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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Showtime Razzle Dazzle in New York

McKeon vase designed by Robert Ball Hughes and made by James Thomson, New York, N.Y., 1837. Spencer Marks, Southampton, Ma. American Antiques Show. McKeon vase designed by Robert Ball Hughes and made by James Thomson, New York, N.Y., 1837. Spencer Marks, Southampton, Ma. American Antiques Show.

NEW YORK CITY – We did not need the Dow to hit 12,000 on January 26 tell us that the market for art and antiques has more bounce in its step of late. The anecdotal accounts of more than 440 dealers who participated in five shows scattered around New York City between January 18 and 30 suggest that collectors are spending again, even as buyers and sellers grapple with the realignment in prices that has slowed trading in the past two years.
 
Winter Show Flexes Marketing Muscle
Beyond the economy’s ups and downs, it is clear that the business of selling art is changing. Few places is this more evident than at the January 20-30 Winter Antiques Show, where chairman Arie L. Kopelman and executive director Catherine Sweeney Singer have drawn on their deep expertise in luxury goods marketing to boost the fair’s fortunes. 
 
The show’s management has made an art form of corporate sponsorships, an essential component of any major fair. At the Winter Show, underwriting supports everything from the Opening Night Party to the loan exhibition.  An unprecedented number of special events, 35 in all this year, added to the mix.  Even with snow-related cancellations most were booked to capacity.
 
Fair organizers have also focused on branding. “As recently as five years ago, our marketing materials were designed by a dozen different entities. We needed consistency,” says Sweeney Singer. But do not mistake the luscious aquamarine that colored everything from tickets to the show banners that stretched for blocks along Park Avenue for Tiffany Blue. It is Nathaniel Russell Green, taken from a paint chip chosen by Historic Charleston Foundation.
 
In its scale and complexity, “Grandeur Preserved: Masterworks Presented by Historic Charleston Foundation,” which mingled loans from five museums and six private collections, was another milestone for the Winter Antiques Show, which attracted Charlestonians by the dozens on opening night. Prime time for people watching, the preview also drew Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece, Hugh Jackman, and nearly everyone social in New York.

Finally, 2011 is the year that Americana Week went fully digital. Winter Antiques Show organizers redeployed their marketing budget to include more online advertising and a beefier website, one that allows collectors to sample the inventory of its 75 exhibitors without ever leaving home. The marketing paid off:  attendance was up 12 percent on opening night alone and perhaps as much as 15 percent for the run of the fair.

Show highlights ranged from John Singleton Copley’s chalk on paper study for “Watson and the Shark,” $1.5 million at Adelson Galleries, to Morris Hirshfield’s 1942 folk-art classic “American Beauty,” $750,000 at GiampietroGerald Peters Gallery devoted a wall to five ethereal Thomas Wilmer Dewing paintings and drawings.  In a Stanford White frame, the most costly, “Petunias,” was $1.8 million.
 
Opening night saw the sale of two Yup’ik Eskimo masks, one of which had never been exhibited or published, from the estate of the Surrealist artist Enrico Donati (1909-2008). Priced in excess of $4 million, they sold in the stand of Donald Ellis, a Canadian specialist in tribal art. Both were collected by Adam Hollis Twitchell in Alaska in 1905. It has been nearly 30 years since a Yup’ik mask from the dozen seminal examples collected by Twitchell came on the market.
 
Alexander Gallery sold eight paintings by the end of show’s first day, one of them an Albert Bierstadt view of icebergs. There were reported sales of two MacIntosh chairs at the Fine Arts Society and three pairs of armour at Peter Finer.  Japanese arts specialist Joan Mirviss’s sales surpassed 30 in every medium. Olde Hope Antiques parted with a fireman weathervane, $285,000, from the Barenholtz collection.
 
“We’ve had a great show and I think others have as well,” said Carol Huber. The Old Lyme, Ct., specialist in American needlework made major sales of an 1828 Chester County, Pa., sampler and a Boston needlework picture of 1768.
 
Uptown Polish, Downtown Vibe at American Show
The best Americana is increasingly hard to find, as exhibitors at this 40-dealer show will tell you. The American Antiques Show (TAAS), now in its tenth year, makes finding the great stuff look easy. Presented as a benefit for the American Folk Art Museum in New York, TAAS offers a refreshingly youthful take on collecting.  It’s fun and festive with a downtown vibe, providing plenty to inspire new collectors and tempt seasoned ones.
 
The January 19 preview party at the Metropolitan Pavilion on West 18th Street drew an A-list crowd that included Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, Bunny Williams, John Rosselli, Martha Stewart, Arie and Coco Kopelman, and Nora Ephron and Nick Pileggi.
 
