January 26, 2013

The 59th Annual Winter Antiques Show

After the long winter's nap that follows the frenetic holiday season, it's traditionally the Winter Antiques Show that starts the ball rolling again.  This year was no exception as, despite bitter cold temperatures, New Yorkers turned out in droves to celebrate the start of the 2013 art fair season.

Naturally I joined the queue and headed to the Park Avenue Armory the day after the opening gala where ticket prices ranged from $500-$2,500 per person, depending on time of entry.  Not being a serious collector, my Friday afternoon admission was a perfect opportunity to peruse this year's offerings and I daresay the exhibitors had a little more time to humor mere spectators.

Always elegant, the 59th Annual Winter Antiques Show has revamped its décor to present a more uniform look that implied fancy shops with columns and pediments separating the booths.  There was also a noticeable re-shuffling of locations as several traditional exhibitors were replaced with new vendors.

Fortunately some of my old favorites were there and it was with great pleasure that I browsed the stands of Macklowe Gallery, New York with their marvelous combination of magnificent jewelry and beautiful colored glass objects (see right); Elle Shushan, Philadelphia, in yet another fancifully designed booth, this time an artist's atelier, to display her exquisite portrait miniatures;  Kenneth W. Rendell Gallery, New York, showed an impressive collection of historic autographs and manuscripts; and A La Vieille Russie, New York, never fail to present extraordinary jewels and objects from the Fabergé workshops.

Particularly eye catching was John Singer Sargent's "Portrait of Miss Dorothy Vickers", 1885-6, on the stand of Adelson Galleries, New York (see left).  Also a set of eight Federal mahogany dining chairs made in New York circa 1815, each with an eagle as the lower back cross bar, or "splat", at Carswell Rush Berlin Inc., New York.  But the item that I most wanted to own was a Victorian oak humidor that was carved in the form of a beehive with a lid that sprung open to present a dozen Panatella cigars!  Decorated with little brass bees near the entrance of the hive, this object was the perfect combination of whimsy and practicality.  It was part of the choice collection of English antiques presented by Philip Colleck, Ltd., New York.

The Winter Antiques Show has a tradition of presenting a special loan exhibition in the prime booth of the fair.  This year it was The Preservation Society of Newport County who received the honor and their presentation "Newport:  The Glamour of Ornament" was outstanding.  I had visited some of the Newport mansions a few summers ago (see my blog "A Weekend in Newport, RI", August 2007) and thoroughly enjoyed viewing the selection of furniture, exquisite objects, art, dresses and photographs to put it all into perspective.  It made me want to go back and visit again.

I spent a lovely afternoon at the Winter Antiques Show, but it was time to go.  As I stepped into the cold night air I was surprised to see tiny, sparkling snowflakes tumbling from the sky!  The first snowfall of the season was upon us!  What a perfect end to a brilliant day!

January 20, 2013

"Inventing Abstraction,1910-1925" at MoMA

It is hard to believe but it was almost exactly a century ago, in 1911 and 1912, that American and European audiences began to see Abstract Art in museum and gallery shows.  Indeed, we are now so used to Abstract and Conceptual art that it is hard to imagine a world where nothing is left to the imagination, although some might argue that less illusion and more realism would be a good thing.

These pioneers, including Vasily Kandinsky, Marcel Duchamp, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Léger, Frantisek Kupka and Francis Picabia, whether by accident or design, succeeded in totally up-ending all preconceived notions of what constituted art.  And it stuck.  Art was no longer the representation of a person or an object or a landscape, it became the interpretation of ideas - a radical perspective that became the dominant theme of the 20th century.  No longer limited to the fine arts of painting, sculpture and drawing - this new approach involved unprecedented collaborations producing atonal music (think Schoenberg), sound poetry (think "Ursonata") and non-narrative dance (think Mary Wigman).

This winter season, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, under the curatorship of Leah Dickerman, is paying homage to this watershed period in art history with the special exhibition "Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925".  Ms. Dickerman has assembled a stellar group of works representing the period's most influential "isms" - Cubism, Synchromism, Orphism, Futurism, Suprematism, Constructivism and Dadaism that combined, make up the salad that is Abstraction.

 Frantisek Kupka "Localization of Graphic Motifs II", 1912-13
In what I can only suppose is an effort to bring the stone age to the internet generation, the exhibition begins with a huge flow chart indicating how artists around the world were interconnected, whether they realized it or not.  This Facebook moment is intended to drive home the point that the new fangled thinking was pervasive in the art world and its revolutionary effect was the result of primitive networking through the language of art.  For me, the more successful comparisons were inside the galleries where complimentary artists' works were hung close together so viewers could clearly see the similarities and differences.

I came away with a wonderment at how much radical change occurred in a mere decade and a half.  Despite, or maybe because of, the massive upheaval and destruction of World War I, art continued to be created but with a whole new attitude.  By 1925 the metamorphosis was entrenched and Abstraction remains a guiding factor in many art movements to this day.  "Inventing Abstraction" is on view until April 15, 2013.

