PAUL EVANS THE ARGENTE SERIES
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Book design by Dallas Dunn Photography by Simon Leung Essay by Glenn Adamson
The ARGENTE Series
September 24, 2020 80 Lafayette Street, New York, NY
There is nothing that cannot be done in metal and I do not work in metal in a normal way, or for that matter, like any other craftsman I know or have heard about.
TODD MERRILL STUDIO presents an unprecedented collection of original Paul Evans Argente Studio works from three distinguished private collections. Each originally installed in the collectors’ homes by Evans himself, the works now offered for purchase have never been seen publicly. Given the scarcity of existing Argente pieces and their infrequent public availability, an assembly of this magnitude will possibly never be presented again. One of the most recognizable and versatile figures in the American Craft Movement of the post-war period, and arguably the most collectible American furniture designer of the late 20th Century, Paul Evans produced a distinctive line of aluminum works under the title Argente (Latin for silver) from 1965 to 1972. The works are characterized by the juxtaposition of opaque black and reflective silver populated by pictographic “drawings” and patterns. Due to their high production cost, as well as inherent difficulties in producing the line, which created a dangerous studio environment, Argente was one of Evans’ shortest lived, and most highly sought-after series of works. Anchoring the exhibition, an exceedingly rare Argente Disc Bar defines the uniqueness of this group. While the disc bar was a novel form for Evans (a wall hanging cabinet with a circular front and demi-lune doors), no example
of this form was known to exist in the aluminum Argente technique until this masterwork was recently discovered. Commissioned from the Evans Studio by a Virginia collector sometime between 1967 and 1973, an unparalleled group of one-of-a-kind works consists of a unique three-part desk with slate top (signed PE 1967), accompanied by two large rolling cabinets, a monumental dining table (signed PE 1973), a large low table (accompanied by original drawing and receipt 1973) and an uncommon oversized cube table. Like the Argente Disc Bar, many of these works are believed to be the only example of their forms in aluminum. Since the turn of the 21st Century, a fresh look at Evans’ extraordinary legacy has created a new appreciation and a thriving market fueled by a passionate group of fervent collectors. In 2017, Todd Merrill Studio sold Evans’ first Forged Steel and Sculpted Bronze Disc Bar (1968) at a record price of $200,000. The work is featured on the cover of Merrill’s book “Modern Americana: From High Craft to High Glam (Rizzoli 2008 / 2018 extended edition). Today, the few remaining Argente works demonstrably showcase the Studio’s innovation of material and unabashed bravado of design and decoration. -Dallas Dunn
The ARGENTE Series 1965 - 1973 by Glenn Adamson In 1965, an exhibition called The Responsive Eye opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, introducing America to the phenomenon of Op Art. Nearby, one very sharp pair of eyes did respond. In general, frustratingly little is known about the artistic influences that helped shape Paul Evans’ ever-evolving sensibility. But looking at the sinuous lines, high-contrast silver and black palette, and the sheer visual dazzle of his Argente line – with its surfaces that seem to somersault in the eye, even though they are almost dead flat – it is hard not to think that artists like Bridget Riley, whose mesmerizing abstractions were included in the MoMA show, were not in his field of view. Even if not, Op was definitely in the air – it was an instant craze in graphic design and even in fashion. This art historical moment is an intriguing context for the Argente line, one of the most ambitious products that ever came out of Evans’ studio, and also one of the rarest. Though bestowed with the Latin name for silver, on account of its bright metallic surfaces, the line is actually made in aluminum. Even today, this is an unusual material in furniture production; it was far rarer when Argente was introduced in 1965. Though Charles and Ray Eames’
Aluminum Group line had been launched seven years earlier, helping to shift the popular conception of the material from an industrial to a commercial context, Evans’ sculptural use of the material was nearly antithetical to that sort of taut functionalism. In his relatively small production facility – initially located in Lambertville, New Jersey, and from 1969 in Plumsteadville, Pennsylvania – it would not have been possible to die-stamp this recalcitrant metal, as Herman Miller did with the Eames. But when the Evans shop acquired an MIG welder, originally for use on bronze furniture, they learned that the equipment could also help them work with aluminum.
