NEW YORK CITY — The Spring Show NYC is a rare bird in the Manhattan aviary of cultural delights. Unlike most of the established expositions that alight annually in the Park Avenue Armory and other trodden venues, it has yet to solidify its identity, which is another way of saying that it offers entertaining novelty and unexpected opportunity.
Organized by the Art and Antique Dealers League of America, whose president is Clinton Howell, and managed by the Chicago-based Art Fair Company, this chameleon of a show, which is vetted for quality, opened with a benefit for ASPCA on Wednesday, May 1, and continued through the weekend at the Park Avenue Armory.
The preview was lively and well attended. Exhibitors said interest was strong.
Spring Show NYC offers a generous serving of English and European arts dished up in a relaxed, youthful manner that encourages interaction between new collectors and seasoned specialists.
Perhaps the grandest display belonged to Carlton Hobbs, whose double booth in the front of the drill hall arrayed rare and exotic specimens of European furniture and accessories, most of it the offspring of East-West artistic exchange. Highlights included an early Nineteenth Century gilt-bronze-mounted rosewood side cabinet, $480,000, decorated with famille-verte porcelain panels in the manner of John and Frederick Crace for the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, England. Above the cabinet hung a lavishly detailed Aesthetic gilt-brass mirror, fashioned as eight conjoined circles and probably American.
Old China hand Nicholas Grindley — who maintains presences in New York, London and Beijing — tempted collectors with a circa 1830–50 Ceylonese side chair, a brilliant combination of an English Regency silhouette and Asian carved detail.
“Shows are never over,” said Howell, who said he had a good outing and much continuing interest. The New York specialist in English furniture anchored his large corner booth with two spectacular carved and gilded rococo-looking glasses, jewelry for the room.
Americana dealers were few in number but big in overall impact.
“It draws a different crowd than other New York shows,” said Litchfield, Conn., dealer Jeffrey Tillou, whose many sales included two Nineteenth Century folk paintings: an Ammi Phillips portrait of a child in pink with a dog and an anonymous English portrait of two dogs. Tillou credits part of the fair’s success to the Art Fair Company’s promotional skills.
“They have a big database to draw from and are savvy about the future of antiques shows,” said Tillou.
“Customers seem to love the diversity of this show. People were excited and Sunday was actually very crowded. A lot of business was done,” said Mark McHugh of Spencer-Marks. The Southampton, Mass., silver dealer and his partner, Spencer Gordon, boasted a circa 1870 Tiffany tea set in its original fitted box and a Gorham “Polar Bear” ice bowl and tongs of about the same date.
“It’s the most iconic American ice bowl,” Gordon said of the vessel that celebrates the 1867 purchase of the Alaska Territory. The form made headlines when Christie’s sold an example from the collection of Sam Wagstaff for $44,000 in 1989. Another example brought $65,725 in 2004.
New York and Connecticut dealer Marion Harris, who defies categorization, sold, among other items, limited edition prints by Outsider artist Morton Bartlett. Harris brought Bartlett to world attention with a 1994 book and later film.
Spring Show NYC this year tilted toward fine art, offering an impressive selection of paintings and works on paper, Old Masters to contemporary, by American and British dealers.
Old Masters specialist Robert Simon tempted customers with an idyllic oil on paper pastoral view by Titian for $2.5 million. Elsewhere was a signed and inscribed Spanish Colonial painting from Peru. By Cipriano Toledo y Gutierrez, the oil on canvas titled “The Virgin Mary with Saints” was $100,000. An oil on canvas portrait of a seated tiger by Charles R. Knight (American, 1874–1953) hung on Simon’s far wall. Knight painted murals for New York’s Museum of Natural History and elsewhere. The museum’s president, a Princeton man, owned the tiger painting, for years ensconced in the Nassau Inn in Princeton, N.J.
A fine selection of classical works on paper could be had at New York’s Hill-Stone, Inc, where a trio of early Seventeenth Century Rembrandt etchings — one on the theme of the Flight Into Egypt — competed with a pen and ink drawing by the Anglo Swiss artist Henry Fuseli (1741–1825).
Richard Schillay’s densely appointed stand offered quantity and quality, ranging from a Red Grooms vignette, “Little Italy,” 1989, which promptly sold, to Mary Cassatt’s “Sara,” a pastel on paper of 1901, $650,000, and Jean-Auguste Renoir’s “Tete de Madeleine,” $1.25 million. Schillay had contemporary works by Sam Francis and Tom Wesselmann.
“The show attracts a diverse audience. It’s interesting and entertaining. People seem to like it. Some of the Old Masters pictures dealers did very well. Buyers of Modern and contemporary material held back a bit to see how the auctions would go,” said Schillay.
Jewelry, from historical ornament offered by Arthur Guy Kaplan to Jensen’s Modernist designs at Drucker Antiques, made up an important component of the fair. There was a smattering of ceramics — Webb cameo glass and a pair of profusely ornamented First Period Worcester covered frill vases at Leo Kaplan Ltd — and ancient and primitive art at Douglas Dawson and Phoenix Ancient Art.
Joel Frankel, minus his beloved wife Edie, was one of the few Asian specialists. He featured a large Chinese Twelfth to Thirteenth Century carved wood figure with traces of original paint, $125,000. “It lived in a Japanese monastery for several hundred years, which is how we came to acquire it,” said Frankel, an honorary member of the league’s executive committee.
League members Edie Frankel, who died last June, and Peter Rosenberg of Vallin Galleries, who died in April, were missed by all.
Plans for the 2014 show are firm, even if dates, which are at the discretion of the Park Avenue Conservancy, are not. With the 2014 Philadelphia Antiques Show set for a later-than-usual April 25–29 next year, some exhibitors worry that schedules will conflict.
The mercurial Spring Show NYC is likely to bring more surprises next year. The league is exploring a variety of new initiatives and Howell, for one, would like to add more fine art to the lively mix.