Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  
Decorative Arts Diary
by Brook S. Mason

New York City now boasts two inaugural fairs in a single weekend: Sanford Smith's "Art of the 20th Century" and the Art & Antique Dealers League of America "Connoisseur's Fair." Managed by Caskey-Lees, the Connoisseur's Fair, held at Gramercy Park's 69th Regiment Armory, Nov. 22-24, 2002, could not be more overwhelmingly patriotic in these war-torn times.

Sponsored by the Art & Antique Dealers League of America, the Connoisseur's Fair struck a central chord right off, and found 50 paying participants way back in July. It's all American dealers. "We knew immediately that the fair was filling an important need," says Tony Blumka, AADLA president and a third generation art dealer. The credentials of the exhibitors could not be better, with the fair including many regulars from the Paris Biennale and TEFAF Maastricht.

And surprise, surprise. The downtown armory has never before looked so good, trimmed to the nines with brocade on the walls and spectacular flower displays. On Wednesday evening, a veritable pantheon of American decorators and designers previewed the fair. There was Albert Hadley, Bunny Williams, Victoria Hagen and Geoffrey Bilhuber along with a surprisingly hefty number of other colleagues.

It's the mix of dealers that distinguishes this show. Blumka is touting rarities from medieval times and the Renaissance, like a north German bronze aquamanile dating from the 14th century (used for washing hands before a ceremony) and an intricately carved ivory horn with gilt copper mounts by the Master of the Lion Hunt from 1520 (priced at a princely $750,000). In addition, Blumka has a spirited bronze of Mars, ca. 1620, possibly by Tiziano Aspetti.

Then, staying in the ivory mode, European Decorative Arts has a pair of carved ivory urns made in Dieppe, ca. 1800, that are the height of delicacy, for $60,000. They are the perfect compliment for a Neo-Classical mantel.

Other dealers are the quintessential antiques-dealer furnishers, the kind that stocked literally hundreds of Park Avenue apartments with 18th and 19th English furniture a generation or two ago. There have to be a half-dozen George III mahogany breakfronts and sideboards on the floor. George Subkoff Antiques of Westport, Conn., has got the winning one, complete with Gothic spires, for a cool $150,000. Of course, there are the requisite fox hunting pictures at Hyde Park Antiques, Ltd.

Still there are affordables here. O'Sullivan is featuring a pair of Regency gilt mirrors with three undulating branches for scones that are a mere $19,500. An American eagle weathervane, while a bit overpainted, is $4,500 from dealer Jackie Radwin from San Antonio, Tx. Tartan boxes can be picked up at Sallea Antiques of New Canaan, Conn., for a trifling $400. In fact, virtually every manner of tea caddy from gleaming tortoise to cozy pear wood can be spotted at this show.

But it's not all furniture and jewelry. Antiquities, Asian art and tapestries abound. As for paintings, New York's Salander O'Reilly has a David Roberts massive interior of San Marco from 1859 for $500,000. It's practically a detailed study of fashion from that period in the softest pastel shades. There's also a turbulent seascape by Gustav Courbet from 1859 and a sublime Charles Demuth floral still life from 1922 for $150,000.

If the buying is reasonable, this fair will have an endless shelf life on the show circuit thanks to the League.

Inaugural events can be problematic, but Sanford Smith's latest fair on the circuit, Art of the 20th Century, looked promising at its Nov. 20, 2002, opening at Park Avenue's Seventh Regiment Armory. A total of 62 dealers weighed in with representatives from London, Paris, Brussels, Munich, Canada and the U.S., of course. The event runs through Sunday, Nov. 24.

Best known for his 17-year-old Modernism fair of furniture and design, which set the gold standard for that specialty, Smith has taken a cue or two in presentation for this event from British show organizers Brian and Anna Haughton, who do the celebrated spring and fall art and antiques shows there. The stand walls have been raised, ceilings of flowingly draped fabric installed, and even the flower arrangements -- masses of amaryllis -- are a direct borrowing from the Haughton's. But then in this city, appearances are everything.

On opening night, this fair demonstrated drawing power. Major league museum directors like Arnold Lehman of the Brooklyn Museum of Art and Holly Hotchner of the Museum of Contemporary Arts and Design (nee American Craft Museum) were prowling the aisles. Architect I.M. Pei, arts patron Kitty Carlisle and Christie's Impressionist and modern specialist Nick Maclean also took in the event. By the following day, comedian Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg were spotted cruising the fair.

Celebrities aside, there are blue chip paintings on the floor and the "best stand award has" to go to Robert Landau of Montreal with a great late Picasso, a classic Calder stabile and a raft of Jawlensky portraits in piercing colors. Then James Goodman of New York is a close a runner-up. He's got a vibrant Raoul Dufy of flags from 1906 and a neoclassical Picasso La Communiante from 1919. The Paris Galerie Fabien Boulakia is boasting a small Renoir portrait and a Kees van Dongen ballerina.

Generally, figurative art predominates at this fair but London's Adam Gallery is touting a serene Ben Nicholson, one of his paper reliefs from 1962. The price? A reasonable $60,000 or considerably less than the new Mercedes SUV. With art like that, this fair is bound to have staying power.

BROOK S. MASON writes on antiques and the fine arts.