Saturday, November 3, 2012

See Worthy

The Bay from Fort Mason.
It's become a fall tradition: each year as the weather turns cooler (75 in LA instead of 85) and the work year is in full swing, I hop on a flight to San Francisco to visit clients and family and trawl the aisles at the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show at Fort Mason.

The first time I attended the opening night party I was blown away. The food is epic. And it doesn't let up. You can sample caviar, oysters, and the lamb chops and tater tots that are legendary among regulars of the show, well into the wee hours. The wheels of cheese, piles of fruit and wedges of chocolate brownie brick self regenerate on the multi-leveled display at the center of the show. The bartenders, this year in skippers caps, continue to pour the year's signature cocktail and whatever other libation you could wish for.

This year's theme was Sea Worthy: The Best of Nautical Art and Antiques. Cresting waves about twelve feet high framed the show's entrance, and punctuated a display of seafaring paraphernalia on loan from collectors and antique shops from around the Bay Area. Included were a beautifully wrought silver-plate bosun's whistle and a delicate 18th century English shell necklace on cotton thread that imagine settled over one of Jane Austen's character's tightly bound bodices. I commend the black humor, too, of an onboard drink service that included a massive ceramic "shipwreck punchbowl" that the artisan had decorated with a splintering ship.

Artist Achilles Rizolli's plan portraiture.

I approach the show as I would any fine art collection: I meander from one spot to the next in a half-gaze until something really grabs my eye. My first pause was at a set of drawings at the Ames Gallery. One wall held a collection of floor plans and graphically lettered signs, some of which blazed the letters "YTTE." The plans, I learned, were actually portraits of the artist's father. (He depicted his mother as a cathedral facade). The key to the plans were reminiscent of the mystical correspondences 18th century occultists brought to the Tree of Life or the Temple of Solomon, or whatever else they fancied to be a portal to greater understanding. Mr. Rizzoli, a local outsider artist from Marin, seems Jungian in the way he brings childhood associations and family lore into the mix. The gal at the gallery explained that the letters stood for "Year To Total Elation," which reminded me of a world peace plan with a similar abbreviation P5Y. Equally stirring, and arguably a similarly mystical possibility.

Across the aisle I ran into friends from Therien, neighbors on La Cienega where I work in LA. Their booth is in the eye of the storm, in view of the bar, dining area and social hub on the central axis of the show. I was distracted from my chat with proprietor Philip by the artful shadow cast by a carved wood dragon perched atop an ornate credenza.

Asian relics at Susan Ollemans, London.

I want to say priceless antiques line the aisles, but actually you can see that the 14th century agate ring from Burma is $3,500, and the Renaissance coin ring is $40,000. It's all on display. Richer still is the finery of show attendees. If you can dress to the nines you will do it here. The designers and the clients they bring to shop are as bespangled and bedazzled as the English furniture, tapestries, folk art, Indonesian imports, French ormolu.

Obsolete's animatronic cow
watches the crowd.
The people at the show are definitely one of the sights worth seeing. As I made my way from Mallett's nine foot high gilded carved wood trophy past Kentshire's fine English furnishing I felt a grasp on my elbow and someone whispered conspiratorially "I LOVE your skirt." The husband of a San Francisco designer I work with wore a tangerine blazer that matched the vintage colors of my Alexander Coleman skirt, and we struck up conversation naturally. Another influential designer complimented my necklace and wondered: Iranian? Indian? "I don't know, Pamela. I picked it up in a Burbank thrift store when I was 16, and had the good sense to hang on to it."

People look each other head to toe unabashedly and unapologetically at the opening nights of the show. Normally I'd find that off putting, triggering memories of the battery I sustained in junior high school style politics. But the designers in the city dress themselves and their interiors fabulously, and perhaps because it's devoid of the celluloid aspirations always at play in LA, there is a true sense of enjoyment and camaraderie in it. It's a pleasure to be in their company, and a wonderful sight to behold.

Ship of Fools: crew and passengers about to embark for a voyage to the other side in 
artist Ron Pippin's installation at the show.

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