The Luis Barragán Room Divider that sold for a six-figure at TEFAF 2016 UNSOLVED MYSTERY

No Comments

During the recent TEFAF 2016 in Maastricht, an Art fair which on their Preview day had over 10,000 international private collectors, curators and representatives from the world’s leading museums and public institutions visiting its premises. One of the highlights of the fair was that the Parisian gallery Downtown sold an important piece of furniture from their display dedicated to Luis Barragán. The work is a long pinewood bookcase dated 1951 that also acts as a room divider and according to the gallery the piece was part of a commission for Casa Pedregal in Mexico City. Apparently, it sold to a private collector for a six-figure sum.

I wonder where this large bookcase/room divider was located in the Casa Prieto López when finished by Luis Barragán in 1951; as long as I have not been able to find this big piece of furniture in any of the different areas (bedrooms, library, kitchen, or anywhere else) of the house in my archives until its sudden use as room divider well passed the 1980’s.

I have put together a chronological series of pictures of Casa Prieto´s interior decoration since 1951 until today on the living room and opposite dining room area, as you can see below:

Living Room area Casa Prieto López (1951)

Casa Prieto living room area in 1951 with no room divider or folding screen on the right corner.

Living Room Casa Prieto López (1954)

 In 1954 the living room area at Casa Prieto now shows a folding screen to the right, next to the chimney.

Casa Estudio Luis Barragán

Similar to the “paravent” at Casa Prieto, Luis Barragán used folding screens at his own home, the Casa Estudio Luis Barragán in Mexico City´s Tacubaya neighborhood.

Casa Prieto López (1970) Dining Room

In 1970 we still have the same decorative screen – now seen from the dining room, opposite the living room area.

In 1989 the folding screen is still in the Casa Prieto, separating both, the living room from the dining area.

In 2009 the same dining room at Casa Prieto is now furnished with a large wooden room divider.

Same pinewood room divider seen from the opposite side, the living room at Casa Prieto.

Complete view of this room divider before the sale of Casa Prieto López in 2014 to Mexican businessman César Cervantes, who completed a major renovation project of the house in order to bring it back to its original Luis Barragán state, now called Casa Pedregal.

Casa Pedregal (2014)

Casa Pedregal (formerly Casa Prieto) in 2014. New look after the extensive renovation program that its new owner Cesár Cervantes completed by the fall of 2014.

Casa Pedregal (2015) refurbished dining room

Casa Pedregal in 2015. View of the refurbished dining room now after 64 years, again with no folding screen and/or room divider, bringing it back to its original 1951 state.

Room-Divider at TEFAF 2016

The same room divider from Casa Prieto was now presented by Parisian gallery Downtown at TEFAF 2016, as part of a commission for Casa Pedregal, Mexico City, dated 1951.

UNSOLVED MYSTERY: if you have any picture to document the whereabouts of this big pine piece of furniture before the 1980’s it will be highly appreciated since the furniture of this house from 1951 until well passed the 1970’s was made of “sabino”  wood.

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.



The revival of the Butaque Chair in Mexican 20th Century Furniture Design – Part 4

No Comments

continued from part # 3

American designer William Spratling frequented prominent artists and personalities that were active within the Mexicanismo movement during that time, and many of them decorated their homes with his furniture. As a result of the success of William Spratling’s furniture designs, the Butaque fever started in Mexico and following the saying of silversmiths “the tin is the poor man´s silver”, in the 1940’s Clara Porset decided to introduce industrial low-cost series of butaques with only minimal changes to Spratling’s designs produced since the early 1930’s at his Taller de las Delicias. The conflict between Spratling and Porset became well known, and as a consequence, they never talked to each other again. Porset also approppriated an old art-crafted typical caned butaque of Veracruz and the famous Miguelito armchair from Jalisco, of course in cheap woods like pine, etc. Someone coined the saying: “A Porset is the poor man’s Spratling butaque”.

