Sam Kramer was the legend. He demolished conformity with a savage surrealism. He was endlessly delighted with the indelible imprint he made on the naïve bohemians and hip squares. But the power of his work and his life was never compromised by new movements, new styles, or new hipsters. He was never a clown. He was always the touchstone.
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.
Sam Kramer 1913–1964
Sam Kramer was born in and studied jewelry design in Pittsburgh. He began his career in the 1940s, peddling surrealist-inspired jewelry on the streets of Greenwich Village. He became a downtown personality, eventually establishing a shabby studio and shop full of taxidermy, swords, shells, bones, Mexican, Indian and Native American artifacts, and unusual stones and beads he salvaged from antique shops. A flyer by Kramer from this era (which were handed out on the streets by women dressed in space costumes and painted green) says that his jewelry “evolves from the dream world and the art world”. His oddball reputation did not precede him though, as he was one of the most respected mid-century jewelry designers.