Australian designer Marc Newson’s 1988 Lockheed Lounger recently set a record for the highest sale price ever paid at auction for a piece of furniture by a living designer. The record sale, $3.7 million, took place at Phillips in London last April.
The Lockheed Lounger is a sofa made of riveted aluminum and glass fiber composite. In an unusual twist, the composite here functions as the frame, to which the aluminum skin is attached.
The high price it brought this past April is partly explained by the scarcity of the item. Only 15 were made: a prototype, four artist’s proofs, and a limited edition of 10, of which the recently-sold specimen is Number 10. Previous sales of other Lockheed Loungers in 2009 and 2012 had also been record-breakers in their day.
Newson began work on it in 1985-86, when he was 23 years old.
“It was more of a sculpture than a chair. The chair was just an excuse to bring it to life. I had the vision in my head, I had it pretty clear in my head: a globule of mercury, a seamless, shiny smooth object. But I really didn’t know how I was going to do it. I had no idea of how I was going to realize this on a technical level.”
The first version of the chaise was prototyped from a block of foam that Newson sculpted – “started hacking at” – with a very aggressive wire brush. He also employed an electric carving knife from his kitchen. He thought of it as a modernization of the classic Recamier chaise lounge. His original plan to laminate it with a sheet of aluminum failed. He then switched gears and started beating small, thin aluminum panels onto the curved foam, and riveting them in place. He named this first chair the LC-1.
A revamped version of the chair, developed from 1986-1988, moved even further from the Recamier and closer to the glob of mercury. A prototype of that was built on a molded fiberglass body, with the aluminum plates hammered into shape on it and riveted in place. In that respect, the role of the composite in creating the shape is similar to the way composites are often used in furniture and architecture. The difference in Newson’s approach is not making the desired surface an integral part of the composite casting. This prototype was followed by four artist’s proofs, and the edition of 10. Each was hand made. It became a limited edition simply because it was so much work to make them that they stopped at 10.
The Lockheed Lounger, when first displayed in 1988, had a sale price of $3000, and was purchased by the Art Gallery of South Australia. Subsequent specimens ended up selling originally for about $1,000 each. But over time, as several of them were acquired by museums, they began to take on the glow of an extreme collectible. The market for this sort of super-rarified design furniture has been booming, and the Lockheed Lounger is flying at the leading edge of that prevailing wind.
The “Lockheed” name is a reference to the surface resembling aircraft such as are built by companies like Lockheed. (The aircraft manufacturer has no other connection with the sofa.) It was not part of the original concept, but was applied sometime during the development process of the 1988 version.
In an interview with the BBC, Newson recently confessed that the sofa is not very comfortable.
“They’re not really intended to be comfortable. But when I was in Art School, my rule of thumb was that if it was more comfortable than a bus stop, it would generally qualify to be something worth sitting on.”
Images copyright Marc Newson, Phillips de Purys & Co., via design-fair.com.