By Steve Sundlof
NEW YORK CITY – Madison Square Garden has been a witness to the march of time and has literally seen great moments of history transpire since opening in its first of three locations on Memorial Day 1879. “The Garden” has been home to the New York Rangers, a venue for Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, U2 and Bruce Springsteen; host to the Westminster Kennel Dog Club; and from October 5-7, 2001, it was the new home for the “Gramercy” Modern Show.
Originally residing at the 69th Street Armory at 26th Street and Lexington, Gramercy Park Modern has become a tour de force, sculpted by the experienced Stella Management team. The events of September 11 excluded the Armory from housing the annual event and in the passing of roughly nine days, Stella secured a section of Madison Square Garden, changed the name to The Modern Show and the rest, as they say, is history. Twentieth Century history.
Nearly 100 dealers represented all the streamlined design that had marched by a wide-eyed public during the 1920s and 30s; they chronicled the slick, contorting shapes that sprang from war-effort technology during the 40s and 50s; and brought examples of the colorful “Pop” and not-too-serious assemblages of the 60s and 70s.
History has a way of sorting out the great ones and clearly they all made their way to Madison Square Garden. What’s in a name? Greatness, conciseness – a way to say something never before said exactly that way. Eero Saarinen had it; Mies Van Der Rohe all but defined it. Hans Wegner exuded it and Berndt Friberg formed it on a spinning wheel with clay. Examples of dealers offerings brought together the mass design of Georg Jensen silver and Herman Miller desks; the one-of creations of a terra-cotta chessboard depicting Turkish and Austrian figures, as well as the singular Aubusson tapestry created by René Penot in 1946.
Joyce Kirschner of Joyce Kirschner Fine Arts commented, “We all have to keep in mind the environment in which this show took place. People in New York City are still deeply concerned about personal safety and the economic environment. Just as theaters, restaurants and retail business in general are suffering, we are doing our share as well. Within this context, the gate was fairly good, considering no one knew about the change until a week or less before the show.
“The Stella organization did a terrific job of organizing, and with the help of the Garden staff, set up and pack out went surprisingly well. Sales were not terrific, but we are part of the same economic landscape as everybody else, and we are going to have to live through it. In the spirit of New York City, we need to keep moving ahead.”
George Gilpin of George Gilpin Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y., reflected on the show by saying, “The gate was strong on Friday morning with a steady rush for the first hours of the show. The die-hard collectors were out and looking for bargains as the show started. Friday afternoon the retail and decorator crowd began to filter in. On Saturday morning people seemed to be sleeping late but by 1 pm the auditorium was full and bustling with a good crowd throughout the day. Sunday was the usual brunch crowd – many buyers surprised me, as Sunday is usually a day with mostly browsers.
“Key rdf_Descriptions sold were a George Nelson Home Office Desk from 1948 in pristine original condition to a designer in the first hour of the show for her personal collection. A new collector couple enjoyed their first purchase – a pair of Laurel Lamps in mint condition. A rare Donald Knorr Chair from 1949 drew a lot of attention, an award winner from the Museum of Modern Art’s Low Cost Design show. A very rare first year variation of a Charles Eames Rocking chair from 1948 also sold to a private collector in the first minutes of the show. Another Eames design, an ESU I from 1950, sold to another dealer for a record price as the show opened.
“Customers seemed to be looking beyond the common objects and seeking out the next step in their collecting. I answered many questions about the rarer and less obvious rdf_Descriptions in my booth. I had reference books on hand to help buyers feel good about new purchases with a historical perspective.
“The Madison Square venue was a substitute for the Gramercy Park Armory but worked well – obviously the Stella staff worked long extra hours to pull the show off. I hope we return to the Armory next year because it will be so significant to return to a building so important at this time in New York City’s history.
“My sales at the show this year were strong. The crowd seemed to be willing to spend money and support our economy. The show last year was also very successful for me and I saw many repeat buyers. The Modern show that Stella puts on is the first show of the season and is very important in setting the pace for the entire year. I have had record sales for the past three years and this is certainly one of my best shows. Usually the Modern show draws a milder crowd than the Pier show but this year that was not the case.
“The past month has been a very difficult time for New Yorkers. We have had to deal with some very hard losses personally, socially and economically. This show was a brave move on the part of Stella to push forward and regain our identity as a community. The relocation of the show was difficult for everyone – the promoter, dealers and the public. We all came together to support this important event. This year’s show is a good example of the strength that the antique community has to push forward. I look forward to a good season of dealing and collecting.”
