Fair and Auction Report Card: April
“I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.” Oscar Wilde
March 30-April 3,Pavillon des Arts & Design, Tuileries, Esplanades des Feuillants, Paris.
It’s the 15th edition of what is primarily a decorative arts fair—one comprised of 79 blue-chip, mostly Parisian dealers of beauties ranging from 18th-century FFF (fine French furniture) to prime 20th century examples of furniture and objets, Art Nouveau to Art Deco and Union des Artistes Modernes (U.A.M.) to the contemporary.
Report Card: Is it worth a special trip across the Pond? Depending on area of interest, possibly.
Overall rep: B+
Overall experience: Never been, so can’t say.
April 3, Scandinavian Design, Pierre Bergé & Associés, Brussels.
Yes, it’s that Pierre Bergé, Yves Saint Laurent’s former partner in life and love, and the architect of the YSL brand. One of his many, many business interests is this Brussels-based auction house, which has excellent, well-curated, often very specific sales. Not to be overlooked!
April 4-5, The Collection of Sir Daniel Donohue, Bonhams & Butterfields, Los Angeles.
A prime example of why I gravitate towards single-owner sales, The Collection of Sir Daniel Donohue encompasses the passions of a single collector, his wife and in-laws, all within a fascinating familial narrative that unfolds in architecturally significant settings reflecting their time and place.
It’s a Hollywood-worthy story. An up-by-the-bootstraps businessman is born before the Civil War in a small town in Pennsylvania, moves West working for the Southern Pacific Railroad, and amasses a real-estate portfolio of land in eastern California along the railroad that soon sports mercantile stores and refrigeration plants. Businessman turns to mogul (don’t say Robber Baron—that’s this movie’s revisionist remake!) as investments extend to cement, oil fields and refineries, and shipbuilding and dock facilities. The whole SoCal industrial enchilada.
During this ascent our protagonist marries, movies into a manse—the first Italian Renaissance-style house in Los Angeles—on West Adams Boulevard, L.A.’s first Beverly Hills equivalent, then proceeds to fill it with architectural elements and statuary bought on numerous European jaunts. On one of these trips, the happy couple adopts an orphaned seven-year-old girl who, like a waif in a fairy tale, is transported to a Cali kingdom where, as the sole heir, she becomes immensely rich. But this princess-heiress is no frivolous Ugly Stepsister. Rather, she’s humble and modest and devoted to good works. She meets her future husband while he too was doing good works at a West Adams Boulevard nursing home, and together this second generation continues the philanthropy established by the first. She and her husband, like her parents, are recognized by the Vatican: she is made a Papal Countess, and he is made a knight three times over (Knight of the Military Order of Malta, Knight Grand Cross of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre and Knight of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great).
Not that they didn’t like a lot of stuff. As newlyweds, the couple purchased an important mansion in the hills, in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles, an architectural pastiche of French and Italian styles and the sole L.A. work designed by Bernard Maybeck, the Beaux Arts-trained architect who designed the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco for the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition (and who was also the teacher and mentor of principal San Simeon architect Julia Morgan). Renamed the Villa San Giuseppe, renovation and re-imagination centered on the tiered grounds—antique statuary, mosaics, fountains, even a temple from a villa in Lucca, Italy. Overseen by Santa Barbara-based architect Lutah Maria Riggs and A.E. Hanson, the grounds came to be one of the largest private formal gardens created in the United States after World War II.
In the early 1960s, the Countess and her Knight also purchased Sotto il Monte, an important house in Montecito, a Tuscan-style villa designed by George Washington Smith, aka the father of Spanish Revival architecture. Coinciding with their peak collecting years, Sotto il Monte was soon filled with European works from Renaissance to Rococo, punctuated by the carefully chosen Modern piece. And so the acquisitive, charitable, never-in-the-newspapers old-school couple grew older, enjoying their collections, themselves, each other, their community and their church. Fade Out …
And so cometh the extensive collection of sir Daniel Donohue to the block, a collection to which his mother-and-father-in-law Daniel Murphy and Antoinette Sinnott Murphy, and his wife, Bernardine, contributed greatly as well. So large and varied (silver, furniture and decorative arts, Asian artworks, Old Master paintings…) that selections will be included in Bonhams and Butterfields Sunset Estate Auction in Los Angeles on May 22 and 23, and in Bonhams New Bond Street, London antiquities sale on April 13, The Russian Sale on June 8 and Old Master Paintings on July 6.
April 7, Design, Phillips de Pury & Company, London.
Lotsa contemporary and modern furniture, with many pieces by Jean Royère and Pierre Jeanneret, as well as important Italian modern pieces (the Gio Ponti pieces – supremo!) from the private apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Sturme Castelli.
Auction results (download from page).
April 8, Discovery, Rago Arts, Lambertville, New Jersey.
Yo, Jersey Shore watchers and other clever bargain hunters: you forget the strong regional auction houses at the risk of losing out on great deals.
Online catalog and results.
April 11, The Meiyintang Collection – An Important Selection of Imperial Chinese Porcelains, Sotheby’s, Hong Kong.
