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
January 8, 2010 | Several years ago I visited the Reverend Peter Gomes, Harvard University's chaplain and professor of Christian morals, to interview him about the way he had furnished Sparks House, the residence Harvard provides for its preacher. I was struck by the exuberance of his rooms, their voluptuous colors—golds, reds, and greens—their antiques—Yankee, French, Scottish, English—the dramatic spiral stairwell lined with wallpaper inspired by that in Gunston Hall in Virginia, the pieces of Canton and Rose Medallion that remind Reverend Gomes of the old Yankee houses in Plymouth where he did chores as a teenager. These rooms feel alive, held together by the nimble mind of this African American minister who is as hard to classify as his sense of decor. Although I know that material things are morally neutral, I was still bound to ask the Reverend Gomes how such elaborate furnishings fit with his calling. As I consider the Winter Antiques Show and its exceptional charity, the East Side House Settlement in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, I am reminded of Gomes's answer: "I do believe that God is the author of beauty," he told me. "It is not beauty that distracts us from God. It is beauty that affirms the presence of God." He has much more to say on the subject, which is why I am pleased that Gomes will be the keynote speaker on January 22 at the Winter Antiques Show, where I am confident that his remarks will illuminate the whole of the antiques season in New York—from ceramics at the National Academy Museum to Americana at the Metropolitan Pavilion to the Pier shows—with a sense of the mission of things of beauty.
December 11, 2009 | There is a great deal of fretting these days about the future of collecting and the dearth of young collectors. Were there ever many young collectors? Probably not. It takes the perspective of age (as well as the accumulation of capital) to do what the best antiques collectors do: value a folk art painting or a tall-case clock for the image it gives us of the past, the picture of what we were, against which we can measure what we have become. That, for the most part, is not a young person's game. So I didn't worry recently that there were not throngs of well-heeled thirtysomethings strolling the aisles at the splendid San Francisco Fall Antiques Show. Their time should come, if all goes well.
October 23, 2009 | A few months ago Eleanor Gustafson and I spent a day as guests of Historic New England. We had wanted to see what I like to think of as the bookends of that organization's historic houses—the 1938 Gropius House in Lincoln, Massachusetts, with its spare, modernist decor and bracing use of industrial materials, and the rambling, mysterious Beauport in Gloucester, where Henry Davis Sleeper invented romantic clutter and reinvented interior design during the almost thirty years he worked on it from 1907 to 1934. Of the latter we will have much to say in a future issue. The Gropius House is pertinent here because it reminds me that the Bauhaus, subject of Christopher Long's wonderfully clarifying article in this issue, was a school, not a tyrannical aesthetic imposed by a group of Weimar era killjoys. However alienating the international style eventually became, the Bauhaus as represented by the house Gropius designed for his wife and daughter, is a warm and pleasant reminder of the school's best ideals: beauty joined to function in a timeless design.
There was one thing about the visit that puzzled me, however. Among the furnishings designed by Marcel Breuer is a badly pitted lacquered plywood and chrome-plated tubular steel side table. This is not the kind of furniture that was meant to be restored, and Gropius's daughter Ati Gropius Johansen has argued that it should be replaced by a good new version. Historic New England is not so sure, but I think she is right. With modernism crispness is all, or nearly all. This is not the furniture that Thomas Messel values in Meredith Etherington-Smith's article, where the craftsmanship cannot be duplicated and the passing years only add to the beauty of a piece. Neither is it the luxurious silver furniture of Versailles described in this issue by Florian Knothe, created to burnish the aura of the Sun King. Breuer's designs were meant to be mass-produced for the masses and, to my mind, the patina of age seems beside the point and does not become them.
[Compiled by Darrin Alfred, Associate Curator, Department of Architecture, Design and Graphics at the Denver Art Museum. Originally published in "Cur» View All