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Park Avenue Armory Modernism Show
The good news is that sales at Sanford Smith’s Modernism Show at the Park Avenue Armory this past weekend were meeting dealers’ expectations as of Monday afternoon. The bad news is that expectations were pretty low. By all accounts, sales were well down this year compared to recent years. One dealer told me he was having his worst Modernism show ever, another quipped that ok was the new good in terms of sales totals. Nobody I spoke with was particularly surprised by this, nor were they particularly disheartened. Several dealers proudly reported that they had broken even, which if they were a hedge fund would be a stellar performance this year. No one had ever encountered an economic climate quite like this, and no one was taking anything personally.
Liz O’Brien, New York City; Jean-Michel Frank lamp, from Liz O’Brien, NYC
None of this, of course, was the fault of the promoter. People attended the show, and seemed to be enjoying themselves, but were not buying as in the past few years. The dealers, for their part, brought some choice material and put effort into making their booths look good. I thought the booths by Liz O’Brien, Jacksons, Galere, and Caira Mandaglio were particularly well turned-out. With some exceptions, prices seemed to reflect post-Lehman financial realities, or at least indicate a willingness to sell. Even so, I was told by one dealer that he proffered a 20% discount on a reasonably-priced coffee table—more than he would usually discount at this show—only to have the customer call him later with an offer of half the list price, which he refused. This scenario probably played out elsewhere at the show, as buyers and sellers both tried to gauge the extent to which assets will have to be re-valued before things bottom out.
Galere, West Palm Beach
Market conditions were on everybody’s mind at the show, but Modernism, now in its twenty-third year, has always been a celebration of a century of design, as much an exhibition as an emporium. The Brooklyn Museum is the annual beneficiary of the opening night preview, and this year John Waddell was honored as collector and museum benefactor. It was good to see a few highlights of John’s collection, particularly the Louis Rice ice bucket and Russel Wright’s stylized horse bookend.
Paolo Buffa dining set, from Caira Mandaglio, London
The show itself had enough highlights to warrant two trips. I was drawn to an ethereal Harry Bertoia sculpture in George Gilpin’s booth, which sold opening night; to a Jean-Michel Frank floor lamp in Liz O’Brien’s booth; and, along with my partners, to a Paolo Buffa dining set in Caira Mandaglio’s booth. I also purchased a pair of Josef Frank floor lamps from Peter Jackson, on behalf of a client. In the end, I think promoters and dealers did a good job with the show, and maintained a positive attitude, and these days that is good news indeed.