Ed and Betty Koren comprise Bridges Over Time, Walden, N.Y., and Ed stated, “Regarding the show, the first thing I’d like to point out is the wonderful effort the Stella Organization made to mount this show in light of the extraordinary circumstances. Getting the show moved in such a short time and more importantly getting the customers there was nothing short of remarkable.
“I believe the attendance on Friday was actually up over last year. As to sales, most of the dealers I spoke with had good shows, but everyone obviously came in with lower expectations. Our sales were off about 30 percent from last year’s show but it was still profitable. We managed to sell a rare James Mont cabinet, some wonderful lighting and a great American Art Deco lacquered table amongst other smalls.
“The venue was in many ways an experience in and of itself, and there were a few highlights and privileges to being at the Garden. We were able to watch the figure skaters practice their skating routines for a show on Friday and during pack out we got to meet players and see the opening ceremonies of the Ranger’s home opener.
“Sunday was a little rough as everyone was clearly concerned about the attacks that we mounted against Afghanistan in the early afternoon, and it was difficult to concentrate on selling furniture as we began our campaign against terrorists. I think that people want to go to shows, but as I understand it, finding venues in New York City to mount shows is difficult at the moment and many have been cancelled. We hope to be back in New York for the Pier Show that has been moved to the Jacob Javits Convention Center.”
Nora and John Knight of Bizarre Bazaar Ltd., New York City were, “Happy to report the ‘Gramercy’ Modern Show worked out great. Naturally we had reservations about the change in location, current economic climate among the other problems recently in New York. We figured, ‘Let’s get on with our lives,’ as Mayor Giuliani suggested and decided to do the show anyway.
“The Stella Show Management crews were absolutely the best. With a plethora of advertising the attendance was pretty impressive, especially on Saturday. Security was tight and welcomed by just about everyone who attended the Madison Square Garden venue. I know several dealers had cancelled because of the recent traffic restrictions and fear of a lackluster turnout.
“We did a nice amount of business the first two days. Most people who attended seemed to welcome a relief from the incessant broadcast and news about September 11. Although we did not do any business on Sunday, we know of several dealers who did and seemed very pleased with the overall results.
“The load in and load out was very well coordinated by the Stella staff considering how complicated it could have been. There were customers who came in from out of town specifically to attend this event and to show support for New York City.”
Gail Garlick of good design, New York City, believed, ” The gate seemed off but that is to be expected considering the fact that we are now at war. The buyers were definitely cautious. Sales were slow but there were some dealers who did well. I think it is fair to say that it is a tough climate to sell in and the combination of fear of large well-known spaces like MSG and losses in the stock market hurt overall sales.
“We sold some Rostrand ceramics from Sweden, an Art Nouveau vase by Karl Lindstrand and ceramics by Carl-Harry Stalhane. The 1946 Aubusson tapestry by René Penot entitled “la Moissan” is still available and lists as $15,000. The majority of Penot’s work is held at French embassies worldwide: Penot was one of three major artists who produced designs for Aubusson during mid-century.
“Usually the show is very good for us. This year it was not as good, largely because of the circumstances and certainly the last minute change of venue. While looking at a red and white Holmegaard vase a woman asked if she could paint the white areas black. She liked the red but black would be better for her decor. Trying to be accommodating I told her if she owned it was hers to do with whatever she liked.”
Janet Drucker of Drucker Antiques, New York City replied, “I think all of us are grateful to Irene Stella and her staff for actually pulling this show off with such little notice. The move in was really easy as well as the move out. The promoter just manages the routine so well that it gets done with the least aggravation for all.
“Most of all I and other dealers were thankful for the customers who came in from New Jersey, Philadelphia, Connecticut, Seattle and the Washington, D.C., area as well as all the great New Yorkers. They all said they came to show support and to shop. To top it off, I thought the merchandise was very high-end and the booths were beautiful. There was a tremendous amount of great merchandise and a very upbeat attitude.”
Joseph D. Cantara, Bayside, N.Y., remarked, “I have been doing this show since the inception three years ago. To be honest, I was very apprehensive about the change of location with regard to set up and pack out. However, the Stella staff came through with their usual expertise and super organization; it took me no more than 25 minutes to get into the Garden and with the option of packing out on Monday, it took no more than 40 minutes to get out. Security was fantastic so I felt very comfortable leaving my stuff overnight on Sunday.
