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Serious Antiques, Serious Money, Seriously L.A.

The City's Biggest Show Raises the Stakes and More Than a Few Eyebrows

May 12, 1996|Irene Lacher | Irene Lacher is a Times staff writer

All hail the end of the "reign of junk," as local decorative arts historian Julia Winston Adams gratefully puts it. These may have been the times that try aesthetes' souls, but the days of "clutter without class" is over. Yes, the "Dynasty" look is dead, and shabby isn't as chic as it used to be in Los Angeles. As if to celebrate what some are dubbing a renaissance in good taste for Los Angeles, 66 high-end antiques dealers will be in town for the first Los Angeles Antiques Show, which runs Friday through Sunday at Santa Monica Airport's Barker Hangar. The event promises to be a world's fair of venerable design: 17th century Japanese screens, turn-of-the-century American toy banks, the finest furniture from that other Continent and much more.

In fact, almost 25% of the dealers at the show--the largest contingent--are purveyors of English and Continental furniture, reflecting L.A.'s tastes. "French and English have a great cachet here," Winston Adams says. "[They] are simply considered more glamorous, easy, fun, sophisticated."

But L.A. is also the playboy of the antiques world: It doesn't want to commit to any one look, preferring a mix of periods and styles. So the show is offering a chorus line of options, among them Spanish colonial (from Michael Haskell Antiques of Montecito), photography (Peter Fetterman Gallery of Santa Monica), North American Indian (Donald Ellis of Ontario, Canada) as well as four dealers in 20th century design and eight in American furniture and Americana.

Highlights of the show include a $250,000 Chippendale lowboy of carved mahogany commissioned around 1750 by Philadelphia's Grubb family (G.K.S. Bush of New York and Washington, D.C.), and a rare 17th century Franco-Flemish cabinet that contains a trompe l'oeil theater with parquet floor and balcony adorned with ebony and ivory, listed at $65,000 (Turbulence of New York).

While many items are tagged at a humble $50, you might consider this a flea market fit for royalty. Prices easily sail into five figures and as high as $850,0000 for a painting by Tamara De Lempicka, the artist whose Art Deco portraits have been collected by Jack Nicholson, Madonna and Barbra Streisand. The De Lempicka is being offered by New York dealer Barry Friedman, a regular at the annual Winter Antiques Show, one of the two top shows in New York.

"Fifteen dealers who do the Winter Antiques Show will do the show, and that clinched it for me," Friedman says. "I figured these are good dealers."

L.A.'s show is so rarefied that it could give its tony counterparts in New York and San Francisco a run for their money. It's the first in California to be vetted, meaning merchandise is guaranteed to be exactly what the seller says it is. And the show's organizer, the Antiques Dealers Assn. of California, recruited one of the city's power charities, the Women's Guild of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, to stage the opening gala Thursday. Members of the city's social elite have lent their names--and elbow grease--to the event, not the least of whom are the gala's honorary co-chairs, Jane and Michael Eisner and Judy and Michael Ovitz. Both wives had visited the San Francisco affair "and they said, 'Why isn't there a show like this in L.A.?"' says Winston Adams. And social clout is key to selling antiques because it brings the market to Mohammed. "Based on the amount of buying on opening night, there's no question it is still a see-and-be-seen event," says Arie L. Kopelman, chairman of the Winter Antiques Show and president of Chanel. Not that Kopelman is worried the L.A. show will steal the affections of Angelenos who've been buying in New York. "I think there's enough business to go around," he says. "When you get more people hooked, the better it is for everybody, including the auction houses."

Closer to home, L.A.'s show is ruffling a few plumes. San Francisco, which will hold its 15th annual show this year, is warily eyeing the show to the south. "When I first heard the news, I was not overjoyed," says Toby Rose, coordinator of the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show. "Everybody says competition is wonderful, but that remains to be seen."

And some top-drawer dealers in L.A., excluded because they're not ADAC members, are grim about not participating. "I'm very bitter," says one.

L.A. hasn't had an antiques show of this caliber since the late '80s, when the Junior League's show fizzled after a decade. Some dealers blamed the show's lackluster performance on its various downtown locations (too far from L.A.'s wealthy enclaves) and its failure to lure enough collectors beyond the Junior League's universe.

But antiques veteran Rose of San Francisco has her doubts. "Whether you're interested in antiques or tractors," she says, "you're going to find out where they are. It doesn't matter if you're in Los Angeles or Nome, Alaska."

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