I can safely say that I have attended many Fine and Decorative Arts fairs and events where you get to see a lot of good, great, and outstanding items. My clarion call is, “One man’s treasure is another man’s trash.” However, I must premise this review by stating that I am a Decorative Arts guy and I love anything that extrudes some human creative skill. Music, art, theater, even a great real estate deal or speculative investment product is all the byproduct of creative thinking.
I digressed—a show is all about the goods and this one had contemporary works challenging and dominating classical antiques. Maybe I should quickly relieve myself of my standard complaint that most dealers absurdly conceal pricing, while others just write a short description that includes measurements, but no price. PLEASE show a price (I assume it is negotiable anyway). I also noticed that presentation among the various booths was very inconsistent. I found that, short of some dealers using a solid color pattern on the walls, only the Phoenix Ancient Art booth used an eye-catching creative window display design. Lack of presentation is something that kills most of the period stuff. The booths filled with period English (but VERY LITTLE French) furniture haven’t changed their display presentation since the first Haughton show. It is a stark contrast to even the casual browser, as the dealers showing art forms of the 20th and 21st Century dominates this event.
And then there is vetting, does it really work? Show me how someone can vet the booth of a dealer showing work of a contemporary furniture designer? But guess what, this show continues to evolve with a bigger and better dynamic, and vetting is not the reason to visit. The show and auction formats are joined at the hip; they both create an instant bazaar that lasts less than a week. Just as auctioneers think that they are or are not telling you what they’re selling, so useless is the idea of vetting. Keep it if you must, but it is only a challenge to a dealer’s integrity.
When this show first began, the Haughton dared to challenge the “venerable” Winter Antiques Show, which was the only superior show of its kind in New York City. It had been established several decades before and had become the premiere public social event in the City. But the new Haughton Show’s challenge was to be less restrictive with the exhibited periods and styles of both Decorative and Fine arts. In New York City today, the show has evolved to be one that challenges the modern styles shown at The Salon: Art & Design Fair opening in two weeks; this show spreads the wealth.
If you are planning to decorate your entire house at a show like this, then forget about it, unless you take the whole booth at Maison Gerard for consideration as your living room. Who could not just move in (or take it to a new home)? Creative new pieces being made by contemporary designer Achille Salvagni dominate the space that mimics the quality and design of the last half of the 20th Century. Maison Gerard also provided items for other booths in need of the punch of a decorative art item or two.
At this show, contemporary artists were displayed as though they had always been there. You could observe contemporary trends in the dense black patina of the bronze sculptures of artist Xie Aige at the Michael Goedhuis booth or the incredible crystal bonsai plants by Simone Crestavi, scattered on a Sorney dining table in Bernd Goeckler’s space. It was a pleasant diversion away from the real nature of the merchandise you come to expect and see at a show like this. It was booths like H.M. Luther’s that demonstrated they were not afraid to mix it up and display multiple styles and periods together.
However, the trick to this show and shows of this kind is the unfortunate absence of information and disclosure; information comes only from a serious conversation. The exclusivity of the items is even more apparent when you realize that they are not even posted on the Internet. Dealers hide their merchandise from view for shows like this, although some pieces seem to have been given a second go around. But the condition of the stand-alone brick and mortar dealer has been, and will continue to be, the challenge to survive.
The show option, with its carnival atmosphere of load in, load out, and onto the next town, will always have an allure, as will auctions with their hype and dubious methods. How they compete with the wunderkind of the Internet will be the ultimate test. It is imperative that we consider our future customers and how to engage them to learn and appreciate our things. It is the principal challenge to the whole industry, no matter the format.