Los Angeles has lost a pillar of the art community. Peter Loughrey, respected art dealer and the founder of the venerable Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) has passed away at the all too young age of 52, after a year long struggle with cancer.
Loughrey was a formidable and visionary force in the auction world, establishing the very first successful boutique auction house in the country dedicated exclusively to modern design. In addition to his role as LAMA’s founder, director, and principal auctioneer, Loughrey was a skilled writer and curator who worked tirelessly to share the stories of the art objects and artists he so admired. Loughrey became a house-hold name, appearing regularly as an appraiser on PBS’ show “Antiques Roadshow” as well as other national television shows. He will be remembered as a loving son, brother, friend, and husband of 27 years to his beloved wife Shannon.
Peter Alexander Loughery was born on February 20, 1968 and grew up in scenic Salisbury, Maryland. The son of Irish parents, his physician father Theo and homemaker mother Claire raised their two sons and daughter in a rural and idyllic setting. Peter grew up close to his extended family in Ireland, and is part of a tight-knit group who adore their American cousin. His childhood stories paint a Tom Sawyer-like childhood spent fishing the local rivers, racing cars on empty wooded roads with his buddies, and running with abandon along the tops of moving trains jumping from car to car. It was this dare-devil streak, combined with his encyclopedic knowledge and a passion for marketing, that ultimately made LAMA the first successful auction house in the world dedicated exclusively to selling 20th Century modern art and design.
At the age of 20 in 1988, Peter originally headed to Hollywood to try his hand as a stuntman in the film industry. His career in the movies was short lived, but his adventurous spirit never waned. In the early days, Peter was living happily out of a van parked by the ocean in Marina Del Rey. He and his older brother, Joe ran a small business hunting for unique treasures at local estate sales to re-sell at the flea market. Later they opened a design gallery together on Beverly Boulevard in 1989. It was still a time when mid-century design could be scored at garage sales and rescued from the curbside trash. “I found that out here, a lot of people didn’t know what antiques were and what a good antique was,” Loughrey told CNBC in 2017, “and I started trusting my eye and buying things and flipping them.”
When Peter Loughrey first moved to California he was so enamored by the modernist homes he’d pass while driving through Brentwood and Bel Air that he’d often stop, ring the doorbell and ask the owner for a tour. “A little old lady would answer and I’d say ‘Is this a Neutra house?’” recalls Peter, referring to pioneering Austrian-American architect Richard Neutra. “She’d say ‘Yes! How did you know?’ Then she’d let me in, make me a sandwich and show me around.”
After the untimely death of his brother Joe in 1993, Peter briefly took a job selling medical equipment in Philadelphia. It was during this time that Peter was first diagnosed with cancer. The silver lining to this chapter is that he reconnected with his childhood friend, Shannon Carragher. Shannon, who grew up in the same small coastal town as Peter, happened to work in the accounting office at the NIH where Peter was being treated. “I swore if I got out of this, if I beat this lymphoma, I’m going to be the best art dealer I can be,” he later said. Peter was now fully recovered, thanks in part to Shannon’s regular visits, asked Shannon’s hand in marriage. Having completed the auction course at Sotheby’s in London, Peter and Shannon headed back to Los Angeles together in 1995, determined to establish their own design auction business. With Shannon now working by his side, the couple would eventually grow Los Angeles Modern Auctions into a world-renowned institution.
From the very early days, LAMA led the field in the rediscovery and celebration of mid-century design on the West Coast. The early auction audiences were a who’s who of design enthusiasts and budding collectors that including famous actors, designers, architects, and other LA luminaries. Highlights from LAMA’s ascent include the commission to liquidate the Silver Lake architectural offices of Richard Neutra as well as the corporate art collection of the Atlantic Ritchfield Corporation (ARCO) in 1999. That same year, LAMA set the world record for a design sold at auction by Charles and Ray Eames. Notably, LAMA carved a niche into the international market through milestone auctions dedicated to individual designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Paul Laszlo, and R.M. Schindler.
After conquering the design market, Peter turned his considerable talent and passion to the sale of contemporary art and would soon establish LAMA as an International force in the contemporary art field. During his nearly 30 year tenure, LAMA has set dozens of auction records and sold more than $100 million in total sales. Highlights including the work of such luminaries as Ruth Asawa, Sam Maloof, DeWain Valentine and Andy Warhol.
Peter co-curated many Los Angeles gallery shows, including Gio Ponti: Furnished Settings & Figuration (2004) and Dutch Design (2005), both at ACME Gallery, in addition to co-curating and publishing the exhibition catalogue for Gaetano Pesce: Pieces from a Larger Puzzle at Los Angeles’s Italian Cultural Institute (2010). In September 2017, Loughrey curated a show as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a Getty initiative, on Emerson Woelffer. He has also written numerous articles and was a contributor in the books Case Study Houses (TASCHEN 2003), Julius Schulman Modernism Rediscovered (TASCHEN 2007), and Collecting Design (TASCHEN 2010). LAMA has also conducted auctions for prominent California estates, and institutions such as LACMA, the Palm Springs Art Museum, Playboy Enterprises as well as the artist James Pristini and collector Max Palevsky. Peter also served as a member of the board of the Decorative Arts Council at The Los Angeles County Museum, LACMA.
All those who knew Pete were blessed to have known a man whose vast knowledge of art and design was surpassed only by his wit, kindness and generosity. He leaves behind his loving wife Shannon, his parents Theo and Claire, and sister Helen. In addition, Peter had a network of loyal friends who thought the world of him, and will miss him greatly. With the continued guidance of Shannon Loughrey, and along with her dedicated and expert staff, LAMA will operate as before – while continuing to celebrate Peter’s formidable legacy.