NEW YORK - Christie’s New York's Spring 20th Century Decorative Art & Design sales take place on June 5-6 at the Rockefeller Galleries and are led by one of Jean Prouvé's visionary pre-fabricated constructions, a Prototype Maison Tropicale. This 20th century architectural icon is one of only three ever produced by the legendary French designer and will be sold on June 5 (estimate: $4 to $6 million).
A remarkable Christie's public exhibition, held in partnership with the Long Island City Cultural Alliance, to celebrate the 1951 Prototype Maison Tropicale is set at the foot of the Queensboro Bridge at the site of the future home of Silvercup West. On the banks of the East River in Long Island City, the space offers stunning views of the city skyline and the free public exhibition runs from 10a.m. to 5p.m. from May 17 to June 4, including weekends.
Joshua Holdeman, Christie's Senior Vice President, 20th Century Art says, "Christie’s prides itself on being at the forefront of the 20th century collecting categories for fine art, design, photographs, prints and the decorative arts. We are delighted to work with the Long Island City Cultural Alliance on this remarkable three-week exhibition, and offer the people of New York City a chance to share in the excitement of having one of the greatest 20th century architectural designs in the heart of the city."”
Alyson Baker, President of the Long Island City Cultural Alliance and Executive Director of Socrates Sculpture Park, says: "We are thrilled to be working in partnership with Christie’s and thank them for presenting such a remarkable architectural masterpiece in our neighborhood. For the next three weeks, Prouve’s Maison Tropicale will enhance the rich cultural landscape of Long Island City. It is a spectacular presentation on the banks of the East River: an icon of mid-century design installed beside the magnificent structure of the Queensboro bridge against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline."
Jean Prouvé is widely acknowledged as one of the 20th century’s most important and influential designers. His work, ranging from household and institutional furniture to commercial buildings and residential projects, consistently expresses his signature industrial aesthetic and relies upon traditional metals such as sheet steel and aluminum. The three industrially produced Tropical Houses he manufactured and designed for West Africa from 1949 to 1951 are the most striking and sophisticated of all his architectural achievements and are exemplary of his oeuvre.
After World War II, Prouvé moved his workshop to larger premises in Maxeville, a suburb of Nancy, and dedicated himself to the industrialization of architecture. He believed that architecture could be both well designed and inexpensive through the utilization of mass produced, prefabricated parts. The products of this visionary theory, Prouvé Tropical Houses, were prototypes intended to spawn a large series of mass produced homes which would address the housing and infrastructure shortage in France’s colonial territory in Africa.
The first of the three Tropical Houses, an office for the director of the college in Niamey, Niger was commissioned in 1949 by Paul Herbe, the architect-planner of the Niger territory. Prouvé’s two other tropical houses were sent to Brazzaville, capital of Belgian Congo in 1951. The smaller structure served as an office for the Bureau Regional d’Information de l’Aluminum Francais, and the larger, as a residence for its commercial director, Jacques Piaget. The residence, the structure being offered for sale by Christie’s, included a living area, a master bedroom, two additional bedrooms, a kitchen and one bathroom.
In designing a habitat for an equatorial climate, the Brazzaville tropical house is surrounded by a veranda equipped with an adjustable aluminum sun screen which reflects the sun and creates an outer skin. The facade of the actual house, which serves as an inner skin, is made up of both fixed and sliding panels; some include what have become Prouvé’s signature round windows or portholes. The roof is equipped with a built in ventilation system to counter the extreme heat.
The Brazzaville buildings suffered the abuse of over forty years of daily use, treacherous weather conditions and a civil war, which left a number of bullet holes in the aluminum siding. In 2001 the two structures were dismantled and shipped to France. The smaller structure, after a lengthy period of repair and restoration, was exhibited at Yale University in New Haven and The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and is now in the collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. The larger house, also subject to a meticulous restoration process, was exhibited on the Port des Champs-Elysees in Paris during the winter of 2006 (on the very site where the Niamey prototype had been exhibited in 1949) and is now being offered for sale by Christie’s.
Auction: Jean Prouvé’s Prototype Maison Tropicale and Works by Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret from the Collection of Eric Touchaleaume, June 5, 2007 at 5p.m. Viewing: 41-98 Vernon Boulevard, Long Island City, 11101, May 17 – June 4, 10a.m to 5p.m.