The Responsive Eye, MoMA Exhibition 1965
Under the leadership of the master artisan Dorsey Reading, Evans’ team soon worked out a novel technique. They first sheared panels by hand from 1/8” aluminum sheet and then attached them to a wooden carcass, establishing an overall form. Using the MIG welder, Reading and the other artisans then articulated the façade by melting aluminum wire along the seams. Some areas of the surface were buffed (using a felt wheel and white rouge), with others selectively inked with a brush. Finally, further linear elements were welded on, and ornament inscribed into the black areas. Slate was employed for table tops and, in one unique case, for a handsome double-pillar desk. Notably, the detail of the surface rendering was entirely left to Reading. Evans would give him a rough drawing on onionskin, occasionally marking out the basic lines of a design on the piece, and then leave him to it. This was a true collaboration between an inventive artist and a gifted maker. Evans first applied the Argente technique to a trio of experimental artworks dubbed the Sculptures in the Field, in 1965. This is significant for it demonstrates that he saw this new vocabulary as implicitly sculptural from the outset. Soon after, when he presented a first group of functional Argente works at America House in New York (the retail outlet of the American Craftsmen’s Council), he recognized this explicitly: “This is a whole new approach to aluminum…which has a great future, because it fits with the mood and designs for many of today’s architects. Sculptures in the Field, 1965
Essentially, it takes to furniture-making because of its sculptural potentials; for instance, my aluminum chest which doesn’t look like a chest.” After the initial presentation at America House, Evans sold the Argente line through his own studio showroom, and also through Directional, his primary distributor. Every Evans form – whether it was a seating cube, dining table, or a monumental bed – could be ordered in a number of finishes, and Argente was one of them. However, it was always a rarity in his production. This was not necessarily because it was difficult to make, though Reading recalls that he and the other fabricators did dislike working with the aluminum. (This was partly because the ventilation in the shop was so poor, a problem when using welding equipment. Reading reports that their only health and safety measure was a fan to blow the fumes away, and to put a Hall’s cough drop in their mouths to block the noxious odor.) Rather, it was because the materials and labor were comparatively expensive, pricing the line out of reach for most customers. Argente was a top-end product, then – a fact conveyed even in its “fancy name,” as Reading disarmingly puts it. (“In the shop,” he adds, “we just called it the aluminum line.”) It is worth remembering that Evans had started his career as a silversmith, studying with the great John Prip at the School for American Craftsmen in Rochester, and then producing both colonial revival Directional catalog advertising Paul Evans Sculptured Metal
and Scandinavian modern wares as the first resident artisan at Sturbridge Village, the historic museum in Massachusetts. Yet these connections to luxury craft should not distract us from the contemporaneity of Argente. Two years earlier, Billy Name had duplicated an effect he’d first tried out in his own apartment, covering Andy Warhol’s “Factory” entirely in aluminum foil and spraying it with metallic paint. In that context, too, aluminum was understood in relation to the more precious metal (an allusion to Warhol’s beloved “silver screen”). We should see Evans’ Argente as a parallel development: it was a reflection on a booming Pop culture, both literally and figuratively. The ultimate showpiece for the spectacular Argente aesthetic is the unique Disc Bar included in the present catalogue. Arguably the single most stunning object that ever came out of the Evans Studio, it rivals contemporaneous abstract paintings for sheer wall power – indeed, outdoes most of them, by virtue of its scale, boldness and reflectivity. It is almost but not quite symme the pulsing energy of the composition. The Argente idiom is also shown off to commanding effect in the horizontal console here, with its progression of shifting liquid forms across the façade; and in Evans’ various table forms, which are conceived as separate vertically-oriented volumes, each with their own bespoke surface treatment – like so many presents, gift wrapped and ready.
Andy Warhol in his “Silver Factory”, c.1965
According to Reading, all the Argente works that the shop produced date somewhere between 1965 to 1975; though the line technically remained available for a few more years, orders tailed off to nothing. This was doubtless in part because Evans, ever restless in his creativity, had introduced other options. Among them was the faceted Cityscape line, executed in chrome-plated steel, sometimes in combination with brass or wood burl, first made in 1970. More Cubist than Op, these modish pieces may have displaced Argente as the obvious choice for an adventurous customer â€“ and this, too, helps to account for the rarity of these pieces today. Viewed from the vantage point of the present, however, the Argente line remains unsurpassed as an expression of Evansâ€™ vision. Author, curator, historian Glenn Adamson is the former Director of the Museum of Art and Design, NYC.
