Winter Antiques Fair: “The Academy Award of dealers’ shows”

Exhibitors reported enthusiastic buying as collectors embraced new areas of the market


New York

The Winter Antiques Show celebrated its 50th anniversary this year with not a wrinkle in sight. Organiser Catherine Sweeney Singer pulled out all the stops at the Park Avenue’s Seventh Regiment Armory in terms of presentation, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art loan exhibition from its American Wing sparkled with “the best of the best”, accordingly to Ms Sweeney.

Even freezing temperatures failed to deter fans at the vernissage on 15 January. Strolling among the Philadelphia Chippendale chairs and porcelain snuffboxes were a varied line-up of “A” list celebrities, including television talk show host Oprah Winfrey, Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the architect Robert Couturier, mayor Michael Bloomberg and Punch Sulzberger, New York Times publisher, not to mention every society diva right down to “Sex in the city” star Kim Cattrell, with her decorator Tony Ingrao in tow.

While this fair was once a very American event, lacking the quality of the Paris Biennale or Grosvenor House, this year's version proved that Americans can now deliver a show of extraordinary quality. The event also revealed several major new collecting trends.

Folk art, once the poor man’s antiques, now seems to rank as the new Chippendale. In fact, there was the heaviest concentration of folk art dealers ever, including Frank and Barbara Pollack, Olde Hope, Giampietro, Suzanne Courcier and Robert Wilkins, David Schorsch, Wayne Pratt and Robert Young. Prices have soared and now approach those for Federal furniture: today’s taste seems to favour simplicity.

Within the first hour of the vernissage, every folk art dealer had sold its top pieces. Olde Hope wrote up an 1875 Pennsylvania tall case clock for $295,000, a rare 1900 life-sized dog, in carved wood with a doe-like expression on its cracked face, for $84,000, and an 1830 still life for $55,000. “The top end of the market is high and the middle market is coming back to life,” said Edwin Hild of Olde Hope.

Ethnographic pieces are now being seen as the new antiquities. Spencer Throckmorton showed off his stand to an enthusiastic Oprah Winfrey. He sold a Veracruz wind god in terracotta, dating from 900-1200 AD, for $85,000, as well as other items. “There’s a burst of optimism in spending that we haven’t seen since before 11 September,” said Mr Throckmorton.

In the ceramics field, famille rose and tobacco leaf are out; the elaborate floral Fitzhugh pattern is in. At the age of 85, Chinese export porcelain dealer Elinor Gordon of Villanova, Pennsylvania, who has half a century of Winter shows to her name, said, “Fifty years ago, people would be lining up to buy famille rose. Today, they’re demanding armorial wares and the Fitzhugh pattern.”

She sold her prize piece, a massive Fitzhugh platter in apricot, for $40,000, within one hour of the opening.

Garden sculpture was also popular. One Wall Street banker buying for his South Carolina plantation snapped up a pair of 1758 English lead figures of Bacchus and Venus, for under $100,000 as well as an 18th-century sundial, an stone English Regency bench and two stone finials. He asked Manhattan dealer Barbara Israel: “Do you mind if I buy so much?” “This has always been a great show but it’s never been like this before in terms of enthusiasm or sales,” said Ms Israel.

With such considerable sales and turnout, the show can now claim a top place on the international circuit. “It’s the American Academy Awards of shows,” said Taylor B. Williams, as he wrapped up yet another prize English enamel box. The Chicago dealer routinely racks up around 100 sales here. One swish decorator cooed: “All my clients say don’t go to Europe; shop here.”

Interestingly, London dealer Richard Green, usually on a grand stand near the front, opted for one tucked into a corner. He was returning to the fair after a year’s absence, possibly because of the ongoing New York State investigation into possible breaches of sales tax. “We just didn’t feel comfortable [last year],” was all Penny Marks of Richard Green gallery would say.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'The Academy Award of dealers’ shows'