By Roberta Smith
Manhattan hardly needs another uptown fair packed with carefully culled artworks, artifacts and fine furniture from mostly Western cultures. The Art and Antique Dealers League of America, however, argues otherwise rather convincingly with its inaugural Spring Show at the Park Avenue Armory.
Which is to say the show provides the usual dizzying, random, kaleidoscopic glimpses of high-end visual culture. With booths painted in brisk colors, the show looks sharper than most, especially where displays are spacious or highly focused. Examples of focus include the African and Oceanic material at Douglas Dawson and Conru, the snuff and desktop boxes at Rick Scott and the historic American flags at Jeff Bridgman. Earle Vandekar has a wonderful array of sailors’ woolies, the wool embroideries of ships made by 19th-century seamen, mostly British.
Show-stopping furniture includes an outrageously ostentatious writing desk in tulipwood and gilt bronze from 1900 by the Parisian furnituremaker François Linke — the last word in Belle Époque excess — at Charles Cheriff. At Mary Helen McCoy an extraordinary 18th-century German marquetry writing desk deftly recycles intarsia from 17th-century Venice. At Arnold H. Lieberman a large Tibetan coffer is painted with a hair-raising charnel ground scene. For relative restraint Carlton Hobbs has an imposing writing table from around 1900 that is devoid of straight lines and presages Art Deco.
The art is all over the place. Foster-Gwin pairs paintings by the Abstract Expressionist Hassel Smith with Italian Baroque furniture to good effect. Robert Simon has a 1699 lenticular double portrait of a Danish king and queen by Gaspar Antoine de Bois-Clair and Giuseppe Maria Crespi’s glowing, ingratiating “Portrait of a Gentleman Offering Snuff” from the 1730s. Charles and Rebekah Clark are showing a partly embroidered, partly painted view of the Bay of Naples from the early 1800s by Matilda Bailey, an American. Also of interest: a robust 1929 still life in which the American painter Conrad Kramer reconciles folk art and Cubism, at Framont; and a small painting of a mushroom by Ida Ten Eyck O’Keeffe, younger sister of Georgia, at Brock & Company.
Candidates for best booth include Hobbs, Foster-Gwin, Hostler Burrows, Geoffrey Diner, Yew Tree House Antiques, Alexander Cohane and the overfull Engs-Dimitri Works of Art, where a boisterous, 16th-century Flemish cabbage-leaves tapestry makes all the difference.