You can well bet this auction is going to be closely watched, and is likely to produce some big-dollar surprises. Chinese porcelain has been producing huge, headline sales recently. Only last week a Chinese porcelain vase estimated at $800 sold for an eye-popping $18,002,500 at Sotheby’s New York.
April 12-17, Salone Internazionale del Mobile, Milan.
A trade fair as opposed to a dealers fair, the Milan Furniture Fair is too important to overlook, particularly as many vanguard decorative artists and manufacturers use it as a platform to showcase their latest pieces.
April 13-17, Los Angeles Antiques Show, Barker Hanger at Santa Monica Air Center.
Sixty-five local and regional dealers with a few from farther away (domestic and international). Los Angeles-based interior designer Mary McDonald, one of the five featured designers on Bravo’s upcoming reality show Million Dollar Decorators, will design the fair’s entryway, a ‘70’s glam set complemented by fashions from the Disco Era as well. Modernism, antiques and show bidness.
Report Card: Worth a trip if you’re a local or live in SoCal.
Overall rep: B-
Fine Furniture, Silver and Decorative Arts including the Estate of James Wilde, Bonhams and Butterfields, New York.
Online catalog and results.
April 14-17, SOFA New York, Park Avenue Armory.
You don’t need to couch praise for SOFA New York, the annual Sculpture Objects & Functional Art Fair. Now in its 14th edition, the fair—which now numbers 55 galleries from 12 countries—has transcended its earlier craft-y incarnation and become a primo venue for decorative arts honing the cutting edge.
Contemporary dec artists pushing parameters via technology abound this year. Michael Eden (shown by Clare Beck at London’s Adrian Sassoon gallery) explores traditional ceramic shapes manufactured with thoroughly of-the-moment technology. “Grey Bloom,” pictured left, a recent nylon piece with a soft mineral coating in the shape of Wedgwood tureen (chosen because Josiah Wedgwood was at the forefront of the original,18th-century Industrial Revolution), is an example, as is “Alathea,” Eden’s bar-coded ode to a classical cornucopia. Glass artist Luke Jerram (shown by Heller Gallery) blows up viruses and cells—such as “Smallpox,” “Untitled Future Mutation,” and “HIV” (all three pictured below)—gives fresh, provocative perspective to the exploration of disease, death and disassociation. Beauty in death, death in beauty? Here, both apply.
Additionally, Sergey Jivetin (at Ornamentum gallery), winner of the prestigious Herbert Hoffman Press and Jewelry Forum Emerging Artist Award, fashions personal adornments in media ranging from eggshell to Kevlar to broken porcelain handles, fishing hooks and packing materials, all with his stated goal of plumbing the interaction between beauty, physicality and knowledge. And Scottish artist Geoffrey Mann’s sculptures at London’s Joanna Bird portray the ephemeral in a manner that would have been impossible only a few years ago. Using digital techniques to investigate reflective properties of objects in materials such as silver, glass and fiber, Mann has created a process in which a planar 3-D scanner documents “reflective” information that is used to create a rapid prototyped form that is then cast.
Expanding to three days this year, the lecture series—which includes speakers such as Eden, Jivetin and Mann, as well as jewelry artist Jennifer Trask and Jeannine Falino, curator of the Museum of Art and Design (New York)—is another layer of beauteous gilding. New to the fair is a New Collectors/Young Designers Night, on Friday, April 15 at 6:30pm, which is coordinating with local museums like The Cooper Hewitt National design Museum and Museum of Arts & Design in New York to invite their young collectors groups as well. The fair will also have its 4th Annual Designer Breakfast on Thursday, April 14—a designer breakfast preview and panel discussion featuring designers Alexander Gorlin, Amy Lau and the gimlet-eyed Juan Montoya, and moderated by Greg Cerio, editor of Modern Magazine.
Preview: Wednesday, April 13.
Report Card: Worthy of a special trip to New York? If sculptural objects and functional art float your decorative boat, then yes; this is the finest and most exciting fair of its kind in the United States.
Overall rep: B+/A-
Location: B+ (The best venue in New York for a dec arts fair, the Armory is nevertheless not on par with exposition spaces in Europe or Asia. So in New York it’s an A, on a global scale a B+.)
Overall experience: Never been; can’t say.
April 18, Tony Duquette, Talismans of Power, Bonhams & Butterfields, Los Angeles.
Sumptuous, enlivening, large pieces replete with oodles of whimsy and low estimates. One can dream, right?
Online catalog and results.
April 18, Luxury Luggage and Accessories, Drouot Auction House, Paris.
While France’s share of the overall global art market is now but 6% (according to The Global Art Market in 2010: Crisis and Recovery), the number of auctions is disproportionately large—very large, in fact. That translates to many small sales, often themed, style or genre specific, and often yielding bargains. The venerable Hôtel Drouot Auction House has auctions nearly every day. Its locales, including online [www.drouot.com] bear frequent monitoring.
Online catalog coming.