Low cost Butaque Chair designed by Clara Porset (1949)

Armless Butaque version designed by Clara Porset (1956)

Armless Butaque Chair by Clara Porset (1960´s)

Clara Porset´s Living room with a variety of Butacas

Pair of Miguelito Armchairs designed by Clara Porset (ca. 1947 + 1950’s)

Now we will witness how the fever of the butaque chair was propagated:

Everybody knew each other in the Mexican architectural and design world and one thing lead to another: Clara Porset collaborated on many projects with prominent Mexican architect Luis Barragán and by the mid 1940’s Barragán presented “La Butaca” designs in his furnishing proposals. At this moment the butaque fever reached its peak and the cloning virus was more vicious than ever; please check on the pictures of the typical Jalisco Miguelito chairs and the identical butaques produced by Barragán and Clara Porset; miraculously, one particular chair created by Clara Porset for Barragán looks identical to the caned Butaque chairs from Veracruz from the early 20th Century. (See my posts: Mexican Modernism – Furniture Design in Mexico – Part #1 & Part #5 + ¿What is the difference between a Mexican Campeche Chair and a Butaque? – Part #2)

I would like to remark however, that some of Luis Barragan’s and Clara Porset’s dining room chairs remind me of William Spratling’s designs as well, but we will talk about those appropriations in future posts.

Butaca Chair designed by Luis Barragán (1945)

Caned Butaque Chair from the state of Veracruz (early 20th Century)

A Luis Barragán Miguelito Armchair

A typical Butaca from Jalisco (Miguelito Chair)

Pair of Miguelito Armchairs by Luis Barragán

I also have to mention Mexican architect and urban planner Juan Sordo Madaleno, active during that same period of time. Architecturally, he settled initially by the Bauhaus style and influence of Le Corbusier. Notable examples of Sordo Madaleno’s work are his own house (1952), the Cinema Paris (1954), with its surprising structure and composition, and the Seguros Anáhuac Building (1958). He significantly influenced the design of hotels in Mexico and he was among the pioneers to introduce a new type of large-scale commercial center, such as the Plaza Satélite (1971) in Mexico City. Juan Sordo Madaleno collaborated with Luis Barragán, Serrano and Ricardo Legorreta, among others, and he worked with Clara Porset on several projects like the Club Campestre Churubusco in Mexico City.

Here are some interior views of Sordo Madaleno’s house in Mexico City, including Butaca chair models designed by him – very similar to those presented by Luis Barragán and Clara Porset:

Butaca Bench by Juan Sordo Madaleno (1950’s)

Miguelito Chair by Juan Sordo Madaleno (1950’s)

A Luis Barragán Miguelito Armchair

to be continued in part # 5

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.


Mexican Modernism – Furniture Design in Mexico – Part # 1

No Comments

Mexico was a fertile ground for modernist architecture in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s. While the United States was adhering to a Soviet-style official architecture, Mexico — looking to express a progressive new identity after its revolution — had gone entirely modern. Starting in the late 1940’s public building projects — government buildings, schools, hospitals and public housing — were designed according to the logical economy of a stripped-down functionalism. The desire for an expression of modernity extended beyond public architecture to the realm of the wealthy and the powerful. Modernism in Mexico’s elite private sector was often practiced as a style, symbolic of sophistication and novelty but divorced from the progressive social philosophy at the heart of the movement.

Mexican Mid-Century Modernist design spans a period starting in the late 1940’s and goes on until 1968, timing with the Summer Olympics held in Mexico City. Examples from this period include the Ciudad Universitaria, El Eco (the first alternative art space designed by Mathias Goeritz in 1953), and the residential enclave of The Gardens of El Pedregal de San Angel, conceived and planned by Luis Barragán.

Luis Barragán was a trained engineer. Influenced by the traditional structures of Spain and North Africa, in addition to the avant-garde movements of the first half of the 20th century (in particular the German Bauhaus and the work and teachings of Le Corbusier), his most profound inspiration was the vernacular architecture and forms of his native Mexico. Cited as an inspiration by a number of his successors including Tadao Ando and Frank Gehry, he first ascended to international acclaim in 1976 when the MoMA in New York held a retrospective of his work. Soon after, in 1980, he would go on to receive architecture’s most prestigious award, the Pritzker Prize. After his death, Barragán’s home was restored and opened to the public as a museum, becoming a UNESCO world heritage site in 2004.

