and form, Deskey characterized the very latest in design. Made with tubular satin chrome steel, the industrial nature of this new material contrasts with the deep and comfortable padding of the cushions upholstered in luxurious leathers, velvets and mohairs. Moving down the legs of the present lot, the balled feet of this piece are Deskey’s most creative attribute; the spherical shape of the foot here, and on the other works in the collection, echo the iconic modernist structures Trylon and Perisphere by architects Wallace Harrison and J. Andre Fouilhoux for the fair. Deskey's beautiful and sleek forms are an imaginative homage to The World of Tomorrow, both literally as well as ideologically.

The Donald Deskey Archives at the Cooper Hewitt includes documentation of this design.

Donald Deskey 1894–1989

Donald Deskey, born in 1894 in Blue Earth, Minnesota, is one of America’s most prolific designers. For his formal training, Deskey began at the University of California Berkeley and later moved to the San Francisco Institute of Art before attending The Art Institute of Chicago. In 1920, in what would prove to be a formative experience, Deskey moved to Paris where he was exposed to the latest Art Deco style. Back in New York by 1926, Deskey started his career in advertising and quickly became known for his innovative designs. When his client Reynolds Metals asked him to find a new use for their aluminum foil, he ingeniously designed a series of stylish foiled wallpaper that was later put into production by F. Schumacher & Company. His design sensibility captured the attention of New York City’s most illustrious residents and Deskey completed interiors for Adam Gimbel, John D. Rockefeller and Abby Aldridge Rockefeller among others. In arguably his most famous commission, Deskey designed the interiors of Radio City Music Hall. In 1939, Deskey collaborated with the Royal Metal Manufacturing Co. to produce a suite of furniture for the New York World’s Fair World of Tomorrow exhibition. In 1943, he established Donald Deskey and Associates and the following year was one of fifteen founding members of the Society of Industrial Designers. A champion of both product and industrial design, Deskey rewrote the way people thought about designed objects. His design for a city lamppost is still in use in New York City today, and he crafted landmark campaigns for Proctor and Gamble, Crest toothpaste, as well as Tide Detergent. Deskey died in 1989. Today his work can be found in museum collections such as the Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among many others across America.

Auction Results Donald Deskey

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