When the hankering for great art in New York overcomes me, the first thing I do is head immediately to the calendar. Weekends at the Met, MoMA, Guggenheim and other major museums are out, as hordes of tourists kill any intimacy. Weekdays aren’t much better, awash with school groups from 10 to 4 pm. The trick is foreswearing them altogether and aiming for Manhattan’s top antique dealers, who display an equally precious array of sculpture, paintings, jewelry, furniture and more—with nary a selfie stick in sight. Last week, I checked out six of the best:
Thanks to Antiques Roadshow, I’ve learned to look beyond the bling of a ring to the design and craftsmanship. Nowhere can you get more practice at this than at this appointment-only dealer of estate jewelry dating to the mid-19th century. Splayed out on tables, shelves, and glass cases, earrings, bracelets, brooches, necklaces and art pieces create a disco ball effect of sparkle. The stones are indeed impressive, but the settings more so, particularly the 1969 Bulgari “Serpenti” watch bracelet ($175,000) in 18 karat yellow gold with green, blue and yellow enamel; and the chalcedony and onyx Art Deco ring ($32,500) by Rene Boivin.
It took several walk-bys to find the speakeasy-esque entrance of this appointment-only arts dealer—once to look for a sign (there was none) and another to make sure I hadn’t got the wrong address. But the modesty of the façade fell apart immediately upon entering the small but airy gallery-style space ringed with sculpture, sketches, stained glass and iron work by true art masters. Highlights of the collection from the mid-19th to 20th century include the 1850 marble bust of America by Hiram Powers ($225,000), Jacques Schnier’s teak Woman Doing Up Her Hair ($60,000), and a pair of breathtaking stained glass windows ($450,000) by Robert Winthrop Chanler.
A feeling of unease settled upon me when making my way through the two security doors at this ultra high-end dealer in jewelry, pottery, posters, furniture and lamps. But that quickly succumbed to awe at the masterworks of Art Nouveau and Art Deco on the shelves: a lithograph by Mucha ($42,000), a glass vase by Loetz ($22,500), and Mauboussin butterfly brooch ($14,500). What got the brightest smiles was asking for a tour of the astounding collection of Tiffany lamps downstairs.
My grandmother’s red barn-antiques shop in Peacham, Vermont came back to life at the Manhattan Avenue branch of this antiques dealer. It wasn’t only the distressed wood clapboards covering one wall and familiar musty scent, but the labyrinthine arrangement of 19th- and 20th-century desks, statues, mirrors and furniture that delighted at every twist and turn. If I could take any of it home, I’d start with the Billie Holiday sculpture by Paul Wegner ($18,500), but that’s in close competition with Mad Men-snazzy 1964 bronze room divider.
Of all the shops on this tour, no one got me closer to pulling out my own credit card than this charming jewelry box space. Beneath a high, gold-tin ceiling, a line of tables and glass cases show off the colorful collection of bracelets, broaches, earrings and other accessories dating back to the 1800s. The choicest, like the 19th century Egyptian Revival earrings ($4,650) and “fire” opal brooch ($4,250) wrapped with gold vines and leaves are to the left of the register, but the mid-century costume jewelry by Albert Weiss is more fun. Follow the alley next to the shop to the charming hidden cottage out back that sells homewares and even art prints by Al Hirschfeld.
Every time I’ve walked this stretch of Bowery, the futuristic Cooper Union building by Thom Mayne has drawn my full attention, but it turns out the more exquisite works of art are a just across the street. Among the sea of chic furniture, lighting fixtures and freestanding bar cabinets are several “sound art” sculptures by Harry Bertoia, reaching upwards of $75,000. But I found the coffee table by Vladimir Kagan ($14,000) more aesthetically approachable, much like the Horse and Dancer Sculpture by Pino Esposito ($12,000) and 1950s mohair sofa ($12,000).