It seems that the art world has experienced a roller coaster period of demand and price fluctuation. Some areas seem to be recovering quite nicely, as Picasso and Giacometti works can attest too. With the decorative arts, the rebound can be characterized as not happening. Demand is not even static, but appears to be still sliding or stalled at best. Is this trend reversible or more systemic with the nature of these items?
Shelter magazines have stamped their approval on showcasing residences with a minimum use of antiques and furniture in general. White walls and scattered rugs on plain wood floors are the template for as little as possible in a room. The sentiment of these publications is exemplified by the walls acting as a backdrop for nothing or a “trophy” painting or work of art. The practice of multiple quality items juxtaposed next to each, like in the Barnes Museum could hardly be conceived in today’s endeavor to need high tech and best image necessities.
I find that today, decorative arts as a means of functional furniture and life style is in conflict with the perception of its usefulness. Obviously, this stuff has lasted through a certain test of time and still survived. Decorative arts require some functionality; fine arts involve only the necessity of a visual interpretation, a much more powerful emotional and intellectual connection. In today’s way of thinking, innovation should offer better and more efficient functionality with simplicity of use. Is that such a tall order for antiques?
The other side of the argument is that furnishing a home with antiques requires much more than just physical and aesthetic qualities. The most difficult aspect of these items is time and passion to understand them, as a collector. That type of zeal is hard to translate into the emotional and intellectual qualities present in fine art. Would a collector of American 19th Century Hudson River School paintings have the same passion for furniture of the same period? Undoubtedly, a collector of contemporary art would not consider any piece of furniture other than modern. Bulky, American 19th Century furniture would distract from modern art, but modern furnishing in some way can enhance the 19th Century art. Certainly at a minimum, antiques furnishing are mean to embellish any period art on the walls and not necessarily to compete with it.
Perhaps the Decorative Arts are to be relegated to the ash heap of second tier status. A comfortable antique dining chair is certainly a rarity and will never receive instant recognition like a Picasso. Besides, unless someone has written a sign on the chair, how would you know that George Washington sat there!