Some Rare Finds at the Modernism Fair

The New York Times
November 14, 2008
Some Rare Finds at the Modernism Fair

At the Modernism Fair

“Modernism: A Century of Style and Design, 1905-2005” is not like other antiques fairs in Manhattan. It has a slightly scrappy quality, partly because dealers have only a day and a half to set up, so they cannot do lavishly decorated stands.

Now in its 23rd year, the event, which continues through Monday at the Park Avenue Armory, is a cozy affair; most of the dealers have participated for years and are loyal to the organizer, Sanford L. Smith. When Mr. Smith began the fair in the 1980s, modern furniture wasn’t nearly so trendy. Over the years dealers have grown more successful, and more serious about seeking out fresh material. Prices range from $500 to $600,000.

“The prices are fair, and no one is cutting them, but, like any show, everything is negotiable,” Mr. Smith said.

This year there are many showstoppers, including a set of six Frank Lloyd Wright leaded glass windows from his Francis Little house in Wayzata, Minn., 1912-14 (Bernard Goldberg Fine Arts); a lacy, 91-inch-tall cast-iron hall stand Christopher Dresser designed in the 1860s (John Alexander); a huge, rainbow-colored Aubusson tapestry by Vasarely, one of six, from 1970 (Peter Loughrey); a hilariously warped black “Classroom Chair” designed in 1970 by Stefan Wewerka of Germany (J. Lohmann); and a fully furnished dollhouse by Gerrit Rietveld.

But equally rewarding discoveries include a 1940s portrait of a black boy in a red Eames chair, by the Chicago painter Edna Wolff Maschgan (JMW Gallery); a Bauhaus-inspired brass watering can by the Austrian metalworker Carl Auböck (Mondo Cane); a red Tiffany stained-glass salamander lamp from 1910 (Lillian Nassau); a Cubist-like sterling Tapio Wirkkala vase from the 1960s (Greg Nanamura); a hand-painted silk Zandra Rhodes vintage coat (Katy Kane); and a ravishing watercolor of a 1920s “Night on the Town” by the Danish illustrator Gerda Wegener. (The dealer said Wegener would be the subject of a film Nicole Kidman will produce and star in next year.)

Furnishings are always a strength. The Calderwood booth is filled with furniture by the Paris design firm Dominique. Donzella Gallery has an oval dining table with a white onyx top by the Italian designer Ico Parisi. Moderne Gallery has a compact Deco desk in rosewood by Eugène Printz and a 1962 music stand that Wharton Esherick made for his son.

Liz O’Brien has a white-lacquered Grosfeld House cabinet from the 1930s and a “Dalí” standing lamp by Jean-Michel Frank. Tony Subal has a pair of fluted black cabinets with pale maple interiors from the late ’30s by Osvaldo Borsani.

For sheer drama, few pieces can compete with the “Snowflake” chandelier by Paavo Tynell at Gal’ere, or the six-panel etched, mirrored screen, 6 1/2 feet tall and 18 feet wide, at Todd Merrill. Geoffrey Diner has a Scott Burton “Café” chair in stainless steel from 1988. Two Zero C Applied Art has two fire screens: a round Bugatti model from 1900 in painted parchment and a wrought-iron example from the 1920s by the Hungarian Georges Szabo. Good Design has a folding bench in polished aluminum by John Vesey, a 1950s New York designer patronized by Cecil Beaton and the Duchess of Windsor.

Among vintage ceramics, the standouts include a classic Grueby Arts and Crafts vase by George P. Kendrick (JMW); a turquoise chameleon from the 1920s by Well Habicht of the Keramische Manufaktur Darmstadt in Germany (J. Lohmann); and some forms by Leza McVey, a onetime ceramics professor at Cranbook (Mark McDonald).

A few dealers specialize in jewelry. Sally Rosen has a vintage gold bracelet designed by Arnaldo Pomodoro; a Claude Lalanne wine grape ring; and a Max Ernst pendant. Drucker Antiques has a Wiener Werkstätte enameled brooch depicting a child. Mark McDonald has jewelry by Art Smith, a New York sculptor who made dramatic metal cuff bracelets and necklaces from the 1950s to the ’70s.

As for fine art, there is a life-size white marble duck from the 1930s by Elie Nadelman (Bernard Goldberg); a 1981 Larry Rivers painting, “Dutch Masters, White Plains” (Peter Loughrey); a Modigliani head in cast bronze from the 1950s and an Alfred Janniot gilded relief of “Eros” from 1921 (Martin du Louvre); three large panels depicting marionettes by Eugene Berman, a Russian painter and stage designer for the Metropolitan Opera in the 1950s (Liz O’Brien); a colorful blown-glass sculpture by the contemporary Czech designer Rony Plesl (Geoffrey Diner); a carved wood wall sculpture by the Brazilian Hugo Rodriguez (Lost City Arts); and “Light Ray,” a 2006 bronze visage by Elizabeth Strong-Cuevas (Island Weiss Gallery).