[In my designs] vigorous forms and strong shapes take the place of color.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
John Dickinson 1920–1982
John Dickinson was a designer celebrated for cultivating an inventive style that blended diverse influences such as eighteenth century English forms, Art Deco, Greek classicism and surrealism, to create modern pieces that endure as both sophisticated and playful.
John Dickinson was born in 1920 and grew up in Berkeley. He attended the Parsons School of Design, where he studied under the renowned interior designer Albert Hadley. Dickinson worked for a few years in New York at interior design firms and department stores, but moved back to San Francisco to establish his own studio in 1956. Early influences for Dickinson included Jean-Michel Frank’s pared-down interiors, rendered in luxe materials and with a pastiche of historical styles, Serge Roche’s classicist re-imaginations and T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings’ Klismos designs.
Dickinson mostly worked for a small, devoted circle of private collectors in California, designing rooms and homes for clients in totality, which is how he thought his vision was best expressed. He created his first widely-distributed pieces of furniture for Drexel’s Et Cetera line in 1965 and received his first large-scale commission in 1971 to design the interior of the I. Magnin department store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. His first complete line of furniture debuted at Macy’s, San Francisco in 1978 and featured what had become emblems of Dickinson’s style: a monochromatic palette, tromp l’œil effects, using scale to dramatic effect and mixing historical and cultural motifs. The collection included stark white bookcases resembling skyscrapers, nightstands with Roman column bases, a dresser that appeared to be made of concrete slabs, tables with legs in the shape of animal bones and stackable trunks that looked as though they’d been buried for years and recently unearthed.
While lauded by the design community for its originality, the collection was expensive and its references were too erudite and eccentric for the average consumer. Dickinson’s focus returned to private commissions and in 1980 he completed the interiors for the one-hundred-room Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, which was owned by a long-time supporter of his work, Carlene Safdie. In 1982 Dickinson passed away, leaving behind a singular body of work, that mostly only exists in his furniture designs; there is one extant Dickinson interior in a private home in Northern California and Dickinson’s former home, a renovated nineteenth century firehouse regarded as his magnum opus, no longer exists. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art holds a robust collection of Dickinson’s designs and held a retrospective of his work in 2003, honoring the unwavering commitment Dickinson had to creating designs that surprise, amuse and delight those who live with them.