By Steve Sundlof
NEW YORK CITY – Sandy Smith’s Modernism Show, November 9-11, was forced to change venues after being excluded from the 7th Regiment Armory and found a temporary home at 32 West 23rd Street, almost in the shadow of the Flatiron Building. Finished in 1902, the Flatiron Building was the first “skyscraper” towering over New York City, its Gothic and Renaissance mix rose 22 stories and stood as a rigid sentinel, watching as 100 years of people, cars and styles slipped past its triangulated eyes. Modernism: A Century of Art & Design celebrated the years 1885-1985 with 53 dealers chronicled in the Modernism Show.
Jason Jacques of Turn of the Century, New York City, Paris and Vienna, stated, “The attendance at Modernism was suburb. Opening night was packed with collectors and socialites both. The New York Times and a multitude of museum curators showed interest. The highlight for me was meeting Eva Zeisel, the Bauhaus ceramist who at 95 is one of the last living ceramic legends of the Twentieth Century. She had worked at Zsolnay, the renowned ceramic factory in Pec, Hungary. She was completely impressed by the examples of turn of the century works by the factory and spent an hour as the center of attention in the booth.
“Key rdf_Descriptions displayed were masterpieces and veritable jewels of ceramics and porcelain from the Japanist movement in 1890s France, Art Nouveau, and Secessionist Jugendstil. A three-foot tall exhibition vase by Laslo Mack for Vilmos Zsolnay, with three fairy maidens in bas-relief, dancing through a forest of flowers is the largest eosine lustre glazed work by Zsolnay in any of the known collections internationally and needed to have a custom built kiln to fire the vase.
“An extremely rare pair of Starfish vases by Paul Dachsel for Amphora, with hand-sculpted starfish crawling over the surface of the vase, glazed in a murky bottom of the ocean pearlized technique created by Amphora, a grand-prix winner at the Exhibition Universelle 1900, Paris. A hand-thrown stoneware vase by Emil Grittle, St. Amand-en-Puisaye, 1890, styled and glazed in the manor of his Japanese contemporaries.
“Possibly the most talked about vase in the display was by Sandor Apati-Abt for Zsolany circa 1904. This vase is so unusual with its eight twisty handles, polka-dotted decoration with enameled overglazed patterns reminiscent of Victor Horta and Henry van de Velde, that was handsdown the most outrageous turn-of-the-century vase that I or any of the small circle of long time continental European collectors have ever seen.
“I will always prefer the lofty space at the 67th Street Armory, but the Hasbro Building was a perfect alternative site. Anyone that missed the show missed a wonderful show. My conspirators in the modernism market put on a helluva show under strained circumstances. We in the business of showing our artwork feel the same way as Broadway shows, ‘The show must go on!'”
Deborah Bell of Deborah Bell Photography, New York City, emphasizes American photographers of the 1940s through 1970 and believed, “On Friday the gate was a bit lighter than previous years but Saturday and Sunday were very strong. I made many contacts during the show and find that people need more time to think about the photographs; it’s not like a piece of furniture where you decide to buy right there.
“Photography is becoming more interesting to collectors and certainly compared to paintings and higher-end furniture, prices are very affordable. The blue chip examples will always remain so, but people now know many of the names that deserve attention – Walker Evans, William Ferguson, William Eggleston and Josef Albers.
“The show dates always work well for me, which is a bit surprising as I consider myself outside the main focus. Mine is more of a fringe medium that is coming into its own. I cast a wide net regarding those I represent and chose the most contemporary to define the Modern period. Some buyers and decorators look at my offerings as a punctuation mark to finish off a room. My fourth year has shown me these relationships build over time and I have a lot of follow-up after shows.”
George Gilpin of New York City stated, “I was very excited to be included in the show this year. As a first-time exhibitor I was not sure what to expect from the public or what to offer. I brought my best pieces and the interest was strong with sales from the reception straight through to the closing hour.
“Some of the rdf_Descriptions in my booth were a Harry Bertoya sound sculpture from the 60s that sold to a collector at the reception; a Gretta Von Nessen Anywhere Lamp from the first year of production selling to a major New York Museum at the reception; a rare Ray and Charles Eames ESU Storage Cabinet from 1954 in exceptional condition sold on Thursday morning to a collector; and a George Nelson Home/Office Desk from 1952 brought considerable interest to the booth but did not sell until the last hour of the show.
“Modernism is an incredible collection of dealers and objects. I was really surprised by the quality – Lyn-Weinberg Gallery exhibited excellent examples of American designer Edward Wormley’s furniture in a beautiful room setting and around the corner Antik showcased Scandinavian design with important examples and rare forms. Charles Brown highlighted a more organic and architectural aesthetic with examples of Sostasis and Richard Meyer from the 70s. I have never exhibited in a show with such diversity and extended beauty.”
