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by Brook S. Mason
Wings for Design Miami?
Just like circus tents, fair structures can be portable. And like the classic circus, the art-fair enterprise can travel from city to city. Design Miami is the latest fair with shipping plans for its cavernous tent, which debuted in early December 2008 in Florida.

So where is the 43,000-square-foot structure with its 40-foot ceilings bound for? Miami developer Craig Robins, who jumpstarted Design Miami, says, "While we have not yet made any specific commitments, different cities around the world are asking Design Miami to participate in their communities."

With Robins in talks regarding real estate developments in China and the Middle East as well, a good guess would have the tent touching down either in the Arab Emirates or Asia.

One thing is certain: Shipping costs for the Design Miami tent are staggering. The purchase price for the stylish structure hovered in the hefty $1.5 million range, say insiders. Still, surprise, surprise. That new tent is not going to be air-freighted to Basel for this summer’s art-fest. The 2009 Swiss version of the design fair will take place adjacent to the Art Basel in Messe Basel’s Hall 5.

Van den Akker debuts in NYC
Just as economic shivers run down the Chelsea spine of the New York art world, a new gallery devoted to 20th-century European design opens on the Upper East Side. Featuring groovy Italian design by Gio Ponte and Fontana Arte from the 1950s -- long in short supply on these shores -- Galerie van den Akker is filling that void. Opened only weeks ago at 210 East 58th Street, this dealership is the brainchild of Rob Copley and Ray Raymakers, who head up Van den Akker Antiques specializing in 20th-century lighting and furniture, located only a block away, and Sean Robins, a PhD-trained psychologist and collector.

"We noticed that no one in this country was featuring the work of European designers like Ado Chale," says Copley, a former fashion designer with Ralph Lauren. A Belgian native, Chale encased semiprecious stones like agate in resin back in the ‘60s for coffee tables, which he lit from beneath their chic tabletops. While long favored by the royal family of Belgium, Chale lingered in obscurity in this country up until recently.

One advantage that this new trio of dealers has over other galleries is that they spend a stunning four months a year sourcing material in Europe. They’ve got all the major names, from Jean Royere to Edouard Vernace. Especially riveting is a Roberto Rida sleek blue-glass commode on stilt-like legs. That Milanese designer takes ‘50s Italian decorative glass elements and reconfigures them into new furnishings that have a Pop esthetic. Also of note is a vast screen made up of chunks of Val St. Lambert glass in fiery red.

Why did these dealers open during the worst economic downturn in decades? Well, the recession has yet to hit this particular design niche. Their business is overwhelmingly interior designer and architect driven. A total of 80 percent of their sales are to that group. And they regularly ship design examples to clients in Europe, Japan and Hong Kong.

New antique jewelry impresario
Period jewelry has a new maestro. The indefatigable author, publisher and collector Judy Price wins that accolade. Her latest curatorial effort is "Masterpieces of Ancient Jewelry," an exhibition recently on view at the Forbes Galleries at Fifth Avenue and 12th Street. The show next appears at the Field Museum in Chicago in February and then travels to the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris in 2010.

Price says this show is the largest collection of the world’s oldest jeweled objects assembled to date, with loans from the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum and the State Museums of Berlin, among other museums. If you can’t get to the exhibition, grab the book of the same title, published by Running Press.

Next up for Price is "Masters of Time," an exhibition of classic, fashion, and sporty watches for both women and men. That show opens at the Forbes Galleries, Apr. 26-June 27, 2009, in conjunction with "Sparkle Week," a celebration of New York as the jewelry capital of the U.S. With none other than mayor Michael Bloomberg expected to announce the event, jewelry seems to be on tap to banish financial doom.

Six years ago, Price founded the nonprofit National Jewelry Institute (NJI), help to preserve, research and exhibit fine jewelry. Since then, as NJI president, Price has staged seven jewelry exhibitions, from "Strictly French," which was packed with examples from, well, France, to "Olympic Gold," a show of 50 Olympic gold medals. While lacking a permanent home, the NJI can be considered this country’s equivalent of London’s V&A Museum in terms of promoting jewelry as an art form.

Clearly, Price has struck a diamond lode of sorts in terms of visitors. "Attendance has increased tenfold to approximately 15,000 since the first show," she says. "Ancient Jewelry" was sponsored by Christian Dior Couture and AXA Art Insurance.