“There is no comparison to the space at the Armory; the latter is a very stylish and wonderful space for this show. However, again, the arrangement at the Garden was nice; the only complaint I heard from customers was that it was difficult to find people due to the circular arrangement of the hall. I also noted a different type of clientele, perhaps due to the change in location; the crowds at the Armory were in the past much more sophisticated and had a better understanding of the merchandise they were examining.
“The crowd also appeared to be much thinner than in the past two years; with the bombing on Sunday, the crowd virtually died around 3 pm. Once again, God was good and I did very well. From my conversations with other dealers, it appears that their sales were off dramatically as far as modern merchandise went; 90 percent of my sales was in Tiffany Studios rdf_Descriptions.
“I sold a fantastic 14-inch banded dogwood lamp, candlesticks, inkwells, frames and other desk set rdf_Descriptions; although I did have a selection of quality modern things (Fornasetti, Fantoni, etc.) there was very little interest in them. The most interest I received was in the rare Blackamoor planter by Fornasetti that dated from the early 1950s. This was one of the best shows I have ever had with Stella’s Modern Show; I also made one or two new clients, which is always good.
“My ‘busy’ season runs from October through November and October is generally one of the best months for selling antiques since most people begin to decorate for the holidays. Also the change of seasons and redecorating go hand in hand.
“I would say that collectors are buying quality merchandise with recognizable names such as Tiffany and are moving away from buying the no-name, decorator nostalgic look. I also noticed that when economic times get a little shaky, people tend to put their money in quality things such as Tiffany that has a track record.
“In my 18 years as a dealer, this has been the best year I have ever had in sales. This is one of the best shows in the city and I sincerely hope that it continues – the merchandise is top quality and the prices very fair.”
Leah Gordon from New York City believed, “The show was a surprise; a blessing in disguise. We, the dealers, did not know what to expect. Would the word get out that the show had moved; would people come and most important, would they be in a mood to buy? We were pleasantly surprised and appreciative on all these scores.
“The Garden venue turned out to be extremely attractive – ranging from a good traffic flow to beautifully displayed booths. People came in good numbers all three days and did not even leave after word circulated through the show on Sunday that the bombing of Afghanistan had begun. And best of all, customers were willing to buy when they found an rdf_Description they couldn’t live without.
Jacques Caussin of FIRST 1/2, Pontiac, Mich., remarked, “Certainly, the past show at Madison Square Garden was an ‘experience,’ to say the least. New Yorkers are a brave crew as they came to this show that had moved venue just a week before, to a new location in the busiest part of Manhattan – it was like defiance on their part against the changed lifestyle after the September 11 events.
“My business turned out to be 75 percent of last year’s total, which is quite good compared to colleagues and/or the conditions and timing of the show. All checks were from Manhattan and reports from others showed very few out-of-state buyers. There was very little interest in furniture overall but the public ‘treated’ themselves to tchotchkes. Stella Management did an incredible job making everything easy for the exhibitors and the public: it was so obvious that management’s main concern was for the exhibitors to have a good show.”
Arthur Hammer of New York City stated, “I thought that under the current circumstances attendance at the Modern, especially on Friday and Saturday, was surprisingly good. The Stella staff was incredible in getting the show together and seeing that everything went smoothly. I had misgivings about the sudden change of venue but ended up finding the exhibition space at the Garden very much to my liking.
“I had a good show and by that I mean not only in regard to sales but in the number of contacts made. Also, I was glad to have the opportunity to present the paintings of Joseph Pollet [the Woodstock years]; and Leon Bibel [the WPA years] to the public, along with other paintings of the 20s, 30s and 40s. Feedback from several of my clients supports my own impression that the level of the show was extremely high.”
The Modern Show celebrated the strength of all that is New York, showcased it in a New York City icon and epitomized the phrase “the show must go on.” Life, as does history, moves along and carries us with it. We don’t need to forget what has slipped beneath our feet – but casting eyes behind leaves little time to see the greatness that lies ahead. In a small way, over three days, the past was embraced and people needed to come see these victories of designs relegated to the spotlight in the heart of Manhattan.
Stella epitomized the spirit and the resolve of the nation by moving forward, but not forgetting those left behind. Eighty-three dealers believed in the venue created in Madison Square Garden and for those three days, played perhaps, their greatest gig yet. Echoes of the past resonated in dazzling colors, leather chairs, polished aluminum forms, and brought to life a past marked by brilliance. What greater tribute to those who left their mark on the timeline of Modernism than 83 interpretations of this grand period? Tomorrow’s promise looms large as we step from the curb at 32 Street and Seventh Avenue – there is much to celebrate in this great big city.