The Annual San Francisco 20th Century Modernism Show & Sale (SF20) returned this week (September 16-19) to the Fort Mason Center. SF20 opened with a posh Preview Gala on Thursday, benefiting the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), offering supporters an opportunity to shop and purchase objects before the opening to the public on Friday. International dealers from London, Budapest, Paris, Moscow, Los Angeles, the East Coast, and of course, the San Francisco Bay Area, showcased their work in settings designed to render the effect of a vintage 20th century show house. Proceeds from the Preview Gala are promised to underwrite the SFMOMA’s education and exhibition programs. Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein served as honorary chairs this year, with Katie Schwab, Allison Speer, and Stanlee Gatti serving as co-chairs, and Douglas Durkin as the Designers Forum Chair. SFMOMA’s Elaine McKeon was the honorary chair in 2009, while collectors Helen and Chuck Schwab were honorary co-chairs in 2008.
Local auctioneers, Bonhams & Butterfields, sponsored a panel discussion on 20th century design featuring a keynote lecture by Michael Bruno (1st Dibs founder and president) entitled “Do the planet a favor, buy antiques and vintage design.” Booth lectures were presented by Martine Newby (Didier Antiques, London, UK) and Peter Fetterman (Peter Fetterman Gallery, Santa Monica).
SF20 featured some of the most prominent 20th-century decorative and fine arts dealers from across the United States and Europe, including R 20th Century (New York), Hedge Gallery (San Francisco), The Silver Fund (London), and Dragonette (Los Angeles), among others. Furniture, fine art, and objects, representing design movements of the past century, along with contemporary art dealers Fraenkel Gallery, Ratio 3, Silverman Gallery (all of San Francisco), and Meier Ferrer (West Hollywood).
The reference to the word “modernism” today generally refers to work in the 20th century – we appreciate modernism for its streamlined aesthetic, and elegant use of materials and space. Loosely defined, it is modern character or practice. Specifically, it is a group of cultural movements that include art, architecture, and daily life in response to new ideas resulting from changes in new economic, political and social conditions caused by the rapid growth of industry. In response to the industrial age, bourgeois ideas of class and a redefinition of what formed daily life and society – modern design became an exercise to define modern living. Modernism introduced architecture by Richard Neutra and Frank Lloyd Wright, art and furniture by Charles and Ray Eames, Arne Jacobsen, and Jean Prouvé, silver tableware by Georg Jensen, as well as new aesthetics in art by Jean Arp, Constantin Brancusi, Salvador Dali, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol, among many, many others.
While this writer didn’t see work by Eames, Jacobsen, Dali or Warhol this visit, SF20 offered a few objects she might covet: semi-precious chunks of jewelry by Chanel, gleaming silver tea sets by Georg Jensen and the French house of Puiforcat, a Jean Prouvé bureau, and beautiful glass designs by Ritsue Mishima with Hedge Gallery and Jim Zimmerman with R 20th Century. We left SF20 with a refresher of things familiar to our childhood, now considered classic elements of modern design, as well as a few ideas of what to look for that will define contemporary art and design of the first decade of the 21st century.