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Tough times at the 2002 Armory

Collectors were cautious as economic woes continue

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British show organisers Brian and Anna Haughton's fourth annual fair devoted to 20th-century art and design, plus contemporary art, bore many of the hallmarks of their acclaimed shows: international dealers, rigorous vetting, splendidly trimmed surroundings and a prestigious benefit charity. The Museum of Modern Art hosted the opening night party and collectors and dealers alike praised the return of the show to Park Avenue's Seventh Regiment Armory (last year's event was cancelled due to 9/11). Attending were major collectors such as the Edgar Bronfmans and Robert B. Menschel, president of MoMA as well as Goldman Sachs partners.

Unfortunately the show was staged at a particularly inopportune time through no fault of the Haughtons. For one thing, the event coincided with the Paris Biennale des Antiquaires, which showcases France's truly top 20th-century decorative arts dealers and Americans flock to that event. Only 41 dealers were in attendance, down considerably from the inaugural show and some collectors remarked on the change. For another thing, the economic picture could not be more bleak: the technology index Nasdaq sank to a six-year low and the threat of war with Iraq has cast a shadow over Wall Street and on Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted a staggering 295.6 points bringing the total down 3.7%. Needless to say, many collectors are exceedingly cautious and the middle market seems particularly hard hit.

Yet against that backdrop, there were sales. For Mary Hunt Kahleneberg and Rob Coffland of the Santa Fe, New Mexico Tai Gallery/Textile Arts, bamboo art was held in high regard. They sold 15 baskets, from $1,200-$20,000. Sparking interest in basketry and raising it above mere craft was the appearance of the Japanese master Sugita Jozan in his own stand creating bamboo work.

But many big ticket items such as a 1939 Jean Michel Frank table for $110,000 at Calderwood went unsold. While a 1925 Dominique table for $75,000 and a pair of Emile Robert gates for $65,000 at Two Zero C Applied Art did not sell, there was intense interest for both, said Michael Playford, who had exceptional quality and sold 50% of his stand. Strong quality moved. For example, New York's Antik practically sold their stand out, reported Juliet Burrows, Antik director. Gone were a three-piece seating set by Swedish architect Axel Einer Hjorth for $55,000, four other pieces of furniture, two 1920 Swedish rugs for over $20,000 each, and Bernd Friberg ceramics. Maison Gerard also enjoyed plentiful sales, from a Paul Dupre Lafon daybed for over $50,000 and other items. Joan B. Mirviss racked upwards of 30 sales of contemporary Japanese ceramics priced from $600-$30,000. “I was very pleasantly surprised by the results,” said Ms Mirviss.

Even jewellery sales were mixed. The London-based George Somlo reported his sales were down 30% from two years ago. “The economy is terrible,” said Mr Somlo. Yet London's Tadema red-stickered a large number of pieces, demonstrating the unevenness of sales.

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