A Show of Their Own:
By Laura Beach
NEW YORK CITY — The first ever Connoisseur’s Antiques Fair at the 69th Regiment Armory from November 22 to 24 was truly a rare commodity, a brand new show with the panache and elan of a venerable favorite.
“A dream finally realized” is how league President Anthony Blumka described the fair, plans for which had been discussed for decades. Scheduled for last November, the event was postponed for a year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York.
“We wanted a vetted show of the highest quality, one offering a range of international disciplines. We wanted it to be by and for American dealers,” explained George Subkoff, chairman of the Connoisseur’s Antiques Fair and himself an exhibitor.
League members believe that there is room in New York for a third antiques show to rival the 49-year-old Winter Antiques Show and its younger competition, the International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show. The new fair is a combination of both, offering collectors a chance to rub elbows with top specialists from both events, as well as with well-known experts who rarely, if ever, do shows.
The League picked the 69th Regiment Armory at Lexington Avenue and 26th Street as its venue, a daring choice given that Park Avenue is the tried-and-true venue for most arts events of this caliber.
“People don’t mind coming down town. They are doing it all the time to come to some of the city’s best restaurants,” said Subkoff, who feels show traffic can only build. “This is like opening a restaurant. It’s a matter of getting the menu right. You can spend a million dollars, or $300, on this floor.”
In an arrangement successfully instituted at the Los Angeles Antiques Show, also managed by Caskey-Lees, the Connoisseur’s Antiques Show opened with a House & Garden Decorators & Designers’ reception on the evening of November 20.
“We nicknamed it ‘the hard-hat preview,'” joked Bill Caskey, gesturing to the oversized proscenium still under construction at the fair’s entrance just an hour before opening.
Vetting the show was time consuming, and rigorous. Word had it that a dozen and half Continental rdf_Descriptions were taken off the floor. “Even the display pieces had to be vetted,” said Sally Kaltman of Sallea Antiques. The New Canaan, Conn, dealer stacked caddies and boxes in every medium on antique stands and shelves.
The “hard-hat” moniker turned out to be more appropriate than anticipated. A half-hour before guests arrived, the regiment received a bomb threat. Exhibitors were cleared off the floor and kept waiting on the street for 45 minutes. When the doors finally did open, 15 minutes late, 650 arts and antiques enthusiasts – among them among noted designers Mario Buatta, Albert Hadley, Tad Hayes, and Anthony Ingrao – were on hand.
Benefiting St Vincent Hospital in Manhattan, a second preview for 800 patrons was organized the following night. With His Eminence Edward Cardinal M. Egan, archbishop of New York; Libby Pataki, first lady of New York; and Florence D’Urso as its honorary chairmen, the event drew such notables as Matilda Cuomo, former first lady of New York; supermodel Helena Christiansen; and Tara Subkoff. The accomplished actress and designer, a co-founder of the cutting-edge Imitation of Christ fashion label, is George Subkoff’s daughter.
“Exhibitors took this show very seriously. They were told to bring important things and they did. I’m very pleased,” said Blumka, surveying the riches on the floor that ranged from ancient Greek Attic pottery to English Arts and Crafts furniture.
“I’m very impressed with the show. The level of merchandise is quite high,” said John Suval, who heads a century-old firm, Philip Suval, Inc. The Fredericksburg, Va., dealer brought choice examples of Chinese export art, including an exceptional famille verte Kang Xi charger exquisitely painted with a basket of flowers enclosed in a diaper border.
“The dealers here are like family,” said Edith Frankel, offering insight into the Connoisseur’s Antiques Fair’s special nature, at once high-tone and warm, relaxed and inviting. A New York dealer in Chinese art, Edith and her husband Joel featured a large carved wood Buddha of the Middle Ming period and two related unpainted Tang dynasty pottery camels; one, standing, with a father and child; the other, reclining, with a mother and baby. The sculptures, 27 inches tall, were $200,000.
Another Chinese specialist, Peter Rosenberg of Vallin Galleries, displayed a rare set of 18 carved bamboo Louhan dating from the Seventeenth to Eighteenth Century.
Japanese Meiji art specialists Flying Cranes of New York unveiled a multimetal vase decorated with shakudo, signed Jomi Eisuke II. Signed works at Liza Hyde Antique Japanese Screens included two depicting geishas by Yamakawa Shu Ho (1898-1944) and a Taisho period screen by Gyoho. Illustrating an archery lesson, the latter dated to circa 1920.
The Connoisseur’s Antiques Fair displayed depth in the category of English and Continental furniture. At George Subkoff antiques, a South German Renaissance inlaid writing cabinet with a complex view of an imaginary village with castles was $24,000. The Augsburg-made piece dated to about 1560-80. Subkoff’s varied stand also included an Irish wing chair with exaggerated curves. Sold as an American example by Joe Kindig III near 70 years ago, it had been deaccessioned by the Albany Institute of Art and was tagged $32,000.
