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The Winter Show and Master Drawings New York 2020 Edition

When does craft become art? Is there a way to know? Well, the definition of each basically goes something like this: craft is an occupation or activity that requires a quantifiable level of skill; especially manual skills to produce and consistently reproduce objects, and art is an occupation or activity that requires a level of skill to produce an aesthetically beautiful or significant object that will forever be subject to the whims and vagaries of every era after its creation.

Of course, there’s always a few objects that have a foot in both camps, not because each doesn’t want it but because the arguments on both sides are so compelling. Take our ‘Opening This Week’ and ‘Gallery Shows’ selections: both have a strong base of craft using skills of carving, decorating, glassblowing, metallurgy, etc. But then the results are greater than expected, with objects of aesthetic beauty that define a time and place. Gothic Spirit: Medieval Art from Europe from Luhring Augustine (working with the London gallery Sam Fogg), showcases the architectural details, stained glass, statuary, manuscripts, and art created by artisanal guilds and religious orders. These items, made to be useful and educate, are most definitely craft. Their creators followed a rigorous training program to make a consistent product but in the end these works are also art because they have an aesthetic appeal in their proportions, decoration, and finish.

A similar situation sums up the paradox of the American craft movement and the career of one of its most famous proponents, Wendell Castle. His work, using wood lamination to create furniture, was not possible without thorough knowledge and practice in the craft of woodworking. But his skill in absorbing and synthesizing abstract art concepts, then applying them to his pieces, give the pieces sculptural qualities beyond their function. In Wendell Castle and the ‘Quiet Revolution’ from R & Company, the links between his early work and artists such as Arp and Noguchi are clear. This is craft that doubles as art or art that shows its craft – you decide.

We couldn’t let this week go by without mentioning the re-opening of International Center of Photography, now located at 79 Essex Street (Between Delancey and Broome Streets).  The brand new building will house exhibition galleries, classrooms, darkrooms, equipment lab, research library, media labs, and shooting studios. Exhibits on view are: Tyler Mitchell: I Can Make You Feel Good, CONTACT HIGH: A Visual History of Hip-Hop, James Coupe: Warriors, and The Lower East Side: Selections from the ICP Collection (all shows until May 18). It’s going to be great to see how the new place works with the neighborhood, and we’re looking forward to spending a lot of time there.

There are also three events this weekend worth checking out, all very different but linked by the desires of the organizers to show an impressive variety of art in the marketplace (and maybe inspire visitors to begin a collection of their own).

The Winter Show (formerly The Winter Antiques Show) specializes in rare and beautiful objects from a multitude of centuries and countries. Galleries and their items go through a stringent vetting process, guaranteeing that the quality of both meet an exceptionally high standard. The show also happens to be an annual benefit for East Side House Settlement, one of NYC’s oldest charities, working in local communities of the Bronx and Northern Manhattan. ESHS offers programs for everyone from toddlers to seniors, and this fund-raiser goes a long way to help continue their work. One of the many highlights of 2020 show is the loan exhibition, Unrivaled: Hispanic Society Museum & Library – and for once, the title is not hyperbole. This institution, located in Washington Heights, holds thousands of artworks, manuscripts, books, prints, and photographs, all focused on Spanish and Portuguese art, culture, literature, and history as experienced across the globe. It was the brainchild of Archer M. Huntington, an American fascinated by the arts and history of the Iberian Peninsula and the countries it influenced. The museum is closed at this time while much needed building repairs are going on, so unless you happen to be visiting Houston this spring and visit HSM&L’s travelling show, this is the only chance you’ll have to see some of their fantastic items for quite a while. The Winter Show runs from Friday, January 24 to Sunday, February 2, at the Park Avenue Armory (643 Park Avenue at 66th Street), open daily 12-8, Sunday and Thursday: 12-6, and Tuesday 12-4:30, Tickets are $30 and can be purchased here.

Master Drawings New York 2020 is a unique opportunity to see twenty-five of the best specialty galleries in America and Europe showcase drawings (along with paintings and sculptures) from over 700 years of artistic achievement. As if that wasn’t enough, there will be a special exhibition during the run of this event, Drawn Together: Five Centuries of Drawings from the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine at Driscoll | Babcock (The Fine Arts Building, 22 East 80th Street). This collection has an illustrious history, having been the first compilation in the US of European drawings available for public viewing and study. Even now, students at Bowdoin College have ready access to these and hundreds of other drawings to copy and study, an exceptional learning tool connecting modern artists with the past. There are also many talks and lectures on offer during the week, sponsored by museums, auction houses, and Drawing New York, where gallerists and speakers will discuss the exhibits and give context to the works on view. Information on all these events is here, please note many require advance registration and may charge a separate admission fee. Master Drawings New York 2020 runs from Friday, January 24 to Saturday, February 1, located in various Upper East Side gallery spaces from 60th to 82nd Streets, between Fifth and Park Avenues, open Friday, January 24: 4-8, Saturday, January 25: 11-6, Sunday, January 26: 2-6, Monday, January 27 to Saturday, February 1: 11-6. Admission to the galleries is free.

Along with the museums, galleries, and educational events of the weekend, Christie’s (20 Rockefeller Plaza, enter on 49th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues) and Sotheby’s (1334 York Avenue at 72nd Street) auction houses are holding previews and sales to coincide with these fairs. Both offer a themed Americana sale: Christie’s has Important American Furniture, Folk Art, and Silver (viewing closes 12pm on Friday, January 24) and Old Master & British Drawings Including Works from the Collection of Jean Bonna (January 24-27), Sotheby’s has three auctions dedicated to Important Americana (January 25-27) and Masters Week (January 24-31) with drawings, paintings, and sculptures from the 1300s to the 1800s. Viewing times vary, so check the listings for details.