The rise of the art fair has ushered in an overwhelming experience of frenzied commerce. In the Modern and Contemporary realm, it’s easy to see why galleries pay a premium to be a part of such affairs, because it gives them leverage. A limited amount of great material afforded to a limited amount of time. Connoisseurship, in turn, takes a backseat to impulse buys, as prospective buyers are forced to play their hand.
Fortunately enough for Old Masters collectors, annual gatherings like the IFPDA Fair in New York give way to a subdued Fall atmosphere that is still quite stimulating. A walk down the fair’s aisles at the 67th street Armory is a stroll through art history’s grand narrative, and a chance to actually spend some time studying and talk to dealers about the crème de la crème. After the several years we’ve spent in this business, the admiration and befuddlement within this scene still continues. It’s amazing to see the type of quality that can be had for a song.
Works by heavyweights like Francisco Goya and Albrecht Dürer were strong and varied. CG Boerner corralled some of their finer offerings. Original engravings of Dürer ’s “Melancholia I” and “Adam and Eve” (see images #16,18) made for two of the artist’s most iconic and expensive prints; for a much smaller sum the gallery offered up the ghostly beauty of Goya’s “Una Reina de Circo,” (see image #2) from the underrated Proverbios series.
First edition Caprichos were abundant (see image #4) , yet we were blown away by the swirling mix of tint, tone, and shade that comes together in a pristine impression from Goya’s Tauromaquia series (see image #17), a first edition on sale at August Laube for an unbelievable four figure sum.
And for the fetishists out there with money to burn, a pair of “outstandingly rare” working proofs from The Disasters of War series (see image #7) that were never used during artist’s lifetime were being reserved by its seller, Kunsthaundlung Helmut H. Rumbler, to be acquired by an academic institution.
On the living end of the spectrum, we also had the pleasure of reencountering the work of Erik Desmazières at the Childs Gallery (see image #8), whose hyper realistic fantasies is MC Escher meets Piranesi meets Dürer .
A few blocks to the south, the debut of a satellite gathering print dealers at the Lighthouse Way proved to pay dividends for those willing to brave the foot traffic at 59th and Madison and a rather unorthodox hospital like setting upon entry. For the avid collector, such humble digs provided the perfect cover for the potential of such rich holdings.
Two depictions of goddesses by Abraham Bloemart and George Pencz were particularly memorable, if only for the fact that I had originally considered them solely for their accomplishments in painting. Abraham Bloemaert, a noted Mannerist of the Utrecht School whose later Caravaggist works are the stuff of art history lectures, was quite the etcher as well, as seen in a depiction of “Juno,” queen of the Roman immortals (see image #11). Bloemaert packages a whirlwind of marks whizzing around her, underscoring dramatic eminence, as she summons her power and beacons down to her domain.
Pencz, who made headlines earlier this year with the record sale of his magnificent “Portrait of Sigismund Baldinger” at Christie’s also showed that he also could go small and pack a punch, creating an intricate scene of suspended drama in Greek mythology (see image #13) Here is a key moment in the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, in which Jason deals with his soon to be psycho-ex, Medea.
Another discovery came at Gerrish Fine Arts, where one could witness the Turnerian touch applied to mezzotint in his famous series of landscapes, the Liber Studiorum. (see image #14) Apparently I was late to the party on this one: the Studiorum was one of Turner’s best known works during his life-a series of prints intended for the greater public appreciation and observance of nature, and a rival accomplishment to a previous set of celebrated illustrations by Claude Lorraine.
And what would an Old Masters fair be without a mention of Leiden’s favorite son? Several quality Rembrandts were in attendance, however one that particularly struck a chord was “Self Portrait (with an air of grimace ” (see image #20) All the young and hungry creatives out there can take solace in seeing Rembrandt as a talented and flippant up and comer. Even artistic legends could lose patience with the beautiful struggle.