Published: November 14, 2006
Like swing and modern jazz, Twentieth Century design is hot again. And that is music to the ears of the 86 international dealers lucky enough to find themselves in The Modern Show that ran from October 13 to 15.
With a waiting line of enthusiasts at the door and —according to Leanne Stella, show producer — a waiting list of dealers on the roster, the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City was decorated with fine examples of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Arts and Crafts and mid-Twentieth Century design.
As promised in preshow publicity, the focus was on studio artists rather than big name manufacturers and quality was apparent across the board in categories as varied as Scandinavian silver, studio ceramics and jewelry, abstract graphics and Impressionist art.
Nuances of individuality surfaced in everything from industrial chic one-ofs to sleek mahogany production items. Though most dealers had exhibited at previous Stella shows, several conceded that this, their first appearance at Modern, was inspired by the popularity of the modern items they have folded into more traditional inventories.
One of the most dramatic examples of the mix-and-match factor that Modernist collectors seem to favor was seen the booth of Linda Elmore Antiques, Westfield N.J. Against a floor display that included a 1972 Karl Springer bamboo on chrome desk and a 1955 cabinet by Jens Risom was a wall filled with Long Island and Manhattan maps. The intricacies of the circa 1873 maps — being sold individually from a collection of 44 that had hung on the walls of a Manhattan textile maker — made an interesting backdrop to the clean lines of the furniture.
First-timer Sandy Berman of Deco Deluxe, New York City, whose jewelry exhibit was extended to include a collection of 1940s and 50s alligator bags, said, “I have always sold some vintage jewelry, but recently decided to go a little later [mid-Twentieth Century] and I’m having fun with it.”
Likewise, Fabienne Cosulich of Cosulich Interiors and Antiques, Chicago, whose booth was a mix of traditional and modern, said, “We like to put the past centuries into the Twenty-First Century.” Cosulich pointed out four rare glass heads by Maestro Sergio Rossi, carved of hand blown iridescent glass. (The technique has not been used since 1980, due to safety issues.)
Jeffrey Henkel of New Jersey showcased a range of unusual objects, including a 1972 donkey sculpture by John Kearney, Chicago. Standing nearly four feet high, the artwork is made from car bumpers — “mostly vintage cars,” Henkel said. “Dots,” a large painting by Thomas Downing, dominated the center wall of the booth. A Washington, D.C., artist whose work is now exhibited in major museums, Downing reportedly gave the piece to his landlady when he could not afford to pay the rent. In front of it, a rare cast iron sculpture of a woman in a Degas-like pose defined the experimental nature of the period. “You see some [cast iron sculptures] in Germany,” Henkel said, “but I think this is an American piece from the Bucks County area.”
At Depression Modern’s booth, a convertible bar continued the dialog on how creativity informed midcentury design. Able to be accessed from either side, what appeared to be a handsome but rather standard semicircular bar actually folded in on itself until it became a compact liquor cabinet. Side tables from the same collection referenced Donald Desky, Radio City Music Hall designer.
Nearby, 20th Century Provinanci of Cambridge, Mass., showed items designed by Desky. A lowboy manufactured by Charak competed only with Deksy’s design for Widdecombe, a five-drawer chest of black lacquer with exotic veneer over what is believed to be burl elm. Between the two stood a dining table by George Nakashima, whose designs for Knoll in the 1940s established him as a major furniture designer. Two 1930 Art Deco mirrors of wood, lacquer and silver leaf, from an Atlanta movie theater, commanded as much attention as the named items.
A big name that always attracts interest is Jacques Adnet. Lorraine Wohl of the Elle W. Collection had an Adnet bar chest. Complimenting the work was a Murano glass chandelier of rods and balls, from the 1960s.
Mode Moderne, Philadelphia, used a handsome but quiet Charles Eames screen of calico ash with canvas connectors as a backdrop for a vignette of furniture. Next to it, an unusual wall lamp in the form of a tortoise shell, made of cast aluminum and produced in a limited edition from 1966 to 1970, showed the ingenuity of San Francisco artist, Arthur Court, who is still working.
Invariably, when one thinks of Modernism the use of common components comes to mind, as in the case of the Donald Knorr chairs at Mode Moderne. Made from one piece of sheet metal seamed in the middle, with bent rod steel legs, the chair was named co-winner in the seating category in MoMA’s 1950 competition for low cost design. They were subsequently manufactured by Knoll from 1950 to 1952, when the Korean War effort prohibited commercial use of heavy gauge metal.
Galarie de France Antiques, New York City, featured a gueridon by Marcel Coard, with a rosewood cubist base and a parchment paper top with cubist design. It complimented a pair of tufted armchairs by Wormley, circa 1945–50, which stood out among the display of mirrors and wall decorations, and small bronzes.
