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Modernism is Older Than You Think

by Tom Carrier (12/11/08).

Jim Kamnikar, president of WorthPoint and GoAntiques.com, visited the Miami National Antiques Show, where he spoke with Ray Kisber from Montreal, Canada, about the style of furniture, glassware, and collectibles known as Modernism. So, Ray, where does Modernism come from?

“Modernism really started at the beginning of the (20th) century and was known as Art Nouveau,” Kisber says, adding that it was at that time, when most designs were plain and ordinary, these new designs were out of the ordinary. “It leapt from the Victorian Age, it wasn’t right for the age.”

“Then Art Nouveau became Art Deco, with oblique, stronger lines. Again, wrong, unacceptable; clean, geometric, straight lines,” says Kisber. “Geometric meaning circles, squares and triangles. All the signs of geometry, which is why it’s called geometric.” But it wasn’t all geometric; there were other pieces that didn’t fit that mold, such as floral pieces.

There is also the streamlined Art Deco design, he adds, such as the toy cars with the wheels covered up, the designs from the 1939 World’s Fair, or even the famous design of the Chrysler building in New York City. Kisber explains that Art Deco definition is usually reserved for items from the 1920s and 1930s, but it can blend into the 1940s as well.

Mid-Century Modern would be the era encompassing the 1940s through the 1970s. “Then there is Post Modernism, which we’re sort of in now,” Kisber concludes.

So what does Kisber what do you look for when shopping for a piece to take on the road? “I divide the whole category into two groups. There’s collectibles and there is design. Sometimes they override. I look for the design. I want them to come to (my booth), look and go ‘wow, where did that come from?’”

Kisber’s booth features the eclectic quantity of furniture, lamps and tables that utilize glass, chrome and streamlined design that creates a wonderful, three-dimensional post-graduate course in Modernism. Kisber says that artists and their art that is considered Modernist now had a challenging origin.

“The most popular artist was Andy Warhol. In his day, he was laughed at. His lithographs now are worth millions,” Kisber says. “It is difficult to go wrong with anything that’s Warhol.” Among other artists Kisber features at his shows include American artist Jim Dine—“a very important Pop artist,” Kisber says—and Sam Francis. But the most important artist in American Art today, according to Kisber, would be Jasper Johns.

“He has the biggest auction record in American Art. They don’t just have the look,” Kisber says, “but they also have the provenance, the ability to be looked up and catalogued.”

Jasper Johns created White Flag in 1955. It was sold to a private collector in 1998 for $80 million, the highest auction record for a living artist to date.

“These are the representatives of the period in the Pop field and in the Modernism field. It’s a great collectible. The fact that it is collectible to me is happenstance,” says Kisber. “To me, I like it because you know that it’s right, it’s a great name and it looks great on the wall.”

A video showing Kisber’s booth and merchandise can be viewed here .
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