January 13, 2013

Re-Visiting The High Line

Three years ago I kicked off the New Year with a visit to and a blog about the City's latest attraction that was drawing enthusiastic crowds of both tourists and locals, The High Line.  Last June, this hugely successful endeavor extended its terminus from 20th Street to 30th Street, a mere ten blocks north but it opened up a whole new world of enjoyment for its visitors.
The Standard Hotel straddles The High Line
near the Gansevoort Street entrance

So yesterday, on the second Saturday of this New Year, I took the subway down to 14th Street to take another walk on The High Line.  My first impression was amazement - I couldn't believe how the neighborhood had changed!  It was showing signs of gentrification a few years ago, but now one really had to look for the few remaining meatpacking houses for which the district is named.

For those of you who would like a little refresher, The High Line was a project undertaken in a private/public partnership, namely the The Friends of the High Line and The City of New York, to revamp the derelict elevated rail line that ran along the West Side of Manhattan.  From 1934 until 1980, this track served the industrial enterprises from 34th Street to the St. John's Park Terminal at Spring Street and replaced the extremely dangerous street level railroad that had earned the nickname "Death Avenue" for the many accidents between freight trains and traffic.

On the left is a mural entitled "Broken Bridge II"
by the noted Contemporary artist El Anatsui

With the demise of the railroad in general, and the de-industrialization of that neighborhood in particular, The High Line fell out of use and had deteriorated into an eyesore that wended its way through the middle of blocks full of residential and commercial buildings.  By the 1990s, West Chelsea was edging out Soho as the center for art galleries and chic nightclubs were popping up on every block.  The area was changing rapidly and residents and community leaders began to realize that this massive steel structure could be re-invented and incorporated as a public space in this rejuvenated section of town.

What seem to be wooden steps are actually
bleachers on which to watch movies on summer nights!
By 2006, the idea had gained enough merit and funding that construction began with a ceremonial lifting of a rail track.  Work continued for the next three years, first with the removal of debris, then the dismantling of the existing tracks (some of which would be reinstated in the design) and the reinforcement of the steel and concrete supports.

Eventually work could commence on the actual pathways, seating, lighting and finally planting of the many trees, shrubs, grasses and other horticultural elements that transformed this former railroad into a public park.  The first section of The High Line, from Gansevoort Street (just below Little West 12th Street) to West 20th Street opened to great fanfare on June 9, 2009, and has been drawing excited visitors and fascinated New Yorkers ever since.

Visitors watching the traffic while perched above Tenth Avenue

But the plan was always to continue northward with the restoration and two years later the second phase of The High Line opened to a delighted public.  This was the section that I came to see and I was not disappointed.  The extension is seamless, with even more amenities, viewing points and beautiful plantings including large holly trees resplendent with their red berries against the January grey.

Cranes begin work on the third and final extension of the project

As The High Line continues its push uptown toward the goal of 34th Street and the West Side Rail Yards, a little farther west toward the Hudson River than the current path, the public continues its whole-hearted endorsement of the program.  I, for one, can't wait to return for a walk on The High Line - perhaps to welcome 2015!

January 08, 2013

"George Bellows" at The Met

To start off the New Year in New York City, let's visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art and its current exhibition dedicated to a quintessential American artist, George Bellows.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1882, George Bellows made his mark at university both as an outstanding athlete and a talented illustrator.  Fortunately his artistic abilities won out and in 1904 he made his way to New York to study with Robert Henri and the Ashcan School.  Encouraged by the master to eschew the popular scenes of gentility and seek more contemporary subject matters, Bellows turned his focus to the City's impoverished immigrant population.  His early pictures of poor urchins cooling off by jumping into the East River in "Forty-two Kids", 1907 (see below), or formal portraits of street children like "Paddy Flannigan", 1908, earned him acclaim as a chronicler of modern life.

But it was his realistic depictions of the very popular sport of boxing for which he is most remembered.  Bellow's drawings, lithographs and oil paintings on the subject of prizefighting are unique in their ability to capture the raw conflict, masculinity and aggression inherent in the boxing ring.  Images such as "Stag at Sharkey's", 1909 (see top) use broad, slashing brushstrokes and contrasting colors to emphasize the brutality of the sport and the bloodlust of the crowd.  It is interesting to note that he returns to the same subject but in a decidedly more "art deco" style in "Dempsey and Firpo", 1924 (see below).

George Bellow's pictorial narrative of the history of New York from the excavation of Penn Station to the nearly completed Riverside Park are regarded as accurate impressions of the city at the beginning of the 20th Century.  Unfortunately his later works such as his imagined horrors of World War I (he never visited Europe) and his stiff and overly academic portraits of family and friends never achieve the degree of realism that infused his daring initial forays into modern art.

Though Bellows studied the European masters such as Velazquez, Manet and Goya, his work retained a uniquely American flavor in both subjects and execution.  It is for this reason that he is now being honored with this long overdue retrospective at one of the United States' most preeminent institutions.  "George Bellows" is on view at The Met until February 18, 2013.