The Winter Show
By Lita Solis-Cohen
The Winter Show celebrated its 65th year, a sapphire jubilee, January 17-27, at the Park Avenue Armory. There were sapphire lights projected on the ceiling and on the front of the loan exhibition, Collecting Nantucket/Connecting the World. Many at the preview party wore sapphire blue, making it an even more festive occasion. As many do when they reach that magical year of 65, making them eligible for Medicare, the show made an effort to seem younger and be more streamlined and well disciplined in order to make sure the coming years will be a time of creative growth and longevity.
The show took a new and simpler name—The Winter Show—leaving the word antiques behind because the show includes 5000 years of art and artifacts from ancient times to modern design, and because painting and sculpture of high quality is a sizable presence.
It also has a new executive director, Helen Allen, and a young associate executive director, Michael Diaz-Griffith, who had been with the show for five years and is a link to the past but full of ideas for the future. They are both committed to building on the foundation with longtime exhibitors and to attracting new faces for whom aesthetics are all important and authenticity is essential. The pair moved slowly this year; they want to make more significant changes in the future, reaching out to a younger audience with educational and social events and social media throughout the year, all the while giving the East Side House Settlement a platform to tell its story of a successful settlement house in the Bronx and to function as its major fund-raiser.
This year dealers were encouraged to be creative about their booth design. Three dealers employed the talents of interior designer Ralph Harvard, who has been designing Elle Shushan’s stand for over a decade. Harvard’s design for Bernard and S. Dean Levy’s space was the talk of the show. He used John Derian’s shell-strewn wallpaper and painted the lower portions of it with a watery blue. Harvard was inspired by Levy’s three-shell chest of drawers and his two shell-carved Rhode Island Queen Anne lowboys, one of them attributed to Newport’s Thomas Townsend. Levy also offered chairs with carved shells. It apparently worked. Levy sold his three-shell tray-top chest of drawers for a mid-six-figure sum, a Federal Boston sofa table attributed to John and Thomas Seymour, and a Massachusetts chair probably made by Nathaniel Gould. Gould’s shop ledgers were discovered and written about by Kemble Widmer and Joyce King in their 2014 book In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould. Levy sold more, including a pair of Federal octagonal worktables that he bought separately. They did not stay together long; he sold them to two different collectors.
Patrick Bell and Edwin Hild of Olde Hope covered their walls with large silhouettes taken from Jacob Maentel watercolors. Designed by David Guilmet but produced by Patrick Bell, partner in the Bell-Guilmet design firm, the walls lured people into Olde Hope’s space to see two full-length John Brewster portraits of the artist’s stepsisters. Brewster, who painted in Maine, Connecticut, and eastern New York, painted young Sophia in a dark sunset, suggesting it was a posthumous likeness. She died before she was five. Her sister Betsey in her white dress is painted outdoors carrying a basket of strawberries that match her red shoes. They were show-stoppers, but they have not sold yet at $1.4 million for Sophia and $2.5 million for Betsey. They were included in the traveling Brewster exhibition in 2005-07.
David Schorsch and Eileen Smiles did not need special wallpaper to do a land-office business. They sold to the American Folk Art Museum a large Martin Luther Bible with a double-page fraktur religious text drawn by Johannes Ernst Spangenberg for Jacob Schaefer. They also sold oil on canvas portraits by David Brokaw of Grimes McConahy, Adelia Elizabeth McConahy, and Elizabeth McConahy, painted in Oberlin, Ohio, in 1845. A watercolor on paper, A Girl in Blue Dress in Furnished Interior, 1830-40, a Nantucket Windsor chair like the one in the loan exhibition, a sack-back Connecticut Windsor, two Shaker boxes, one yellow, one red, and a weathervane in the form of a hunter with a wagon wheel sold as well.
Ralph Harvard provided high-gloss yellow-painted walls to show off Kelly Kinzle’s painted furniture and patinated copper weathervanes. Kinzle sold his historic powder horn to Historic Charleston Foundation. It was incised with a Carolina map and was owned by a captain during the French and Indian war. Kinzle also sold a griffin weathervane from the Cincinnati Zoo, a clock with wooden works in an inlaid case, and a blue-painted lift-top bench. A week after the show, he sold his Charles Hofmann painting of Benjamin Reber’s farm in Lower Heidelberg, Berks County, Pennsylvania. Dealers say sales continue for months after the show.
Stephen Score did not have to wait long to find a buyer for his large Rufus Porter watercolor on plaster, approximately 4′ x 10′. It was painted on the wall of the Boyden house in Westwood, Massachusetts, 1835-37.
Alexander Acevedo sold to Mount Vernon a mid-19th-century painting of Washington walking in the woods signed “C. Alexander.” He had not sold his newly discovered watercolor portrait from life of a very handsome Alexander Hamilton with a black neck stock by Walter Robertson (1750-1801) that came down in the Hamilton family. It was $650,000.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries had two stands—one for their furniture paintings and decorations and one for Hirschl & Adler Modern. The offerings ranged from mid-18th-century Philadelphia side chairs, each carved with three shells, to a selection of Aesthetic Movement chairs tables and lighting. In between were plenty of Neoclassical sofas, tables, and chairs. They even had a case full of Gaudy Dutch china. Paintings included a portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, a tiny Charles Sheeler, and Modernist works by William Hunt Diederich and George Ault. From their Hirschl & Adler Modern booth, they sold an abstract white marble sculpture by Elizabeth Turk and a painting of musicians by John Koch (1909-1978), an American realist. The range was enormous and worth an extra trip to the fair.
