(very long) Notes From The Big Apple

The Big Apple

The Big Apple

 

Weather forecasts are accurate; absolutely spot-on most times. Comes from a Continental climate rather than our more unpredictable marine variety.

The ‘town that never sleeps’, is not just a handy song line; it really doesn’t.

Not only do they drive on the wrong side of the road but light switches turn off and on the wrong way and it takes more than a month to get used to it. But they are sensibly installed at upper thigh height instead of our almost shoulder height. This saves getting tired through unnecessarily raising the arms to illuminate a room.

Great sign in a shop…   ’ Unsupervised kids will be treated to a double espresso and a free kitten’.

Saddest sign in a shop… ‘January special – half price puppies’.

50cm of snow looks great, at least from a high window. The sprinkled rock salt melts it swiftly from footpaths. Challenges arise when that melt re-freezes causing a thin layer of ice hidden under the fresh new fall. Step on one of the lurking frozen dog turds that roll beneath the shoe and it’s like ball bearings…

They get out and enjoy it though. Dressed suitably, (the Michelin-man look predominates) they stroll Central Park, take the kids for toboggan runs there and even go for the $50 horse carriage rides and the $3-a-minute pedicab rides. Neither did the snow decrease the queue of folk waiting their turn to lay flowers or get a photo at the John Lennon Memorial ‘IMAGINE’ in Strawberry Fields. Some very acrobatic fans even managed ‘selfies’ while bereft young women  still quietly sobbed away despite their not even being born when he died.

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Central Park on a sunny day

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Central Park on a sunny day

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Central Park on a sunny day

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Central Park on a sunny day

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Central Park on a sunny day

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Central Park on a sunny day

Wasn’t aware that snow came in such variety. This must depend on the temperature as it falls I guess. A heavy fall in New York arrived via extremely cold, still air. The snow was fluffy, crisply surfaced,  thick and soft and lasted many days in that pristine state. When I stumbled in an unseen drain and fell flat on my face I was totally cushioned, not wet, and unhurt. Another heavy fall came down in temperatures barely below freezing so this dump was way wetter, slushy, sloppy and soon very slippery. With a temperature drop it turned to ice with a high gloss finish. Dangerous stuff that lined the sides of every footpath (sorry – sidewalk). Some salt however colours it an evil neon blue, so you know.  Sometimes the piled up slushy sloppy stuff goes brown with crud and mud. With a new fall on top of its re-frozen  lumpen profile it’s like vanilla frosting on milk chocolate ice cream or a winter landscape through a car window. It’s all been an interesting novelty for we from more temperate climes.

The subways have been an experience too. New York was really the simplest. One $2.25 ticket and go where you want and stay down there as long as you want changing stations or lines as you want. A ten minute or a three hour ride costs the same so no penalty for those who live in the outer reaches of Queens or the Bronx. No penalty for those who live down in the subways either….ride all night and sleep in the warmth. Philadelphia’s subway was newer and cleaner, a touch more complex to buy a ticket from the machine while Washington’s was space-age designs, stations that looked like they were part of the movie set for ‘Brazil’, (you get a shot occasionally on TV3’s ‘House of Cards’) with single escalator rides to the surface rising several stories in one go and a complicated system of ticket purchase that required help every time as you needed advance knowledge unavailable to a casual tourist.

The art experience was hugely varied but mostly excellent to wonderful. Two art fairs in Manhattan were interesting. One was the Annual New York Ceramics Fair with exhibitors from England as well as the USA. The stalls carried American antique pieces from Jugtown grotesque face jugs to salted stoneware by 18thC German immigrants through to mid-century Russell Wright carnival ware.. The British stalls offered superb examples of Staffordshire ware… Whieldon, agate, Crown Derby, Doulton, all with hefty price tags and I blog on this separately.

The other Fair was more general, The New York Art Fair showed the contemporary on some stalls and folk art on others. The folk art was amazing in range with articulating wooden and tin toys of the turn-the-handle sort, made by slaves, Quilts made by the Amish and splendidly framed embroidery samplers that were reminiscent of scenes from Gone with the Wind made by young ladies from The Deep South. There was photography, both vintage and contemporary and yes, some ceramics, archaic and contemporary which was mainly from off-shore – Spain and Scandinavia. These dealers know where interesting work is happening and they go and get it.

