Anthony Blumka is a fourth generation art dealer. His father opened the New York iteration of Blumka Gallery in 1939 and his grandfather and great-grandfather owned galleries long before that in Austria. After excitedly ushering me into the foyer, Anthony pointed out a nineteenth century painting featuring a Viennese church and, in the background, his great-grandfather's shop.
It seems that art runs in the Blumka blood. Anthony explained that he learned a lot about the art world through osmosis rather than through direct instruction, since his father died when he was quite young. "Coincidentally, there would have been 101 years between my father and my son," he added. When I asked if the newest generation showed any aptitude for the gallery business, Anthony told me that there are no clear indications yet, but that his son is named "Quintin," which is Latin for "five" - a promising sign for a fifth generation art dealer.
Blumka Gallery's art ranges from Medieval through to Baroque. Anthony, however, is especially captivated by the medieval works. He drew my attention to a few of them, including a lime-wood Madonna and Child and sandstone figurines from the second half of the fourteenth century. His love of this period began when he was quite young: he explained that he used to collect arms and armor as a child, and that his father would always try to bring him back something for his collection when he made purchases overseas. Years later, Anthony went to school for Fine Art, but he admitted that it is not where he received most of his knowledge. "A degree is like a driver's license," he explained. "You learn to drive afterwards."
I was delighted to learn from Anthony that the early art world is collegial. There are not many galleries left in the United States that specialize in works from so long ago. "We may be one of the last ones," Anthony said, wistfully. Because of this, he has strong relationships with other early art institutions. He works very closely with a German firm from whom he gets many of his pieces and he has loaned work to many museums, including the Frick and the Cloisters. "Ten to fifteen percent of the items at the Cloisters are from us," he said with a smile.
Anthony attends multiple art fairs throughout the year, where most of the action happens: Sales are made, specialists and colleagues get together, and connections become long lasting. After spending his entire life engulfed in the art world, it appears to me that these fairs are a large part of why Anthony remains passionate about his work. There are still, however, bumps along the road. Anthony spoke to me at length about the ban on ivory being brought into the United States. "Thirty percent of my business is related to ivory...and it has nothing to do with poaching," Anthony lamented. Notwithstanding that some of the ivory he works with is a thousand years old, it still cannot be brought here. "Every church in Europe has an ivory cross," he complained, and then showed me a picture from his catalogue of "one of the greatest baroque pieces that has been on the market," which he is unable to get into our country. Anthony has made countless trips to Washington in an attempt to create an exception to the ivory ban for the sake of art.
Despite the legal issues surrounding ivory and his ongoing frustration, Anthony's business has continued to thrive, partly thanks to his reputation and that of the generations behind him. "We have always been highly respected in this field," he said with pride.
Helen Clay Frick, always an art enthusiast, founded the Frick Art Reference Gallery in 1920 as a public reserve and in loving memory of her father, Henry Clay Frick. Originally housed in the basement bowling alley of the Frick Collection, the library moved to its current location in 1935, transformed from its previously residential identity by Russell Pope. To date, the library offers access to comprehensive collections of photographs with complementing texts as well as other resources to better understand Western Art, adhering to the intentions of both Helen and Henry.