Sculptures in the Field, 1965
One of the most important of all of Evans’ works, this museum quality Argente Disc Bar is a singular master work, being the only known disc bar made in aluminum in the Argente style. The bar is in outstanding original condition, with a perfectly preserved exterior and interior. The bold decoration, with classic Argente curvilinear lines and lively surface textures, is remarkable for its dynamic and highly reflective silver against stark black, successfully achieving Evans’ ambition to create a “flat piece that gives a feeling of depth.” The interior of this disc bar is finished in a striated red stain, a quintessential Evans application. Five open shelves provide generous storage space, while a small drawer and lockable cabinet are faced with a patchwork collage of brushed aluminum shingles. Typical disc bars were made in Sculpted Bronze, an Evans proprietary material and technique that incorporated epoxy
Argente Disc Bar, 1968 72h x 72w x 17d in 182.88h x 182.88w x 43.18d cm
resin mixed with sand and stones, then sprayed with melted atomized bronze. Each of these bar cabinets were handsculptured unique works, however until the discovery of this Argente masterwork, no aluminum bar was known to exist.
The ultimate showpiece for the spectacular Argente aesthetic is the unique Disc Bar. Arguably the single most stunning object that ever came out of the Evans studio, it rivals contemporaneous abstract paintings for sheer wall power â€“ indeed, outdoes most of them, by virtue of its scale, boldness and reflectivity. Glenn Adamson, Author, Curator, Historian
Commissioned directly from the Evans Studio by the same Michigan collector as the spectacular Argente Disc Bar, this Argente Console is one of the most breathtaking examples of Evans’ scrafitto imagery in the Argente style. The complex patterning, both highly graphic and increasingly dynamic, exemplifies the exhuberant concept of an “allover” composition most famously achieved by Abstract Expressionist painters such as Jackson Pollock, Cy Twombly, and Mark Tobey. The console features a honed slate top. Four bi-fold doors open to a striated red interior with adjustable shelves. In 1968 Directional debuted their first line of Argente pieces based on preset designs (like these cabinets), which differed from the bespoke Paul Evans Studio pieces that were commissioned through a collaborative process with the client. With both his Studio works and Directional line, Evans sustained complete creative and quality control by personally overseeing his loyal production team and refusing to outsource labor.
Argente Console (PE-41), c.1965 32h x 84w x 20d in 81.28h x 213.36w x 50.80d cm
Signed “Paul Evans 67” this adaptable desk is composed of a Pennsylvania slate top resting on two checker patterned pedestals. Two rolling file cabinets can be positioned beneath the desktop for a compact workspace, or exposed for a more spacious environment. The side and back panels of each cabinet mimic the surface decoration of the desk’s base creating a cohesive design at each angle. The cabinet’s drawers are faced with a patchwork of blackened aluminum tiles and ornamented with five individually sculpted drawer pulls embellished with a radial star design. As a unique work of funtional art, this superlative desk is idiosyncratic and distinctly practical.
Argente Slate Top Desk,1967 36h x 72w x 29d in 91.44h x 182.88w x 73.66d cm
It is really on the edge between beautiful and ugly. There is a certain brutality to it. This furniture is massive, it is heavy, it is masculine, its tough. But its also incredibly refined....Paul Evans furniture looks like it was made in a moment but today it has this timeless quality. Theyâ€™ve become American classics. -Adam Lindeman, Paul Evans Collector
Another popular form that Paul Evans would revist through his carreer is a composition he called Skyline. Skyline pieces were comprised of individually hand-welded boxes of varying heights, shapes, textures and designs, bonded together as solid base. While this arrangment was used extensively in his welded steel, Sculpted Bronze, and eventually Cityscape works, there is no other record of Skyline works in the Argente series. While the dining table is contructed of 14 distictive boxes, the low table is made up of 22 boxes, each with hand-applied texture and pattern. Perhaps one of the most expressive of Evanâ€™s forms, the Skyline tables are reliably popular for thier whimsical composition and utility.
