The Seed of Infinite Expansion

Erwin Hauer's Modular Constructivism

Erwin Hauer's Continua series, begun in 1950, was hailed by Domus as one of the "quintessential works of modernism". Influenced by Henry Moore's  biomorphic forms and the rigorous Constructivist sculptures of Naum Gabo, Hauer designed discreet modular forms that, when repeated, created intricate light-diffusing walls.

While still a student at the Academy of Applied Arts in Vienna, Hauer's architectural screens first appeared in churches in Vienna; these striking works earned Hauer a Fulbright Scholarship to the United States in 1955, where he briefly studied at the Rhode Island School of Design before being invited by Josef Albers to work in the sculpture department at Yale.

Design 2 at Pfarre Liesing Church in Vienna (1954); Early production of Hauer's screens in Vienna

Hauer continued to develop his designs while at Yale (which he taught at for over thirty years) and they soon caught the attention of design giants such as Philip Johnson and Florence Knoll. His first major commission was the Knoll-designed First National Bank in Miami in 1958, followed by the Look magazine offices in New York in 1960 and the Coca-Cola Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair. Though lauded as emblematic of the modern, minimalist impulses of the decade, by 1970, interest in Hauer's screens waned and commissions ceased; many of his works from this pivotal era have been lost and destroyed as buildings were knocked down or their interiors re-designed.

Design 1 at the Knoll showroom in Mexico City (1961)

The present lot was re-cast by the artist in 1995 over the original steel structure from the 1950s. Like the initial Continua works, which were laboriously cast from hand-molded units, this screen is made from Hauer's own unique mixture of acrylic resin, gypsum and concrete. Later re-castings of his designs (made from MDF and designed digitally) came in 2004, coinciding with the publishing of Continua: Architectural Screens and Walls and a newly invigorated interest in his work. 

"This is my obsession: tension in a surface—it's almost like a life force." —Erwin Hauer

The present lot comes from a private collection of a designer who studied under Hauer and acquired the work directly from the artist. It was re-cast using original molds from the 1950s. A renewed interest in his work came about in the early 2000s and a Hauer-design wall debuted at the Knoll showroom in Chicago in 2006 and in 2008, Hauer was inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame. Hauer passed away in 2017, but his influential and iconic designs, grounded in precision and simplicity and elevated by a sublime use of light and what Hauer calls "the seed of infinite expansion," continue to impress.

Detail of Design 1

The screen transforms the light so completely...patterns will change with the hour and the season. Suffused with luminescence, these normally unnoticed interior voids come to our attention for the first time, revealing wonderful, unfamiliar characteristics.

Erwin Hauer