An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 147

Clinton Howell Antiques - Sept 20, 2021 - Issue 147
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
The foremost advantage of being in a large city, at least for me, is the number of art related shows that are on tap throughout the year. Covid has altered that situation considerably, but shows are beginning to come back. The very last show I went to in March 2019 before Covid shut things down was, The Armory Show, which was at one of the piers. It's fitting that the first show I took in as we hobble towards some sort of normalcy was The Armory Show, although this version was at the Javits Center. The show is mostly contemporary art although I spotted some artwork dating to the early 1950s. The greatest pleasure I have in going to a show is not feeling that I have to go to any particular booth--my eye wanders and I can go anywhere--not what I do at decorative arts fairs where I am looking to buy or sell. My favorite artwork was a take on the Sistine Chapel by Vik Muniz, a Brazilian artist, that showed the image of god touching Adam's finger, but instead of the celestial pomp of angels and archangels and clouds with blue sky, there was the very realistically painted interior of a slightly messy mechanic's shop. It is a clever paintingn (diptych, in fact) that taps into how we have purposed our planet. There were also a series of panels that were painted as Assyrian reliefs. The austerity of the real bas-reliefs was chucked for brilliant pastels--the panels were not flat paintings--they had about an inch and a half relief, but they were not, in the end, my cup of tea although I think they were cited as top artworks in the fair. Finally, my favorite booth was a gallery, A Lighthouse Called Kanata, from Japan, which had items by makers I have seen before, both at shows, but also in American museums. Porcelain, glass and lacquer sculptures of distinct quality all of which touched on my love of craft in art.

Concurrent with The Armory Show was the Independent Show held down at Cipriani's in the Battery at the foot of Manhattan, right next to the ferry for Staten Island. A much smaller show, it was a complement to the larger show at the Javits. An old and good friend of mine, Michael Wolf, asked me to come down as he and his son, Max, were showing a Cleveland artist, Ken Nevadomi at their gallery, New Canons. His work is truly fascinating and I say this not knowing the genre he paints in all that much--Neo-Expressionism, whatever that means--but if you click the link below of "The Fallen Artist", you might also get a similar sensation that I get from the painting which is that of an artist somehow being subjected (negatively) to criticism. There is also a Kafkaesque quality to the painting and having just read "Killing Commendatore", the latest Haruki Murakami novel, whose work often draws on the surreal and owes a debt to Kafka, I expect I was open to the shivers I got from the painting.

The diversity in contemporary painting and art in general often baffles me--there doesn't seem to be a stylistic center to it--but I realize that it shouldn't. If you look at the history of the decorative arts, stylistic change is the rule, not the exception. My favorite period of 18th century furniture runs from about 1735-50--it was the moment when English design really hit its stride and English furniture could be said to have a distinctive style, distinct from any other country. However, before you knew it, three additional stylistic fillips were thrown into the mix--chinoiserie, rococo and Gothick--and the English style (that I refer to as baroque) began to be old fashioned. Styles superseded styles and the continuum has had successful and less successful moments as time goes on. This is true in all artistic endeavors and why painting in 2021 should be any different in its diversity is to ignore the essential human condition of believing that we can always do something better. It's a premise I don't necessarily agree with, but I most certainly understand it.  A short history of Ken Nevadomi. My favorite Nevadomi painting. "The Fallen Artist".