The 25th Annual Modernism Show: Where’s the Beef?
Once upon a time, Sanford Smith's Modernism Show, held annually since 1985, was the premiere modern design exposition in the U.S. The top galleries from Europe and America, some 60 of them, paraded merchandise they often held for months, making the event like the grand finale of a fireworks display. The opening preview drew throngs of buyers who queued up early, checkbooks ready. I was usually on line, looking not so much for a pricing mistake, which rarely happened, as much as something so surprising or breathtaking I had to buy it if I could afford it. I usually found something, but rarely could afford it.
Times have certainly changed. Credit Sanford Smith for persevering in an unprecedented down market, amidst escalating costs and diminishing dealer returns. But truth be told, the 25th iteration of Modernism is conspicuous for what's missing. Gone are the contingents from Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, and Denmark, along with many top U.S. galleries. Replacing them are art dealers--the show has been combined with the Art 20 show--and even a Persian rug dealer, leaving only a handful of true design galleries. The promotion points to the synergy between design and art, but it seemed that much of the modest crowd at the opening was as interested in the artisanal cheeses (which were truly good) as the buying ops.
Still, without much trouble, I found six images to share: from Z Modern, of Colorado, a set of eight monochromes by Herbert Bayer--who lived in Aspen--published in 1965; from the Jacksons of Stockholm, who epitomize Swedish refinement and elegance, a freestanding Tapio Wirkkala laminated sculpture, shot in front of a massive Danish chandelier from a 1940's theater; from Galere, of West Palm Beach, a large and intricate early postwar sculpture of wire with fused glass by New York artist Leonard Nelson--a standout piece; from George Gilpin, a shot of his site specific installation, through a porthole; from Sandy Berman of New York, a copper-and-rock fountain with a seahorse that looks like it came from a 1950's Havana hotel, except that it was found, rusting, in a Shelter Island back yard and is dated 1969; and a 1940's surrealist chess set from Nexxt20. I loved the elliptical hanging fixture by Danish architect Aage Herlow at Collage, but didn't get a good shot of it.
So, the good news is, you can still be surprised and delighted at Modernism, which is, this year, the only show of its kind at the Armory. The bad news is, and I hope I'm wrong about this, that the prospects for shows like this are uncertain. Surely, the recession has much to do with this, but so does escalating costs and structural changes in the market that favor auctions, internet presence, and brick-and-mortar group shops such as Center 44. Design shopping is becoming more of a 24/7 process, with less emphasis on events and the instantaneous decisions they require. Next year's Fall season could be telling. Hopefully, the show will go on.