Since 1901, when Ginsberg and Levy, Inc. began, the Levy family has garnered a distinct reputation specializing in American antiques primarily from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Though the art world lost a great man in early 2016 when Bernard Levy passed away at the age of ninety-eight, his son and grandson, Dean and Frank, are successfully carrying on the family business that changed its name to Bernard and S. Dean Levy in 1973. Frank, who appeared quite enthusiastic to be continuing the gallery as its fourth generation owner, explained that while the gallery contains a few pieces of English furniture that once lived in American homes, everything else was made right here. This is rare in the antique business, where European works usually have the strongest showing. I was interested to learn that some of Frank's favorite pieces are the framed needlework that decorate the corners of the first floor. He told me that the surviving needlework was mainly done by girls between the ages of eight and fifteen. The nice thing about needlework, Frank pointed out, is that collectors often know who made it, since their names are worked into it, and after a while it is easy to start to recognize different schools and teachers of needlepoint. Frank spoke to me about growing up in the family business. "As a kid, you learn that these things are heavy, " he said with a smile as we walked by a seventeenth century wardrobe. From a young age, Frank found the history of each antique fascinating. "I've always liked American history, " he admitted. He then went on to reflect that as a boy, he and his brother would play football with an antique highboy in his parents' room, which provided "a perfect goal post. " When he was in his twenties, however, he began working for the family business and started to become more interested in the clues that told him when and where something came from. Most of the pieces are from the eastern seaboard - Frank told me that the taller ones usually come from the South, where inhabitants wanted heat to be able to rise, and the shorter furniture comes from the North, where lower ceilings helped keep the heat inside. As for where the impressive collection is found, "Things show up everywhere. " Frank found one piece at an estate three blocks away, whereas a chair from Rhode Island was discovered at an auction in California. In addition to my conversation with Frank, I also had the pleasure of speaking with Melanie, a gallery employee, who shared with me that despite being on a side street, the gallery gets a fair amount of walk-ins. Recently, a man stopped in who commented that he was "taken with the portrait of the sheriff" in the window. Most of the gallery's customers, however, are collectors and frequent visitors. Bernard and S. Dean Levy has helped to build not only private collections, but countless public ones, including those at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. The company is also proud to have helped to furnish a few historical house museums or help them to recover original furniture that was lost over the years. Touring the gallery with Frank, which is vaguely arranged chronologically, we began on the top floor. It is here that I discovered that many of the newest pieces from the nineteenth century are from New York, and made by three primary cabinetmakers - Duncan Phyfe, Michael Allison, and Charles-Honore Lannuier. Frank showed me how he "looks for little clues to find out where something is from and when, " showing me a drum on the leg of a table made by Duncan Phyfe that indicated that it came from a specific phase of his career. He then pointed out an elaborately decorated knife box. When Tom, the Manhattan Sideways photographer, commented that it looked like it could have come from the Art Deco period, Frank agreed, saying, "styles come back. "The fourth floor has furniture from the same period and a bit earlier, but with an emphasis on the country. Much of the furniture came from Connecticut and New Hampshire and was made from birch and maple trees. Frank indicated a dower chest that had a hidden signature from its maker, John Saltzer, etched into a painted urn on the side. We also saw an old lead-lined wine cooler with a stopper at the bottom which let out water. On the third floor, there were even earlier pieces, including one with a completely fictitious historic plaque claiming that it had once belonged to Martha Washington. Laughing, Frank said that if everything attributed to Martha Washington actually belonged to her, she would have needed far more houses to store her collection. The second floor had an impressive array of grandfather clocks as well as a desk with an extraordinary removable hidden compartment that allowed the owner to keep important documents in a safe space that could be removed from the desk in case of fire. When we returned to the first floor, we had traipsed through one hundred years of history, told in the language of furniture. It reminded me that Bernard and S. Dean Levy can boast a more-than-hundred year history of its own. "I'm proud we've been around this long, " Frank concluded.
