Published: April 4, 2023
Review & Onsite Photos by Madelia Hickman Ring
NEW YORK CITY – The Found Object Show, which returned for its second year March 24-26, now claims a new home in the shadow of New York’s High Line in the artsy neighborhood of Chelsea and an expanded roster of 18 exhibitors, double the size from the first edition. Like its inaugural presentation in Lower Manhattan in 2022, the show celebrated as-found objects that, as the catalog states, “transcend their forms through time and circumstance.”
This is not your parents’ or grandparents’ antiques show. In fact, the word “antiques” is conspicuously absent from promotional and marketing material, though, certainly, the pieces on offer are either antique or vintage in age. Labels identifying what an object IS are also nowhere to be seen, a purposeful decision by the show’s organizer, Providence, R.I., dealer Adam Irish, who wants show visitors to use our eyes and imagination to identify and define objects.
Some objects survived in their original form, but their functions have become lost over time, faded from contemporary memory. Others have been created or repurposed from different things, or repaired in a primitive, “make-do” kind of way. Still others have acquired an aged patina or form, beautiful to some, that distorts the way things originally looked.
For the first time, the show adopted a theme: “stuffed animals.” In his foreword to the catalog, Irish writes, “Dating from the late Nineteenth Century through the 1970s, the animals within this book grew wild in ways no one planned nor predicted. Some may have become invasive species of your imagination.”
Among them were a second quarter Twentieth Century oil cloth penguin with old repairs to keep its head on, a faded homemade sock cat from Pennsylvania with sewn mouth and an old repair to the back of its head that looked like a surgical scar. A faded blue figure of indeterminate species with short black hair, metal button eyes and a sewn down-turned mouth lacked arms while a wool monkey was missing part of its scalp, revealing its straw stuffing. The old repair to the head of a stuffed dog gave it the appearance of wearing a hood.
Irish said the idea for a stuffed animal theme came when he and fellow exhibitor, Josh Lowenfels, were on a New York City subway platform after the first show. “We had four or five dealers from outside of the show who contributed items. It started a bit as a joke, but they are really a universal theme and are great to engage people who don’t know about antiques or art. They are the kind of ultimate found object in that they are vectors of the imagination as they exist in another place.”
Speaking with Antiques and The Arts Weekly from the road as he headed back to Rhode Island after the show wrapped, Irish said the show was “just magic. It means so much to me. If the first show was ‘one step for man,’ this show was ‘the next leap.’ It would not have happened without everyone pulling their weight.”
Irish not only organized but exhibited at the show, bringing a broad range of objects he’s acquired over the years, including a lot of optical and scientific things. Of these, a pair of glasses that would have been used by an optician and were meant to correct strabismus, or crossed eyes.
“They are very futuristic. A lot of people asked about them. I love to have people touch things, to have them experience them. I would lift the glass dome and let people try them on – they loved it.”
“The show was really fabulous…huge attendance and many young people who were excited by the materials presented. [It’s] such a wonderful experience with dealers who have similar taste, such a great variety of objects,” said Susan Wechsler, who was one of the original exhibitors returning.
The Stanfordville, N.Y., dealer sold a painting she referred to as her “nothing” painting, an abstract collage in Kodak contact printer, a pair of iron stable racks, wooden gear mold and an unexpected sale of a large weathervane in her barn to someone who saw the show online and clicked on her website. She noted she had several online queries to follow up and was already looking forward to doing the show again.
Also returning for a second year was Aarne Anton, fresh off a successful Outsider Art Fair earlier in the month.
“For me [the Found Object Show] was one of the most innovative shows I have ever participated in, and I was pleased with the turnout and enthusiasm of the crowd. It attracted both a younger crowd as well as seasoned art people and artists. The show was well sited amidst high-end art galleries and the High Line elevated strolling park in Chelsea. I loved the energy of the show and the mix of young dealers, many of which sell on Instagram.”
The Pomona, N.Y., dealer had numerous eye-catching things, including a mid-Twentieth Century Sears Roebuck catalog that had been folded in a peculiar way; he also had a large papery hornet’s nest he had mounted as a shade for a light that he said recalled one exhibited by Alfred Stieglitz in 1925. But, perhaps his most compelling – if not slightly spooky – was a headless doll’s body made from hardened rubber that had been found outside.
The number of new exhibitors was sizeable and included Beth Coller, from Pennsylvania. Her booth featured a large 12-sided dice with the months of the year on it that she’d discovered in Northeastern Pennsylvania. A deformed Magic-8 ball, now completely defunct from age was one of her most popular items, and sold at the show, as did a handwritten dog obituary, a boot canoe weight, a black and white signal and ice fishing tip-ups.
“[It] was refreshing to see that a lot of young people attended the show, most to admire the wares,” said Kostas Anagnopoulos. He said he brought a total of 46 things to the show, and sold a quarter of it, including a long painted white wicker case that might have been for fishing poles, a mushroom stool and a mended icon.
North Carolina dealer Cathy McLaurin said several objects resonated with visitors to the show, including a painted pie safe from a rural African American home that had likely been constructed in the late Nineteenth Century. During the show, she sold a homemade traveling 16mm projector box that was custom painted with Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and a homemade handheld welding shield with mirrored glass eye protection.
“It is and was a truly wonderful experience start to finish,” McLaurin said. “Attendance was strong to the very end on Sunday. People came in who saw objects through the window on the back side of the gallery, as well as saw posts about the show on social media. It is clear that Adam is onto something in presenting this exhibition in this format and I feel that I can say that all of us involved are already thinking of the objects we’ll include next year.”
Scott Filar & Joy O’Shell, American Huckeberry, had a spectacular quilt top backed with newsprint the dealers speculated may have been used for insulation but was never finished. Among many sales reported were two “swatch books” of vintage Japanese fabrics, each marked $425, which they said sold to one happy retail attendee.
“I brought a lot of items to this show that were text heavy, and required reading to appreciate, and I was very happy that many folks took the time to do so,” said Daniel Schmidt, from Texas. “One letter, that actually didn’t sell but got a lot of attention, was a circa 1917 letter from a soldier to his sister. It opens with him lamenting how dissatisfied he is with his life and the army specifically. Perhaps my favorite line is, ‘its been raining for years.’ He gets slightly more hopeful as the letter progresses and he does look to a future outside of the war. Had it been from a later war it likely would have been censored so its such a specific and rare look [at] a soldier’s psyche from World War I. I’m happy folks took the time to read through and anyone who did was touched by it.”
Central Florida dealer Madison Santos also waxed enthusiastic. “It was a great crowd. People seemed delighted by everything. There’s a lot of joy in these pieces, even in the seemingly macabre things, they tell some strange tale when put together. People didn’t seem intimidated and weren’t dismissive, many were either trying to figure things out or just relishing in the playful obscurity.”
Pike, N.H., dealer and auctioneer Josh Steenburgh was doing the show for the first time. “We had a great time at the Found Object Show – Adam did a great job of pulling us all together and organizing the show – I thought the attendance was incredible over the three days.” He reported several sales, including a late Eighteenth Century mirror with weathered glass, a sculptural metal and wooden object used for making flower arrangements, an old blue painted chair back, a make-do pincushion and a weathered toleware tray.
Adam Irish said the theme for the 2024 Found Object Show would be “boxes,” though a date has yet to be scheduled. Visit www.artwithoutintent.com for information.
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