This Thursday evening marks the beginning of the 16th Annual Merchandise Mart International Antiques Fair – five days of spectacular goods representing the best of more than 100 antique and fine art dealers from around the world all under one roof. Call it a treasure trove of furniture, glass, jewelry, paintings, ceramics, posters, prints, maps, books, sculpture, silver and textiles representing a myriad of categories and media such as 20th Century Design, Americana, Architectural Design, Asian Art & Antiquities, Decorative Arts, Folk Art and Tribal Art.
“I would say the International Antiques Fair is by far the best in the Midwest,” said Richard Kasvin, owner of Chicago Center for The Print, has participated in the fair for the last 12 years. The quality of the merchandise is the best. You have seven figure paintings for those who want to look at the price tags, you have over the top jewelry.”
Kasvin, who specializes in posters from the mid-20th century, the years between 1920s to the 1960s, will be featuring some of his iconic posters of Chicago including the vividly colored, broadly stylized Chicago United Air, a 1948 advertisement for United Airlines.
“After World War I, new printing techniques allowed for more colors and brighter colors,” he said. “And the years between the 20s and the 60s have great designs — Art Deco, bold graphics, strong designs and, in the 50s a lot of retro. We’re not talking 19th century French, Toulouse-Lautrec here.”
Also coming to the show are Philippe Meunier and Juan Alonso Defrocourt of Majolica, LLC located in the Paris Opera District in Paris, France which features the best in Victorian and Minton Majolica, a type of ornate and colorful pottery with molded surfaces and colorful clear lead glazes as well as Palissy Ware, a rustic style of ceramics whose enameling and glazing were created by a potter in the early 16th century.
“We have specialized in buying Majolica since 1981 and have combined experience of more than 40 years,” Meunier wrote in an email. “We search the world looking for the best pieces in as close to mint condition as possible and signed by the most famous artists.”
One of the pieces they’re bringing is a Minton Monumental Mermaid-handled Ewer dating back to around 1871 and so rare that in their catalogue they use that word three times in a row. The cost? $55,000.
The Picasso will cost you much more than that, but this show is not just for fat wallets and people who want to gasp at sticker prices.
“First approach the show with humility," said interior designer Carey Maloney when asked about those whose pockets are shallow and are new to the collecting game. “Because you are going to like things and when you find out how much they cost, you are going to be humbled. So check out the great things - the world class ancient Greek marbles clocking in at 7 figures — and then think about the alternatives, the handsome repro plaster cast of a Greek marble made in 1940 clocking in at $150.”
Maloney, who founded the architecture and interior design firm, M (Group) with his partner, architect Hermes Mallea, almost 30 years ago. M (Group)’s award winning work has been published internationally and they receives rave reviews for employing classic forms wisely, boldly and with considerable wit and subtlety for a long list of famous clients, believes that the International Antiques Fair has something for everyone.
“I think beginners should treat shows like a smorgasbord of ideas and inspirations,” he said. “Take business cards and check out the dealers websites. Many dealers now write essays and detailed descriptions on their specialties. Use the show to learn and if the price fits your budget, leap. If the price is a leap - then wait.”
Don’t be afraid to ask questions either. “The diversity of the dealers that the Merch Mart show brings together from all over is a boon to a collector,” said Maloney. “And a boon to the window shopper. These dealers save their best materials for antiques shows and they look to the shows to broaden their client base, so they are particularly happy to describe, discuss and explain.”
Kasvin advises first time collectors is buy one or two things a year that you like and can afford.
“You only have to buy two things a year – say you’re 30 – and by the time you’re 50, you’ll have a substantial collection,” said Kasvin, noting that buying quality even if it means stretching your budget some can be a good investment.
“The first major purchase I ever made was in the early 70s,” he said. "I bought a 1830s American farm tiger maple dining set for $2700. It’s worth a lot more than that. If you buy quality, you can always sell it for more but if you buy marginal, you might not.”
Tables are probably the best buy when it comes to furniture more than just about everything, says Kasvin.
“An antique table goes with everything better than other pieces and they’re tables, they hold up,” he said, "better than say an antique couch.”
Besides vendors with their wares, the fair also features high-profile speakers, charitable special events, designer vignettes and amenities for both veteran and new collectors. Design icon Charlotte Moss opens the fair discussing why she loves antiques and how she uses them to create elegant and distinct interiors. Maloney’s presentation takes visitors inside the homes of his clients, detailing the art and objects that are part of the creation of complex, richly layered and beautifully orchestrated interiors. He will also be signing copies of his recently released book, "Stuff: Collecting, Decorating With and Learning About Wonderful and Unusual Things."
Also on the schedule is a forum on Majolica pottery and Leslie Hindman, founder of one of the country’s leading fine art auction houses, is hosting the “Young Collector’s Event” where she will discuss what’s exciting in today’s art and antiques marketplace, why people should collect and how to get started.