Jewelry by artists in Chelsea
Art jewelry is bound to be the next hot trend, as it appeals not just to fashionistas but to art collectors as well. As proof witness "zerocarat" at Friedman Benda gallery in Chelsea, which presents earrings, pins and rings by the likes of Louise Nevelson and Forrest Myers.

"The common thread among buyers is that they are all art lovers, who wanted a piece even in these times," says Marc Benda, whose wife Sara Benda (see curated the show. She is a private dealer who has focused on this specialty for two years.

So clients walked out clad in swirl earrings by London-based designer Ron Arad, bracelets by Forrest Myers and gold pendants by Kenny Scharf. Other artists represented include Ettore Sottsass and Louise Bourgeois. These artist-designed accessories aren’t exactly in the mega-million price range like the diamonds hawked at uptown jewelers. For example, Myers’ bracelets run up to $10,000 while a Nevelson brooch in brass and painted wood costs $20,000.

Looking ahead, such art jewelry is bound to pick up in value. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston recently took on a jewelry curator, while down in Houston, the Museum of Fine Arts acquired a contemporary jewelry collection. And Florida private dealer Donna Schneier just gifted her collection to the Metropolitan. With the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) at Columbus Circle now planning a jewelry exhibition for 2010, this particular category of the decorative arts looks rock solid.

Further sightings of art jewelry in the art world would have to include Art Basel Miami Beach, where within the first 15 minutes a collector swooped up an Alexander Calder silver necklace at PaceWildenstein. The cost was a stunning $450,000.

A knighted cartoonist
Brit author and artist Osbert Lancaster (1908-1986) penned 15 books and published 27 editions of his collected cartoons, achieving the singular distinction of being the only cartoonist in history to be knighted. Yet in recent years, his talents have lingered in obscurity. Now, James Knox, former publisher of the Spectator and currently managing director of the Art Newspaper, has rescued Lancaster’s wry art, including his satirical architectural cartoons, by organizing "Cartoons & Coronets: The Genius of Osbert Lancaster," an exhibition now on view at London’s Wallace Collection, otherwise known for its frothy Fragonards and royal Sevres porcelains.

Knox’s show is a huge hit. The total number of visitors reached 41,449 just before Christmas, making it the Wallace Collection's most successful exhibition to date. It even beat out their "Lucian Freud: Latest Paintings" show held back in 2004. Plus, the accompanying book, edited by Knox, is also the collection’s most successful exhibition catalogue, reports a museum spokesperson. Even the Osbert Lancaster calendar sold out completely. The exhibition closes on Jan. 11, 2009.

Axel Vervoordt wins 2008 kudos
With the allure of antiques growing somewhat dimmer amid our recessionary woes, it’s worth looking back at the most innovative and stylish exhibition of 2008. And hands down, that kudo would have to go to Dutch dealer Axel Vervoordt’s installation in the Ecole des Beaux Arts Chapelle in Paris held during the Biennale des Antiquaires and FIAC.

Talk about surpassing all the competition! Vervoordt began with a most distinctive setting, as the Chapelle boasts frescoed walls and its interior is crammed with 19th-century plaster casts of period sculpture. There, he creatively interwove antiquities, antiques and contemporary art in the period setting, adding works by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and a cage-like sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, as well as video works. Further setting the mood, Vervoordt commissioned a piece of atonal music for the viewing, which further infused the experience with mystical overtones.

The reception was equally impressive. A stunning 20,000 visitors trooped thorough his exhibition, which was titled with a spirit of esthetic investigation, "Academia. Qui es-tu?" While the French and the Belgians turned out in droves, Americans, Asians and Russians made up the balance. Even Eli Broad tooled through the Chapelle. "It was extremely fulfilling to sense the power of the exhibition and its impact on the many visitors who walked through the Chapelle and were completely energized by the magnetism which exists where the ancient meets the contemporary," says Vervoordt. 

"It’s really not about sales," said Vervoordt, "but rather about a museum exhibition." Even so, works did find buyers, including a Miró sculpture, Picasso drawings, Richard Avedon photographs and a number of antiquities.

Vervoordt is now planning a third such exhibition to be staged in the Palazzo Fortuny, coinciding with the 2009 Venice Biennale. Entitled "In-finitum," the next exhibition will deal with themes like "the infinite as a spiritual journey, as an essence of being, as a void full of energy." Clearly, that theme should prove apt no matter how upbeat the market proves to be for 2009.

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