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.
November 2, 2009 | One of the surprises of the huge Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé sale this past February was the splendid selection of objets de vertu the two men had gathered for their twentieth-century Kunstkammer.
The way in which this assemblage contravened recent trends in collecting was on my mind as I waited to see the London dealer David Lavender, whose lifework has been hunting for rare, beautiful, and precious objects. Lavender has a worldwide clientele seduced, not I suspect just by his knowledge and love of the quality and rarity of the objects in which he deals, but also because of the personal attention he offers his clients, most of whom he counts among his friends. He has been doing it a long, long time. "Sixty-three years ago I went to work in an antiques shop belonging to a friend of my father," he says. "I swept the floors. I made the tea, and I worked there for four years. That," he says proudly, "was my one and only job working for somebody else."
In 1950 he started on his own, with very little money to play with. "I wandered all over England and Scotland, making a lot of friends and buying all sorts of things: glass, Chinese and English porcelain, paintings. Things cost very little in those days," he remembers.
Eventually he decided he ought to specialize. At school his best subjects had been history and English literature so he went for portrait miniatures, fine jewels, snuffboxes, and what he describes as other "objects with a history." He has specialized in these kinds of things ever since.
Portrait miniatures? "Yes, I chose them because they encompass a tremendous amount of history, which really interests me. So many of the subjects are literary personages, politicians who made history, or royalty, and I can say without exaggeration that we have probably had more things of historical significance than anyone else in the trade."
His first great discovery of a portrait miniature came about fifty years ago when he was offered an eighteenth-century likeness of Henry Howard, the twelfth Earl of Suffolk. He paid £25 for it, put it in a sale and it brought £600. "A few years later I bought it back," he remembers. "I think I sold it three times!"
July 22, 2009 | Something weird happened to Jeff Bridgman and his business in 2008—in fact, two weird things. In the midst of a global economic collapse, he had his best year ever, and in December, he made a large sale to a Democrat. "To the best of my knowledge, it was the first time I'd ever made a major sale to a Democrat," says the genial owner of Jeff R. Bridgman Antiques, who specializes in American flags and political campaign textiles. "I never had any Democrats before, but all of a sudden, since Obama got in office, whoa."
For all the Democrats who symbolically took back the flag in the last election, at least a few are also taking it literally. Still, despite the political associations with many of the things Bridgman sells, it's not politics that drives his business. To see an exhibit of his flags and banners is to experience not patriotic fervor but something else: a quickening of the heart, a kind of giddiness over objects where history, design, imagination, and industry converge.…» More
May 13, 2009 | One morning in 1983 Sumpter Priddy III woke to Peggy Lee singing "Is That All There Is?" on the radio and knew she was singing to him. Although he had achieved his goal of becoming a curator at an important American museum, there had to be more. He resigned from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia, and "took a flying leap," as he puts it, into a career as an antiques dealer.
The second of five children of a successful businessman and an English teacher, both with long Virginia pedigrees, Priddy grew up on a farm near Ashland, where, he says, "I fed a hundred head of cattle and did chores every day from the time I could walk until I left for college." But an interest in antiques and history was instilled in him from childhood. "My parents and grandparents were inveterate auction-goers, and took me to country sales and antique shops from my youth," he recalls, "and two of my older cousins and a neighbor were obsessed with Civil War battlefields and campsites, so we were always digging in refuse pits."
When he was fourteen, a teacher told Priddy about Winterthur—Henry Francis du Pont's grand house museum in Delaware—and he begged his parents to take him to see it. At that time you had to be sixteen to tour the house, so his sixteenth birthday present was the much-anticipated trip. "Even before that I knew I wanted to be a curator," he recalls, but the visit clinched it. He began to educate himself in earnest about American furniture. "The honest truth is," he says, "I learned the most from studying the pages of The Magazine Antiques—I would cover up the captions and quiz myself endlessly about what was in the pictures."
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
[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