“Sales were surprisingly good,” said manager Karen DiSaia. As always, there seemed to be no shortage of customers for bold sculpture that transcended the folk-art genre. Furniture sold well, too.
 
“We are seeing green shoots. Also, prices have come down enough to allow new people to get on the train,” said Allan Katz, a specialist in American folk sculpture. His many sales included a skillfully carved mid-nineteenth century countertop tobacco figure, priced $110,000. Its exotic features and dress echo fanciful renderings of natives found on early maps of the New World.
 
An oversized hat trade sign and an 1856 fireman’s parade hat were among early sales at Garthoeffner Gallery of Lititz, Pa.
 
With the museum’s dazzling quilt collection currently on view in its galleries uptown, textiles of all sorts enjoyed a revival. Boston dealer Stephen Score sold his exuberantly patriotic American flag quilt, made around 1880. Merrimacport, Ma., dealer Colette Donovan  wrote up an 1840 broderie perse wedding quilt with hand-painted blocks by George Winter, a painter of Native American portraits and landscapes.
 
“We bring everything we’ve got to a show like this,” said Philadelphia dealer Amy Finkel, who sold 27 samplers and silk embroideries, including two rare samplers from the state of Virginia, honored by the show this year.
 
“We have never had so much serious interest,” said Newbury, Ma., dealer Joan Brownstein, who sold an Isaac Sheffield portrait of a sea captain with the ship Wilmington and an American flag in the background. Brownstein had promising nibbles on Ammi Phillips’s austerely geometric “Portrait of Ann Miller Tompkins.”
 
Her partner, Peter Eaton, enjoyed brisk sales of early New England furniture in original surface. His catalogue piece, a rare Rhode Island William and Mary high chest sold before the show opened. Sales of a New Hampshire Queen Anne chest-on-frame in old Spanish brown paint, a coastal Massachusetts serpentine-top candlestand, and a pair of spectacular Chippendale andirons with flame finials followed.
 
“This is my only show. Collectors know that I save things for it,” said Gary Sullivan, a specialist in clocks and  formal American furniture. On opening night, the Sharon, Ma., dealer sold a circa 1825 dwarf clock, priced $185,000, with works by  Joshua Wilder and case by Abiel White.  He closed the show with the sale of a New Jersey tall clock with works by Aaron Lane and a labeled case by Matthew Egerton.
 
“It’s a great piece of Americana,” Southampton, Ma., silver specialist Mark McHugh said of a monumental New York City presentation vase of 1838. Embellished with an American shied and the arms of New York, it was one of Spencer Mark’s many sales.
 
The Ceramics Fair’s Win-Win
The New York Ceramics Fair’s move from the National Academy of Design on Fifth Avenue to Bohemian National Hall at the Czech Consulate on East 73rd Street was a win-win for everyone. Set-up logistics were easier for the California-based show promoters Caskey-Lees and attendance was even with a year ago. Look for the gate to grow as shoppers discover that Sotheby’s is just two blocks away and the Winter Antiques Show, at 67th Street, is not much farther.
 
With only 28 exhibitors, this little show has a big hold on collectors. Linda Kaufman, Lulu Wang, Al and Bridget Ritter, Luke and Peggy Beckerdite, Deanne Levison, Milly McGehee, Stiles Colwill and Bennett Weinstock were among the many guests who crowded into booths chock-a-block full of pottery, porcelain,and glass on opening night, January 18.
 
The Ceramic Fair covers a lot of ground. Take London specialist Christopher Sheppard, who sold a 12th-century glass window to the Corning Museum of Glass. His inventory ranges from ancient Roman to 1920s Venetian glass.
 
English pottery and Chinese porcelain remain the major draws at this established event but contemporary ceramics are increasingly providing novelty and edge. Look for the New York Ceramics Fair to return to Bohemian National Hall next January.
 
Stella Adds More to the Mix
Adding to the mix is Stella Shows, which brings 300 exhibitors – more than the other three fairs combined – to New York for its Antiques at the Armory and Americana & Antiques at The Pier Shows between January 21 and 23.
 
“Because of bad weather, the gate was slightly down but the decrease was not reflected in dealers’ sales,” said company head Irene Stella. Always an innovator, Stella added the very successful Book Alley, featuring 25 antiquarian book dealers, to her Pier show.
 
Stella plans to amp up the company’s digital and social media marketing initiatives with more video promotions such as the clip that now appears on the stellashows.com site.
 
“We did the first video as a trial and found that dealers sold from it,” Stella explained.

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