The 1980s Are Back and Bolder Than Ever With This Paris Auction of the Decade’s Indomitable Works of Art and Design

Bonhams Paris will pay homage to the era's boundless creativity with a sale on September 21.

Patrick Nagel, Untitled (1982). Courtesy of Bonhams.

One could argue that the 1980s were the last decade with a definitive, self-created design aesthetic. Tapping into that creative energy, as well as a heightened nostalgia for it, Bonhams Paris will pay homage to the bold, boundless era with an auction on September 21 called, simply, Eighties.

In France, the decade—bookended by the election of François Mitterrand as president in 1981 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989—was a watershed moment in all areas. During that time, nothing short of a design revolution took place, with leading lights such as Philippe Starck, Jean-Paul Goude, and Thierry Mugler chronicled in a major ‘80s-themed exhibition last year at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

“The ’80s, synonymous with form and color, have been back in the spotlight in recent years,” said Claire Gallois, director of design at Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr. “We can see a new turn in the market today with young design dealers specializing in the ’80s and a growing interest from collectors for this decade,” she told Artnet News. “Concerning art, there is an important high demand for artists such as Robert Combas, Futura 2000, Pierre et Gilles, and Patrick Nagel.

Robert Combas, <em>En plus</em> (1985). Courtesy of Bonhams.

Robert Combas, En plus (1985). Courtesy of Bonhams.

More than 100 lots—paintings, photographs, and furniture—derived mainly from European sellers will go under the hammer. The sale is led by a Nagel canvas created in the same year that he made his best-known work, the cover of Duran Duran’s album Rio (1982). The untitled portrait from the American artist and illustrator—which screams “1980s” with glossy lips, chunky earrings, and power shoulders—is estimated between $87,000 and $131,000. Nagel is having something of a market moment of late. According to Artnet’s Price Database, the highest price paid for Nagel was for a canvas called Jeana (1983), sold in 2020 for $350,000 (premium included), several times its high estimate. The artist’s works also performed well in October 2022, achieving the third- and fourth-highest results for Nagel. 

Ettore Sottsass, Carlton bookcase (1981). Courtesy of Bonhams.

Ettore Sottsass, Carlton bookcase (1981). Courtesy of Bonhams.

No sale of ‘80s design would be complete without the inclusion of the Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass, whose cofounding of the postmodernist Memphis Group sparked an irreverent playfulness in furniture design. Here we find a Carlton bookcase, designed in 1981, with an estimate of $16,000 to $27,000, and a 1982 Murmansk silver cup bearing the group’s signature zigzag motif, estimated at $6,500 to $8,700.

Umeda Masanori for Memphis, Tawaraya Boxing Ring (1981). Courtesy of Bonhams.

Umeda Masanori for Memphis, Tawaraya boxing ring (1981). Courtesy of Bonhams.

Other items in the auction include a Tawaraya boxing ring by Masanori Umeda for Memphis (est. $13,000–$16,300), intended less as a pugilistic stage and more as a self-lighted settee (it was the highlight of the group’s explosive 1981 debut exhibition in Milan); a canvas titled En plus (1985) by Combas (est. $65,200–$87,000); a Pierre et Gilles Feu d’artifice photograph (est. $33,600–$43,500); a 1986 Spine lounge chair by André Dubreuil (est. $2,700–$3,800); and a Cactus coatrack created by Guido Drocco for Gufram in 1986 (est. $3,300–$5,400).

Guido Drocco for Gufram, Cactus Coat Rack by (1986). Courtesy of Bonhams.

Guido Drocco for Gufram, Cactus coatrack (1986). Courtesy of Bonhams.

In conjunction with the sale, Bonhams will host an exhibition of photographs by Philippe Morillon of nightlife doyenne Diane de Beauvau-Craon, taken between 1970 and 1985 at Paris clubs such as Le Palace, Club Sept, and Bains Douches. In a conference on September 19, Beauvau-Craon will reminisce about that extraordinary time with DJ Guy Cuevas, who played in those clubs and helped make them iconic boîtes of 1980s Paris.

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