Argente Skyline Low Table, 1973 36h x 72w x 29d in 91.44h x 182.88w x 73.66d cm
Argente Skyline Dining Table, 1973 36h x 72w x 29d in 91.44h x 182.88w x 73.66d cm
Argente Cube Table (PE-37), c.1970 16h x 16w x 16d in 40.64h x 40.64w x 40.64d cm
His work is stunningly beautiful, stunningly ugly, stunningly tacky, and stunningly sophisticated. It is all of it. And that is what makes a great artist....I would equate him to Miles Davis. I would equate him to Jimi Hendrix. His work will stand the test of time. -Lenny Kravitz, Musician, Producer, Designer
This hanging cabinet and console (each signed PE 1967) were acquired from a New York collector and represent the finest condition and preservation possible. Both pristine museum quality works were initially purchased from the Directional showroom on Third Avenue before Directional had made them publicly available. In 1968 Directional debuted their first line of Argente pieces based on preset designs (like these cabinets), which differed from the bespoke Paul Evans Studio pieces that were commissioned through a collaborative process with the client. With both his Studio works and Directional line, Evans sustained complete creative and quality control by personally overseeing his loyal production team and refusing to outsource labor.
Argente Console (PE-41), 1967 32h x 84w x 20d in 81.28h x 213.36w x 50.80d cm
Argente Wall Mounted Cabinet (PE-39), 1967 36h x 24w x 12.50d in 91.44h x 60.96w x 31.75d cm
His furniture is functional art that reveals itself slowly and deliberately, but only after boldly and unashamedly knocking you and everything else around it out. -Joe Yurcik, Collector
When I first saw my first piece of Paul Evans I had an instant coup de foudre. I had to have this piece of furniture. -Tony Ingrao, Architect and Designer
This king-sized canopy bed, nearly 8 feet tall, is a paragon of Paul Evansâ€™ Argente series and is the only one of its kind. It uniquely showcases the Argente motif with the bedâ€™s structure perfectly displaying the vertical and horizontal welded waves of polished and matte black aluminum. A concealed inner rail accommodates a curtain; a recessed ledge on top was designed to support a fabric canopy or mirrored ceiling to the bed.
Argente Custom King Bed, c.1970 91h x 92w x 93d in 231.14h x 233.68w x 236.22d cm
Handmade products should show the hand. Good line is not enough because that can be produced industrially. Furniture should have detail and richness.
EXCEPTIONAL WORKS FROM PAUL EVANS STUDIO
For Evans, designing was an evolutionary, trial and error, hands-on process that he directed and refined. He enjoyed experimenting, but, if a design did not work, it did not bother him. Evans found the stress and pressure of the design business thrilling and energizing. -Dorsey Reading, Paul Evans Studio
A superb example of Paul Evans’ forged metal techniques, this unique pair of chairs features hand-sculpted bases formed from forged, welded, patinated and polychromed steel. Each has an elegant recline and large seat and back upholstered in parchment colored leather. Floating in a room, the bases are unique sculptures to be experienced from every angle. Created in Evans’ studio in New Hope, PA, the chairs are in excellent original condition.
Forged Steel Lounge Chairs, c.1970 28h x 31w x 26d in 71.12h x 78.74w x 66.04d cm
Sculpted Steel Floor Lamp, c.1970 60h x 27w x 27d in 152.40h x 68.58w x 68.58d cm
A fantastic example of an early, commissioned sculptural steel lamp by Paul Evans, the L-shaped lamp’s square obelisk body is formed from rectilinear sections of welded steel with alternating blackened and polychromed enamel in a patchwork pattern. An unexpected and amusing foot is constructed with an internal light mimicking the torchiere’s main upright light source. The unorthodox form is a testament to Evans’ idiosyncratic approach to design and unwavering confidence as a sculptor.
This Forged Front Sculpture Cabinet is highly desirable for its rare two-door, 60 inch scale. The consoles were designed and built out of welded steel with forged three-dimensional elements in the Evan’s New Hope, Pennsylvania workshop, specifically as custom commissions. For their complex pictographic exteriors, these works are some of Evans’ most recognizable. This console is signed in welded script “Paul Evans 70 D Cool” - the added names are Dorsey Reading, who most likely built the case and forged elements, and Robert “Cool” Thomas Sr., the studio assistant who most likely painted the front. Cool was known to have developed with Evans a rich palette for these pieces inspired by the colors of the local New Hope landscape. He had been studio assistant to Pennsylvania Impressionist Edward W. Redfield until meeting Evans. He worked in the Evans Studio, bringing his deft sense of color and technique to the finishes of many of the studio works. Cool left the Studio in 1970, making this one of the last pieces he worked on.
Forged Front Sculpture Cabinet, 1970 23h x 60w x 25d in 58.42h x 152.40w x 63.50d cm
This unique table combines two of Evans’ techniques, Forged Steel and Sculpted Bronze with the undulating patterns made popular with his Wavy cabinets. The playful imagery, which is repeated throughout Evan’s Argente works, exemplifies his unique aesthetic and penchant for unconventional artisty. Evans employed an innovative application of epoxy and bronze over wood and steel frames to create unusual pieces that are as much works of art as they are functional objects.The process gave his works the look of cast bronze while enabling them to retain their lightness, expanding the freedom of design and possibilities of production. According to Constance Kimmerle (curator of Paul Evans Crossing Boundaries and Crafting Modernism at the James A. Michener Museum and subsequently, the Cranbrook Art Museum), “the Sculpted Bronze technique combined traditional craft with innovative techniques and materials as well as spontaneous free expression. This experimental technique involved applying epoxy resin over the plywood base; the resin was then sculpted in a freehand form, sandblasted, and coated with sprayed melted atomized bronze.” This exact technique, inspired by the technique used to repair the hulls of ships in the Philadelphia ship yards, has not been replicated since.
Forged Steel and Sculpted Bronze Table, 1969 29h x 84w x 41 3/4d in 73.66h x 213.36w x 106.05d cm
Argente Wall Cabinet, 1967 36h x 24w x 12.50d in 91.44h x 60.96w x 31.75d cm
This large and impressive acordian-door Sculpted Bronze Console from the 1970s is one of the finest examples of this genre, commissioned directly from the Evans Studio. The exterior is boldly sculpted with large â€œrocksâ€? and a multitude of unique deep decoration. This is Evans at his most unrestrained, combining a material and a technique never-before-seen with a free form, sculptural exterior, and a functional use.
Sculpted Bronze Console, c.1970 23h x 98w x 24d in 58.42h x 248.92w x 60.96d cm
Despite the accessible size and lively surface decoration, very few of this style cabinet were produced. With the same welded steel frame in a radial diamond pattern and patchwork steel sides, each were individually embellished with braised brass decoration, gilded edges, and a variety of finishes such as painted, patinated, or applied pigmented enamel. According to Evans Studio artisan, Dorsey Reading, â€œwe probably made a half dozen of these cabinets.â€?To date, only one other cabinet of this design has come up for public sale, further emphazing the rarity of this unique piece.
Sculpture Front Wall-Mounted Cabinet, c.1965 21h x 33w x 19.50d in 53.34h x 83.82w x 49.53d cm
The technique Evanâ€™s used to create this Sculpted Steel Bench and Sculpted Steel Cocktail Table combines welded steel, decorative brass braising, and polychromed enamel. This vivid treatment, which resulted in vibrant works with dynamic pictorial surfaces, was very successful for Evans, and was applied to a number of forms including tables, chairs, cabinets, and lamps. Commissioned by a Virginia collector in the 1970s, both the bench and table have retained their rich chromatic palate.
Sculpted Steel Bench , c.1970 22.50h x 78.50w x 28d in 57.15h x 199.39w x 71.12d cm
Directional catalog advertising Paul Evans Sculptured Metal
Sculpted Steel Cocktail Table (PE 12-42), c.1970 16h x 30w x 30d in 40.64h x 76.20w x 76.20d cm
Patchwork Copper and Sculpted Bronze Planter, c. 1965 25h x 12w x 11.25d in 63.50h x 30.48w x 28.57d cm
Todd Merrill Studio and Design Miami present an unprecedented collection of original Paul Evans Studio “Argente Series” works from distingui...
Published on Sep 16, 2020
Todd Merrill Studio and Design Miami present an unprecedented collection of original Paul Evans Studio “Argente Series” works from distingui...