Demystifying Antiques for the Uninitiated

January 5, 2018

By Abby Schultz

One revelation a new collector to antique furniture and decorative arts could have in the aisles at the Winter Antiques Show in Manhattan is that it’s perfectly fine to pair mid-century Scandinavian furniture with American-made quilts—that is, if you happen to catch both items out of the corner of each eye and realize how great it would be to marry the seemingly oddly paired pieces.

Creating that kind of serendipitous encounter is one hope of the show’s Young Collectors Night, an annual event designed to introduce new and emerging collectors—as well as philanthropists and those interested in arts and design—to antique objects that span centuries, and to show that these objects can be as relevant today as when they were created.

As Michael Diaz-Griffith, associate executive director of the show, explains, the annual event generates a “kind of magical mix” that can create context for looking at furniture and decorative arts from different styles, disciplines, periods and allow the new or uninitiated a glimpse at how  wonderful objects of the past can fit in a contemporary home.

The Winter Antiques Show, now in its 64th year and kicking off this time on Jan. 19, has held an event since the late 1990s for budding philanthropists. But it wasn’t until subsequent years that the show’s organizers hosted the event on the showroom floor, introducing access “to a constituency who might not attend otherwise,” Diaz-Griffith says.

Today, that’s the point—to make sure new and emerging collectors—can learn about a wealth of objects from Queen Anne chairs to Tiffany lamps, in a fun, un-intimidating atmosphere. For the first time this year, prices of objects will be noted if they are $10,000 or less, $5,000 or less or $3,000 or less, Diaz-Griffith says.

“There’s museum quality work across the show floor, but it’s not a museum,” Diaz-Griffith says. The items can be picked up and handled, there are no “stanchions,” or barriers, between you and an object you want to admire. The signs indicating lower-priced items are “an attempt to remove one of the imaginary stanchions,” Diaz-Griffith says.

With barriers down, otherwise intimidated new collectors should be more comfortable sparking up conversation with exhibitors, who will be open to any question at all, no matter how basic, he says.

“Young Collectors is an event for those to enjoy the show in a way that’s intentionally welcoming to them,” Diaz-Griffith says. Also, he points out that “young” refers to a new or emerging collector—all ages are welcome.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, Diaz-Griffith says aspiring collectors learned about antiques by piling into cars with friends and driving to places in upstate New York or Connecticut where antique dealers have shops. The Winter Antiques Show hopes to fill the role of educating newcomers, with the added bonus of giving access to 70 exhibitors, all experts in their field, displaying objects vetted for authenticity, age and condition. “It’s quite liberating to the new and emerging collectors to know they are looking at the best-of-the-best on the art market,” Diaz-Griffith says.

This year’s show also has reached out to young patron groups at museums to make sure “a constituency of younger people involved in the arts are attending,” he adds.
It’s not such a leap to think a new generation of antique collectors is emerging, given the way earlier styles and periods are influencing interior design and fashion. To prove the point, Zac Posen, the fashion designer known to draw from the 18th century to the 1950s for inspiration, will be at the event. (Posen is the creative director of the women’s collection at Brooks Brothers, a show sponsor.) Also attending will be about 100 top interior designers, including Wendy Goodman, the design editor of New York magazine. Look for their badges if you need advice on where best to display that 17th century Delft vase or sleek Art Deco end table you’re eying.

Image: 2017 Winter Antiques Show’s Young Collectors Night at the Park Avenue Armory. Courtesy of Winter Antiques Show.