Whenever I read the results of a sale that I did not attend, that I have seen only through photos, I am always surprised by a few items that sold well and a few that did not sell. It is a dealer’s job to identify value as I did at a sale several years ago of a piece that was, quite literally, filthy. I did the requisite restoration and made a handsome profit. That is what dealers are supposed to do, of course, but aren’t auction houses supposed to do the same?

Yes and no is the only correct answer. When a piece of furniture arrives to be catalogued, there are already limitations on it. The condition is certainly one, but so is the consignor. Some unknown dead person with a handsome chair and nothing else will get short shrift–not on purpose but because the cataloguer has so much work to do. And there is the knowledge that the cataloguer has. How good is the example he or she is looking at? It is hard to be an expert in everything and so, because of time limitations and whatever else might impede the piece’s progress through the system, pieces get lost in the shuffle. That is where dealers like to lurk.

The opposite is true as well. When auction houses decide to promote a piece, the excitement they can generate will actually over-sell it in regards to the market at large. The nature of markets, of course, is to vacillate according to demand and if an auction house can light a fire under two bidders, they will create a price level–for that one thing. But because all furniture is unique, it is not guaranteed that the next item that is similar will generate the same excitement. The variables of color, condition, materials, design, provenance and maker can always be hyped, but few pieces qualify as great in each of these categories. When they do, they should be sold, whether by dealers or auction houses, accordingly, the rest of the stuff should be sold for what it is.

I suppose cultural heritage, as it relates to material things left by cultures of the past, will always be a delicate subject. I would prefer that it wasn’t. It is entwined with, in the case of  some American Indian artifacts, spiritual matters, and in the case of antiquities, research interrupted. The validity of these claims is beyond argument.

However, once an object is either smuggled from a dig site or even when it is properly catalogued and assessed, the story it has to tell is pretty much over. From that point on, it is the aesthetic merit of the object whidh is paramount. Given this, the artifact should then be set free. It should be identified for the future so that it can be re-examined if necessary and then be sold. In turn, the buying public should in turn be made more knowledgeable and enthusiastic about sites that need security and be encouraged to promote the proper excavation of antiquities.

Antiquities represent all sorts of things to all sorts of people. To the current Italian magistrate that is focusing on American museum collections, it is a political moment in which he can make hay. But that hay is valueless compared to the proper excavation and protection of sites. The cloud of mystery that surrounds antiquities should be lifted and smuggling and stealing should be recognized as such. What really needs addressing is why these two activities are so successful.

Cultural artifacts, antique ones that is, are in the news. In this international world where we can log onto the internet and tour the moon, I find it odd that a government will get excited about things in foreign museums that might or might not be stolen.

First of all, there is the issue of how a country deals with what it has. If you are an artifact rich country with antiquities all over the place, maybe, once the items have been documented, the items should be sold. Heaven forfend that someone else could own an antiquity from a culture that is not their own. In addition, what a great way to earn some money.

Secondly, the show that is engendered in the newspapers regarding the cultural artifacts is a sham. That many countries rich in antiquities have warehouses full of things that no one looks at is a disgrace. In my own field, the amount of English furniture stored in museum warehouses is absurd. Sell it or show it is what I think should be done.

The show is the thing in this war and there are really no winners. The governments that are going after museums should concentrate on securing the sites that are being looted. Once an artifact is in a museum being adored, what benefit is there in embarrassing the museum? I am no fan of museums in many ways, but their function is unique and when done well benefits the masses. What is happening today is about egos and bureaucratic advancement, not cultural heritage. Melina Mercouri knew how to play that game, but the Elgin Marbles are still in the British Museum. I enjoy them often there.

For those people in the New York City area who read my words, please be advised that the Connoisseurs Fair is on at the downtown armory which is located on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th Streets. It is a very good looking show and great merchandise for sale. Please come and if you need a ticket, please ask for me at the door and say you have read my blog.

