If I ever had to, if I ever needed to build a house for myself, I would start from the concept of not disturbing, leaving myself free to move and my spirit free to evolve.

Carlo Mollino

Portrait of an Artist

by Fulvio Ferrari

Carlo Mollino kept this portrait of himself in his apartment in Via Napione (today Museo Casa Mollino) and not with the work-material in his studio. This private location indicates that the architect had a particular consideration of this photograph.

This photo was printed in 1948 and sent to Gio Ponti for the publication in Domus magazine of the interior of “Casa Franca and Guglielmo Minola”, which Mollino indicated with the abbreviation “Casa M2”. The handwritten notes on the back of the print tell us that Mollino intended to use this image with particular emphasis, i.e. at the beginning of the article, next to the title, or as the final closing image.

Cover of Domus no. 229, August 1948

This way he wanted to add a Surrealist signature to his interior design work: the architect occupies a position of great prominence, everything is carefully staged to create a self-portrait with a cigarette in his hand and a hat. The protagonist appears in the image although almost as invisible. 

All the photographs of “Casa M2” were taken by the photographer Riccardo Moncalvo, who regularly worked for Mollino, yet the art-direction of this photograph is undoubtedly by Mollino, who  had already made a series of self-portraits and photographs in Casa Miller in 1936 focusing on the use of the shadow.

Mollino was also an important theorist of the art of photography and in 1949 he published his seminal book on photography Message from the Darkroom.

This print is unique; the verso has Mollino’s studio stamp and is annotated by him in pencil. The hatchings along the two longer sides were traced by Domus’ editorial staff who intended, as it actually happened, to cut the image in the layout of the article.

This print was acquired directly from the Mollino house and it was exhibited for the first time in 1985 in the Galleria Fulvio Ferrari in Turin and published in its exhibition catalogue. Subsequently it was exhibited in 1988 at the Modernism show at the Park Avenue Armory in New York, where it was purchased by Mark Isaacson for his private collection.

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.