The International Show has just ended its 27th run at the Park Avenue Armory this year. From October 22-29, the fair displayed its typical array of glittering jewelry, ancient artifacts, rare books, and fine art painting, but it lacked the excitement, drama, and openness that are essential to a fair such as this. In years past, the fair, organized by Haughton International and formerly known as the International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show, has been the epitome of class and refinery, welcoming all visitors and showing some of the most engaging and surprising works of art. While there is no doubt that museum-quality items can be found here this year and surely the fair has been frequented by men and women of the highest echelons of art-collecting society, the International Show needs a lesson in hospitality.
The best art fairs are the ones that not only display amazing works of art but that educate their visitors on the purchase and history of art. The more open the artists and gallery representatives at the fair, the more successful it is, and the happier the patrons are. There are plenty of art shows that fit this mold including the Armory Show, the American Fine Craft Show, the Winter Antiques Show, and the Affordable Art Fair, all of which have different art focuses and attract different crowds. The International Show regrettably makes no such move to enlighten visitors on the remarkable works offered.
Indeed the gallery representatives in each booth often simply stare down at their phones or talk with one another, completely ignoring any visitor who walks by, not even going not-so-very-far as to say “hello” or welcome the visitor to their (drab and monotone) booth. At AANW, for example, a private gallery specializing in pre-Colombian art, there were some truly fascinating items on display including a small tomb door from Indonesia and small statues from the late pre-classic/protoclassic period. All of these items surely have a history and a story to them, and could have been described in detail by the gallery representatives. But the labels did a poor job of indicating any real detail about the items and the only “welcome” examiner received was a demand – not even a request – for no photos, which was not followed up by a respectable offer to talk about the works. No, instead the representatives, upon assuring the carrying-out of their wish for no photos, simply returned to one another to continue talking despite the fact that multiple people were peering closely at the artifacts displayed in their booth. At N & I Franklin, an entire booth of silver platters and candlesticks was wide open with seemingly no representative in sight. And at Richters of Palm Beach, while the glamorous jewelry in display cases attracted a handful of older women, representatives simply stared as others peered in, with no beckoning wave or welcome to the gallery space. Other galleries unfortunately followed suit.
For an arts fair that is so established in the arts scene (the show began in 1989 as New York’s first vetted fair), it is quite surprising – and, frankly, rude – to find such a neglect of basic manners or welcoming presence here in the grand halls of the Amory. It is true that not all who enter an art fair are purchasers of that (generally expensive) art. However, the inclusion of every single visitor (each of whom would conceivably have paid the $25 admission), potential buyer or not, is essential here. A simple conversation is all that is required. Yet even the entrance of the fair accosts people with security demanding to peer into purses and bags both when the visitor enters and when the visitor leaves! It seems that security personnel is placed at various regular spots around the fair halls as well, none of whom make a move to speak to fairgoers.
Why does the Armory Show attract thousands of people every March with long lines to enter? How does the Affordable Art Fair gain so much press during each installment? Why is the Winter Antiques Show consistently the most-talked about fair of the year on the Upper East Side? Each fair has different strengths, different art displayed, and different spaces used, but the common denominator are the talks, often for both adults and children alike, the gallery demonstrations and workshops, and the inclusivity and welcoming nature of the space itself as well as the gallery owners. And all of these fairs are generously covered by the press, further inviting visitors to see the show; this year, it seems the only media coverage of the International Show came from The New York Times, which gave little more than a rundown of some items on view, and The Epoch Times, a paper dedicated to Asian culture. The excitement, fervor, passion for art, that want to describe each item in detail, to introduce a unique sculpture or a perfectly constructed piece of furniture, is what makes fairs like the Armory Show so popular and exciting to attend. Where is that passion at the International Show?
Art is for everyone. Young and old, rich and poor. Art can be appreciated by all classes, races, religions, and backgrounds. Art brings us together. And learning about art, the ideas of the artist, the stroke of a brush, the twist of a wire, the mold of a sculpture, can be contagious and so very illuminating. The International Show may feature a “glamorous, world-class showcase with an outstanding selection of superb works of art” but it means nothing if there is no conversation about those items.
This year, the unwelcoming nature of the International Show overshadowed the generally underwhelming collection of items. A few works did pique some interest though, and here is examiner’s attempt to provide the education and excitement for art that the International Show is so sorely missing:
At Lillian Nassau (which, admittedly had representatives actually talking to interested parties), the showstopper was Tiffany Glass Company’s “Early Glass and Pebble Transparency,” a unique transparency created by Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1890, and quite unlike anything the typical Tiffany aficionado is used to seeing. The glow behind the glass and bronze piece had a calming effect and highlighted the piece quite nicely. With bronze curlicues swirling around frosty quartz pebbles that Tiffany himself collected on a Long Island beach over a century ago, the frame alone is worthy of admiration. Known for his stained glass lamps that often feature dragonflies or flowers, Tiffany’s designs are romantic and cohesive at once. The center piece of this transparency seems to have been made in layers with a gourd on top and flowers underneath, a touch of green peeking out among the predominantly brown and tan color scheme. What a treat it was to see this special work on display among the decorative arts of Tiffany’s in this booth.
At the Kagedo Japanese Art booth, a pair of two panel screens were the stars of the gallery. Mounted with paintings of tigers, these exquisitely painted screens from the late Taisho period are each signed by Suiseki and sealed twice. One screen features a sleeping tiger, a big cat that looks like it would let you curl up right next it, although we know otherwise. The second screen shows a tiger who looks as if it has just been woken from slumber by some unexpected visitor. The Japanese artist, Ohashi Suiseki, is famous for his paintings of tigers and these two screens are two of his best and biggest. The works are created with powdered clam shell and ink on silk. With nothing but a gold background, these two majestic creatures – one male, one female – represent dualities but complement one another perfectly.
At Macconnal-Mason, off to the side of the gallery booth was a bronze sculpture by Lynn Russell Chadwick, artfully placed beneath a Ben Nicholson painting. The sculpture, titled “Winged Figures,” is only about a foot high and features a male and female duo representative of the type of figures he typically crafted. The figures are sculpted with pointed legs, boxy and triangular heads, and boxy bodies, with trapezoidal wings on their backs that are more akin to capes. The wings are what first catch the viewer’s eye. Chadwick was a widely recognized British post-war sculptor known for his abstract bronze and steel sculptures and often thought of as the successor to artist Henry Moore. The first steel sculpture he created was titled “Two Winged Figures,” made in 1962, and by 1973 he had begun to clothe the figures, giving the wings a look of pleated drapery. “Winged Figures” at the International Show was crafted in 1975, cast in a lot of 8. A lovely example of abstraction and geometric figure in sculpture, this piece is unlike any other at the show.
While hundreds of works of art and antiques were displayed at the International Show this year, only a few stood out. Upcoming art fairs in New York this fall and winter include the Pier Antiques Show, the IFPDA Print Fair, the NY Art, Antiques and Jewelry Show, the American Fine Craft Show, and the Winter Antiques Show among others. Most of these fairs have a good reputation for educating the public and for exhibiting that passion for art and antiques that is so essential for the success of any show. Perhaps the International Show will take a closer look at their fair this year and we will enter a more refined, reformed, welcoming show in years to come.
If you’ve been to this or other shows this year, let us know your thoughts by commenting in the box below.