The telephone rang one day in 2007 when I was working in my father’s studio in East Hampton. A woman told me that she believed there was a Lassaw sculpture in a house whose contents she had been hired to sell. I was naturally very interested to see this sculpture and immediately drove the few miles to meet her. What I found was an abstract welded table stand with a plate glass top. It was made of sheet steel with a cutting torch, which had left jagged edges. I thought the table might have been made by one of the other sculptors who welded in the 1960s so I removed the glass and turned the table stand over, but could not find any signature. I told the woman that it was not by Ibram Lassaw, took some photographs of the piece and went home.
My father would not have approved of using a sculpture for a table and in both my mother’s and my memory (and just as importantly, according to his Sculpture Book in which he recorded each of his sculptures), not one welded table is recorded. He also always signed his work. He made heavy wooden worktables, our dinning table, shelves, stairs, and boxes, our beds, and even jigsaw puzzles but he had never made a table that pretended to be a sculpture.
My father taught me to weld when I was 8 years old and I have been welding ever since. I helped him occasionally when he needed assistance on commissions and in his later years when he could no longer weld, repaired sculptures that returned from shows with bent or broken elements. I know my father’s work and techniques as well as I would recognize sisters or brothers. We lived in the studio and I saw each sculpture grow day by day; they are my siblings. With the same feeling of intimacy that allows us to know someone we love by their shadow or their walking gait, I know the sculptures that were made by my father’s mind and hands.
In 2003 my father passed away at age 90. By then I had already become the archivist for his studio and its contents. As early as 1988, I took on the job of organizing all of the photographic records of sculpture into a pictorial sculpture book, and created a database for the information about the works. I looked through hundreds of photographs and sorted them into piles by decade, and then, by duplicate images. The photos, all 8 by 10 feet, were taken by my father (he had a large format camera and a darkroom), by our friends Rudy Burkhardt, Maurice Berezov, and a few other photographers he hired for that purpose. Some were identified by title and date as well as other information in Ibram’s own hand, while others had gallery stickers and someone else’s writing. After I created the pictorial Sculpture Book(s) I began archiving over 70 years of art historical documents and cataloging them into various databases. A catalogue raisonné of my father’s work is currently in progress so I am especially interested to find any Lassaw sculptures, my lost sisters, and what their histories have been since they left our home.
Over the last 20 years I have received a number of e-mails with images of works people purchased thinking they might be a Lassaw sculpture. As I began to study auction records I found several sculptures that had been sold (or not sold) as Lassaw’s. This began the “NOT Lassaw” database. Included in this database are some sculptures, a ring, some necklaces, a buckle, and several welded tables.
The tale of the tables began for me in 2007 but it has not ended. I photographed the table that I personally examined and placed the photo in the NOT Lassaw file and forgot about it—but not for long. In 2008, the same table showed up at an auction on the east cost. I recognized a broken loop element at the end so was certain it was the very same table. It was listed as a Lassaw coffee table. I was able to alert the auction house in time to have the listing changed from Lassaw to “in the style of” Lassaw. After this auction, I was contacted by the person who bought the “in the style of Lassaw” table. I was sorry to inform them that they had made a poor assessment and they graciously chalked it up to experience. Another morning in 2010, I opened my email and found a letter addressed to Mr. Lassaw, full of praise for the wonderful table they had seen in a very fancy store in Shanghai. They were now back in France and wished to inquire about ordering a similar table of certain dimensions. I responded by asking where they had seen the table and if they had a picture of it. A day or so later I received the picture of a welded bronze table with plate glass top. The people at the store had given them the Lassaw website email address. This new table was very nearly the same size, shape, and welded style as the steel table, but it was in China! I informed the enthusiastic people that Mr. Lassaw had passed away and that he had never made any tables.
It seemed to me that these tables were suddenly multiplying. Where were they being made, and by whom? Who was manufacturing them? How many people believe they own a welded coffee table by Ibram Lassaw?
Since the tables are not signed, they technically cannot be called forgeries, but someone is making a living creating an illusion for misinformed individuals to buy into. Let the buyer beware! Let the buyer be educated!
Thus I offer this short story in the hope that I will never hear of another welded coffee table. But should you have one in your possession that was attributed to, “in the style of,” or you were led to believe that it was created by Ibram Lassaw, please, let me know.
DENISE LASSAW is an archivist, carpenter, sculpture repair, historian, photographer, website creator, etc., and daughter of Ibram Lassaw.