Is Wright Wrong on Chandigarh?

International
Armchair from Chandigarh (Courtesy Wright Auction House)

Pierre Jeanneret armchair from Chandigarh (Courtesy Wright Auction House).

On March 31, the Wright auction house gingerly dipped into controversy with its sale of 23 lots of office furniture from Chandigarh even as the Indian government launched a belated international campaign to recover the pieces designed by Pierre Jeanneret for the masterwork by cousin Corbusier.

Pair of lounge chairs from Punjab University, Chandigarh (Courtesy Wright Auction House)

Pair of Jeanneret lounge chairs from Punjab University, Chandigarh (Courtesy Wright Auction House).

The mid-century furnishings, many made of teak, had notoriously been neglected on site, stashed away in storage by officials, or even used as scrap. Since the 1980s, restored pieces have started to show up abroad and attract high prices, as in $54,000 for a pair of chairs. Corbusier biographer and historian, Jean Louis Cohen, called such sales “sad for history” and tantamount to “looting.”

In Chicago, the sale attracted an international crowd, but no museums. A pair of upholstered teak chairs from the High Court (estimated $15,000-20,000) sold for a record $104,500.  As for how it felt to court controversy, auctioneer Richard Wright, said “What I hope will come out of all this is that India will take steps in the future to protect these pieces but, even more important, the architecture.”

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