Forget Chippendale and Chelsea porcelain, the extravagant creations of the fashion world are spiking on the Richter scale of museum attendance. The Art Newspaper has compiled its extensive annual list of visitor numbers for 2008 museum exhibitions, and among the top ten shows in the decorative arts category, a stunning five are devoted to, well, luxury brand togs. Top of the heap is the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute’s "Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy," last fall’s extravaganza of costumes from Hollywood films as well as from Paris couturiers like Thierry Mugler, notable for his penchant for animalier-like creativity.
The Met show is followed, in terms of the number of visitors, by "Golden Age of Couture" at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, "Salvatore Ferragamo: 1928-2008" at the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art, "Christian Lacroix" at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and "Blog.mode: addressing fashion," back at the Met again. The measurable fashionista interest in museum exhibitions should spur even more fashion-house sponsors to enter the haute museum world.
And indeed, the next fashion label snaring the art-world spotlight is Missoni, when London’s Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art debuts "Workshop Missoni: Daring to be Different," July 1-Sept. 20, 2009. In addition to the firm’s signature patterned knits, the show features Missoni’s own holdings of modern Italian art, including works by Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini.
But back to the Art Newspaper’s decorative arts top ten, where exhibitions devoted to the artistry of Japan claim four spots. Among them are "Tea for Everyone: Japanese Ceramics" and "The Potter’s Mark: Art of the Edo Period," both at the Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington, D.C. Also included are "Export Lacquer" at the Kyoto National Museum and "Ukiyo-e Influence on French Ceramics" at the Tokyo National Museum. In other words, that’s 40 percent for Asia in the top ten.
What happened to antique furnishings? Well, we’re having a rather Marie Antoinette moment in these recessionary times. Of the top ten museum survey shows, the French court with its pricey gilt chairs and exquisite Sèvres porcelain took home three winners. They are "Splendor of France’s Royal Court" at the Metropolitan Art Museum in Tokyo, which also racked up record attendance when it traveled to Japan’s Kobe City Art Museum. And the frivolous wife of Louis Quatroze also took center stage in "Marie Antoinette" at the Grand Palais.
In 2008, attendance figures for architecture and design shows outdistanced those for photography. The Museum of Modern Art garnered first and second highest attended shows with architecture curator Barry Bergdoll’s "Home Delivery," a winning nod to prefab housing, and "Design and the Elastic Mind," which put hipster designer Joris Laarman with his bone-like chairs on the global map.
Biedermeier in Manhattan
Just when most of the Chelsea art world is quaking in this uneasy financial climate, surprise, surprise -- there are antiques dealers opening vast quarters.
Biedermeier is coming to midtown Manhattan with a vengeance. The decorative style, popular in Austria and Germany in the 1820s-1840s, shunned the heaviness of French Empire pieces and tended towards clean lines, supple shapes and light colored woods. It is the focus of Iliad Antik, a 5,300-square-foot gallery sheathed in white marble opened only a few weeks ago by Adam Brown and Andrea Zemel at 212 East 57th Street. The new shop is triple the size of the pair’s previous Upper East Side establishment, indicating the rising vogue for this style. Cementing their reputation for top Biedermeier, Brown and Zemel were lenders to "Biedermeier: The Invention of Simplicity," which premiered at the Milwaukee Art Museum, traveled to Vienna and Berlin, and concluded at the Louvre in 2007.
The new Iliad Antik showroom boasts impressive lighting and Versace-like glam. Showstoppers include an 1820 Viennese circular table with a trumpet-styled base and veneered top, priced at $38,000. "Viennese pieces are generally more refined while German ones are more architectonic and Hungarian furniture bears a Baroque tendency," says Brown.
The shop also carries later material. Not to be missed is a 1938 sideboard by the Milanese designer Dossi. It’s clad in parchment with slivers of exotic woods illustrating Homeric epics. The exacting workmanship is reflected in its price of $235,000.
In celebrating their expansion, which coincides with their tenth anniversary, this dealer duo is planning a series of contemporary art exhibitions -- including a 20-year retrospective of works by gallery co-founder Andrea Zemel (b. 1960). Titled "Pathos, Hubris & Zoe," May 7-June 30, 2009, the show features Zemel’s wall-based artworks incorporating text and references to the Greek world as well as mosaics, ceramics and glass.
With spring upon us, LASSCO -- the London Architectural Salvage and Supply Company, Ltd. -- usually witnesses a seasonal uptick in garden ornament sales. But with the sharp change in the financial climate, big ticket garden ornament sales are slowing, as monumental Grecian ladies in marble and huge cast iron urns rely on those very buyers who have been most hit by the downturn. "Russians, fund managers, real estate developers, and the swagger material they favor has not been shifting," says LASSCO chairman Adrian Amos.
Still, he is seeing strong sales in mantels, mirrors, paneling and reclaimed flooring: the kinds of "country house chic" that Ralph Lauren wannabes tend to covet. He attributes this to the "perception of LASSCO being the interface of the buying public with the impoverished gentry and desperate rag-and-bone men." Americans are among his biggest buyers.
Interestingly, LASSCO is inundated with offers of material.
Norman Adams at Auction
Casting a shadow over the antiques world, the 87-year-old London dealership Norman Adams is shuttering its doors and selling its stock at Sotheby’s London on Apr. 21, 2009. The withering exchange rate and changing taste led to that closure. The auction features 235 lots of English antiques and is expected to total in excess of £1.3 million.
At the same time as the viewing and auction of its stock, Norman Adams is headlining a selling exhibition of contemporary furniture by British designers, also at Sotheby’s. Top of the tree among the works by 27 designers in the show is John Makepeace’s ripple ash dining table, which is being offered for £50,000. Across the board, most of the works average around £2,000-£5,000.
Makepeace is a pivotal English designer, whose furniture has long been favored by Chicago art patron John Bryan, chair of the fundraising efforts for the Art Institute of Chicago’s new modern wing, which opens May 15, 2009, as well as for Millennium Park nearby. Bryan’s vast decorative arts collection is housed at his Crab Tree Farm just outside the Windy City and includes key furniture by Makepeace.
BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.