Curatorial Alchemy

Our paths first crossed, unknown until many years later, at an intimate yet bustling wedding reception in a south Chicago apartment. This was probably 30 years ago, perhaps even the same year a new gallery, Torno Wright, opened at the end of my street to a fanfare of Eames, heralding new changes to come. Criss-crossing breezes of chance encounters, meandering spirits, hazy focus of time and space, of enthusiasm and knowledge sought, now united again in the same city.

That same serendipity, prompting impulse and discovery, guided welcome reward in the crucible of that great industrial city, still littered with the artefacts of the American mid-century. It was within this uneven yet fertile terrain, hidden slightly below surface, that Patrick’s intuitive talent—honed first as photographer then embellished as artist—would treasure the valuable neglected as passionate collector, and then as the inspirational dealer that I was to meet again, years later in New York City.

If asked to select one word to describe Patrick, I would resist and pick two. The first would be curiosity—a fundamental essential, to stimulate inquiry and rigour in all things, both great and small, of any era or region, type or surface. Even the most fleeting survey of this selection for sale is a celebration of innovation and of inspiration—an unerring eye for the unusually exceptional, or perhaps the exceptionally unusual. The chances are, that these are indeed discoveries that you have not yet realized that you needed to make.

Mentor, would be my second word. If artefacts and objects articulate visual, cultural and historic language, then the fluency of skillful mentorship—to guide, nurture, describe and explain—releases the eloquence of murmuring histories. In this capacity Patrick is that most earnest and sincere of excellent narrators. If ever I had friends, clients or colleagues visiting New York looking for unusual inspiration, there was always the certainty that Patrick’s gallery would offer them a glimpse of the hitherto unseen or the unusually seductive, always with the reassurance of the most fascinating story waiting to be told.

Mentorship and curiosity, when balanced in equal measure, reveal the precious alchemy of a curator. And it is the duty of the mature curator to discern and detect, to cultivate change, and from there to pioneer, and to share. Innovation is never static, and the Present is already the Future. Fresh dialogs evolve, energies to be nurtured, opportunities to be guided. Renewed and re-orientated, Patrick now faces fully forward—as benefactor, interlocutor and mentor to a new, inquisitive generation of talented creators, and the quest for discovery rejuvenates.

— Simon Andrews

Harvey Probber 1922–2003

Pioneering and innovative furniture designer Harvey Probber sold his first sofa design when he was just sixteen years old. He coined the concept of modular furniture and proceeded to compose harmonious interiors incorporating art and design.

Probber was raised in Brooklyn and as a high school student, he worked part-time in a used furniture store and began to draw his own furnishings. The successful sale of his sofa design deepened his curiosity and he visited the New York Furniture Exchange in Manhattan to make more connections within the industry. After his high school graduation, he took a position as a designer at Trade Upholstery, a small factory on West 17th Street, where he learned about the manufacturing and distribution of furniture. Probber’s ideas flourished and he produced successful, award-winning designs for other firms by 1940.

However, the onset of World War II briefly halted Probber’s career path. He joined the Coast Guard and toured the country with the Coast Guard Band as a baritone singer, entertaining troops. When the war ended, he continued touring and singing while sketching furniture designs in his down time.

Production of furniture was limited due to war-time shortages, but in 1945, Probber decided to go into manufacturing with his company, Harvey Probber, Inc. Around this time, Probber introduced his Sert Group furniture with various standalone modules that worked in combination with others in the line. Probber called his idea “Modular Furniture”; a concept that was quickly adopted by other designers and continues to be widely used today. In 1948, Probber’s Sling chair design was included in the influential Good Design exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and by the 1950s, his pieces were found in high end department stores across the country.

Probber opened showrooms across the country and continued to introduce highly sought after modern designs throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Even after he sold his company in 1986, he continued to work as a design consultant.

Design and creativity did not stop for Probber at his own furniture. His business model incorporated the distribution of designs by Maria Pergay, Angelo Mangiarotti, Preben Fabricius and Jorgen Kastholm among others that fit Probber’s modern vision. Furthermore, Probber intentionally designed his showrooms and developed his own advertising campaigns to include both art and design, creating a dialog between the two that illustrated neither exists in a vacuum.

Probber died in 2003 but he is remembered fondly for his innovative designs that remain as novel today as when they were first conceived.

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