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QUADRUPLE HITTER
by Brook S. Mason
 
Just when traditional art and antiques shows are clamoring for A-list dealers and triple-barreled attention, London-based fair organizers Brian and Anna Haughton’s 22nd International Fine Art & Antique Dealers Show at the Park Avenue Armory, Oct. 22-28, 2010, has not only snared seven new galleries, but has also prompted three out-of-town dealers to open ancillary shows to correspond with the Haughton event.

The three are Katrin Bellinger, who is based in Munich and is also a partner at Colnaghi in London, and who is being hosted here by W.M. Brady & Co.; Andrew Butterfield Fine Arts, headquartered in Pleasantville, N.Y., at Moretti Fine Art; and London’s Tomasso Brothers Fine Art at Otto Naumann, Ltd. All six can be found in the Old Master colony at 22-24 East 80th Street at Fifth Avenue.

“When it comes to traditional taste, Old Masters and 19th century pictures, New York still commands a regal position in collectors’ eyes,” says Mark Brady, who is also participating in the Haughton fair, where he is showing paintings. Among the seven new fair dealers are the Silver Fund and Sandra Cronan Ltd., both from London, along with Tai Gallery from Santa Fe, which specializes in bamboo arts, and the New York Old Masters specialist Jack Kilgore & Co. Also joining the fair are Galerie Fleury from Paris, which is bringing a group of Post-Impressionist works, and Madison Avenue’s own Jane Kahan Gallery, which specializes in Picasso ceramics and tapestries.

While the Haughton fair has lost some of the brighter stars in recent years, including London picture dealers Richard Green and Bernheimer Colnaghi, it’s 64 dealers strong for 2010. That’s good news in the Haughton realm, as four of the couple’s other fairs, including design, ceramics, Asian art and art Dubai, have quietly folded.

What’s new is a decided emphasis on art and artifacts from the Islamic and Arab worlds. For example, Ariadne Galleries is featuring a monumental Islamic painted wooden cornice from Spain, dating from the 5th century AD and measuring over 17 feet in length. The price is $1,150,000. “By and large, nothing similar and so early has survived, with most examples in museums only from the 14th century,” says Torkom Demirjian of Ariadne. The dating is definitive as the example has been carbon tested.

Egyptian antiquities are more prevalent with Belgian dealer Axel Vervoordt. On his stand will be a pair of early Egyptian Sekhmet stone torsos tagged at $750,000, along with a black granite Middle Kingdom, XII Dynasty torso fragment of a seated dignitary priced at $300,000.

With a new book, Wabi Inspirations (Flammarion, $65), set for publication in March 2011 detailing his penchant for objects in their historical, unrestored state, Vervoordt will garner even more attention. On his stand is the fair’s important contemporary picture, Cai Guo-Qiang’s 2006 gunpowder on paper Shun Qiu: Bygones, a project for China’s Suzhou Museum, transformed into a four-panel screen priced at $1.1 million.

Other trends include a spike in interest in antiquities -- after all, Christie’s London scored $3.6 million for a Roman bronze helmet -- and a similar fervor for Western religious objets. A case in point is the London dealership H. Blairman & Sons, Ltd. “Last year on opening night, we sold an Arts and Crafts altarpiece despite the gloomy mood,” says Martin Levy, the fourth generation to lead his family firm. On offer at the fair is an exquisite Alfred Meyer (1832-1904) enamel of St. Jean de la Croix in drab hooded monk’s garb with a dangling rosary. Meyer holds a unique place in French enamel history as he rediscovered the techniques perfected by the 16th-century Limoges enamel painters. The price for such artistry is a reasonable $44,000.

Also exceptional is an 18th-century specimen table made of hardstones and micromosaics depicting 25 little framed views of Rome, which is being presented by Tomasso Brothers, a firm based in Leeds, England. Reflecting its preciousness, the cost is $250,000. Such tables were de rigueur for English aristocrats making the Grand Tour and that collecting fad was contagious, with Tsar Nicolas I commissioning a similar table.

Speaking of the Romanovs, the Fifth Avenue antiquaire A La Vieille Russie is staging “A La Vieille Russie a Paris: Faberge et la Russie Imperiale au Carrefour des Cultures,” which debuted at Didier Aaron during the 25th Paris Biennale in September. Proof of the exacting skills of Fabergé is a miniature sedan chair in gold and enamel which once belonged to J.P. Morgan. Fabergé objets begin at $10,000, reports Paul Schaffer, ALVR president.

Design on offer is outstanding with the Paris Galerie Lefebvre touting a pair of François-Xavier Lalanne 1974 Oiseaux de marbre garden armchairs mimicking white doves in marble. The late fashion designer Yves St. Laurent owned a similar pair and then upping the cachet of the ones on view, they had been exhibited at the Musée des Arts Dècoratifs. The price is $380,000.

Koichi Hara, who founded Gallery Japonesque in San Francisco 25 years ago and counts Donna Karan as a client, leans towards the naturalistic design esthetic. On hand are a 1900 Chinese root table, priced at $85,000, as well as Masatoshi Izumi’s contemporary, Noguichiesque Air & Water sculptures in black granite, which are $150,000. Both are equally in sync with today’s design sensibility.

Coinciding with the Haughton fair, three satellite exhibitions can be found at Nauman and Brady in the Fine Arts Building at 22 East 80th Street, and next door at Moretti at 24 East 80th. For those who have never ventured to the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht -- commonly known as TEFAF Maastricht -- these exhibitions create that famous ambiance in smaller scale: choice, perfectly curated offerings.

Moretti and Butterfield have collaborated on the exhibition, “Body and Soul: Masterpieces of Italian Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture,” running Oct. 21-Nov. 19, 2010.

According to Butterfield, collecting sculpture has long played second fiddle to the pursuit of Old Master paintings, which are now marked by scarcity. “With sculpture, more museum-quality examples are to be found,” he says. On view are works by Leonardo’s teacher, Andrea del Verrocchio, and Jacopo Sansovino.

Katrin Bellinger of Colnaghi and W.M. Brady are presenting captivating Old Masters and 19th-century drawings. This show is a must-see, with a Parmigianino miniature portrait of a man’s face drenched in ferocity. While a Parmigianino study of a woman swathed in drapery once belonging to Thomas Coke, first Earl of Leicester (1697-1759), sold immediately for around $400,000, as did three other drawings, the recession still impacts today’s art market.

“Three years ago, we would have sold twice as many,” says Brady.

Tomasso Brothers rounds out the trio of exhibitions clustered on the same block. Especially unusual is Joseph Willems’ 1736 terracotta A Black Man Holding a Mixing Bowl for $250,000. Also not to skip is a 1500 polychrome oak figure of King Louis XII of France bedecked in a blue robe topped with scallop shells. The provenance is impeccable. It comes from the Cloisters. Quality like that will ratchet up the appeal of the city in collectors’ eyes and make the fair, too more of a destination.


BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.