Published: May 28, 2019
New Yorker Michael Diaz-Griffith (@michaeldiazgriffith) is living proof that interest in historical art and design survives, even thrives, among millennials. Married for five years to painter Alonso Díaz-Rickards, the 32-year-old Harlem resident and former Winter Show associate executive director is immersed in a range of projects meant to put antiques before his internet-savvy, experience-hungry peers. He co-founded The New Antiquarians, a monthly gathering of arts enthusiasts; is the new co-host of the podcast “Curious Objects”; and is forging ahead with Material Cult, his creative, contemporary strategymarketing and design consultancy.
Your approach to life comingles art and travel. Can you recall an instance when the two were particularly intertwined?
As a graduate student, Alonso and I lived in Hampstead, which had been the locus of literary London. Soon after our arrival I glanced out the window and saw Alan Hollinghurst, a favorite contemporary novelist of mine. My husband bumped into him at the vegetable stand two days later. After a third encounter we realized we were living next door to this famous writer. Events like this made it fun to be there.
You left the Winter Show’s management in March. Will you have a new role with the show?
I’m joining the Winter Show Committee and will co-chair Young Collectors Night with Sarah Bray, Jeffrey Caldwell, Sam Dangremond and Lucinda May. I took great interest in the event – next scheduled for Thursday, January 30, 2020 – when I was on staff and will continue to do so. The Winter Show faces generational challenges but its board is inspired and ambitious.
Youth is a hot commodity these days as legacy institutions work to adapt to changing times. What are you advising your clients?
A conversation I’m having a lot lately has to do with finding a place of agreement with everyone at the table. A basic thing that is being forgotten is that we all love the material. Some young people love it but can’t afford it. Others love it and can afford it but may feel there are barriers to accessing the knowledge required to be a collector. We need to bring the market to people where they are. Because I’m younger I represent change but I’m also very conservative about operations, so I can mediate between perspectives.
What does Material Cult do?
Brand strategy; creative services, including graphic design, that are attendant with a brand refresh or redesign; exhibition design; event production and experiential marketing. Most of my clients will be players in the antiques market or the secondary art market. I’m offering a holistic approach. We’ll strategize carefully, then consult on the solution or bring in a partner to help. There are many bright talents in the allied worlds of photography, filmmaking and fashion. I’m excited about leaning into the creative side of my interests.
How does experiential marketing, which often relies on soft promotion by influencers via social media, apply to the antiques business?
It’s the shape of commerce now. The essential idea is to draw together influential people from various fields to stoke fascinating conversations that make participants want more of what is on offer. Dealers typically transport buyers by weaving stories and providing access to knowledge and beauty. I’m all about enhancing that experience by creating a seductive environment, whether in an exhibition space or a candlelit Jeffersonian dinner that convenes dealers, curators and collectors.
What about “Curious Objects,” The Magazine Antiques podcast you are hosting with Ben Miller of S.J. Shrubsole?
My official debut was April 29 in a live episode taped at Freeman’s, our lead sponsor. We’re excited about experimenting and are looking at formats that will take us even closer to the voices of our guests. We want to have really embedded conversations. I have a personal interest in cracking open difficult conversations in the antiques market. I’m thinking a lot about how to bring the next generation of young people into the field.
How long have you been consulting?
Since 2017, when the Winter Show board gave me its blessing to take on outside clients. Freeman’s hired me to stage the auction of the collection of Dorrance “Dodo” H. Hamilton in April 2018. I used my knowledge and experience to create a polished presentation.
Do you consider yourself a media translator for a younger generation?
I certainly want to be. I don’t believe that a sleek, minimal, simplified, pared-back version of the antiques world will help it. On an aesthetic level, I believe in color, pattern, texture and complexity. On a more meaningful level, I believe in narrative and connoisseurship. Those are all much more seductive and compelling than minimalism. Let’s use marketing to stimulate interest.
What do you say to dealers who have tried online promotion, including social media, and are disappointed with results?
Take me out to dinner and we can chat. One or two initiatives will fail and that’s okay. Keep trying until you land on the right initiative, just as every other market does. We’re all facing pressure to find the format that increases engagement.
What is The New Antiquarians?
It’s a group Ben Miller and I founded for young people, some of them arts professionals, who love old things. We’ve had two launch events, including one at the Winter Show in January, and hope to have a live monthly event going forward. The aim is to share fascinating objects and places, and to be a bit of a support group for a community of interest. There is no shortage of interest out there, but we have to take down the barriers.
Your latest obsession?
Digital museum collections. I’m dredging their databases, which offer access to high-resolution imagery of tens of thousands of objects, for use in my Instagram feed. I really love the Prado Museum and Cooper Hewitt databases.
What’s in your immediate future?
I’m very involved in launching The New Antiquarians and developing “Curious Objects,” and I’ve been gratified to the response to Material Cult. It’s just fun to dig in and participate in a rapidly changing world.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm