January 14, 2010 | The precious textiles and clothing sold at Cora Ginsburg have as much charm, beauty, and depth as any other category of antiques, but like the firm itself, you may have to look for it. Tucked into two cozy rooms on the third floor of a nondescript residential building on Manhattan's East Seventy-fourth Street, the gallery is as sparely furnished as a designer boutique, and many of its choicest items are not on display but must be retrieved from a back room and unrolled for viewing. At which point the owner, Titi Halle, is liable to hand you a magnifying glass so you can understand what it is you are looking at.
Halle is as unimposing and intimate a presence as her shop. One of a select group of dealers in a field that requires knowledge of goods from all over the globe spanning three or four centuries, she has a command of many disciplines—textiles, fashion, folk art, handcraft, weaving and printing technology, even the history of tangential matters such as Mummers' performances. On Antiques Roadshow she comes across as elegantly erudite. But in her gallery, with her shy smile, eyeglasses, and girlishly long hair, she might remind you of a favorite librarian. Spreading one piece of fabric on the floor for a recent visitor, she cheerfully exclaimed, "That's what floats my boat!"
November 30, 2009 | With the country edging out of a recession, a newly elected Democratic president wrestling with a huge deficit, and art buyers seemingly sitting on their hands, the Palm Beach Post sent a reporter to John H. Surovek's Worth Avenue gallery to ask him how he, and collectors in the well-invested but deeply illiquid town, were coping with what the Post's eventual headline would call "market reality." The year was 1993, and Surovek, who deals chiefly in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American art, was the wrong guy to ask. "During the previous year, we had set six American records," Surovek recalls. One of those records was the $346,500 he had paid at Christie's for a painting of a boy by Robert Henri—more than doubling the record price for a Henri. "This kind of art has held its own," Surovek advised in 1993 when asked about a supposed slump. As for Palm Beach, Surovek told the Post reporter, "I have always believed I can sell a great painting in Paducah, Omaha, or Hammond, Indiana."
Sixteen years later, both of Surovek's claims still apply. The economic conditions are exponentially worse, and the toll taken by the Bernard Madoff scandal may have hit nowhere harder than in Palm Beach, where, since the scandal broke, the Post has run so many stories tracking Madoff's movements that Bernie might be a hurricane that ripped through town. American art, nonetheless, is holding its own. Prices for the stars of the period from the beginning of the Civil War to the beginning of the Cold War—figures like Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, and Edward Hopper—continue to rise. They have been bolstered by the recent emerging interest in lesser known artists.
March 6, 2009 | In 1979 a Barnard College student named Grace Gold was walking down Broadway on Manhattan's Upper West Side when she was struck and killed by a falling piece of a terracotta window lintel that had broken loose from the Regnor, a sixty-seven-year-old apartment house. The next year, in reaction to Gold's death, New York City passed Local Law 10 requiring an inspection of the facades of any building six stories and taller. Building owners had been quietly removing stone carvings and other decorations for years, but many used Local Law 10 to justify the wholesale "scalping" of cornices, balconies, parapets, and other architectural details.
By 1985 an army of engineers and architects specializing in preserving and securing exterior decorations had mobilized to quell the rash of scalpings. But those five years were enough to jumpstart the peripatetic career of James Elkind.
Elkind, owner of Lost City Arts on Cooper Square in Manhattan, is widely known as an authority on mid-century…» More
February 17, 2009 | At Peter Pap's booth at the Greenwich Antiques Show in Connecticut, a woman is examining an enormous Mahal carpet with an unusual green ground that has been attracting passersby all morning. Looking down, the woman asks, "How much is it?" Pap replies, with a courtly nod, "fifty-four thousand dollars."
Peter Pap is recognizable to followers of Antiques Roadshow as the expert from San Francisco with the scholarly refinement of a private school headmaster. He has graying hair, a beard of a very short nap, and watchful eyes redoubled by owlish glasses. As the woman toes the binding of the Mahal, he leans forward, anticipating what is coming next. "And how old are you saying?" the woman asks.
"It is," he replies, "late nineteenth century." After the woman drifts away, Pap looks in exasperation at his booth's walls. "Did you hear the implication? ‘How old are you saying?' The interaction starts out with two strikes against you."
The woman's suggestion-that antique rugs are never as old or worth as much as their sellers maintain-is something that Pap has long wanted to put to rest. Every category of the antiques industry has its scandals, but what brings Pap close to despair is his sense that some parts of the rug trade have lived up to the public's perception.
February 2, 2009 | Blogs, it is sometimes alleged, trace their ancestry back to the early 1700s, to the brawling, gossipy, partisan broadsheet newspapers that spread-virally, you might say-through Britain's newfangled coffeehouses. Anyone trying to prove the link by means of a few strands of common DNA might look into a four-year-old blog by Clinton Howell, the American dealer in English furniture of the broadsheet era. "One should not speak ill of the dead," Howell began a post last spring, before doing just that, blasting the recently departed Thomas Devenish for, among other sins, once outbidding Howell on a tripod table that Howell told him he had put incontrovertible dibs on. In an earlier series of posts, he disparaged a pair of mid-1700s demilune inlaid consoles, sold at auction for a handsome price, so unsparingly that a friend finally called to remind him that the buyer had feelings.
[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi» View All