Noah and Eric Wunsch are Co-Directors of the Wunsch Americana Foundation along with their father Peter. The brothers are hosting Sotheby's Open House in New York on 26 July from 5–8 PM. Exhibitions are on view for the Contemporary Art Online, Made in America and Contemporary Living auctions. We caught up with the Wunschs to talk about their foundation, its mission and get some of their tips on participating at auction.
Tell us about the Wunsch Foundation and its mission.
The Foundation is devoted to preservation, education and investment in American antiquities. We have lending, sharing and gifting relationships with a number of institutions throughout the United States and the Foundation sponsors an annual award presented to individuals, institutions and causes that support the field of American decorative arts. Our Foundation’s efforts are rooted in 18th Century American furniture, reflecting our Grandfather Martin Wunsch’s collecting and academic passion. We have evolved the Foundation's programmatic agenda, organising a series of events centered on unique American design, early 18th Century through contemporary, with a focus on engaging and educating young people on the import and art of design.
GEORGE NAKASHIMA, TRIPLE SLIDING-DOOR CABINET. ESTIMATE $20,000–30,000.
Why do you feel it’s especially important for young collectors to get involved at auction?
We feel it's important for young people to learn about design, whether at museums, galleries or auction houses. We believe that the most confident and content buyers are those who have a fundamental understanding of the work they’re pursuing. Auction houses are unique in that you can engage with work in a very intimate and private way, an experience that’s difficult to replicate in an institutional setting. At Sotheby's you have the opportunity to get close to these exceptional pieces. To sit in them. To touch them. To consider what they might look like or feel like in your home. You have direct and immediate access to experts, ready and willing to fill you in on every last detail of the pieces on the floor, and they're open to the public almost every day of the week! There's the opportunity to learn so much from auction houses, their exhibitions and sales. Further, we hope that young people will be interested in and inspired by the kinds of pieces on offer at major auction houses like Sotheby’s – pieces that benefit from history and provenance, quality and craftsmanship. Work that is not immediately devalued once it’s driven off the lot, so to speak.
Is there a perception that buying pieces at Sotheby’s is out of reach for young collectors?
Yes, to some degree we think there is a perception that buying pieces at Sotheby's, or any major auction house for that matter, is out of reach for many young people. Further, the notion of purchasing design at auction is a bit far afield for many young people – not often considered a viable, or practical option for simply furnishing one’s home. The diversity of works available at auction is not often highlighted; it's generally the big impressive sales that are touted in the media, which can be intimidating, even off-putting for young people. We advocate for interacting with the auction and design communities across the price spectrum. I think if the focus was more on education without the pressure of buying, it would put new collectors at ease. Sotheby's has done a fantastic job of this with the 1744 young collector's group, and their new dynamic programming (Apple TV, etc.) is inspiring. Sotheby’s is increasingly holding online only auctions.
BETTINA RHEIMS, '4 JUILLET II, PARIS' (FROM CHAMBRE CLOSE). ESTIMATE $5,000–7,000.
Do you sense that young people are likely to respond to that format more than to physical auctions?
In a strange way I think physical auctions are a wonderful entrance to Sotheby's. Being exposed to the energy of the audience and the auctioneer in action is fun. Again, letting young people know that it's okay to attend in order to watch and learn, is a wonderful way to create a future collector. After our first few auctions we started watching the ones we couldn't attend online. We weren't buying new pieces, we were just watching, seeing where the market was and which pieces were garnering enthusiasm amongst bidders. Was there a new trend there? Was one artist, maker category consistently passing while another overachieved? But I don't think we were really aware we could watch auctions online until we stood in the room.
What are some of your guiding principles when deciding what objects to bid on at auction?
We have vivid memories of our grandfather turning tables and chairs over with curators and collectors trying to make a determination about whether or not the piece was “right.” Feeling comfortable with the condition of the work, its provenance, its historical context and ultimately its value are crucial factors in deciding what to compete for at auction. At the end of the day, the work has to be more valuable to the purchaser than anyone else in the room. We encourage potential buyers to use the fantastic resources available to them at Sotheby’s, engage an expert and ask questions. Fundamental to purchasing at auction is this notion that you are investing in the work that you acquire both emotionally and financially. Make sure that the work is right for you, and bid with confidence.
M. SINGER AND SONS, PAIR OF ARMCHAIRS. ESTIMATE $800–1,200.
Are there any pieces from the upcoming Contemporary Living sale (or any other for that matter) that have caught your eye?
We can't tell you that! We're trying to get these pieces below estimate! Kidding, kidding... sort of kidding (not really kidding).
Noah: I'm a huge fan of Bettina Rheims' work, I recently bought her retrospective book from Taschen, which is a massive tome filled with amazing photography. I love her series Modern Lovers, which plays with gender and sexual ambiguity. I've got a feeling 4 Juiliet II, Paris will be very popular, so I'm not keeping my eye on it so much as enjoying the show.
Eric: Sergio Rodrigues’s Cantu chairs are beautiful examples of Brazilian midcentury design; I’ll be tracking them for my dining room. George Nakashima’s sliding door cabinet is a really elegant piece by one of the masters of the American Studio furniture movement, and benefits from interesting provenance, acquired directly from the artist by the present owner. There’s also a pair of M. Singer and Sons armchairs that I think are very attractive at a great price point, estimated at $800–1200.
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