Heralding the trend toward the use of industrial lighting in the home were the incandescent tungsten lamps at Eleanor and David Billet Antiques. Produced by Mole-Richardson, Hollywood, they are associated with Hollywood’s first flirtations with panchromatic film. Continuing the industrial theme was a wall of French and German clocks, including a French station clock, that are as much sculpture as they were once practical. In contrast, an English aluminum “tall boy” with Bakelite handles appeared almost delicate.
What is perhaps the apotheosis of industrial chic (or kitsch) was realized in a sofa made from B-52 parts, circa 1960–1970. It was displayed by Seaver & McLellan Antiques of Jaffrey, N.H. Nearby a metal desk with a lathe base from the South Bend Lathe Workshop showed almost as much ingenuity.
A large selection of paintings, graphics, posters and works on paper captured the period from the eye of artists whose names are once again in vogue.
As Francis Frost, of Francis Frost Fine Art, Newport, R.I., said, “There is strong interest in art from the 60s and 70s by artists who may have been overlooked a little bit in recent years, in favor of bigger names. And they’re still quite affordable.” Among them are Norman Ives and Sewell Sillman. Both graphic artists who studied at Yale under Josef Albers, the two ended up owning a publishing business from 1964 to 1974, and published most of Albers’ work. As artists in their own right, they are now gaining overdue acclaim. Ives, a collagist, printmaker, and creator of wall reliefs, was represented by several works that typify his use of broken numbers as graphics. Several of Sewell Sillman’s works, including “B#9,” circa 1950s, which Frost said is very similar to a Sillman entitled “#3,” 1966, currently on exhibition at MoMA, were also displayed. In addition, Frost showed works by Al Held, Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist.
Proarte Gallery, Miami, took a slightly different approach to the art of modernists, showing highly collectible prints by recognized masters. Picasso’s “Circle of Life,” edition 1/10, was among them as were works by Henri Matisse, Giorgio de Chirico and Marc Chagall.
Iconic black and white photos from 1900 to the 1960s from Winter Works on Paper, New York City, included works by Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Josef Sudek, Margaret Bourke-White, Roy DeCarava and Weegee.
Colm Rowan Fine Arts featured “Summer Garden,” an oil on canvas by Hungarian artist Ferenc Acs, among others by Barber, Bricher, Krizsan and Malfroy. And, Glen Leroux Collections of Westport, Conn., looked to a Max Papart litho to set off a collection of Twentieth Century furniture and jewelry.
Bridges Over Time, Newburg, N.Y., featured a large, circular Mother Victory wall plaque amid a large collection of furniture
Silver, as conceptualized by the breakthrough designs of moderns, was shown by Drucker Antiques of Mount Kisco, N.Y. Most eye-catching was a silver Georg Jensen bowl that appeared to morph from its center into a blossom of asymmetrical form. Equally compelling was a Soren Georg Jensen silver service consisting of coffee pot, creamer, covered sugar shell that received a gold medal at the Milan Biennale in 1960. It was also part of an exhibition at the Georg Jensen Museum’s 2004 exhibition.
Titus Omega of London filled several cases with beautiful examples of decorative arts from the European Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods. A rare silver, reeded vase of tulip form, by Josef Hoffmann, circa 1903, was flanked by pewter candlesticks from Orivit. One shelf below, a cachepot by Gisela Van Falke, pupil of Koloman Moser, made many take a second look. Set on a base of bronze was a sphere of Loetz glass in a papillion pattern with applied punts. Nearby, a clock, circa 1905, by Archibald Knox for Liberty & Co., made of polished pewter polished pewter clock with abalone inset decoration to body and hands proved an exquisite example of European Art and Crafts design.
20th Century Design, New York City, displayed Scandinavian and European ceramics and vases. With many examples of work by Stig Lindberg and Berndt Friberg, and Wilhelm Kage for Gustavsberg of Sweden, buyers found it difficult to select just one.
Glass Past, 1870–1970, of New York, seemed to have a lock on the ceramics of Marcello Fantoni, whose works reside in major museums and private collections.
Meanwhile, Didier Antiques, also of London, filled several cases with its extensive line of jewelry and objéts by Twentieth Century studio artists. Transcending the use of precious gems, the jewelry had a timeliness to it that will live long after the rage for Modern has passed.
For those wishing to outfit themselves in Modernism from head to toe, Full Circle Antiques, Royal Oak, Mich., showed four pairs of sequin-encrusted pumps, shelves of cigarette cases, compacts and Bakelite poker chips to rows of cocktail shakers as well as jewelry by Art Smith, Paul Lobel and others from the wearable art movement.
The Modern Show’s opening night gala benefited The Art Deco Society. Two lectures by John Sollo extolled the great studio craftsmen of the modern movement and put their designs into contest with philosophy and politics while educating the audience on how to evaluate these masters’ works.
According to Leanne Stella, “This year’s show is probably the best we have ever seen.”
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