A friend suggested to me that there are no coincidences. That may be so, but what about serendipity?

I have been looking for an old friend of mine, someone I haven’t seen in at least ten years. Another friend wanted to hire him so I said that I would find him. I have tried everything and because he lives in Europe, it has been quite difficult to track him even with the Internet. I had pretty much given up hope that I would find him.

Changing planes in Chicago, he was seated about six feet from the ticket counter.

I like museums and I like it that the New York Times has a “Museum” section to read. The issues are almost always the same, however, and include the repatriation of stolen art works, the museum branches concept that was pioneered by the Guggenhime and how museums are going to raise the money to continue being what they are.

My problem with them is that I am not sure what they are. The Victoria and Albert in London made great strides in my opinion when they created an interactive system for viewing their furniture collection. To me, that was a great step forward. But I look at the Met in New York and wonder why they bother having the English furniture they have on display. It doesn’t really offer much to the museum goer.

In a way, I would like to see museums forced to use their collections far more than they do. Perhaps there should be a mandate that everything that is not on display should either be sold or loaned to another institution until the time the owner museum decides to put it on display. I also think that the displays themselves should be re-thought in the fashion that the V&A re-thought their display. Someone might even come up with a better idea.

It would be nice to think that there is a spiritual dimension to great art, something that taps into the self in a way that makes us believe that it was more than man doing the creating, that perhaps there was some form of universal being that inhabited the artist long enough to paint or sculpt what moves us. In the world of art, we can bemoved and we can interpret in such a fashion, but I believe that the spiritual dimension is in the eye of the beholder and not in the hands of the artist. What moves us is what we choose to see.

Put in a different fashion, there are marvels almost everywhere you look. Last night while walking up Third Ave., the wind whipped a piece of paper off the ground, it came towards my head, stopped over my left shoulder and held for a second before it whipped skyward. The paper seemed as if it were alive. The interpretation could have been spiritual, but it wasn’t. It was unusual, amusing and just a tad awe inspiring, but it was in the end, just the wind.

Great things are great no matter who is looking at them. Is it technical ability or are there immutable laws that make certain permutations and combinations of line and color to be just right no matter who puts them together? I believe that greatness is achieved by people who spend their lives working at it. There is no lock on greatness. You must practice at it.

I could wish that man had a supernatural ability to transcend human-ness in some form or another and that some supernatural being could inhabit us, albeit temporarily. All sorts of questions would have answers and we could attribute divinity to where it is due. But that is the point. We don’t know what divinity is but we are awed by greatness and we want to equate them. That isn’t so bad, but it isn’t the whole story.

The time has come to believe in contemporary art. The revelation came to me while thinking about English furniture and the quantity of history it carries with it. I don’t think this country, as a whole not individually, likes history. We always want something new and, while it gets us into trouble from time to time, it separates us from countries that can’t seem to escape history.

Contemporary art has no history at all. It really doesn’t reflect any continuum in the art world and it is exciting. Some of it is great and some of it is so bad that you can’t imagine why it is shown. No matter, because it is a plethora of stuff and the sheer quantity of it makes the good things better and the bad things grist for the mill. Ideas, the foundation of America after all, are almost better when they are half formed, at least in the art world, because of the world of possibility they open up.

The mainstreaming continues as the Getty Art Museum in Los Angeles is set to show the contemporary art of Tim Hawkinson. (I would call his art cool in the way that R. Crumb and Hieronymous Bosch’s’s art is cool.) I have to say that, along with the Getty and Christie’s and all the other institutions that are climbing on to the contemporary art band wagon, that I am ready to believe. (I know I have said this before but it is the reaffirmation that is important.) Just allow me to integrate it with a little history in the form of English antique furniture. There is a place for it as well.

The front page of the NY Times on Saturday, March 3rd surprised me with an article about a collector¬† of contemporary art. It surprised me because of what I am seeing as the “mainstreaming” of contemporary art. What used to be a vaguely eccentric and hip past time for an elite has become an industry that draws a wide and divergent and rich audience.

This ties in very well with Christie’s purchase of the gallery, Haunch of Venison. Christie’s, while not averse to the cutting edge aspect of contemporary art, sees contemporary art as the passport to a vast new spectrum of clients. There is absolutely no reason for not thinking that someone collecting contemporary art today might not be collecting old masters tomorrow as well as wanting a diamond, an estate in Mexico or wine all supplied by Christie’s. The fear that any established business is that they will be forgotten by the next generation and by buying Haunch of Venison, Christie’s has staked their ground as a hip and happening place.

But contemporary art is the scene at the moment. And the scene is rarefied and rich. To get a piece by a hot artist, you have to be on a call list of a gallery. What???? Is this a bubble, perhaps, a bonanza, the wave of the future or a passing fancy? Too many questions there, but you get the idea. All I know is that I would not mind seeing a front page article in the Times on English furniture.

A recent comment emailed to me in re to my blog from a reader in Denver (thank you) was quite astute regarding the desire of lifestyle, what used to called shelter, magazines to want to be seen identifying the latest trends in style. His point is well taken. I believe that great design is based on an inherent understanding of line. The line can be Louis XIV, Georgian, Arts and Crafts or Deco or anything else, it doesn’t really matter–unless it fails.

Decorators and designers, they are two different job descriptions after all although their jobs overlap, need to know a great deal to do a good job. They are not clothes designers after all chasing a mythical new trend. Their job is, at least in my opinion, to design comfortable living situations. The key to the job is therefore to understand their client’s preferences and alternately to suggest, perhaps even educate, them to see things that they may not have seen before.

Really great spaces that are beautifully designed are rare. The 18th century is such a great model because home design and furnishing was THE industry that drove the economies of nations. The understanding of design in that era was extraordinary because it was so essential. The intense focus by the designers has seldom been matched since although I would certainly agree that there have been a number of great moments–Rennie Mackintosh’s tea house in Glasgow or the Art Deco interior of the SS Normandie to name two—since. There are many more, but there seem to be fewer today than ever. I regret that.

What made Genghis Khan’s ascent to power so remarkable was that he came from a nomadic, dog-eat-dog environment and built the greatest empire known to man. In many ways, the Mongol society pre-Genghis resembles the English antique furniture business. The dealers don’t cooperate with each other and the net result is a form of chaos.

How did Khan organize the Mongols? He must have been a man of charisma. He must also have been able to strike quickly as he started to build his empire in his early fifties. What he really understood was that his government needed to assimilate, not vanquish people and he also knew that religion had no place in government. Finally, he knew that business was the point of the exercise. Raise every standard of living and there will be happiness.

The English furniture business is dog-eat-dog and it is certainly nomadic. However, I think the analogy stops there save for the fact that it would be beneficial for the trade if the trade could figure out how to deal with the Black Death, i.e. the auction houses. No offense meant here, but the auction houses are helping the dessication of the business through their incessant sales and marketing. To see them as a positive influence is ridiculous.

We need a khan-like figure to unite the dealers of this world so that there is less back biting and more cooperation. When I read articles like the one in today’s NY Times about buying antiques over the internet,I realize that we, as a trade, are further than ever from representing who we are and why we are a better place to buy from than anywhere else. Genghis had one option that I am afraid we could not use. He killed his enemies.