George R. Kravis II: An Eye for Design

On April 15, Heritage Auctions will hold their Signature Design Auction in Dallas. The lot contains a coveted collection of design objects formerly held by the Tulsa businessman George R. Kravis. In 1962, Kravis began his twenty-five-year career in broadcasting—eventually purchasing KFMJ radio station which would later become KRAV radio. Kravis began to collect graphic and industrial design objects in the 70s. His international collection includes work from 1900 to the present, with an emphasis on work from 1930–40s. 

Kravis donated important design objects to New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of the City of New York, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, and the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art among others. In 2015 the Kravis Design Center in Tulsa was built to house his collection and further his educational goals. Additionally, Rizzoli published two books on the collection-100 Designs for a Modern World and Industrial Design in the Modern Age.

David A. Hanks, Curator of the Kravis Design Center remarks on George R. Kravis II and his collection: “Growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, George Kravis was fascinated by mechanical and electrical gadgets—”anything with a cord, a plug, a battery, a light, a motor.” These devices were his earliest introduction to design. By 1949, when he was ten years old, he acquired his first design object—an RCA 45-rpm record changer, which had just come on the market for $12.95. During his years in the broadcasting business in Tulsa, he began to collect modern consumer products—simple, functional objects without decoration that represented the best of “Good Design.” 

The core of his collection comprised work by such American industrial designers as George Sakier, who emerged after World War I. Sakier’s work ranged from plumbing fixtures to elegant glassware for Fostoria, encompassing a view of design that appealed to George Kravis. He was also drawn to contemporary European design, such as contemporary flatware by Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid. He found a midcentury Italian desk fan or a 1971 Brionvega radio desirable for his collection, as well as a carpet designed by British artist David Hockney. 

He designed a contemporary house in Tulsa, which he furnished with elegant furnishings by such American modern masters as Robsjohn-Gibbings, Tommi Parzinger, and Paul Frankl. These were complemented by industrial designs, such as cocktail shakers made between the two World Wars, reflecting Jazz Age sophistication and glamour. Colorful midcentury American radios brightened the interior of his minimalist house.

George believed that good design contributed to a better life. As he put it, “We can actually improve our prospects for the future with our understanding and recognition of the importance of design.” For George, design was everywhere, and his collection reflected his eye for the best.”

View the entire auction catalog here.

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