But the archaic pieces were museum quality…

 Maranon Culture – Equador, terra-cotta. 300 BC. $40,000

Maranon Culture – Equador, terra-cotta. 300 BC. $40,000

Seated Woman – Chinesco Culture – Mexico 300 BC. $75,000

Seated Woman – Chinesco Culture – Mexico 300 BC. $75,000

Early in the visit, we walked the Chelsea Gallery circuit one Saturday, along with many others. Up and down 23rd to 29th street under the Highline and in and out dozens of galleries. We were pretty tired at the end of the day having visited dozens and dozens of galleries at street level, only to discover later that many of those huge old warehouses had as many as a further six or seven floors all equally crowded with art establishments offering yet more. It’s impossible to see all and we tried to concentrate on those with photography, applied arts or artists of particular interest for us but even there, it’s overload.

Other than art fairs, many of the cluster of galleries in the Chelsea and Upper East side of Mahattan had ceramics on offer as part of their mix. Barry Friedman has been the most prominent since Garth Clark closed but he too is closing his 26th street establishment but is reputed to be re-opening, in part of the same several storied premises in a new manifestation later this year. The red corduroy suited, fez wearing Friedman has represented many of the top names in ceramics and other applied arts media, principally glass, for many years including Libensky/Bryctova and Toots Zynski,  Also Akio Takamori,  Tip Toland, Sergei Isupov, David Regan… figurative artists in ceramics .

PPOW also carries some interesting ceramists, Judy Fox in particular. I saw a show by Jessica Stoller and at the opening most of the NYC art ceramicati were there including Betty Woodman, Judy Schwartz and Steve Montgomery. The work was over-the-top feminist with a twist.  It initially seemed a satire about how women are portrayed, and there is nothing new in that, but Stoller used ceramics and what proved a formidable battery of skills to push the concept. She is another US artist who has revived old commercial techniques. The centrepiece was a table load of surreal, vanitas, excess that only became clearer with a second guess. Someone described it as ‘a grotesque cornucopia of crassness’ and that was pretty apt as what at first looked a bit like a little girl’s tea party rapidly took on repulsive undertones with ribbons of lacy pale pink and mauve porcelain like elaborate mounds of frosting piled up around a grinning skull, bowls full of ripe fruit featured detached legs and hands as handle ornamentationbeside dishes of breasts splayed like scoops of melting ice cream, the chocolate dripping from strawberries becomes sinister once the snail on the other side is seen and the fingernails on protruding hands, take on a menacing mien all by themselves. It was erotically enticing and then you see it has gone horribly awry and all is in an excessive mien over-the-top into decay and dissolution. The sexually aggressive bent contrasted with the precious daintiness of the medium and its elaboration with pastel china paints and lustres. It was more than satire; it was stretching the concept to breaking point. I felt quite ill.

Jessica Stoller’s groaning table

Jessica Stoller’s groaning table

Jessica Stoller’s groaning table

Jessica Stoller’s groaning table

Jessica Stoller’s groaning table

Jessica Stoller’s groaning table

The only place that minimalism governed was out of NYC in Beacon, an hour or so by train to the Dia Art Foundation galleries, in an enormous former factory that celebrated minimalism – sometimes so minimal the work almost disappeared in those vast spaces. There in room after room many large scale works whispered a little at a time. There Richard Serra really ruled with a suite of immense pieces that overwhelmed in scale (massive), surface (gorgeously rich yet subtle) and colour (opulent iron red/brown). Such a relief after an unremitting diet of off-white almost everything surrounded by acres of ‘air’.

The Le Witts were great...

The Le Witts were great…

The Le Witts were great...

The Le Witts were great…

The Le Witts were great...

The Le Witts were great…

The Le Witts were great...

