November 6, 2012 |
Not long ago I planned to have some fun in these pages by running a sly taxonomy of the current television shows about old things-from the somewhat shopworn Antiques Roadshow down through Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Market Warriors and the rest of the Roadshow's offspring. I expected to spare only Storage Wars, which I find the sunniest of guilty pleasures and the most amusing.I know the argument: however demented, these shows bring welcome attention to the field. I don't really buy it. Even the Roadshow, despite its virtues, strikes me as guilty of deforming our appreciation of art and decorative arts by always building to its main event-the "Land sakes alive!" moment routinely squeezed from pilgrims whose treasures have been appraised for those really big sums. Works of art have always been commercial objects, of course, but they are crucially more than that. What a show like Market Warriors does is to sev…» More
September 4, 2012 | Our country's regional wars may be over, but in the 1960s when the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) began, they were very much alive. Southern writers for instance were still working through the story of loss while northerners remained dubious about the value of southern culture. MESDA took a different path. The idea that the South did not need to justify itself to the world was a winning strategy for the museum back then, and it continues to be so as MESDA pushes beyond coastal high style into the backcountry of the South as described here by Laura Beach. Nothing undermines a prejudice more effectively than simply ignoring it.
Elsewhere in the South the High Museum of Art in Atlanta has shown another kind of moxie by forming fruitful partnerships with museums in Mexico, Canada, the Netherlands, France, and even New York. Closer to home, as Stephanie Cash explains, the High has taken Hale Woodruff's powerful Talladega murals, restored them, and, along with Tall…» More
July 31, 2012 | We have something to celebrate this summer in the resurgence of the American Folk ArtMuseum. Pronounced dead after selling its award-winning building on Fifty-ThirdStreet in Manhattan, the museum is nothing of the sort, as you will see in the articles grouped here under the rubric "Folk Art Rising." At its tidy quarters on Lincoln Square, a smooth street-level entrance speeds you to the exhibition Jubilation/Rumination: Life, Real and Imagined, where objects from the collection by quilters, portraitists, and private obsessives speak to each other in the American vernacular. It is an imaginative pairing of the practical and the visionary curated by Stacy C. Hollander, who joined the museum as an intern and is now as world class as the collection itself.
Looking back in 1933 on the heady years before World War I when she was among the first to discover the work of Picasso and Matisse, Gertrude Stein observed that "once everybody knows they are good the adventure is over." …» More
May 9, 2012 | Starting out in the intoxicating decade of the 1920s, Antiques began by running against the rhythm of its times, celebrating tradition in a decade fueled by the Americanization of the avant garde and the arrival of mass culture in radio, music, and film. The 1920s also witnessed the founding of several other magazines more specifically attuned to the spirit of the age such as The Reader's Digest, Time, and The New Yorker. None of this was lost on our first editor, the Bostonian Homer Eaton Keyes, who confessed that it was probably foolhardy to "totter forth into such an age" with a magazine about antiques. I'm not sure if those early issues "tottered," but the magazine soon found its feet and moved them in step if not with the times then with a more expansive national spirit of the sort you find in Walt Whitman-the kind of spirit that is most American when it runs against the American grain, which is what we still do by emphasizing the presentness of the past.
We are a nati…» More
March 12, 2012 |
There are days when I am sure that there is a constant worldwide conspiracy out there to pretend that the past does not exist. Fortunately I leave the office occasionally and find that this may not be true. I recently toured Camera Solo, the exhibition of Patti Smith's photographs at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford with Susan Talbott, the museum's director. You might think that showing a rock goddess's tiny black-and-white pictures at a major museum would stir up my paranoia (pandering! selling out!) but you would be wrong. Patti Smith is devoted to the art and literature of bygone times, something I already knew from reading Just Kids, her old-fashioned memoir about stalking punk rock stardom in 1970s New York. Her photographs of Duncan Grant's studio, Victor Hugo's bed, Percy Shelley's grave, and Virginia Woolf's cane do not claim to be high art. Their mission is more humble: to let objects summon the spirits of th…» More
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