Bernard Karr of Hyde Park Antiques has exhibited at the Winter Antiques Show for as long as anyone can remember, but has rarely shown anywhere else. The New York dealer featured an Irish Chippendale bureau bookcase with handsome architectural details. Dating to about 1760, it was $160,000.
The daughter of one of this country’s first top-level women antiques dealers, Helen Costantino Fioratti is president of L’Antiquaire & The Connoisseur. For this debut, she organized her booth around the theme “Flights of Fancy.” “I’ve included everything that flies: angels, birds and winged dragons,” Costantino-Fioratti said of the exuberantly decorated Italian, English and French furniture and accessories in her stand. Her piece-de-resistance was an ebony jeweled table cabinet. Made in the Medici Grand Ducal workshop of Florence, circa 1650-1670, the piece was priced in the mid six-figures.
At European Decorative Arts, a New York dealer in works of art in ivory, a table cabinet styled as miniature Renaissance Revival architecture by Italian master Federico Lancetti of Perugia took center stage. Lancetti, who sold to the King of Italy, was one of the country’s most skilled cabinetmakers in the second half of the Nineteenth Century.
Duo displays of Flemish and French tapestry were two of the most impressive stands on the floor. Vojtech Blau Inc, of New York City, operated by Simona Blau, the founder’s daughter, showed a Sixteenth Century game park tapestry filled with real and mythical creatures. A treasure at Dinolevi Antiques of Rome and Florence was a Brussels tapestry formerly in the collection of John Paul Getty, who displayed it at his villa, La Posta Vecchia, outside Rome. Inscribed, the 10- by 13-foot weaving of about 1550 illustrates Daniel’s meeting with Arioch.
Several exhibitors combined dark English oak and walnut furniture with touches of blue and white Delft, stump work embroidery and accessories of brass and pewter. One highlight at Fiske & Freeman of Belmont, Vt., was an enclosed chest of drawers in two parts. Dating to circa 1650, the paneled chest was $40,000. Nearby was a press cupboard of about the same age, $15,000.
The only modernist in the show, John Alexander, brought a desirable Philip Webb for Morris & Company sideboard of circa 1865, priced $65,000. The Philadelphia dealer showed it with two William Morris fabric panels, $2,500, in the “Strawberry Thief” pattern.
Gary Sargeant mixed formal English and American furniture. Against the Woodbury, Conn., dealer’s back wall was an cellarette hunt board, $18,000, possibly from New York, circa 1820-25.
Cool, delicate Chinese paintings and ceramics were a stunning counterpoint to Federal furniture at Kyser-Hollingsworth of Washington, DC. In superb condition, 12 Chinese scrolls, $32,000, measuring 18 feet wide in all, depicted a couple celebrating their wedding with a feast. Also delectable was a pair of Nineteenth Century still life paintings, $6,200, by Charles Baum, a German American artist one wag described as “Severin Roesen on a good day.”
William and Arlene Schwind of Yarmouth, Maine, mixed country and formal American furniture and accessories. A show-stopper was their Massachusetts William and Mary gate leg table with figured maple top and traces of black paint, $17,500. The lone Texan in the show, Jackie Radwin of San Antonio, was also the only dealer in American painted furniture and folk art.
Not wanting for fine painting, the Connoisseur’s Antiques Show boasted “Rocky Mountain Sheep” by Albert Bierstadt at Spanierman Gallery; a large Stuart Davis oil on canvas still life at Salander-O’Reilly Galleries; and two seasonally appropriate snow scenes, one by Guy Wiggins and the other by Andrew Wyeth, at Godel & Company. Mia Weiner, a Connecticut specialist in Old Master drawings, featured Ludovco Stern’s Eighteenth Century oil on copper painting, “Vision of the Madonna and Child Appearing to San Filippo Neri.”
About 3,000 people visited the Connoisseur’s Antiques Show on Friday and Saturday. The gate picked up again on Sunday, when sales reports began filtering in to the manager’s office. Receipts were written for a Northern Song dynasty vase, $45,000, at E&J Frankel; for a Roman marble torso, $75,000, at Royal Athena Galleries; for two chairs, $20,000, and a Portuguese table, $22,000, at Betty Jane Bart Antiques; for a George II oak dresser base at Winsor Antiques; and for a pair of Piranesi engravings of Rome at Lyons Ltd. Antique Prints of California.
“This is a tremendous first outing. The show is going to take off,” chairman Subkoff said near the end of the fair on Sunday. “The charity is pleased. Exhibitors want to come back. We even have a waiting list.”