April 20, Manuscripts from the Estate of Charles Williamson and Tucker Fleming, Bonhams and Butterfields, New York and Los Angeles.
While the story behind The Collection of Sir Daniel Donohue might have inspired a Hollywood epic from the Golden Era that likely would not have had legs with contemporary audiences, the story behind Manuscripts from the Estate of Charles Williamson and Tucker Fleming could be the fascinating fodder for an independent film that, like acclaimed 1998 Gods and Monsters, could capture both critics, awards and reasonable box office.
The story: Charles Williamson, a young Yale drama student, and San Franciscan Gary Cooper-ish Howard “Tucker” Fleming meet on the teach in Cannes in 1951, become a well-connected man couple, gallivant around the world counting the likes of Tennessee Williams, Paul Bowles, Noel Coward, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Somerset Maugham and Christopher Isherwood chums or friend acquaintances, then move to West Hollywood, California, in 1961, where they set up house next to legendary Hollywood director and uber social George Cukor.
Given Williamson and Fleming’s pals, connections, erudition and house locale, is it any wonder that in their 54 years together they built a massive collection of manuscripts covering literature, art, music, theater and film?
Bonhams and Butterfields has separated the collection into two parts for simulcast New York-Los Angeles auctions. The first session will focus on literature, art, music and dance, and world figures, with an emphasis on 19th and 20th-century European writers and artists (although American are represented too); the second on film and theater.
Online catalog and results.
April 28-May 2, Spring Show NYC, Park Avenue Armory.
Back before the Great Recession, fine and decorative art fairs were springing up like so many perfumed porcelain flowers in a garden dreamed by Madame de Pompadour. Created in the fires of financial markets set to high, these blooms proved fragile, hardly hardy perennials and, ceramics notwithstanding, withered away in the ensuing freeze of credit and frost of cash. Several of these fairs—the Moscow World Fine Art Fair, the Salzburg World Fine Art Fair and Art Antiques Design Dubai among them—were interesting and innovative and, especially in the case of the Moscow fair, becoming exciting platforms when bad timing and luck struck.
So it’s no small beer that, following a fallow few years, a new fair grows in Manhattan at the end of the month. Comprised of 65 dealers (all except one from the U.S.), and with wares ranging from antiquity through the 20th century, the Spring Show NYC sprouts from the Art and Antique Dealers League of America, the oldest antiques and fine arts organization in America. Produced by the Art Fair Company, which counts the SOFA fairs in Chicago, New York and Santa Fe as well as The Intuit Outsider and Folk Art Fair in Chicago on its roster, the Spring Show NYC’s organizers are showing savvy and flair right out of the ground. The opening night preview benefits the ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), a connection made thematic through a special selection of animal-theme artworks at the exhibitors’ stands.
There is the animal as totem, a symbol of character traits or cultural values, and often used in ceremony and ritual, such as an earthenware figurine from 20th-century Nigeria used as a burial market and bearing both human and animal attributes at dealer Douglas Dawson. A 19th-century statue of Ganapati, a.k.a., Ganesha or Ganesa, the roly poly, beloved, part-human, part-elephant Hindu god at Arnold Lieberman. A blue and gold 19th-century Chinese carpet running with eight horses of Zhou dynasty emperor Mu Wang at M. Topalian Fine Antique Carpets. (Bulls, elephants, horses—oh my!)
There is also the animal as cute companion and playful decoration, such as an Austrian painted terra cotta bullmastiff from around 1870 at Clinton Howell; a late 19th-century life-like Japanese ivory sculpture of an Akita, the eyes inlaid with horn for a realistic effect, at Orientations Gallery; or, at Hyde Park Antiques, a pair of Irish William IV (c. 1830) elm armchairs with arm supports sculpted as crouching hunting dogs. A portion of proceeds from the sale of these animal-themed works also goes to the ASPCA.
The call of the wild further extends to the fair’s lecture series. The big bark, to my mind, comes at 3pm on April 28, when the ever-entertaining Tim Knox, Director of London’s Sir John Soane’s Museum, will speak about “Architecture for Animals: Menageries and Aviaries in Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth-Century England.” Here’s an excerpt from the description: “Exotic birds and animals had long been prized as pets and curiosities in Britain, but the eighteenth century saw the establishment of menageries and aviaries as a fashionable adjunct to a country house garden or park … They often took the form of lavishly decorated banqueting houses with adjacent pens and cages for fierce or unusual animals, or brilliantly plumaged birds.” To the host: “May I please sit at the table closest to the tiger?” Call it animal instinct.
Preview: Wednesday, April 27, 5pm-7pm, invitation; public admission 7pm-9pm.
Report Card: It’s an inaugural fair, so too early to weigh in.
April 28, Living Contemporary, Wright Auctions, Chicago.
This second Living Contemporary sale includes work by the likes of Ron Arad and Marc Newson alongside artworks by George Grosz and David Hockney. Other highlights: a Feather stool by Shiro Kuramata, a dining set by Gerald Summers and a lounge chair by Franco Campo and Carlo Graffi.
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