True to its name, New Auction is something completely new in Toronto’s growing design scene. The exhibition and auction platform is the brainchild of Colen Colthurst and Derreck Martin. Colthurst is known and respected as one of the city’s foremost dealers in certified vintage furniture from the mid-century, with a showroom, Porch Modern, located on Toronto’s post-industrial Geary Ave in the west end. Martin comes from a family of antique dealers – the founders of 507 Antiques – but he’s moved onto commercial real estate, most notably to launch his own co-working space geared to creatives, East Room, on the east side downtown.
But now East Room will also be the first home of New Auction, a concept that Colthurst and Martin have been incubating for about a year and a half. Their aim is to build design awareness and engagement in Toronto, and de-mystify the design auction experience in a climate where retail is dying and auctions are seen as the pretentious realm of the very few. Their platform, then, celebrates both classic and contemporary designs, created by local and international talents, and ranging from the rare to the quotidian. Its three overarching ideals: “Uncommon works. Important prototypes. Simple utilitarian pieces.”
Their big launch event will be a party to kick off New Auction and inaugurate its first exhibition: Simple Truths, dedicated to new and recent pieces by Castor Design. Led by Brian Richer and Kei Ng, the studio has been producing works over the past few years that are informed by invisible and often poorly understood scientific forces. For instance, one piece in the show is the Particle Accelerator, which illustrates the inner workings of machines such as the CERN Large Hadron Collider through a beautifully crafted lamp. It consists of a hand-blown glass tube, set atop a marble base with a shade, connected to two black boxes housing the transformer and vacuum that activate its illuminated pink-purple plasma bands. Another item on display translates the largest known prime number into three volumes of 1,300-page books – each holding 3,982 pages of the number’s digits – nestled into a Carrara marble bookend. It’s called Two To the Power of Seventy-Four Million, Two Hundred Seven Thousand, Two Hundred Eighty One, Minus One. To drive home its art-design-science explorations, Castor has established an internal Sciences and Humanities Division.
Castor’s partners are also known for the restaurants and event spaces they’ve opened in the city (Parts & Labour, which launched Matty Matheson’s chefdom, among them) and for their rock and roll ethos. Fittingly, at the Thursday night party, Led Zeppelin cover band Mothership will perform. Free and open to the public, the exhibit will be on all weekend (from Friday to Sunday, 12 to 4pm) – a short run due to the under-construction status of New Auction’s temporary home in East Room’s basement. “Castor’s work fits in with the construction, though,” jokes Colthurst, “it’s edgy, scientific, industrial.”
This is just the first of what will evolve into a series of events. Next up, New Auction is working on a major exhibition of works by the Modernist legend Pierre Jeanneret. The Swiss architect worked with his cousin, Le Corbusier, on Chandigarh, designing the planned Indian city from masterplan to meticulous detail. Colthurst has garnered hundreds of Jeanneret furnishings over the years and promises that the show will be the most comprehensive of its nature in North America. It will also feature Le Corbusier drawings and other ephemera from Chandigarh.
Pieces from both Castor and Jeanneret will be sold through these exhibitions, and that is also part of the impetus for New Auction. Colthurst and Martin point to the decline of retail – with most sellers of mid-century modern furniture closing shop in the city – and the rise of online purchasing as telltale signs of a cultural experience that’s becoming increasingly rare. Besides Porch Modern, there are few physical spaces where people can go to view and learn about icons and to perhaps imagine themselves living with them.
New Auction, currently at East Room, will provide a place where people can convene rather than scroll through icons on their screens. “We’re Uber Eats-ing the design and not going to the restaurant,” Martin says. “So, with New Auction, we’re trying to build a proper restaurant.” To draw people to the “restaurant,” they’re hoping to change people’s perception of design – and especially auction-worthy classics – as elitist and pretentious. Instead, they’re hoping their free programming will rebrand it as accessible, fun and educational (tours to designers’ studios will also be part of the mix). And maybe a little rock and roll.