Hirschl & Adler sold to collectors and to institutions. The first piece sold on opening night was a newly discovered Neoclassical worktable with 18 ormolu mounts. It was attributed to Isaac Vose when Thomas Seymour was foreman of his shop (1819-25). The gallery brought it over from the exhibition Augmenting the Canon. It was the frontispiece of the Hirsch & Adler catalog for the exhibition.
The quality and profusion of American paintings at the show was memorable. Works by Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Marsden Hartley, Maurice Prendergast, and more were shown by well-known dealers such as Menconi and Schoelkopf, Michael Altman, Adelson Galleries, Jonathan Boos, Thomas Colville, and Gerald Peters. Sales were made. Gerald Peters sold multiple works by Karen LaMonte (b. 1967) in cast iron and cast glass; they were the talk of the show.
Two New York City galleries—Macklowe and Lillian Nassau—offered Tiffany lamps, glass, and ceramics, making it worthwhile for two major collectors to be second and third in line at the preview. Spencer Marks, Southampton, Massachusetts, showing for just the second year, sold Tiffany and Gorham silver to private clients and to institutions. They had a very good show.
Northwest Coast masks and a Woodlands ladle at the booth of Tambaran, Maureen Zarember’s gallery in New York City, were expressive rarities. The booth of toy dealers Gemini looked like FAO Schwarz before Christmas at the preview, and by the end of the evening Steven Weiss said they had sold 29 of the toys pictured in the catalog they had sent out days before the show so that clients could decide what they wanted and come to the show to inspect in person.
M.A.D. writes almost exclusively about American art and decorative arts at the show, so the illustrations show just a fraction of what was there. There was some jewelry made by American makers, such as Tiffany and Oscar Heyman, from James Robinson, New York City, and by Louise Nevelson from Didier, London, that fall into the American sphere. And now that museums call their American galleries “Arts of the Americas,” we can count Mexican ceramic vessels and Latin American paintings offered by Robert Simon, an old masters dealer, as Americana. And we can add London dealer Didier’s catalog of Latin American and South American jewelry.
Ancient works from Egypt and Greece were sold by Charles Ede of London. Contemporary Japanese ceramics that Joan Mirviss introduces every year are well received. London dealer Peter Finer’s arms and armor bring his clients to New York City every January, and London dealer Robert Young’s collection of English and sometimes Scandinavian folk art is always a sellout. Young made more than 30 sales. The booth design of London furniture dealer Apter-Fredericks with light boxes of familiar paintings by van Gogh and Hogarth with images of their chairs and tables added was a hoot. Hyde Park, a New York City dealer in English furniture, reported the sale of three pieces of furniture. Now that prices are realistic, high-quality English furniture seems like a bargain.
Erik Thomsen, a New York City dealer in Japanese paintings, ceramics, and lacquer boxes who has shown often at international shows at the Armory, showed at the Winter Show for the first time and said he was happy with the response. Les Enluminures, which has galleries in Chicago, New York, and Paris, was delighted to be back after a short sabbatical. The dealer sold a manuscript painting and a 15th-century sculpture.
Business was done. At every show, some dealers sell more than others, and dealers say follow-up sales continue for months.
The crowd seemed thinner at the preview, but it was huge on opening day and sparse on the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. It grew stronger during the week, especially on the last weekend. Long, slow auctions made it impossible for some collectors and dealers to find time to see the show during the first weekend, and some never got there. It is ironic that the show that spawned an antiques week in New York City, which morphed into Americana Week and eventually included big Americana auctions and other shows, now finds that these very shows and sales have become competition. The Outsider Art Fair opening on Thursday evening cut into the Winter Show preview party, and the long Outsider art auction at Christie’s on Friday morning, followed by a long various-owners Americana sale, kept some from the show until very late on opening day.
Helen Allen, the enthusiastic new director of the show, was well received. She has plans for the future. She said she was thrilled with the response to educational programs held during the week that were advertised in the media and required reservations. She has planned more programs for the year ahead. Dealers said move-in and move-out “was never smoother.” They said Allen and Diaz-Griffith were available and responsive.
Allen has ideas for the future. She trod lightly this year. “I hope to update the floor plan and give the show a presence year-round,” she said. “We need to build a core of loyal supporters and collectors, and we need to promote our dealers throughout the year. I would like dealers to post highlights on our app, items that may or may not still be available at the next show.”
Diaz-Griffith masterminded the show’s digital presence and website, which posted news and video tours of the show along with discounts at some convenient hotels. He said, “We want to build a group of new collectors who will participate in the future of the field; we also want to make ourselves available to nurture young dealers to help them exhibit at future shows.”
Diaz-Griffith is focused on the juxtaposition of 21st century with traditional antiques. A good example of the direction of the show was Toots Zynsky’s vessels, made of colored threads of glass, shown by Michele Beiny along with 18th-century porcelain.
“We want a balance between art, antiques, and design,” said Allen. “American art is still the core and as strong as ever even with fewer Americana dealers. Our museum night for curators and trustees on Friday, January 18, was a big success; more than 900 came. Museum follow-ups take time. Our booth showcasing the success of students who have taken advantage of education at East Side House led to an invitation for some of them to visit Nantucket.”
This was a make-or-break year for the Winter Show, and it seems to have made it, although dealers were not universally happy with the number of sales and said high expenses made profits slim. The marketplace has changed, and it is a difficult time for all shows. The Winter Show with its long tradition seems to have as good a chance of any to survive in this difficult and uncertain time.