Jeanneret's Chandigarh Furniture Controversy

Wright Auctions published a notice on April 30th concerning Pierre Jeanneret's Chandigarh furniture that will be featured in their upcoming March 31st auction. The notice states that the Indian government is attempting to halt all sales of items designed by Jeanneret for the city of Chandigarh, claiming they are the property of India. The notice also states Wright has provided all documents to verify the provenance of the items and has researched India's legal rights concerning the matter.  Here is the notice. Below are some of the pieces.

The controversy began in 2010 when Indian officials attempted to stop Artcurial of Paris from selling Chandigarh pieces during their February 16th auction, claiming the items belonged to India. A subsequent investigation found that all items were obtained legally, however the Indian government continued to pursue the pieces. In fact, Wright itself has been contacted by the Indian Consulate, Homeland Security, Immigration and the FBI concerning the Jeanneret pieces in their upcoming auction, hence their recent notification.

To read a couple of articles from Indian sources expressing their side of the story, click here and here.

Here is a very brief back-story on the furniture in question. Le Corbusier was hired by the Chandigarh government to design the new modernist capital city of Punjab after the original architect Matthew Nowicki, was killed in a plane crash on a return flight from India on August 31, 1950 (see links below). Le Corbusier asked his cousin Pierre Jeanneret to design the furniture for the project, most of which was installed by the mid-1950's. By the 1980's, the pieces had begun to deteriorate resulting in a letter by the government in 1986 which stated that the articles are "unserviceable" and should be sold at auction- basically they considered the furniture as junk and threw it into government store rooms to rot.

Initially the furniture was sold dirt cheap, often times to carpenters who just wanted access to the valuable teak that it was made with. Eventually, antique dealers became aware of the items and began purchasing, restoring and subsequently reselling them for top dollar at auctions. This scenario occurred time and time again for several years with no claims of ownership by the Indian government. However, as of late it appears that India has finally caught on (or awoke to the significance of the pieces) and are trying to stake their claim... This whole situation can be summed-up with the cliché, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." 

Original Chandigarh project architect Matthew Nowicki in 1947.

Crash scene of TWA Flight 903 that killed Nowicki. Here is more information on the crash.

Above is a press release from MOMA announcing a Nowicki memorial exhibit. Click image for larger view.

Le Corbusier (seated) and Pierre Jeanneret in front of map of Chandigarh. Photo: Jeet Malhotra

Pierre Jeanneret (L) and Le Corbusier at the Chandigarh dedication ceremony, March 1955.

Men and women laborers breaking up bricks to be used in concrete, Chandigarh, 1958.

Construction of the Secretariat Building in progress, September 1958

Le Corbusier in front of the High Court in Chandigarh. Photo: Jeet Malhotra


Urban Earthen said...

This post reminded me of the heated conversation on Mondo Blogo that was hysterical but quite thought provoking

Mid-Centuria said...

Wow, thanks for the link. That is crazy- both the comments and the post.

Patrick Parrish said...

Thanks for the post! I just started re-looking into the "spoils" this last week. More from me here:
And more to come!
Thanks again....