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|Decorative Arts Diary
by Brook S. Mason
|The International 20th Century Arts Fair, Nov. 25-29, 2000, at the Seventh Regiment Armory, Park Avenue at 67th Street, New York, N.Y. 10021.
Even though the notion of "20th-century antiques" is no longer as strange as it once was, the Britain-based show organizers Anna and Brian Haughton are continuing to redefine this nascent field. At the latest installment of their two-year-old International 20th Century Arts Fair, both higher standards of quality along with new additions to the mix of antiques were in evidence.
With 20 new dealers swelling the roster to 58, the show has a pronounced emphasis on serious decorative arts -- those with a privileged provenance. And that's what sells at perhaps the only vetted fair dedicated to this specialty.
In the first two days, Maison Gerard wrote up the real showstopper -- a black lacquer breakfast room designed by the Art Deco master Jean Dunand in 1928. Emblazoned with stylized fish in gold and coral, the paneled room was commissioned by the San Francisco arts patron Templeton Crocker. In terms of quality, the room is as good as it gets -- some of Crocker's furnishings are in the Metropolitan Museum -- and could even be at the tony Paris Biennale. Priced at $475,000, the room was snapped up by Madison Avenue jeweler Fred Leighton. He plans to install it in his expanded boutique.
Furthermore, that example demonstrates how far Maison Gerard has come in quality. That's a trend, climbing up a notch or two, evident as well with a number of other dealers.
One new participant in the fair, the Philadelphia Calderwood Gallery, sold a French Art Deco piano to a Pennsylvania client for a hefty $160,000. In black lacquer and edged with gold, the piano is by Sue et Mare, the legendary designers who were cited in the Paris press in 1924 for establishing "the formula for modern furniture."
Those Art Deco sales will reverberate in a trickle-down effect across the country, with similar and lesser examples showing up in fairs across the country.
Another style heavily emphasized this year is Wiener Werkstatte, the craft studio founded in 1903 in Vienna by Josef Hoffmann and Karl Moser that stressed high-quality hand-made objects at exorbitant prices. Two choice examples are front and center at the booth of Historical Design. There's a Hoffman hand-hammered silver tea and coffee service with a decidedly fluted swirl design and elegant ivory handles. The price is $175,000.
On a larger scale are a pair of six and a half feet high mosaic panels by Leopold Forstner (1878-1936), who executed the Klimt murals in the Palais Stoclet in Brussels. Now installed in custom-made marble plinths, the mosaics have a scrolled and foliage design in gilded glass, enamel roundels and cabouchon glass that is a clear reflection of that enormously affluent age. The steep price, $385,000, also tells of their luxury. Why so much? "Forstner is really the Louis Comfort Tiffany of the Wiener Werkstatte," says Daniel Morris of the New York gallery. The mosaics are already on hold for a New York client.
When it comes to Danish modern, the offerings of the Copenhagen-based Dansk Møbelkunst makes what's on sale at Doyle's 20th-century auctions seem downright homey. In particular, this dealer is touting the early Danish Modern designs of the Kaare Klint School of Copenhagen, a branch of the Academy of Architecture. The examples are hardly the cheap mass-produced ones that can easily be found in America. A single 1930 leather armchair, its profile lined with brass nail heads, is $15,000. "This specialty has tripled in price in just five years," says dealer Ole Hostbo. "Now we see architects and decorators buying Klint School furniture for themselves, not just for their clients."
What's the profile of the client? Dealers like Antik's Kim Hustler say that to a great extent the under-40 crowd is seeking furniture while the older set is filling in with tabletop items, especially ceramics. While the 18th century had Sevres, what's in stock for this era is Axel Salto. His vessels studded with knobby protuberances are in demand and Antik has already sold some priced at over $10,000 apiece. Buyers are crossovers from Contemporary art as well as Arts and Crafts.
With nine jewelry dealers on the floor, gems had great visibility at the fair. But a number of other specialty dealers are giving a further twist to merchandising 20th-century arts. They're including jewelry among furniture and even paintings on their stands. So Leila Taghinia-Miliani Heller is mixing costume necklaces with Picasso etchings. Geoffrey Diner is showing Finnish silver jewelry along with Tiffany lamps. Primavera boasts Van Clef & Arpels bijoux with great Jean Dupre-Lafon furniture. Plus, New York tribal dealer Tambaran is throwing in Ashanti gold rings along with Mexican silver bracelets. It makes for a jumble-sale kind of look but also says how predominant a role jewelry will take at these fairs.
Although textiles from tapestries to African cloths have long been the neglected stepchild in the decorative arts, they command a considerable presence at this fair. Plum Blossoms, Tai Gallery/ Textile Arts, Jane Kahan and of course, Cora Ginsburg, the country's preeminent specialty dealer, have all manner of such wares. This area is bound to be a winner now. Titi Hall of Cora Ginsburg sold her lead piece, a Marc du Plantier tapestry in shimmering pastels from 1950, for approximately $40,000.
In terms of 20th-century finer arts, the Haughtons are including a heavy dose of contemporary Chinese artists and here the truly quixotic reigns. Plum Blossoms has a bust of software titan Bill Gates made out of Austrian shilling coins by Wu Shaoxiang for $32,500, as well as five-foot-high fiberglass portrait sculptures of Chinese workers in Mao suits at $60,000 a pair. Norman Tolman, a Tokyo dealer, wrote up five paintings portraying Jewish visitors to China in the 11th century. The oils of waxwork-like figures were priced from $7,500 to $13,000.
London dealer Michael Goedhuis has without question the best examples of Chinese paintings and early on he racked up impressive sales. The works were by Zeng Changing, Jo Hsieh and Li Chen.
The Paris-based Galerie Boulakia brought over a trove of Jean Dubuffets, including his 1964 Les Versatiles, with its frenetic geometric markings that make Keith Haring look like he was on Prozac. The oil is priced at $800,000.
The fair also betrayed the occasional kitsch touch, such as the bizarre teapots on view at Ferrin Gallery and the almost-tawdry $28,000 Japanese lacquer boxes at Seattle's Kagedo Japanese Art.
What's lacking? There's not a single Cadillac Seville fin, juke box or tiniest reminder of rock and roll. But then, this fair is the haute version of the 20th century.
BROOK S. MASON is Artnet Magazine's decorative arts columnist.