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N.Y. art, antiques fairs vie for big bucks

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP   |   Jan. 19, 2004 at 4:59 PM
NEW YORK, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- For 10 days in January each year a growing number of art and antiques fairs in Manhattan including the 50-year-old Winter Antiques Show attract collectors and enthusiasts from all over the nation and abroad, creating a multi-million dollar market unlike any other in the world.

It all started when the Winter Antiques Show set up shop at the 7th Regiment Armory in 1955 to benefit the East Side House Settlement, a charity operating in the poverty-stricken South Bronx. The show was inspired by the success of the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair in London and the biennial Paris antiques show, and it eventually displaced the old National Antiques Show at Madison Square Garden.

The Winter Antiques Show has made the armory the premier venue for a wide variety of arts, antiques, and crafts shows that book into the fortress like brick pile on Park Avenue throughout the year. But it the only one whose proceeds from the $16 admission tickets go to a charity rather than to show organizers. Exhibitors, who pay space rentals to the armory, get to keep all profits from sales.

The show started out as a showcase for American dealers exhibiting mostly American antiques, but only about a third of the exhibitors are American today and the goods they offer for sale are international in character, representing the arts of Europe, Asia and Africa. The show opened Friday and will run through next Sunday.

The Winter Antiques Show touched off an Americana Week in Manhattan in the 1970s that continues to thrive in the form of offshoot art fairs, exhibitions at dealers' galleries, and sales at Sotheby's and Christie's auction houses, both of which are featuring Americana sales this week. The New York Board of Conventions and Visitors estimates these events attract at least 100,000 visitors to the city.

The other art fairs, some of them weekend affairs and others running throughout the week, are the Park Avenue Antiques Show at St. Ignatius Loyola Church, Antiques at the Piers at three Hudson River piers, the American Antiques Show at the Metropolitan Pavilion, and the New York Ceramic Fair at the National Academy of Design. Free shuttle bus service links most of these events.

A number of such fairs are produced by Sanford Smith, a professional organizer, and Anna and Brian Haughton, London-based organizers of international fine arts fairs. East Side House Settlement organizes the Winter Antiques Show itself under the chairmanship of Arie L. Kopelman, president of Chanel Inc., and Executive Director Catherine Sweeney Singer, who works year-round on the project.

The glamorous opening night fundraising party for the Winter Antiques Show marks the opening of the winter social season and is widely covered by the press.

This year the centerpiece of the show was a loan exhibition of select treasures from the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art including a showcase of Tiffany Favrile glass. Appropriately enough, the opening night reception was held in the armory's most famous room, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, whose studio produced the glass on display.

The opening night party provides collectors with the deepest pockets the opportunity for first choice of the tens of thousands of treasures on exhibit, priced for a few hundred dollars, for an example of American cut glass, to a million dollars or more for a piece of furniture from a notable colonial cabinetmaker working in Philadelphia, New York, or Newport, R.I.

Among the outstanding objects on sale this year are a mission-style grandfather's clock designed by Gustav Stickley, a fine Roman marble bust of a man from the second century A.D., a French art nouveau fireplace made of blue and green ceramic tiles by Hector Guimard, a 1730 silver tankard made for the Shippen family of Philadelphia, and French woodblock wallpaper printed in 1827 picturing Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz.

The preview party for the American Antiques show at the Metropolitan pavilion also was a benefit, with proceeds going to the American Folk Art Museum. The show was notable for 4-foot emperor penguins carved in wood in 1935 by Massachusetts decoy-maker Charles Hart and a 1786 landscape sampler stitched by Sally Olney, age 11, including a view of the Providence, R.I., State House.

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