Current & Coming, January-March
For sheer variety of form, color, period, and place of origin it is difficult to match the offerings at the annual New York Ceramics Fair, where thirty-three tightly packed booths represent virtually everything in the world of fired clay-from purely utilitarian objects to those meant solely for aesthetic contemplation. Most of the dealers are from the United States, though there are also important exhibitors from Turkey, the Netherlands, Ireland, and England. And, while the emphasis remains on the antique or quasi-antique, there is also work by some excellent contemporary ceramists.
Visitors who need further inducements will find an enticing roster of nine lectures by scholars and curators throughout the run of the show on the website, and the excellent Czech-inspired food and drink at Hospoda is reason to visit more than once.
Now in its second year replacing the American Antiques Show at the Metropolitan Pavilion, the Metro Show is determined to make much of its proximity to the contemporary art galleries of Chelsea. Although the emphasis is on diversity here and the word antiques is nowhere to be found, there will still be a healthy representation of dealers and material associated with that word and with the world of Americana, especially folk art. The presence this year of self-taught and outsider art is not exactly new, as the Carl Hammer Gallery and the Ricco/ Maresca Gallery have traditionally brought outstanding examples from that field. What distinguishes the Metro Show is the element of surprise that exhibitors such as Pam and Tim Hill of the Hill Gallery excel at. That is what visitors will look forward to and come back for again during the four-day run.
The other big draw at the show is the January 24 lecture at 1pm by Penny Stillinger, whose book A Kind of Archeology: Collecting American Folk Art, 1876–1976 is one of the most significant contributions to American art history in recent years and amounts to nothing less than the biography of an idea. Stillinger will lecture on the collecting of folk art—how it began and why.
Mahogany tall clock by Aaron Willard, Roxbury, Massachusetts, c. 1785. Delaney Antique Clocks, West Townsend, Massachusetts.
The country’s most glamorous antiques show is also a benefit for one of its most effective and important social services organizations, East Side House Settlement. Anyone interested in ESHS should consult its website (eastsidehouse.org) or better yet visit some of its seventeen locations in the South Bronx to see how a resourceful organization devises ways of helping citizens of all ages find their way out of poverty.
At the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum, the Winter Antiques Show itself will feature a loan exhibition from the Preservation Society of Newport County with objects and settings from Newport’s Gilded Age mansions as well as holdings from the eighteenth-century Hunter House and the newly restored Isaac Bell House, an 1883 McKim, Mead and White shingle style masterpiece. For a taste of the paintings, jewelry, and decorative arts that the seventy-three dealers will be exhibiting at the show, please see our “Talking antiques” section in this issue.
The lecture series that traditionally accompanies the show will include six on aspects of Newport by the Preservation Society and another six on various topics, including The Magazine antiques lecture by Carolyn J. Weekley, “Painters and Paintings of the Early American South, 1735–1780,” on Saturday January 26 at 5pm. Weekley’s article on southern portraiture appears in this issue.
A tribute to the late Wendell Garrett will take place at the Armory on January 28 at 10 am .
The “other” Armory show, a delight in its own right, features one hundred dealers and runs a shuttle bus to and from the Winter Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory. (Stella Management’s January Pier Antiques Show has been cancelled for this year.)
Portrait of Dorothy Vickers by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925),
c. 1885-1886. Oil on canvas. Adelson Gallery, New York
Day dress, French, 1862-1864. White cotton pique embroidered with black soutache. Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Chauncey Stillman.
When it comes to staging exhibitions that court popular taste without pandering, few institutions can match the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In what promises to be another blockbuster, organized by the Art Institute of Chicago with the Met and the Musée d’Orsay, the Met will open an exhibition that links the world’s most popular school of painting, French impressionism, to every museum’s biggest draw—fashion. (The exhibition will be seen in Chicago June 26 to September 22.) Some eighty paintings by Manet, Monet, Renoir, and others will be shown with period photographs, prints, costumes, and accessories. The idea is not so much that artists as well as poets and novelists were eager to be seen as à la mode as that the struggle to communicate modernity as a concept from the 1860s to the 1880s engaged a wide swath of Parisian culture, resulting, eventually, in the city’s becoming the style capital of the world. It is heartening to see museums engaging in the kind of ambitious (and costly) programming that recent economic conditions have made so difficult.
The Millinery Shop by Edgar Degas (1834-1917), 1879-1886. Oil on canvas. Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection.
Of course the Met could probably mount an exhibition about virtually any subject, country, or period without borrowing a thing from another institution. Plain or Fancy: Restraint and Exuberance in the Decorative Arts is a clever case in point. Drawn entirely from its own collections of European sculpture and decorative arts, the show is a keen examination of the relativity of taste from the Renaissance to the early twentieth century. Each successive swing of the pendulum from the highly ornamented to the severely restrained and back again is shown as it played out in ceramics, metalwork, and glass. As the curators suggest, these shifts in taste are always accompanied by moral and political arguments that insist that one or another style is decadent or puritanical, vulgar or dull. The exhibition is sure to provoke argument, but its central point about the cultural clues that determine the trajectory of art are undeniable.
Tea service designed by Josef Hoffmann (1870-1956), c. 1910. Silver, amethyst, carnelian, and ebony. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Fund.
Alexander Biddle's January 3, 1863, letter to his children. Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia.
Of the current programs designed to help our veterans re-enter civilian life, War Stories at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia is among the most surprising. Known for its vast holdings, from illuminated manuscripts to James Joyce's Ulysses, the Rosenbach is far from a one dimensional archive and significantly more than a research library, though it is that too; it has become especially successful in bringing life to the page in exhibitions like War Stories, where letters and other day-to-day documents from soldiers in conflicts from the Revolutionary War to Operation Enduring Freedom sit side by side showing that the anxieties and concerns of fighting men have not changed much over time. A video project with a virtual tour of sites such as an officer's cabin in the Civil War or an operations center in Iraq familiarizes us with the day-to-day wartime experience. Public outreach programs and workshops for veterans and their families move beyond the walls of the Rosenbach into the military community itself.
A visit to the museum is also an opportunity to view the exhibition Maurice Sendak: A Legacy, which is on at the same time. Sendak began giving his manuscripts, original drawings, and first editions to the museum in 1968. Some sixty-five drawings from this collection present an opportunity to see the work and work habits of the most important author of children's books since World War II.