Gilpin added, “Sugar Berry and Sanford Smith worked very hard to bring the show alive in a year when most shows folded. This was an important event for the collecting public and the exhibitors. I am a member of the new guard – the first timers that got a chance to show our stuff. We are all friends as younger dealers and the show was strong for all of us – Mondo Cane, R Modern, Glass Past. All of these exhibitors that I talked with were pleased with the show.”
Jim Messineo from JMW, Boston, Mass., reflected on the event saying, “The show was beautiful and also crowded every day; unlike other years when there seemed to be slow periods. However, Sandy said the gate was down about 25 percent and the show seemed more crowded because the aisles were more narrow.
“There was lots of interest in American Art Pottery and we showed some rare examples of Grueby and Marblehead potteries. Sales were a little weaker than previous years but overall the business we did do was encouraging, all things considered. We now seem to be having a greater number of follow up inquiries after the show and have already sold one of the centerpieces of our booth, the Lifetime console table, since we returned home.
Messineo added, “I’ve always enjoyed doing the show and this year was no exception, it’s especially nice after all the work that goes into setting up a beautiful booth, to have the show go on for five days before breakdown. I definitely prefer the Armory location but I think this venue functioned perfectly well considering the limited options available.”
Michael James of The Silver Fund, London, reported, “The Modernism gate was very good, we displayed the finest stock of Georg Jensen available for sale in the world. Customers were especially interested in Jensen design of the 50s and 60s. The management seemed to have found a great venue that even the upper Eastsiders would attend. Overall sales were pretty good under the circumstances. The 20th century is developing into the strongest collecting field within the antiques industry.”
Benoist F. Drut of Maison Gerard, New York City, stated, “Lots of people came for opening night and the attendance was fine as well. The theme of the booth was late 1920s/early 30s with the accent on Modernist pieces and featured a large two-door ebonized cabinet attributed to ‘Dominique’ and a collection of Danish ceramics by the artist Nils Thorsson for Royal Copenhagen. Because of the many doors on 22nd and on 23rd Street, set up and moving out were very easy. Overall sales were fine, not amazing but not bad either. We are confident that good pieces, especially the signed or documented ones, will always attract clients.”
Catherine and Stephane De Beyrie of Galerie De Beryrie, New York City, felt, “Attendance was very good, almost as usual. Key rdf_Descriptions included a Jean Royere rare ‘relax’ set; a Jean Royere Egg chair ‘monsieur et madame.’ Customers liked French 1940s and 50s examples. The show is usually good for us; that is why we have been doing it for 10 years. The antique market is going to be better and better in the next month. The quality of the merchandise presented at this show was really better than usual.”
Denis Gallion and Daniel Morris of Historical Design, New York City, summarized the show by saying, “We are pleased that Sandy put forth a lot of effort to find a suitable location for the Modernism Show in the final hour. We felt attendance was quite good, both at the opening and throughout the show. People seemed pleased that the show was taking place and displayed a lot of curiosity but unlike other years there was definitely a reluctance to dig deep into the pockets and actually spend money. Sales were weaker than former years, but there has been good follow up at our gallery since the show closed.”
Irene Falconer of Aaron Galleries, Chicago, Ill., believed, “Attendance was very strong. We didn’t notice any substantial difference from the Armory shows. Also, the venue worked for us. The show was housed in an attractive, new setting, conveniently located near the Gramercy Park and Union Square neighborhoods with outstanding American restaurants nearby. People could easily make a day or evening of the event.
“We sold a number of Werner Drew’s oils, watercolors and prints; a Bisttram watercolor; a Joe Jones drawing; a watercolor by John Grillo; as well as watercolors by Howard Smith. There was some hesitancy at the higher price levels regarding sales, nevertheless, people wanted to ‘treat’ themselves so there is buying activity and some volume when work is priced right.”
Patrick Albano of Aaron Galleries added, “I’m optimistic, even with all that has happened. People are still collecting and buying good quality work at levels comparable to pre-September 11. I think some pent-up demand exists. When the hesitancy at the higher price levels is gone, I can see some real pressure on prices in the near future.”
Robert Aibel of Moderne Gallery, Philadelphia, Penn., reflected, “Subjectively, attendance seemed about 20 to 30 percent off, but the people who were there were interested and buying so it didn’t feel slow at all. Lots of conversation with serious people looking for rdf_Descriptions and planning to come visit us in Philadelphia. With the exception of Thursday, we were busy with clients all day everyday.
