Brent Lewis is an art and design specialist based in Los Angeles and the Director of Design for Heritage Auctions.
He has spent more than 15 years in the auction business, working with auction houses on both coasts, including Wright, Christie’s, Moss, Freeman’s and Bonham’s, as a specialist and auctioneer. In his role at Heritage Auctions, Lewis oversees the department of 20th Century and Contemporary Design, focusing on building the market in mid-century and post-war design.
Lewis has appeared on PBS’ Antiques Roadshow and is a contributing editor of Cultured magazine. He has been published widely on assorted art and design subjects, including Frank Gehry, Robert Wilson, Gaetano Pesce, Tom Sachs, Carlos Cruz-Diez and Los Carpinteros.
Heritage Auctions: What’s the most interesting consignment you’ve received?
Lewis: There are so many interesting stories! One of the most fascinating is the Louis H. Sullivan A Rare Original Manuscript for Democracy (A Man-Search) – it’s really rare. There are only a few of these housed in library collections, and this one has great provenance. It was given by Sullivan to his friend and now is being sold by that family after 100 years. It has Sullivan’s calling card inside, which I love seeing, and considering Sullivan’s influence on the way we think about architecture in America, I think this document is an incredible artifact from a significant figure in our history.
Heritage Auctions: What advice would you give to aspiring Design collectors?
Lewis: Most important is to learn about design – who made things and why they made them. There are many stories of innovation, both in terms of technique and process but also in terms of artistry. Charles and Ray Eames created a new way to consider furniture, and found ways of making materials fit the ideals of their vision. Someone like Gaetano Pesce, I consider more of an artist. Aside from this, design is an exploration of style, and we are fortunate that we now have the ability to look and see so many images so easily. I recommend looking at the images of some of the great interior designers and see how they are working. Someone like Axel Veervordt is about restraint and stripping things down to their essential properties, while someone else, perhaps Peter Marino, will push a project in a more expansive and expressive direction.
Heritage Auctions: Which three works in the April 16 Design Auction would you like to own and why?
Lewis: There are 165 lots in the sale and I can’t think of three I wouldn’t want to own!
Heritage Auctions: Are there any design galleries or museums in Los Angeles that you love?
Lewis: I visit Blackman Cruz a lot. Adam and David mix a really diverse collection of things together, from contemporary lighting to antique Mexican furniture and ancient stone and minerals, and their gallery is an experience in itself to walk through. Galerie Half presents a quite compelling mix of French modernism and rustic antiques, and may be the best-smelling store in L.A., as their constantly have custom candles lit. Joel Chen, of course, is a friend and has a little bit of everything, and Gerard O’Brien’s Reform is always a place to go learn about American studio design.
Heritage Auctions: Who are your favorite designers?
Lewis: I’ve been thinking about Frank Lloyd Wright a lot, and I love the drawings we have in this sale. Many are done in his hand and by studying these you see exactly why he is considered one of the greatest architects of the 20th century. We have a lot of glass in the sale, including especially significant works by Dale Chihuly. I really consider him a great artist and love seeing these early, really impressive larger-scale works. It really is amazing what he has done, and how he has created such a large community of enthusiasts around his art. I think it’s inclusive and wide-ranging, and the central ideas in his work are admirable.
Check out more design items from our current and past auctions.