Descending the escalator, a line stretched through the lobby of the Baltimore Convention Center all the way to the exterior doors that opened onto Charles Street. It’s not often you see a line at an antique show these days and this one on the surface was a good sign. A closer look however revealed that many, if not most, of the people in the line had complimentary passes. Perhaps with the economy being what it is, the free passes would mean at least the possibility of sales being made on the floor. An alternative theory presented was that these were the dedicated buyers, lined up waiting for the doors to open, who had been given passes by dealers.
I was asked before heading to Baltimore if the promoters were able to fill the show. I don’t have a count compared with the previous year, but there did seem to be a few empty booths. I also knew of a few dealers who did not make the show this year for whatever reason. A news report Saturday evening didn’t give any indication as to how well-attended the show was, but the dealer interviewed did say the industry might not be as impacted by the economy as one might expect. I don’t know what one might expect, but it would be hard to say the economy–and a host of other factors–hasn’t made a dent in the trade.
That news report also contained comments from the reporter as she observed the fabric on an English wing chair. It was in such good condition, the reporter noted it was just like one you could buy in a store. Perhaps next year the show will add to its lecture series an antiques primer for tv reporters.
The merchandise at the show didn’t vary much from the year before. Some of the empty booths indicated dealers in Asian antiques for whatever reason didn’t make it. Still there was plenty of Chinese and Japanese antiquities to go around. Jon Eric Riis, whose modern versions of Chinese silk robes have been a show stopper, if not a big seller, was notably absent from this year’s show.
One dealer offered a Japanese copper brazier lobster bowl, displayed beside a printout from an Asian sale at Christie’s later this month. As the dealer pointed out, the estimate on the one at Christie’s was more than the one offered here for retail. It could be a case of apples and oranges, or Fuji and Granny Smith apples, or it could be an indication of a role reversal of sorts for retailers and high-end auctioneers in today’s marketplace. It stands to reason if the premium and commissions for the auction house become a significant enough portion of the out-the-door price, the final consumer, dealer and whomever they purchased the object from may benefit from going around the hammer.
We expected to see some of Baltimore’s own art and antiques, and we were not disappointed. There are at least two still life paintings by famed Baltimore-born artist Andrew John Henry Way. Although based known for his representations of grapes generally shown suspended in clusters against a neutral background, occasionally he painted dead game, oysters in their shells and other varieties of fruit, the latter two of which were offered by two dealers. The still life paintings with beer and oysters was full of the charms of luxury and pleasure, balanced by a somewhat somber monotonousness, a reminder of early Dutch paintings.
A Baltimore dealer also brought a bookcase made by Baltimore cabinetmaker John Needles in the early 19th century. It was a welcome site. Furniture is not well-represented at the show. American furniture is even less represented and for empire period furniture, you’d have better luck hailing a cab to Brooklyn from Manhattan at 5 p.m.
There also seem to be greater self-representation by artists at these shows. Oversized images of Jacki O’Nasis, Andy Warhol and President Obama greeted those entering from Charles Street and an artist from Florida completed colorful sunscapes on site.
One of the artists seemed to enjoy a surprising amount of popularity in the show. There are at least five dealers offering seven paintings by Hudson M. Kitchell. A contemporary of Ralph Blakelock, his works are almost always autumn forest scenes under warm light. One can easily spot a painting by him from far away, and perhaps nothing really is gained if viewed with close proximity. His suggestive moody pictures are an emodiment of what Lewis Mumford called the brown decades.
Finally, the galleries at the Baltimore Museum of Art provided a welcome break from the show. Here we are in this colonial city, and one thing very noticeable is the proportionate disparity of American art in the galleries of the museum and on the show floor. America is not looking at herself, or at her past for artistic inspiration and furnishings these days. Scattered around different floors, those Maryland period rooms are magnificent manifestation of the glorious history of the charm city. In the Waterloo Row’s parlor room, the detailed architecture cannot be overwhelmed by the fancy chairs around. Although the Catholic church designed by Benjamin, Latrobe, for whom Robert Mill worked as a clerk, still stands about 20 blocks south of the Museum, Robert Mill’s ten townhouses were erased in 1970’s for some urban housing projects, and the two rooms in the museum are his only surviving legacy. On one side of a fire place, a closet door opens, displaying small cabinet for decanters and wine glasses. I am wondering whether Matha Stewart may use this ingenious idea someday in her show.
…back to you Martha.