Stella’s Modernism Show features graceful lines, groovy decor

The gate at The Modern Show at the 26th Street Armory in New York City proved that an appreciation for Modern art and design isn’t strictly the province of the Gen-X collector. Show visitors Feb. 24-25 were as diverse as the vendors’ wares, which spanned the 20th century from Art Nouveau and Art Deco to the Age of Aquarius.

Dealers definitely anticipated the party crowd as furniture and accessories geared towards entertaining abounded. These included apartment-size bars, timeless serving pieces and dramatic dining tables. For example, Galerie De France of New York City had a super elegant and compact wheeled Art Deco bar listed at $4,995. Full House of Easton, Pa., offered an acrylic and glass top dining table for $6,500.

Harry Greenberg of HG Limited of New York City reported having a “good and even day on Friday,” selling hammered aluminum wares including trays and tabletop accessories. Bradford House Antiques of Litchfield, Conn., showed silver cocktail shakers and crystal cruets as well as wine caddies. Dallas Boesendahl of New York City brought circa 1940s serving pieces — glass dishes with chrome and rosewood as well as rosewood serving trays.

Unique materials and surfaces attracted the buyer’s attention. One-of-a-kind chairs were covered with flokati, fur, cowhide and vintage fabrics. Bridges Over Time of Newburgh, N.Y., sold its fine birds-eye maple French cozy day bed with a bar cabinet on one end and lamp table on the other. Buyers clamored for brushed steel items especially from France.

Lucite was found in everything from lighting to furniture. Dealers inspired their customers with ideas on how to coordinate this material with woods and metals. Interior Expressions of Millwood, Va., paired a $16,000 20th-century Lucite table with 12 Chinese red yoke back chairs priced at $7,200. Linda Elmore Antiques of Westfield, N.J., showed how a brass framed glass table with block Lucite legs could work in the same home as a Curtis Shear wall sculpture ($1,600).

Mode Moderne of Philadelphia offered three Frank Lloyd Wright hassocks (marked $1,895 each) similar to one that had recently sold at auction for $2,200. Over at Home of Charlottesville, Va., Kenny Ball reported that he sold a big dining table as well as mirrors and lamps. “People are buying accessories because they get a big bang for the buck,” Ball said.

The lighting and mirror trend interest held up at other booths. Stephen Maras of Willamette, Ill., showed a collection of French Iron small mirrors ranging from $295 to $795. Industrial table lamps in polished metal were found in a few booths, and were getting a lot of interest because of their high level of function in addition to sleek design. Bob Withington Antiques of York, Maine, sold some French industrial steel lamps that originally had been wall mounted and now worked as floor or table lamps. They had been tagged $950 to $1,250.

Pieces by the Italian design firm of Fornasetti popped up occasionally. Joseph D. Cantara of Bayside, N.Y., a dealer who specializes in Tiffany, starting collecting Fornasetti and his booth was packed with early Fornasetti boxes, ceramic plates, lamps, ice buckets and tobacco jars. Cantara reports, “Fornasetti is getting very collectible but pieces can be had for under $1,000.” Stephen Maras’ offerings included a black and white urn print cane/umbrella holder priced at $1,850.

There was more art to see than in previous shows. Ray Kisber traveled from Canada with a wide selection of artworks ranging from Renoir to Red Grooms. A dramatic suite of 10 Salvador Dali images of Japanese fairytales were pastel-colored etchings with stenciled color and dated 1976. An Andy Warhol Tomato Soup Can screen print signed and dated 1966 on the reverse was priced $13,500. Red Grooms’ Mango Mango screen print on woven paper circa 1973 was asking $8,900.

Carlo Giovanelli Fine Art in New York City displayed rare pieces by Al Hirschfeld who is widely known for his depictions of Broadway shows. Giovanelli’s pieces were unique in provenance and showed Hirschfeld’s early and short-lived attempts at political commentary such as a bear knitting an iron curtain. Giovanelli reported selling three fine paintings.

Bill Drucker of Drucker Antiques in Mount Kisco, N.Y., specializes in Georg Jenson silver and his booth was packed with polished pieces. “This show gets a sophisticated crowd,” he said. “We sell a lot of table service pieces, often for wedding or engagement gifts." Drucker added, “Jensen is accessible for the (jewelry) collector, pieces could be had at a few hundred dollars up to $9,000 to $15,000 for investment-grade pieces.”

Paul Manning of Kerhonkson, N.Y., exhibited World War II binoculars on tripods that had originally been on Japanese, German and American ships. Brought home by high-ranking officers when it was permitted to bring home war trophies, Manning gets them covered with camouflage paint. When restored and polished, these amazing pieces are architectural, historical and functional — some have a view of up to 10 miles.

Stella Show Management reached out to new collectors with this show, targeting the young professionals decorating suburban ranches and capes. Dealers’ well-edited booths allowed buyers to see items in a home context and make great purchases for their home starting as little as a few hundred dollars. Art dealers helped new collectors get in the ground floor on artwork whose value were expected to rise. The Art Deco Society of New York gave visitors a close look at the Smith Collection of rare Art Deco and Modernist folding fans.

Exhibitors reported that the first day didn’t bring the rush of decorators or active dealer transactions that other New York Shows have seen this season. However, vendors were pleased with the steady traffic of serious retail buyers and some reported greater sales than the previous fall show.

A frequent topic of discussion among dealers and shoppers alike was prices — more specifically, how prices were at the high end of the spectrum for some items offered, particularly for those from the later half of the 20th century with no manufacturer marks or provenance. On the flip side, fine examples of older items and attributable art seemed well-priced, some below auction prices for similar items. For the most part, retailers seemed to be purchasing for decorative purposes and decisions were based on the most important criteria: “Do I love it?”