The ladies glinted in head to toe sequin and suits of armour shined with a steely gleam – as the relics of past collided with ready to wear and the champagne flowed steadily at the annual fete which rounds out one of the most prestigious antique fairs in the world. The Winter Antiques Show Young Collectors Night held court last Thursday at the Park Avenue Armory in New York to raise money for the East Side House Settlement, bringing together enthusiasts of art, antiques, and interior design.
This year the buying seemed more cautious but the goods no less mesmerizing, scoured from the four corners of the world – old and new. A splendid torso of a male nude from the Late Hellenistic era was on view at Rupert Wace Ancient Art. Its fine carving and flawless naturalism of the contrapposto were not the only selling features, as the piece was remarked to be “apartment sized.” Measuring 21 inches high, I wondered if the ancient master who made the exquisite torso and buttocks could ever imagine it being enjoyed in the round, flanked by a flatscreen and a soaring view of the park. An elderly gentleman in the booth asked me if “my generation liked this stuff,” to which I responded that they revel in it, since cultural pastiche and the ability to borrow, reference and sample has become a new default for taste.
Across the ancients, there gleamed A La Vieille Russie where a dozen ladies were vying for the perfect engagement ring, reaching for emeralds and clusters of diamonds. Meanwhile, the gentlemen milled around the central bar, where the DJ played music circa 2012 and Bill Cunningham captured the festive frocks.
This year of the show, many of the treasures were found on paper. Kenneth W. Rendell Gallery was offering a unique letter by president Thomas Jefferson, which dated to February 4th of 1809, a month before the end of his second term. In our uncertain political times it is intriguing to reflect on the situation two centuries past, when international trade powers and unrest in Europe were causing problems at home. A worn-out Jefferson wrote that for his “future happiness: retirement is become essential to it and one of the best consolation will be to witness the advancements of my country in all those pursuits & acquisitions which constitute the character of a wise & virtuous nation.” This historic artifact was selling for $850,000 but had not yet found buyer. Over at Bauman Rare Books – skinny first editions of Hemingway novels and Chagall’s illustrated bible stood ensconced in shelves of glass and mahogany, reminding us that not all things great start of glossy and heavy bound.
The pen jousted with the sword and on the opposing end of the hall Peter Finer’s immaculate tournament armour and long swords commanded a crowd of admirers. Gathered from courts of old Europe these relics of by-gone knighthood, balanced classical form and deadly function. A rare, high Gothic, 15th century jousting suit meant for deflecting blows was surprisingly light and agile. Its form evoked equal parts Brancusi and Guggenheim Bilbao, as did its price, which was in the seven figure range.
This high-energy night attracted over 650 new collectors, young philanthropists, interior designers, and art and antiques enthusiasts and was sponsored by New York Magazine, Benjamin Moore, and Elie Tahari. Wendy Goodman, Design Editor of New York magazine remarked that “these tastemakers are constantly re-imagining the rules of design, blending antiques into modern and contemporary settings.”