The Le Witts were great…

Le Witt - light

Le Witt – light

Lost in the Serra’s

Lost in the Serra’s

Lost in the Serra’s

Lost in the Serra’s

Lost in the Serra’s

Lost in the Serra’s

Lost in the Serra’s

Lost in the Serra’s

Lost in the Serra’s

Lost in the Serra’s

Best was the trip up and back. The train ran, after leaving the Bronx, alongside the Hudson River the whole way. Initially the surround was industrial/domestic but soon that was overtaken by long stretches of very lovely countryside; bare trees and frosty grasses, grand sweeps and intimate corners. Charming small commuter towns occasionally appeared, the houses two and often three storied and no fences between as seems pretty usual in that part of the USA. Folk don’t seem to be concerned about marking their exact parcel of land. The river itself was at first dark gray but after a mile or two some lumps of floating ice appeared. These gradually increased in number and scale and became paler until they were floating sheets and large floes the size of refrigerators which became ever more substantial until, in the end, it was  frozen over – this wide sweeping river became a fairly solidified avenue of shades of white. It seemed impossible that the wide, dark, moving water viewed an hour and a half earlier could become this pale plane shot through with occasional dark blue cracks in the ice, shafting down into a depth beyond vision.  Wonderful.

Frozen River

Frozen River

Frozen River

Frozen River

Finally, Philips de Pury, the uptown, Park Avenue, New York sister to the London auction house held an auction of the collection of Betty Lee and Aaron Stern on 17th December. 160 works of applied arts, some glass, chairs, cabinets, a few odd things, but mainly ceramics. Vivika and Otto Natzler, Elizabeth Fritsch but mainly Ken Price, Lucie Rie and Hans Coper – more than 30 pieces from each. I saw the best Rie bowl I shall probably ever see there and the clusters of Copers was quite overwhelming although many were smaller than I always expected from the illustrations in books or on a screen which is how we, living here, generally become familiar with these iconic works.

There are a few Copers in NZ, including a couple of small composite pieces in private hands (I have not heard whether one survived that Christchurch earthquake or not) and the ASP-owned vessel held at Auckland Museum – not a composite but a single, modestly scaled vase with the characteristic surface treatment. There are a number of Rie’s as her tableware was imported back in 50s and was mainly marketed by what we’d today call boutique art shops (often owned European immigrants). Prices were high, for example a Castle bowl of the time is listed at 18/6 (Eighteen shillings and sixpence), in the same catalogue a Rie bowl is offered at 7gns (Seven pounds and seven shillings).  Some of that tableware is still around and occasionally appears at auction (for a tad more than seven guineas). There are also some one-off pieces made later, 60s on and these are often in the hands of potters who went, knocked on her door in Albion Place and bought a work. But in all of this country there are not the numbers collected by this couple who assembled their collection over some forty years, keeping it spread over several homes.

The Price works were mainly from Happy’s Curios, Club del Oro and Townscape series and sold modestly as the raunchy content of some of the nightclub illustrated pieces possibly made them difficult to display in this day and age and the fact that some groups were, quite correctly,  kept together but  making them very expensive purchases for a case-full. It was the prices realised for the Ries and Copers which produced the greatest buzz. It seemed everywhere visited for some days had an opinion and general consensus was that a number of well-endowed museums were filling gaps in collections and that they had much the same gaps. Most works sold. It was Coper’s composite/multi-part works that were most keenly sought. One Digswell work estimated at 15-20,000 reached 100,000 and a Thistle work expecting 25-35,000 gained 75,000. But it was two Hourglass pieces, estimated at 30-40,000 and 16-26,000 that caused most comment by reaching 191,000 and 149,000 respectively (they looked perfect together – hope they stayed together) and a 1950s large globular pot, that evidenced an early step on the road to his mature style and was estimated at 30-40,000, which reached 197,000 and raised eyebrows. It was mainly those late composite works that gained extraordinary prices. Most however were in the upper reaches of, and slightly over, top estimates and these were mainly in the range of $US16-30,000. These were record prices and they situate the one in Auckland Museum, which has been bestowed with some optimistic values, in a more realistic light.

Rie’s pieces were similar gaining remarkable prices for a couple of pieces such as 81,000 for a bowl estimated to bring between 20-30,000 and a flared bottle form brought similar for a similar estimate while a raised dot bottle form tripled its upper estimate at 60,000. Again most works sold at upper estimate and few were passed in. But what an event. Even New York kept it top of the topics for a day or two.

Sorry, I did not have my good camera and the light was too elegantly muted for cell-phone images to be any use. But the entire offering is in the catalogue which can be bought on-line or simply go to the auction house website.   www.phillipsauctions/NY050413

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