Cultural exchange has been at the heart and soul at this non-profit institute since its opening in 1991, and its move to 13th street in 2000. Tenri Cultural Institute provides Japanese language classes, countless evenings of chamber music, and cultural and community-minded art shows in their gallery space. Not only do they spotlight Japanese exhibitions, there is a constant focus on a myriad of cultures. The ambience of the large gallery is always changing, project manager, Yuji Okui, told me. New York is the center of everything global, artistic, and social, Yuji explained, "that is why we chose to open this center here. It is prime territory to reach out to an international community and open the lines of cultural communication. "
From Toulouse-Lautrec to Milton Glaser, and from political propaganda to PBS advertisements, Rennert’s Gallery has more vintage and contemporary posters than I ever thought possible. The small auction house is also home to a vast reference library of photo archives and poster-related books, which is free and open to the public. When I stopped by the gallery on a warm summer day, Terry Shargel, who has been with Rennert’s for thirty years, offered to take me on a tour. I could not take my eyes off the Lautrec posters, many of which sell for more than $50, 000. “MoMA put on a Lautrec exhibit a few years ago, ” Terry told me, “and even they admitted that our selection was better. ” As we walked around, Terry gave me a helpful history lesson, pointing out vintage pieces by Cheret, Cappiello, and Mucha, a few of the pioneers of poster art. Works by these designers often cost thousands of dollars, whereas the contemporary pieces, including work by Milton Glaser, usually only sell for a couple hundred. Nina, a Manhattan Sideways writer who was with me, was especially excited to see a poster that had appeared in Roger Sterling’s office in Mad Men, as well as one that was featured in Orange is the New Black. According to Terry, the gallery never sells reproductions: all of their posters are original, from the first printing. Most of them, she added, were never even hung up; many were sold from a printer’s overstock once people started collecting. Rennert’s mainly sells works from the 19th and 20th centuries, Terry told me, and though they have posters from all over Europe and the Americas, the majority of their items are French. In fact, she informed me the president and founder of the gallery, Jack Rennert, travels to Paris nine times in a year. When I asked Terry what has changed in the poster market since Rennert’s opened thirty-five years ago, she sighed. “Our audience is getting old, ” she told me. “Young people seem to prefer photos, even though posters are a great and inexpensive way of decorating. ” But in spite of its aging customer base, the gallery is still going strong. Rennert’s holds three or four auctions each year, and for a full two weeks before each auction, customers can stop by to see all 500 posters for sale. After the tour, I spent another half hour wandering the gallery, admiring posters for some of my favorite bands from the sixties alongside Art Nouveau masterpieces. I could not wait to come back to Rennert’s with my husband, to page through design books written by Jack Rennert himself and browse through the gallery’s unrivaled collection of posters from around the world.
The Anthroposophical Society is an organization whose main concerns are extending the scientific method into the realm of spirituality, fostering "imagination, inspiration and intuition, " and the teachings of Austrian philosopher, Rudolph Steiner. The inventory at the adjoining bookstore covers a wide array of subjects as diverse as parenting, children's literature, biodynamic farming, meditations and spiritual pursuits. It also serves as a repository for the collected works of Rudolph Steiner. The society accepts people of all creeds, denominations, and philosophies in their varied programs, study groups, and events, most of which are held in the bookstore. In addition, this location houses the Center Point Gallery. The gallery provides a staging ground for unconventional art installations and other workshops.
Beneath the Spanish Benevolent Society lies La Nacional, one of Manhattan’s most authentic Spanish restaurants and the most easily accessible part of the society. Just by walking down the steps into the dimly lit basement lounge, we felt the bustle of 14th street quickly recede and we were transported across the ocean. La Nacional has the same relaxed, no frills atmosphere as most tapas bars in Spain. We gazed at the old photographs from the society’s earlier years on the walls and then had the option of sipping a drink at the bar, sampling some classic simple Spanish tapas such as tortilla de patatas, croquetas or chorizo, or dining on a full meal of paella. Perhaps the most authentic option, though, was to simply have a seat by the television to watch the fútbol game - it is always on. For visitors from Spain who want a taste of home, those of us pining for the Spanish travels of our past, or New Yorkers simply curious about a new culture, La Nacional is the place to go.