The first ground hall we visited at L'Antiquaire & The Connoisseur, a gallery that celebrates art from the eighteenth century and earlier, is the only section that features art from the twenty-first century. Helen Fioratti, the owner of the gallery, has put her daughter, Arianna Loreto's work on display. The modern, familial pieces leading to the elevator provided a perfect complement to the gilded and dazzling older antiques that we were about to visit. I was taken by Arianna's whimsical drafts and sketches that decorated the elevator, appreciating that visitors are surrounded by art at every turn. Upon stepping out onto the second floor landing, I noticed a collection of chandeliers with candle fixtures instead of bulbs. Helen promptly informed me that each one is from the eighteenth century. With a slight smile, she went on to say, "I was told by a chandelier gallery that there are very few eighteenth century chandeliers on the market. I have ten, which I think is more than anybody else. " As we wandered around the gallery, Helen pointed out treasures and told us about her life. Along with owning the shop, she is an interior designer who has worked with members of the Kennedy family and the Royal Family of Kuwait. She grew up in the art world, since her mother was Countess Ruth Constantino, the first female fine art dealer in the United States. Her mother started collecting art at a young age. The countess's uncle would pay her money to go to bed on time, which she would then spend on antiques when she went to Europe with her family. When Ruth grew up, she worked for a German art dealer as an unpaid intern, because her father claimed that well-bred girls did not have jobs. She eventually persuaded her father to let her open a gallery, but soon married an Italian diplomat whom she met at the New York World's Fair in 1939. As Helen paraphrased her father, "Wives of Italian diplomats didn't work. " Ruth opened a new gallery, but did not use her name, instead calling it "The Connoisseur Inc. " This is the gallery that Helen would merge with her own in 1982. I asked Helen about her earliest memory having to do with art and antiques, and she responded with a story from when she was five years old: she picked the paint off of the antique Venetian commode in her bedroom and colored it back in with crayons. Helen added that when she first got married and opened her gallery, she already had a furniture collection put aside and needed no more to furnish their apartment. Helen has the magic ability of breathing life into each of her pieces through suggestive storytelling. She showed me a cabinet that had belonged to the King of Portugal. There are twenty-eight secret compartments and a mirror on the top, which Helen said, "is where the king would model his crowns. " I could immediately picture the regal purposes of the piece of furniture. Similarly, Helen said that a clock that caught my eye had been made by an Englishman for the se de Medici's in Florence. The clockmaker then decided to stay in Florence. His son became the greatest Scagliola master - meaning he was an expert in a specific form of decorative work. Since she seems to know the story behind all of her inventory, I asked Helen if it is ever difficult for her to have to sell a piece and part with it. "It's like having a marriageable daughter, " she responded. "You don't want someone to take her, but it would also be sad if no one wanted her. "Some of the most interesting pieces in the store were the games tables. Helen has written many books in her life, including one on old games and the antiques that teach us how they used to be played. She then brought out a little bag that Louis XV would have given to one of his courtesans. It has carved ivory "fiches" that function as game pieces and have little fortunes wrapped inside. "It's a very rare thing, " Helen said with a sparkle in her eye. There was also a collection of inlaid wood game tables, complete with clear outlines showing where to put cards, players, or pieces. Pointing to one that was signed with the artist's name, "RENOLDI, " on an arch in the wooden landscape design, Helen told us that she looks for authenticity in her entire collection. "What I care about is that things are real all the way through, " she said. "I even want the tips of feet to still be original. "Despite being in her antique business for thirty-five years, Helen is surprisingly spry and still does in-depth appraisals herself. "I may have to turn it over and crawl on the floor, but I can tell you if something is authentic, " she stated. "In this gallery, if it's painted, the paint is original and if it's gilded, the gold is real. " After exploring more of the multi-floor antique wonderland, with treasures like sixteenth century Italian ceramics, a fourteenth century illuminated manuscript leaf, and rare globes made of wood and paper mache, I returned to the first floor and Arianna's drawings. In a little corner of the room, Helen pointed out a picture of a cat that Arianna had drawn when she was twelve years old.
Over the years, Eyal Beloosesky has cleverly shifted his gallery’s location. He started on 87th Street, next door to Doyle. In 2014, he moved to 72nd Street, within spitting distance of Sotheby’s. With each relocation, the gallery has been able to feed off the foot traffic that comes from both of these well-known auction houses. Eyal’s partner Glenn Spellman, who has been working in the art world since 1989, concurs that these post-auction crowds are a big reason why the gallery has received so many visitors, even on a side street. Eyal and Glenn make a good pair. Whereas Eyal, an Israeli, specializes in art from his home country, Glenn’s core knowledge centers on American art. Despite their respective expertise, they do not limit their collection to only two countries. “We’ll handle everything, ” Glenn remarked. The one restriction that Glenn mentioned is that the gallery does not feature emerging artists. Otherwise, Beloosesky is filled with exciting, eclectic exhibits. Additionally, the men do restorations and sometimes go on house calls to peruse estates — a modern-day treasure hunt to keep bringing new, stunning pieces into the gallery.
