February 18, 2010 | Unlike other major exhibitions of the art deco period, DecoDence: Legendary Interiors and Illustrious Travelers Aboard the SS Normandie, which opens today at the South Street Seaport Museum, isn't an over-the-top display. Instead, it's a balanced, and entirely engrossing, collection of furnishings, ephemera, and architectural elements that graced the legendary ocean liner.
Among the show's highlights: photographs that document the daily activities aboard the ship and capture the atmosphere of the Grand Salon and other deluxe compartments, and promotional accessories, such as a black leather clutch, presumed to be by Hermès, that mimics the Normandie's famous silhouette. Wooden French sailor figures used for window displays; and architectural fragments from the well-known églomisé mural panels by Jean Dupas to a pair of bronze doors used in one of the ship's private dining rooms. Other standouts are the modernist designs in silver by Luc Lanel for Christofle created for first class tea sets, table crumbers, and serving pieces whose geometric forms look as if they were plucked from MoMA's recent Bauhaus exhibition. Arguably the masterpiece of the exhibit is the one-of-a-kind ash veneer baby grand piano designed by Louis Sue for the Deauville Suite (each of the Normandie's four Grand Luxe suites had included a piano by its respective interior designer) that can also be seen in its heyday in a photograph with Marlene Dietrich seated at it.
February 8, 2010 | It's easy to fall in love with Victorian jewelry. The combination of beauty and sentimentality in objects such as mourning brooches made of facetted jet and Etruscan beaded bangles is nearly unparalleled, while the symbolism in 19th-century jewels makes them especially alluring for collectors. Names, inscriptions, and the coded languages of flowers and stones all contribute to their significance. One such example is Mizpah jewelry, which from the mid- to late-1800s was given to a loved one during a period of long separation—military service, travel, or otherwise—as a "forget-me-not."
February 4, 2010 | When the Museum of Modern Art hosted an exhibition of contemporary unknown artists in 1939 one artist to be discovered was Anna Mary Robertson Moses. Beloved as much for her sweet persona as for her winsome paintings, the self-taught folk artist from Eagle Bridge, New York, was 79 years old at the time. Luckily, for the sake of American art history, "Grandma" Moses lived to the age 101, and with her mainstream success she was encouraged to take her art more seriously and to work on a more ambitious scale.
January 28, 2010 | American art aficionados packed into the Tiffany Room at the Park Avenue Armory last night as part of a series of special lectures hosted by the Winter Antiques Show to listen in as Carrie Rebora Barratt, associate director for collections and administration and curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Lori Zabar, an independent scholar and researcher, spoke on the subject of their new book—the Metropolitan's collection of nearly 600 American portrait miniatures. The history of these most intimate objects from the earliest days of the nation's founding up through the early 20th century was surveyed, and a number of surprises revealed.
Barratt spoke about how, with the aid of conservators, miniature cases were carefully opened to examine their contents. Most contained waxed playing cards cut as supports for the ivory, while some also held descriptions written on paper, and others exposed painting on the reverse side of the portrait. She also proudly showed the only two examples of American lover's eyes from the collection—tiny (less than a half-inch in diameter) miniatures depicting a single eye or pair of eyes that were meant to be worn on the inside of a coat near one's heart. While the form had been immensely popular in England, very few were made by artists in America, and to date the Met has more than any other museum. Though a number of artists included in the book are well-known—Peale, Copley, and Ramage—Barratt reminded the audience that many who have never been heard of were also immensely talented.
January 22, 2010 | A visit to the American Antiques Show (also known as TAAS) at the Metropolitan Pavilion is always filled with discovery, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to join a special tour of the show with Stacy C. Hollander, the American Folk Art Museum's senior curator and director of exhibitions. This year's new layout designed by Ned Jalbert, which tossed aside rigid aisles and allows for more open space and meandering sight lines, was a perfect complement to Hollander's tour, which made ready juxtapositions among the booths and picked up recurring themes across the widely varied art on view, relying on natural serendipity. Hollander quickly identified one important trend at this year's show and that is portraiture. Some of these highlights, including portraits by Rufus Hathaway and Drossos Skyllas, are included in the slideshow below and offer a taste of why TAAS, which runs through Sunday, shouldn't be missed.
Pickle Dish, American China Manufactory (Bonnin and Morris), Philadelphia, 1771-72. Soft-paste porcelain with lead glaze; height 4 3/16, width 4 1/2» View All