From 1945 to 1953 Luis Barragán as a real estate broker, oversaw from the conception, design, construction and marketing, to the creation of a network of roads, plazas, ‘simple abstract’ houses and gardens of Los Jardines del Pedregal de San Angel, laid out on the south edge of Mexico City.  Throughout El Pedregal, Barragán collaborated with 2 good friends and local artists whose work and philosophies were, for him, of great import. For color and composition Barragán consulted Mexican painter Jesus “Chucho” Reyes to brilliant effect, and also incorporated into the plazas and entrance porticoes the sculpture of German-born artist Mathias Goeritz. Barragán’s furnishings, like the spaces they were designed to fill, succeed in being simultaneously aware of – and referential to – both modern and traditional styles, successfully integrating current artistic trends with the vernacular to create a style that is at once both traditional and contemporary.

Luis Barragán seating on a Miguelito Armchair

Although the number of Luis Barragán’s works is not significant, they have allowed him to become an influential figure in the world of landscape and architectural design. Opposed to functionalism, Barragán advocated for an ’emotional architecture’ claiming that, “any work of architecture which does not express serenity is a mistake.” Today, the Barragán Foundation which is owned by the Vitra Design Museum in Switzerland is functioning as his official estate. Vitra owns the rights to the name and works of Luis Barragán as well as Armando Salas Portugal’s photographs involving Barragán and his work.

Francisco Artigas was a very prominent figure in Mexican architecture with a great number of outstanding designs. The majority of Artigas’ projects were houses built in the 1950’s and 1960’s for clients in Mexico City’s exclusive suburb, Los Jardines del Pedregal de San Angel, laid out on the south edge of the city by real estate broker Luis Barragán. These masterpieces (for instance, Casa Gómez, 1953) made Artigas an icon of Mexican modernism. Artigas’ work was inspired by his profound admiration for Frank Lloyd Wright and Albert Frey as well as Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer. Francisco Artigas’ houses in El Pedregal and in San Angel expose the uncanny quality of abstract modernist boxes in strong site conditions whether a lava-covered foreign landscape or in a lush, almost tropical exuberant vegetation.

In the late 1960’s however, Artigas shifted his architectural style – in his new work there was no justification, no protocol, no larger plan based on a new concept of social engineering: he was simply bored with modernism….

Francisco Artigas interior designs from the 1950’s and early 1960’s keep a perfect balance and harmony with the surrounding landscape. Below I have put together some samples of his furniture designs from that period of time:

Pedro Ramírez Vázquez is responsible for a substantial portion of the most famous and visited contemporary buildings in Mexico City. The Nueva Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is perhaps his most famous and celebrated contribution to Mexico City’s architectural heritage. Constructed between 1974 and 1976, the Basilica is widely considered the most important religious building in Mexico. Another of Vázquez’s notable projects was to create the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City (1964) and yet another of Vázquez’s well-known works is the Mexico City Museum of Modern Art, (the MAM) in collaboration with Rafael Mijares, also in 1964. He has been responsible for the construction of some of Mexico’s most emblematic buildings and he is known to be a modern architect with influences from the European modern movement, Latin American modern architects and pre-Columbian cultures. His contribution to industrial design is remarkable; in particular I have to mention his sculptures in glass made for Kristaluxus Monterrey and Daum France as well as several furniture pieces for offices and museums.

…to be continued in part # 2

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

Building up an icon (mass produced) – Part #13

No Comments

Vitra was founded in 1950 by Willi and Erika Fehlbaum in Weil am Rhein, Germany as a shop-fitting company. Business flourished when in 1957 Herman Miller Inc.* assigned Vitra the license to produce and sell the products of Charles & Ray Eames and George Nelson in Germany and Switzerland. The influence of Charles & Ray Eames was fundamental to the development of the company. *As far as the partnerships that Herman Miller had in Europe back in the 1950’s, there were originally 4 companies: Vitra in Switzerland, Hille in the UK (which I already discussed in my previous post), ICF in Italy and Mobilier International in France; nowadays only Vitra retains a license from Herman Miller Inc.

