Collection of the Artist
Private Collection, New York, 2000
Formally trained as an architect in Vienna, Frederick Kiesler (1890-1965) began his career designing exhibition spaces and theater sets in the 1920s. His work caught the attention of Josef Hoffmann, who invited him to design a portion of the Austrian pavilion at the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris, in 1925. The effect was two-fold. The experience helped develop his reputation as an avant-garde designer, and it also cemented his disdain for opulent and superfluous decoration. A year later, Kiesler and his wife Stefi moved to New York to pursue his interest in theater design and exhibition.
In New York, Kiesler became a founding member of AUDAC, the American Union of Decorative Arts and Craftsmen, created in 1928 to protect and promote the interests of the newly burgeoning industrial design field. Kiesler designed the exhibition space for AUDAC's first presentation, the "Home Show," in 1930, and he also designed an office interior for the show, featuring furniture with metal tubing and an emphasis on horizontal lines. Another opportunity to share his ideas with a wider audience came in 1933 when he constructed a model of his Space House, with its fluid interior and moveable partitions, for the Modernage Furniture Company exhibition.
At around the same time, Charles and Marguerite (Alma) Mergentime commissioned Kiesler to furnish a sitting room. Kiesler finished the interior in 1935, and the results signal a paradigm shift in his design. Some of the pieces continue to embody the modernist aesthetic and his own principles of moveability and multi-functionality, such as the "Lamp Table" and a "Bed Couch" on castors. But he also introduced more organic forms, such as the now iconic nesting tables, in line with the growing biomorphic design movement.
Just after completing the Mergentime interior, Kiesler and his wife Stefi moved into a penthouse at 56 7th Avenue in Greenwich Village in 1936, and they would reside there for the rest of their lives. The daybed offered here was completed shortly after they moved, as is evidenced by the original dated upholsterer's label on the underside, and dates to a particularly fertile period in Kiesler's furniture design, when in addition to the "Home Show" and the Mergentime commission, he submitted a patent for the Party Lounge (1936) and exhibited a floor lamp at MoMA's Cubism and Abstract Art show (1936). Although the Kiesler apartment was described in a 1970 interview with their doorman as "a cross between a studio, apartment, and junk shop", it nevertheless served as a gathering place for Kiesler's many illustrious friends, including Fernand Leger, Mies van der Rohe, Hans Richter, Jean Arp, and Piet Mondrian (Lisa Phillips, Frederick Kiesler, New York, 1989, p. 27). Marcel Duchamp even lived with the Kieslers for a short while. In a photo dating to ca. 1950 (see figure), Kiesler is seen sitting in his study amidst the chaos of books and papers on his desk. The daybed, covered with a myriad of books as well, also stood in this room.
In the late 1930s and into the 1940s, Kiesler worked for Columbia University and the Julliard School of Music, while he continued to develop and publish his design theories. Then, Peggy Guggenheim commissioned Kiesler to design the interior of her Art of This Century Gallery. That collaboration would result in the 1942 ground-breaking avant-garde exhibition space where many of his complicated design theories were brought to fruition. After the great success of the Art of this Century project, Kiesler focused more on designing exhibition space and working closely with Surrealist artists, and he eventually spent more of his energy on his own paintings and sculpture.
Kiesler died in 1965, and his second wife, Lillian, retained the apartment and its furnishings, leaving Kiesler's study intact. In 2000 she presented this daybed to a close friend of hers and Kiesler's. Lillian died just a year later in 2001.
Although Kiesler's career was long and illustrious, he spent a relatively short amount of time dedicating himself to furniture, and none of his designs were mass produced. Examples of his furniture are rare, and rarer still are pieces from his own interior.
-Victoria Rodríguez Thiessen
Sotheby's would like to thank Dieter Bogner for his assistance in cataloguing this work.
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