Stepping inside Jim's Shoe Repair is like walking into a time capsule. At first glance, it appears that nothing has changed since the store opened in 1932. Wooden saloon-style booths line the wall opposite shoeshine chairs equipped with golden footrests and leather backrests, while the original cash register still stands proudly in the front of the shop. Jim's is the place for the customer who wants "the best shoe shine" with a bit of small talk or a glance through the daily newspapers. It is simple and unpretentious, which explains its long history of celebrity customers. Vito Rocco came to New York by way of Italy in the 1920s and opened up his shop in 1932, across the street from where it stands today. He called it Jim’s as an ode to America — short, simple, and recognizable. His son, Joseph, began working in the shop in 1940 and did not retire until 2019. “At age ninety, he still wants to come in, but I won’t let him anymore, ” his son, Joe, said lovingly. He and his son, Andrew, are now “honored” to be continuing this family business. Although Jim's has largely stayed the same since its inception, Joe noted that they no longer clean hats, as this was deemed a fire hazard in the 1940s. Joe emphasized, however, that their shoe repair is performed the traditional way, with most of it being done by hand. There are no nailing guns used and machine work is kept to a minimum — only for stitching and sanding. Walking through the back is like being granted a tour of Santa’s workshop. Joe strolls through the various departments of the repair services, patting his employees on the back and exchanging laughs along the way. There are rickety ladders to go up and down where one finds every nook and cranny converted into a cozy but busy workspace. “Even if we wanted to change up the place, our customers would never allow us. They appreciate it the way it is after four generations. ”
Directly across from the imposing statue of Christopher Columbus, marking both the epicenter of Columbus Circle and New York City as a whole, stands the Museum of Arts and Design. Founded in 1956 - and in this spectacular building since 2008 - the museum celebrates contemporary artists, designers, and artisans who apply the highest level of ingenuity and skill to their work. Inside the light-filled interior, this accessible museum explores a rotating series of exhibitions profiling makers, who work in a wide range of materials and processes, in an effort to explore the intersection of art, craft and design. When I visited the museum with members of the Manhattan Sideways team, I was thrilled to have them walk around with a dear friend who has been a docent at MAD for several years. We were fascinated by the global reach and depth of the Latin American exhibition, "New Territories, " as Felicia explained in detail what we were seeing. Our team was also intrigued by the museum's show celebrating its founder, Aileen Osborn Webb, entitled "What Would Mrs. Webb Do, " featuring objects from their permanent collection, curated by Jeanine Falino. We then went on our own to explore the technical skill made apparent in the neckpieces and sculptures of Joyce Scott in the exhibit, "From Maryland to Murano. " In addition to the shows on each floor, MAD invites guest artists to work in their studios, allowing visitors the opportunity to engage in conversation, and to observe them as they are sculpting, drawing or creating something unique with a mixture of materials. Having been to the museum many times, I consistently find myself absorbed in the variety of art displayed, and when possible, I make my way to the ninth floor where the innovative Robert restaurant allows guests a bird's eye view of Columbus Circle from its exquisite interior.
Guastavino's gets its name from the Spanish architect, Rafael Guastavino, who designed an arcade of Catalan Vaults to fit under the Queensboro Bridge in the early part of the twentieth century. Initially, the arcade was host to a year-round marketplace, but it was shut down during the depression. Not long after this, the NYC Department of Transportation took over the space. In 1973, Guastavino's was designated a landmark as part of the Queensboro Bridge. Terrance Conran opened his British home furnishings shop here for some time, and now on one side is the Food Emporium, while on the other is Guastavino's magnificent private event space. And a very special place, indeed, to one of my daughter's dearest friends, Jenny Posen Cohen, who got married here in 2012.