Modern mentality suggests that cupboards are for holding our belongings, space, light, the joy of creating and living.

Charlotte Perriand

Greg Nacozy on Mark Isaacson
and Collecting 1950s Design

The present lot was a gift from David Gieseman, one of Mark’s best friends. They met in NYC while David was working for Alan Moss at Moss Antiques and shared similar interests in art and design. They bonded because they both had similar tastes (though Mark’s was a bit more eclectic).

David at Mark and Greg's apartment, c. 1990

David moved to Paris in 1977 and became an interior designer, living and working there until 2011. David worked with Juliet Man Ray and Man Ray’s estate and also with Mara Cremniter and François Laffanour, of Galerie Downtown, which opened in 1982. Mark followed David to Paris a few months after he moved there in 1977 to visit for a few weeks. He ended up staying for three years.

To support himself in Paris, Mark did what he had done since he was a kid; he went to the flea markets and found things to sell to the dealers with shops and stands. Mark always had an amazing eye and loved to shop. Les Puces (the fleas) at Porte de Clignancourt would become his mecca, going out early in the morning and finding things to bring back and sell to the dealers in town. He would repeat this everyday, sometimes two or three times a day.

Mark Isaacson at a flea market

Mark said that Mara and François were the only dealers who would buy any of that “fifties shit” from him. And they would only buy the French designers, never any of that “Italian shit!”. That’s how he ended up coming back to the states with two containers full of European pieces from the fifties. He opened Fifty/50 on Thompson Street in SoHo in 1981. Mark had his first Italian glass exhibition that year. Two years later, in 1983, he went into partnership with Mark McDonald and Ralph Cutler and they opened the gallery at 793 Broadway between 10th and 11th Streets.

Fifty/50 was there for ten years, from 1983 to 1993. Ralph passed away from AIDS in 1989. Mark McDonald was ready for a change and he and Mark dissolved their partnership. Mark passed away from AIDS in 1993, leaving behind a collection and legacy that shows his monumental influence in shaping the market for art and design and collectors' tastes for decades to come.

Mark Isaacson (center) in front of Fifty/50 in 1983

The Mark Isaacson
and Greg Nacozy Collection

The Collection of Mark Isaacson and Greg Nacozy includes over two-hundred works from one of the most significant figures in mid-century collecting. Mark established the influential Fifty/50 gallery in New York in 1981 (later partnering with Mark McDonald and Ralph Cutler in 1983), which shaped the tastes and collecting habits of many and brought furniture, decorative arts and jewelry from the 1930s, 40s and 50s to the forefront of the market at a time when they were largely overlooked.

Greg Nacozy and Mark Isaacson in Venice, c. 1985 

Fifty/50’s and Mark’s legacy is most closely associated with bringing Italian art glass to the United States (Mark even advised the MET on their Italian glass collection) and raising the profile of mid-century furniture and American studio jewelry and ceramics; iconic examples of each are represented in this auction, including an early Rudder Stool by Isamu Noguchi, Charlotte Perriand’s and Pierre Jeanneret’s Bahut No. 2, a Gerrit Rietveld Zig-Zag chair, pottery by Edwin and Mary Scheier and Fausto Melotti, and Venini glassworks.

The most exciting aspects of this auction are the more intimate ones—the works from Mark's and Greg's personal collection that speak to Mark's eclectic taste, his boundless curiosity and sensitivity toward objects and art, and how generous he was in sharing his interests with others and letting them share with him. Standouts include several works by Robert Mapplethorpe—who was close friends with Mark, photographed several Fifty/50 catalogs and got many of the ceramics in his photographs from the gallery—the ecstatic wood construction Wild Plant by Leo Amino, a painting by Ralston Crawford of a spectacularly minimalist skyscraper façade, and photographic works by Man Ray, Edward Weston, Lynn Davis and Dorothea Lange.

Mark with Ed and Mary Scheier; Robert Mapplethorpe and Mark

This auction also features many works that tie together the thread of Mark’s collecting practices, going beyond the downtown New York sensibilities of the 1980s and showing the scope of eras and cultures that interested him; the sgraffito incisions on a 1940s Scheier vase echo the geometric features of a Senufo Kpeliye'e mask, the entrancing and complex shadows of a grain elevator in a photograph by Ralston Crawford contrast with the severe plainness of a New York City step-back building captured by Walker Evans, and the radical gestures of gay image making are seen in the works of George Platt Lynes, Paul Cadmus and Robert Loughlin. One of the artists in this sale, George Dureau, a photographer from New Orleans (where Greg is also from) who greatly influenced Mapplethorpe early in his career, perhaps best captures the spirit of this collection, saying about his own work:

“I live a warm, involved, humanist sort of life. There are lots of people passing through it. I have exciting experiences and learn things about people. They always go into my art. I cannot have an experience and it not go into my art.”
Mark and a friend at Brimfield; Mark's and Greg's apartment; Mark and Greg at The Armory Show

Fifty/50 gallery reshaped the collecting market during its twelve-year existence, closing in 1993 after Mark passed away from AIDS; his partner Greg has cared for the collection since.  The Collection of Mark Isaacson and Greg Nacozy offers an opportunity to see a short but impactful life lived through an enthusiasm for art and design, one that inspired many to see and appreciate objects and live with them as fully as Mark did.