Yesterday afternoon, members of the press gathered inside the Park Avenue Armory to preview the 2016 Winter Antiques Show, which opens today and runs through January 31. The fair, which will celebrate its 62nd anniversary this year, boasts 73 exhibitors (19 of which are based in countries outside the United States), offering “everything from Whistler etchings to Kate Moss lightboxes, all properly vetted, with no provenance issues whatsoever,” according to fine art insurance specialist Laura Doyle, who has worked with the antiques show for the past ten years. This year brings several new changes to the show, perhaps most notably the decision to allow some contemporary works to be displayed. (The fair previously had a cut off at 1969.)
As workers hurried past with last-minute swatches of artificial grass, electrical cords, and carts upon which stacks of champagne glasses clinked portentously, Doyle mused, “I think that the show is realizing that if they want to attract the new generation of collectors, they need to bring in the new material. Our clients’ children don’t want Chippendale furniture, they want a lot of midcentury modern pieces or Art Deco pieces that will complement the art on their walls.”
Doyle clarified that works by emerging artists were not permitted in the show, however. “It’s only people who are established and have museum representation. I think they have to be in three museums, which is kind of arbitrary,” she acknowledged.
One of the more established novelties of the show, aside from the exhibitors’ well-upholstered booths (a nice counterpart to the ubiquitous white cube aesthetic found at contemporary art fairs), is the inclusion of jewelry. Specifically, 20th-century “art jewelry”—ranging in price from $1,000 to $200,000 and created by a laundry list of household names, like Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Alberto Giacometti, Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, Ellsworth Kelly, and Robert Indiana, courtesy London-based dealer Didier Ltd. “It’s kind of an entry point into major artists,” said Doyle. “I bought a Robert Indiana ring last year. He did these limited-edition LOVE rings that were $500, the only things in my price point.”
“We don’t do bling,” cofounder Martine Haspeslagh informed me cheerfully as her partner, the eponymous Didier, intently vacuumed the carpet floor of their booth. “But we don’t deal in contemporary pieces either. They’re all vintage and have all gone through the art world. They mainly date from after the Second World War up to 2000.”
She showed me a necklace that was the work of Calder. “Calder pieces were always made for somebody. I have a lovely one with a double ‘R,’ made for a lady he was trying to seduce. His advances were rejected, so the brooch ended up in his estate sale in the end.”
Speaking of eye-catching pieces, it’s impossible to miss British artist Chris Levine’s 2013 pair of lenticular lightbox portraits of Kate Moss over at Fine Art Society’s booth—in one her eyes are open, in the other they’re closed—which together appear to literally wink at viewers from across the room. Created by splicing together approximately 50 photographs onto a ridged surface, each lightbox produces a flip-book-style animation as the viewer walks around it. Both were created in editions of ten; the former, which was only the second copy to be sold, was priced at $53,000, and the latter, the eighth copy for sale, was listed at $75,000.
“Chris Levine was commissioned by the Queen to do a portrait, and these images of Kate Moss kind of came out of that success of his portraits of the Queen,” gallery representative Rowena Morgan-Cox told me. “He was thinking of other British icons that he was interested in photographing.”
“He doesn’t like to label himself as a Buddhist but he’s kind of got quite a strong sense of spirituality, and he wanted to feel like he had a spiritual connection with these British icons….And then, of course, Kate Moss is very beautiful,” Morgan-Cox added in the weary, self-effacing tone of someone stating the obvious.
London’s Rupert Wace Ancient Art, a longtime exhibitor at the Winter Antiques Show, was another standout, if only for the uniqueness of its wares, which encompass mainly ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian pieces ranging from a downright affordable $1,000 to a premium $1,000,000. “We have regular collectors who come to the show, but there’s also a lot of people who don’t realize that you can actually buy these ancient artifacts,” associate director Claire Brown told me.
In Brown’s opinion, this year’s pièce de résistance is a tiny, callipygian Neolithic Anatolian fertility idol, which also happened to be the oldest of the lot, dating back 7,000 years. She reached right into its case and scooped it out, massaging it a little in her hand. “Want to hold it?” she asked, dropping it into my disbelieving palm.
Philadelphia’s Elle Shushan gallery, which specializes in portrait miniatures old and new, had scored a fluorescent pink booth right near the entrance. One wall featured portrait miniatures dating back to the 17th century, while the other sported their contemporary, photographic counterparts by Bettina von Zwehl. Shushan eventually commented, “Suffice it to say I am the party favor of the show—I have nothing over $30,000, and most people here have nothing under,” but not before demurring, one eyebrow coolly raised, “I don’t discuss prices. It’s a little gauche.”