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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Americana Week 2014: Part 1

Yes, it's here, Americana week, and although it seems as though it occurs as regularly as my blog posts of late, my new year's resolution is to correct that.  Let's hope it sticks.

The nexus of several important shows--the Winter Antiques Show, the New York Ceramics Fair, The Metro Show, and the Armory Antique Show--as well as major sales at Christie's and Sotheby's forms the backbone of Americana week.  Sandwiched in between all of these events are the other events, the openings, the Wunsch Americana Foundation Awards, the lectures, the private gatherings, and the dinners.  Even for the most excited of Americanists, this week can try one's stamina.  Add to that temperatures in the single digits for much of the day and scurrying between events seems like a cross between Antiques Road Show and the Iditarod.

The New York Ceramics Fair is a real treat, and the opening on Tuesday night (Jan. 21st) might be a useful place to start Americana Week.  For starters, the opening night tickets at $90 are a real bargain, and perhaps the best value in the city.  Second, the show is extremely manageable in size; it thus rewards close looking, a second visit, and a chance to handle a variety of ceramics from Ancient through Contemporary.  In fact, once you give in your ticket, they stamp your hand with some sort of spooky black light dye that allows you to visit again and again--for the whole run of show--without any additional admission.  More shows might consider this as a way to reward visitors and increase the chance for sales by encouraging, not deterring, repeat visitors.  Opening night was a who's who in ceramics (collectors, dealers, designers, editors, and museum people), with the likes of Ralph Harvard, Joe Gromacki, Robert Hunter, and Mary Mills all spotted on the floor.  Virtually everything is available from classic stoneware and glass from the Stradlings, to early English Pottery from Garry Atkins, and ancient pottery from Anavian Gallery.  Those favoring contemporary ceramics with a strong tradition of craft and exquisite technique were rewarded by the presence of Cliff Lee, who brought exquisite examples of his hand-carved porcelain to the show, and Michelle Erickson, whose ceramic forms span historical reference and post-modern, assemblage sensibilities.  Though at first glance, their works seem to be in polar opposition, these ceramists in some ways define the best of the current field.  United by a dedication to their craft and exquisite technical skills, the work of Erickson and Lee resists the crass decorative quality of much of contemporary work and firmly asserts the notion--seemingly lost in much of fine art and craft today--that the success of the object is more than an idea; artistry is the combination of thought and skillful execution, not just a novel idea.  What's refreshing about both of these artists is their willingness to discuss the craft, the process of their work, and their willingness to patiently instruct you on the subtleties that you might over look.  Instead of rejecting historicity and craft as something passé, both artists play with historical associations, reference history, and yet are able to bring these into contemporary voices that are strong, resonant, and talented.

Wednesday is in some ways a day to breathe, except if you are on the vetting committee of the Winter Antiques Show.  So, yes, I vetted all morning, had a lovely lunch in the afternoon, and after a quick break to get some work done I headed over to Christie's for the Wunsch Americana Foundation awards.  In some ways, it felt more like the Met than an auction house, as curators Morrie Heckscher and Peter Kenny gave remarks and introduced the evening's honorees: Linda Kauffman and Dick Jenrette, two individuals whose contributions to American Decorative Arts, scholarship, and bettering the public discourse of objects is difficult to overstate.   The Kauffman gift to the National Gallery of Art is simply astounding, and the impact on the field--through enhanced public visibility, education, and familiarity with early American furniture--will be felt for years to come.  If you haven't gone and seen it, you should.  It's a beautiful blend of furniture that even includes southern examples, something all too rare in many museum collections outside of the South.  Similarly, though perhaps more quietly, Dick Jenrette's Classical American Homes Preservation Trust has worked since 1994 to bring this important aspect of American history to the public.  It's an amazing gift that both of these individuals have given, and one certainly worthy of honoring.

Thursday is another busy day: one must figure out what to cram in and see before the opening of the Winter Antiques Show that evening.  I have always found opening night somewhat magical, especially in the transformation between the choreographed chaos that accompanies vetting day into the elegant splendor of the opening reception.  Within 24 hours, the floor of the armory changes radically.  Gone are the union workers, the lifts, the debris and detritus of the set-up; lights are in place, carpets laid, labels hung; works shine in the booths, people smile (rather than scowl) and the physical transformation of the space echoes the emotional transformation of all involved.  It is simply a night to enjoy.  Sales will be made, wine and hors d'oeuvres consumed, outfits worn and commented upon: it remains one of the most enjoyable nights of the year--a time to see old friends and acquaintances, to make new ones, and to glimpse at or examine the best of what the field has to offer in a given season.  Selfishly, too, it is also a time to check up on my students, since they intern at the Winter Antiques Show each year.  During the course of two weeks, they see an art fair intimately, and work all aspects of it.  From the opening day's rush and loading in to the scurrying before the opening to the quiet pattern that emerges once the show is up and running, my students see it all, work it all, and get to experience a fair from the inside.  This means they not only help with show set up, press inquiries, and mundane tasks like staffing events or handing out brochures, but they also work with dealers, with vetters, and with the public at large.  I can think of no better way for them to learn about the business and am grateful for the support of Elle Shushan and Executive Director Catherine Sweeney Singer who make this happen each year.

That seems like enough for a post without pictures, more to follow.

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