It is quite silly for me to talk about the good old days, especially at my age, but I can not help it as I spend a lot of my time talking to art dealers and collectors about the way things used to be. Over the last couple of years, and especially the last few months, two seasoned dealers have been put their collections of 20th century decorative arts and design on the auction block. The first was the sale of Tony Delorenzo’s collection at Christie’s this past winter and now it is Mark McDonald’s turn. Sotheby’s New York will auction off McDonald’s collection this coming Thursday, March 10th. The sale titled “What Modern Is: The Collection of Mark McDonald” is a play on the title of a book, “What Modern Was” written by Martin Eidelberg, a design historian, in the 1990’s, which focused on design from 1935-1965.
There are some nice things in this sale, which is full of mid-century ceramics and furniture, and of course the jewelry of Art Smith. But what is especially nice about this sale is the accompanying catalogue. So often people forget that art dealers work very hard to be able to offer their clients the very best in their respective field, and they are not simple shopkeepers. Art dealers have a keen eye and an encyclopedic knowledge of their area of specialization. This catalogue is full of McDonald’s stories about how he came to own certain pieces and about the artists and collectors whom he got to know through his years as a dealer. McDonald became interested in mid-century antiques at a time when most people didn’t know what to do with it. And he was lucky enough to meet the original owners of the furniture and their designers.
McDonald (along with his late partners Ralph Cutler and Mark Isaacson) is considered to be a mid-century decorative arts trailblazer and has staged some ground-breaking exhibitions in his New York City galleries. McDonald has had three galleries over the course of his illustrious career: the first Fifty/50 Gallery on 10th Street, then the Gansevoort Gallery, located in the Meatpacking District (which was then packed with meat and not high-end restaurants and clothing boutiques), and currently the Mark McDonald Gallery in Hudson New York. Some major collectors reminisce about their visits to McDonald’s galleries in the catalogue, and all agree that they would always see the very best there.
This sale does not signify the end of McDonald’s business. Like the times, he is evolving. McDonald is ready to concentrate more of his time on modernist jewelry. He has been involved with the Estate of Art Smith for a long time now (in 1997 he staged an exhibition dedicated to the jeweler’s work at his Gansevoort Gallery) and helped the Brooklyn Museum Art land a major donation of his work which led to the wonderful exhibition, “Art Smith, From Village to Vogue” (my review can be found here). I am sure that no matter what Mark McDonald’s next endeavor will be, it will be a success.