The extravagance of the Winter Antiques Show was deftly tamed by the entry display façade of folk art, a stunning loan exhibition from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.
A founder of the Museum of Modern Art, Mrs. Rockefeller was swift to recognize and draw visual analogies between modernist expression and that of American folk art. In 1932, she anonymously shared her collection at MoMA, a landmark exhibition: “American Folk Art: The Art of the Common Man in America.” The strength and power and integrity of American folk art inspired modernist sculptors and painters and has since then, of course, continued to do so.
The Winter Antiques Show in the Park Avenue Armory is considered a bellwether of the times, often judged by the singular choices that the vetted dealers winnow down to highlight their exquisite booths. The show, benefiting the East Side Settlement House and numerous charities directed toward improving conditions and education in the Bronx and Northern Manhattan, is also renowned for its eye-popping prices.
For the design aficionado, it is a sensational glimpse of the finest craftsmanship and provenance with many objects originally created for the royal houses of Europe and the great families of the Eastern seaboard. It attracts a rather tony crowd, who sip Sancerre with aplomb and “airkiss” with experienced style.
Though a platform for the erudite dealers who savor their own personal wealth of knowledge, the objects themselves are the true stars of this show.
Bernard Goldberg Fine Arts showcased the remarkably lyrical ironwork of American blacksmith Samuel Yellin. Gates, balconies, fire screens and lamps populated this space. Yellin’s work proved that as strong and fierce as its reputation may advertise, iron can be delicate, witty, graceful and, yes, even luxurious,.
Though Hirschl and Adler Galleries atmospherically promoted Federal antiques with dazzling pieces from the Duncan Phyfe workshop, their pine, fan-carved mantel in the “Federal taste” stole most of the thunder. Almost an architectural structure in itself, the altar-like mantel featured columned porticos that sheltered carved urns on pedestals.
The bewitching fashion photography, seen here in platinum prints by Melvin Sokolsky, created quite a stir. The chic clad models in large acrylic bubbles floating on the Seine are thrilling.
Gems and fabulous jewelry populate the show with A La Vieille Russie shuttling out czarist treasures. Didier displayed a handsome Jean Cocteau pendant while Kentshire astonished with unbelievable vintage jewelry.
Working for the Shogunate in 1850, Kano Moritsune, a ninth generation court painter, created this vivid, imaginative and delicious screen depicting the famous “Tales of Genji.” A dragon boat and a phoenix royal barge float down the river as sensuous court ladies demurely drape themselves on carved railings as they peer at the cascading cheery trees in full blossom. Painted on gold with extraordinary skill, this screen could warrant hours of perusal. Joan Mirviss brought this and other fine treasures to the show.
Carole Thibaut-Pomerantz has been a pioneer in awakening the art world to the intrinsic artistry of wallpapers. A pair of French Art Deco over door panels drew the crowds’ eyes to this wood block print in fresh colors and vivid design.
Standouts in the painting genre were the multitude of John Singer Sargent portraits, whose facile, slashing renditions of silks, satins and creamy skin are still visions in astonishment.
The other artist so lovingly amassed at this Winter Antiques Show was Harry Bertoia. Though renowned for his wire diamond mesh dining chairs that leave a waffle pattern on your beach derriere, a recent Sotheby’s auction of a huge Norwegian collection drew attention to Bertoia’s sculptures. Many dealers displayed his Bush sculptures, his sculptures from Stemmons Towers in Dallas and his child attracting stainless steel willow. If I had a quarter for every time an amazed child brushed his or her limbs against this piece, I could probably retire. Resembling “Cousin Itt” from the Addams Family, this graceful willow sculpture draws a wide smile from everyone.
And speaking of children and those Peter Pan adults, Gemini Antiques of New Jersey provided a respite from the esoteric, priceless, and well-vetted fare at the show. Gemini specializes in antique toys, banks, toy soldiers, ships and dolls. Toys started mass production around the 1940s and Gemini’s interest lasts until the 1940s, an inventive period filled with panache. Though never really cheap, these mass produced toys provided pleasure for a broader group of children who could not afford a hand-carved bauble that took a craftsman 30 hours to produce. The display of the toys, in simple white boxes, was an effective presentation and a style to be acquired.
The usual representatives of American and English dealers impressed us with glorious mahogany furniture, crystal chandeliers and gilded mirrors. However, several contemporary galleries slipped in to the show, for example, Bowman Sculpture featured a modern bronze female torso that might be at home in the Metropolitan Museum’s Classic Galleries.
And a Tlingit Shaman headdress frontlet from British Columbia stood proud in ravishingly preserved colors of watermelon, turquoise and charcoal—a reminder of the power that tribal art brings to the table.
The enticing advantage to these shows lies in the edited buffet of exciting offerings that remind you that the past holds not only unparalleled craftsmanship, integrity and creativity, but other ways to view the world around us. This particular show is perfect for those with attention deficit disorder, because each booth presents a different period, a different point of view and a different object.