Sotheby’s $1.6 million Jean Prouvé Table proves not everything that glitters is gold, and not everything expensive is fine. Only a while ago, Sotheby’s New York sold two pricey Jean Prouvé tables made from fibrated Granipoli concrete. Now that wouldn’t bother, much less alarm a layman. ‘Fibrated,’ is a French trade term for a mixture of cement and asbestos, is a detail that caught the eye of Jonathan O’Hea, an art and antique dealer. The fibrous mineral is known to cause cancer, but back in the day was considered an excellent building material. One of the two Jean Prouve tables was sold by art collector Peter Brant and supermodel Stephanie Seymour for $988,000. Last month, the second piece was sold at the house’s “Important Design” auction for a whopping $1.6 million.
The tables belonged to the 1930 era and were a part of a set of 30 made in 1939 for the canteen at La Pierre Attelée, a seaside summer camp in Saint-Brevin l’Océan, France, as per Artnet News. A table made of asbestos in a kids’ summer camp is unthinkable today as once the material starts deteriorating, inhaling its microscopic carcinogenic fibers can be deadly. Even more incomprehensible is that an auction house as revered as Sotheby’s did not indicate that the buyer would be splurging thousands on an old piece of furniture ingrained with a hazardous substance. “It’s just wrong,” O’Hea said. “There’s a moral obligation to notify the buyers, whether they care or not—asbestos is a known carcinogen.”
Artnet News reached out to the auction house for clarification, to which a representative for the auction house told them in an email, “Sotheby’s is currently working with its scientific research team to identify the material in question. The object remains in Sotheby’s possession and will be isolated pending the results of analyses.”
Calling something a cute name (Granipoli) doesn’t not make it an asbestos product. #sothebys #designweek #jeanprouve #jeanprouvé #asbestos #dangerous #mesothelioma #midcenturymodern #mcm #interiors #asbestosawareness #midcentury #granipoli #interiordesign pic.twitter.com/fPUpcT4BOf
— Jonathan O’Hea (@HeaJonathan) June 4, 2022