“Key rdf_Descriptions displayed were an Edgar Brandt iron fire screen, Edgar Brandt bronze and ceramic coupe, Raymond Subes iron and marble console, Sam Maloof dining table and six chairs, Wendell Castle ‘2-Seater’ and George Nakashima coffee table, bench and cabinets. There seems to be a continuing and very strong interest in French Art Deco and a growing interest in vintage work from the Studio Furniture Movement – Nakashima, Esherick, Maloof and Castle.
“I am very grateful to Sanford Smith and Associates and their heroic effort to keep the show alive. This show has weathered a great deal in terms of economic downturns and shifting tastes and survived it all. It’s a testament to Smith and Associates, the dealers and the strength and health of 20th Century market that it was the sole show to survive this fall in New York. Management did everything they could to make it work for the dealers – a major task on their part. Load in and out was a dream, especially expecting the worst before arriving and was easier and quicker than at the Armory.”
Concluding, Aibel states, “I was disappointed that the New York press didn’t make more of an issue that the show was going on. It was truly a major development considering what has been happening in New York. Here, one major show ‘braves the waters,’ tries to get back to some sense of normalcy, and it is treated as a footnote. The New York Times paid some attention but neglected to note the significance of the ‘show must go on’ attitude of Smith and Associates and the dealers. To us this was a big deal in the face of September 11 and the New York press should have attempted to point out this kind of effort in order to encourage others.”
Split Personality’s Leah Roland, of Leonia, N.J., replied, “The annual Modernism Show is a very significant event, a showcase for the most important designers and artists of the century. Our expectations were that in the present economy and the move to 23rd Street, both the gate and the buying would be off. Unfortunately those expectations were met.
“We had an extraordinary collection of marvelous objects and jewelry spanning the 1890 to 1990. There was much appreciation of our excellent selection of Christopher Dresser metalware and ceramics, a teakettle and warmer by the brilliant European designer Jan Eisenlofl, a pair of vases by Serrurier-Bovy. and a collection of metalware by W.A.S. Benson. We exhibited a number of great tiles by both Pugin and Dresser. Jewelry masterworks included such notable designers such as Sibyl Dunlop, Bernard Cuzner, Dorrie Nossiter, Stuart Devlin, Bjorn Weckstrom, Tone Vigland and Wendy Ramshaw did have a lovely experience.
“An attractive women asked me what I was asking for a unique wire necklace, and she announced she was the artist. When she turned to face me I recognized her as Wendy Ramshaw, a very important English jewelry designer, whose work I greatly admire. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet and chat with her. While the high level of appreciation and admiration normally result in a very profitable show, this year we had to be satisfied too often with the praise.
“Often, we are contacted following the show and important sales are concluded after customers have an opportunity to mull things over. We are hopeful that this will again lift our sales and our spirits. While due to the current situation there were fewer exhibitors, clearly the level of participation was very high. It is always a pleasure to be in the company of such a stellar collection of International dealers offering important and exciting merchandise to the public.”
Abby Malowanczyk, Collage 20th Century Classics, observed, “We were concerned at first about the Modernism show being moved to the Hasbro Building from the Park Avenue Armory. Part of the splendor of the Sanford Smith shows are the location, always elegant and top rate – from the venue to the exhibitors. But we were pleasantly surprised at the success of the show in its new location. The building was quite beautiful, with the booths laid out very nicely. It was spacious and lent itself well to the 20th Century design displayed in the booths.
“The attendance was off, although not overly so. I feel it was better attended than anticipated. The load in and out went fairly smoothly; it is much easier at the Armory, where you can drive right up to the booth and unload. Everything had to be brought in by dolly in at this location. The security and set-up help are all the same people that Sanford Smith uses at the Armory show, and they are always pleasant to deal with and professional.”
Malowanczyk added, “The show date is always good for us; a little difficult with the Winnetka show ending the previous Sunday and this show’s set up for the following Tuesday morning. So it’s a hard and fast drive to New York. The overall sales were good, although not quite as high as the previous shows. I don’t see any new ‘trends,’ but high quality and more unique pieces seem to sell first. More production pieces are just that at this show, kind of ordinary. Only the really stand-out rdf_Descriptions are in demand there.”
Sandy Smith summarized the event stating, “We set out to do a major New York show for the dealers and buyers realizing that dealers who bought during the spring and summer did not have a fall season to sell. We had no real expectations coming into the show, but felt we had to go on and give the market a chance.
“Attendance was down 30 to 35 percent for both the preview and the show as a change of venue usually takes two years to catch up. The Europeans did not come. People certainly were more careful given the economy and many won’t travel in crowds since September 11. We accomplished our goal though we were down 20 dealers from last year. I believe people needed to reconnect with each other. Many major museums came and considering all factors – this was a phenomenal show.”