Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Americana Week in New York

By: Paul D'Ambrosio, Vice President and Chief Curator
Winter in NYC has always been an intensely social and productive time. In the 19th century, Hudson River School painters used to spend the winter months in their New York studios completing works they sketched on their fair weather excursions through the Catskills or Adirondacks, in between attending parties, dances, exhibitions, and other social events.

This tradition continues every January in Manhattan with Americana Week, which I recently attended as I do every year. This week includes major auctions at Sotheby's and Christies, antiques shows such as the American Antiques show in lower Manhattan and the prestigious Winter Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory on the Upper East Side. It also includes a full round of get-togethers with fellow museum professionals, collectors, gallery owners, and auction house staff. It's a perfect time to share information about recent or upcoming projects and to forge collaborations and generate ideas that can prove valuable to the fulfillment of a project.

This year was a little more subdued than in past years, as one might expect. There were a lot of concerns about the economy and its effect on the market. Still, the range of material being offered for sale was remarkable; everything from weathervanes to medieval illuminated manuscripts to Northwest Coast Indian masks.

Of course, the great harvest of Americana week in New York is not the objects but the marketplace of ideas and collaborations. The booths at the Winter Show are stunning, but the chance meetings with friends and colleagues in the aisles are better. In less than an hour I was able to talk to an Indian art dealer about the upcoming national tour of the Thaw Collection, discuss the Fenimore's planned 2010 exhibition on John Singer Sargent with one of the premier gallery owners carrying his work, and encounter numerous pieces comparable to those in our collections.
All in all, it was quite a week despite the state of the economy. As one auction house executive put it, at one of the receptions when he came up to a group of us and - knowing what was on our minds - said simply "The glass is half full." Looking around at the gathering of bright, dedicated, engaged people, I couldn't help but agree.

Shield, c1860, Fenimore Art Museum, gift of Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust, T0048

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