In the 1970’s Vitra’s growing reputation for high-quality designs combined with a dynamic corporate identity was further enhanced by Rolf Fehlbaum who commissioned company buildings by highly innovative designers, including factory buildings by British architect Nicholas Grimshaw (1981) and Italian Antonio Citterio (1992), a conference building by Japanese architect Tadao Ando (1992), and the world-famous Vitra Design Museum by Frank O. Gehry, completed in 1989. The Vitra Design Museum maintains one of the largest collections of modern furniture design in the world with objects representing all of the major eras and stylistic periods from the beginning of the 19th century to the present. Special areas of the collection include early industrial bentwood furniture, turn-of-the-century designs by Viennese architects, Gerrit Rietveld’s experiments, tubular steel furniture from the 1920´s and 1930´s, key objects of Scandinavian Design from 1930 to 1960, Italian Design and contemporary developments. A further area of special interest is American Design, ranging from Shaker pieces to the postmodern seating of Robert Venturi. The Museum Collection also holds several prominent estates, including those of Charles Eames, Verner Panton, Anton Lorenz and Alexander Girard. The Collection is complemented by an extensive archive and research library. When the Barrágan papers in Mexico were in danger of dissolving into dust, Vitra rescued them. Vitra’s work with the Barrágan and Eames archives have allowed the Museum to celebrate established reputations and to throw new light on them, as well as in some cases, to overcome unjustified neglect.

In the closing decades of the 20th century Vitra became widely known as a fashionable manufacturer of furniture; it was precisely during the 1980’s that the “Vitra Editions” initiative was launched, commissioning experimental designs from a range of designers including Ron Arad, Frank O. Gehry, Shiro Kuramata, Alessandro Mendini, Ettore Sottsass, Borek Sípek and Philippe Starck. We can recall as the most successful chairs in this experiment to have been: Kuramata’s “How High the Moon” Armchair in nickel-plated steel mesh (1986), Sípek’s Ota Otanek Chair (1988), Philippe Starck’s Louix XX Stacking Chair (1992) and Frank Gehry’s “Grandpa Chair” (re-issued in 1993).

Today Vitra’s product line consists of designer furniture for use in offices, homes and public areas. Apart from the company’s own designs, it also manufactures and distributes the works of great names such as Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi, George Nelson, Verner Panton, Antonio Citterio, Sori Yanagi, Philippe Starck, Mario Bellini, Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, Greg Lynn, Hella Jongerius, Glen Oliver Löw, Dieter Thiel, Jasper Morrison, Alberto Meda, Ron Arad, Maarten Van Severen and Jean Prouvé among other leading designers.

The close collaboration in the early 1960´s with Danish designer Verner Panton played an important role in Vitra´s success story, when the company decided to develop what became Panton´s  best-known design: the “Panton Chair”, introduced in 1967. The “Stacking Chair” or “S Chair” became Panton´s most famous and mass-produced design. Sleek, sexy and a technical first, the “Panton” was the chair of the era.



A good eye for targeting production rights for the right furniture designs was also a key to Vitra´s success:

  • Sori Yanagi´s iconic “Butterfly Stool” was originally produced only by Japanese Tendo Mokko Corp. An example of Vitra´s timing (being in the right place at the right time) they own the production rights for the “Butterfly Stool” in Europe, North & South America & Africa.
  • In 2002 Vitra obtained the rights from Prouvé´s family to re-edit Jean Prouvé´s famous designs with the “Jean Prouvé Collection”. Furthermore, in 2011 Prouvé´s original designs have been updated with ideas from G-Star & Vitra giving birth to the “Prouvé RAW”, a collection of furniture classics from this French designer and artisan, newly interpreted. Mainly focused on chairs, lamps, tables, a chaise longue and others that were updated in new materials and colors while leaving the structure of the pieces largely unchanged.

OK. If you think that the last paragraph is redundant you are right, but it is exactly the way most consumers feel at this moment after 20 something years of re-introductions, re-issues, re-launches, revivals, re-interpretations, reproductions, re-editions of rediscovered design classics have become very fashionable AND PROFITABLE with a proven formula so they are currently marketed at rather high prices by the many renowned furniture manufacturers around the world, becoming a very important part of the bottom line for the furniture business. The question is: will the industry ever see farther than its comfort zone? Is the new talent dead? How many design students are there in the universities in the world? I hope that there are only 2 or 3 and that they are aware that the leading companies of the industry rather be in their comfort zone than offering opportunities to new-comer designers. Of course, re-copycats and cheap re-imitations have flooded the markets. Do you re-understand that we are tired of the re-formula? This re-marketing is extremely dangerous to the point of re-tiring consumers in the long run.


…to be continued in part # 14

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.