Exhibitors stay ahead of the curve at L.A. Modernism Show – show news – art show details

Exhibitors stay ahead of the curve at L.A. Modernism Show – show news – art show details – Brief Article

Laura Meyers

LOS ANGELES — When a fine and decorative arts show is in its 15th outing, the challenge is to keep it fresh. In the early 1990s, the L.A. Modernism Show featured a cornucopia of Arts and Crafts period furnishings, art pottery and paintings along with a broad grouping of 20th-century decorative arts. By the late 1990s, the show focus had turned to post-WWII design, reflecting especially the Southern California entertainment industry’s new love for mid-century modern houses in Los Angeles and Palm Springs. Last year, dealers presented French designs, especially Art Deco furnishings and paintings.

For the 15th-anniversary show, which was held in Santa Monica, Calif., in May, a total of 69 galleries and dealers exhibited paintings, prints, art glass and pottery, advertising posters, furnishings, accessories, jewelry and appliances, all representing popular culture and the key stylistic movements of the 20th century, including Art Deco, Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Cubism, Bauhaus and post-war designs. To keep the show unique, promoters Elizabeth Caskey and Bill Lees once again sought out new dealers who are ahead of the curve in modern design.

Among the new dealer recruits: Svenska Mobler, a Los Angeles retail showroom specializing in decorative arts from Sweden circa 1900 to 1940; Lui Deak, a Los Angeles art dealer specializing in Eastern European and American Modernist paintings and prints; and the Modernism Gallery of Coral Gables, a premier dealer in Art Deco furniture, lighting and accessories.

Modernism Gallery only handles works created between the wars in the U.S. and Europe, said co-owner Isabella Emmett. And despite the overall downturn in the U.S. economy, she claims their business has held steady–and was strong at the L.A. Modernism Show. “One of the things we have found is if you have really high quality material, one-of-a-kind things, there are always customers. My husband’s favorite phrase is `I’ve got all the good stuff.’ And the truth is, we have put our faith in the idea that things will turn around,” said Emmett. “But, as a dealer, you have to show up. We had never done the L.A. Modernism Show, even though we do shows in New York, Detroit and Miami. But we know there are many customers for this material in Southern California.”

Similarly, Lui Deak, owner of Deak Fine Art, had done many shows before, but not this one. “As I have personally Started to embrace art works which are more Modern in style, I also realized that in working here in Southern California, you just can’t ignore this market. There’s strong intellectual commitment and good financial support for 20th-century art generally and mid-century art, especially in Los Angeles,” Deak observed.

Deak exhibited a selection of original abstracted Modern paintings works that were relatively affordable, including Claude Venard’s “The Music Room,” priced at $7,500, and Leon Goldin’s “The Table in My Studio,” offered for $9,500. His piece de resistance, however, was the large-scale (and unpriced) 1928 Art Deco period painting, “Hazel and Big Boy,” by the American School artist Warren A. Newcombe.

But the strongest break from the L.A. Modernism Show’s “tradition” (if cutting-edge 20th-century art can be traditional) came from the early 20th-century Swedish furniture from Andrew Wilder, owner of the retail showroom Svenska Mobler, which is located on one of Los Angeles’ art gallery rows. The local marketplace was saturated with Modernism from the 1950s and 1960s in April 2000, when Wilder decided to open his decorative arts and furnishings gallery specializing in pre-WWII Swedish material. “The time was right to introduce the pedigree ancestor,” Wilder said. The furniture produced in Sweden from 1900 to 1940 represents the beginning of modern Scandinavian form, according to Wilder. “This aesthetic bridges traditional and contemporary work,” he said. “There’s more surface detail and more fancy wood than in later pieces. But in general, it has simple lines [like mid-century works] and is easy to live with.”

These Swedish furniture objects, which fetch $4,000 to $7,000 for restored and reupholstered chair pairs, and $2,000 to $12,000 for cabinetry pieces, are characterized by architectural forms, clean lines and such woods as blond birch, elm, mahogany and rosewood. Swedish Art Nouveau utilizes organic shapes, while Swedish Neo-Gothic in the 1930s combined carved detailing with cubic/functionalist forms.

“The [L.A.] Modernism Show was great,” said Wilder. “I wanted to introduce myself and this work to a market in Los Angeles that didn’t know us already. People were really excited about this.” According to Wilder, the “demographic” that buys this material–“late 30s to their 50s, well-heeled, sophisticated, a lot of lawyers, movie producers and ex-New Yorkers”–were in abundance at the expo.

Overall, reported Caskey and Lees, “attendance was up from last year” when the show gate reached about 6,000. “The recession affected attendance more last year than this year,” Lees said.

Indeed, Los Angeles is recovering from the nation’s economic slump, bolstered particularly by continuing strong home sales, an economic sector that also helps spur the purchases of furnishings and decorative arts. Although collectors, architects and designers frequent the show and often travel from as far as Boston, Chicago, New York and San Francisco, the strongest attendance comes from Los Angeles homeowners, according to Caskey and Lees. And though some dealers reported lackluster results at this year’s show, newcomers Wilder, Deak and Emmett all had good shows, they said.

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