I first went to the Dulwich Art Museum to see the furniture. There is some good furniture there, most of which I have forgotten so I must return. Dulwich was designed by Sir John Soane (1753-1837) and it has become the museum that many architects that build exhibition spaces defer to. The reason is the way in which Soane lets light into the gallery. What he does is place a separate structure on the flat roofs of each gallery space that are themselves roofed and have glass walls. The ambient light becomes the primary light source for the gallery as there are no windows. It is a brilliant and radical solution for showing paintings. I have to say that it is not so good for showing furniture because the light diffuses rapidly as it flows down the red gallery walls making the three dimensional objects the last in line and they are bathed in the darkness that their own shadows help to create.

Soane’s house in London is another radical solution. Unlike the Dulwich Art Museum, his house is filled with windows. He has to have them because he has things, three dimensional antiquities, on display on virtually every wall in every room. It is an incredible testament to a man whose muse was classical and whose spirit was progressive and his ability to not compromise the one and incorporate the other.

At this point, I should have a critique about modern architecture. I don’t know a great many buildings, but I have been to the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Guggenheim in Bilboa and they were both enjoyable experiences. Will time treat them well? Are they suited for showing paintings and/or the decorative arts? One is but the other less so in my opinion, but I know that Soane’s reputation has vacillated enormously as I expect both Gehry’s and Calatrava’a will as well. Sometimes, time itself strips a building of its buildup and sometimes we are just plain fickle.

So I found myself in London this last Sunday and thought that I should re-visit the Dulwich Art Museum of which so much is made by contemporary museum designers.

Dulwich is a very pretty part of South London. Lots of green park and a college make up a substantial portion of the village. The art museum is quite small and when I walked into it, I started to recall some of my impressions from nearly thirty years ago when I first went there. I remembered well the smallness of the musem and it also had a dinginess to it which was more sad than anything. The furniture and the paintings just were not on the beaten track.

Things have changed. The museum no longer relies on Soane’s innovative lighting scheme. There is good artificial light throughout to the extent that there are now blinds on the windows above. A lot of the paintings and most of the furniture has been restored and the place was bursting with people. The paintings, to my untrained eye are wonderful, particularly a portrait by Cosimo that I liked, and the furniture is a mix of periods, styles and country of origin. A few things are exceptional such as the commode probably made by Vile and Cobb.

What interests me, however, is less the collection and more the position of  status this museum has. Soane’s lighting was innovative, but does it really work? I am not so certain as the windows must be clean and the sun shining for maximum affect. I was there on a gray rainy day and without the artifical lighting, the museum would have been empty. Beyond the lighting, however, there are some elegant touches that are very Soaneian. The doorways have a nice inset bead around them obviating the necessity of overdoors or jambs. The archways are simple and elegant. The manner in which the ceiling begins is vaulted arches which give the walls an even more monumental sense of tabula rasa making the paintings seem even more appropriate as wall decoration. The exterior, too, is simple elegant Soane with hints of Attic temples in the doorways and tombs on the roofs.

As Britian’s first public art gallery, devoted to just art and some furniture, it is a touchstone, whether or not every aspect of it works to perfection. It is a building to which a considerable amount of thought has been given and which reflects a mastery of restraint.

Stupid me, but I have not realized that people have been responding to my blog because I just have not been looking for responses. I apologize for my dunderheadedness for those of you that might have expected me to reply to them. However, given my mastery of technology, I think I have replied to almost everyone that wrote to me. Then again, I might not have sent it to the right place.

My reasons for writing the blog is to encourage the thought processes that drive me to being an antique dealer and to reveal them to others. Something happens almost every day to remind me of this whether it is driving under an oak tree in Lake Forest with superlative color or seeing a sumptuous curve on a railing in Central Park. Occasionally, I find it hard not to refer to the news of the world. Please forgive me for those weak moments.

Years ago in an ad that I placed in the Magazine Antiques, I quoted an Andrew Marvell line from “To His Coy Mistress”. “Had we but world enough and time, this coyness lady would be no crime.” That line stays with me and I try to think on it when I want to be clear about something. Writing this blog certainly helps me to think and, hopefully, to relate to the people that have a similar interest, whether they agree with me or not. Thank you again for reading my words.