For Kristina and I the last few days have been a whirlwind of activity here in New York. We have been covering so much ground, and have been inundated with so much social, visual, aural and emotional stimulation, that by the time we return to the apartment where we are staying (thank you Caroline!), we are almost mute, and completely drained. Which isn’t to say that we can’t appreciate the views from this 34th floor apartment in Battery Park City: on one site Lady Liberty in the Harbour, and beyond her the Verrazano Narrows bridge; facing us, Jersey City with its high-rise skyline; ferry boats going all along the East River (I never knew how much of New York is travelled by water!!)… it’s spectacular, constantly in motion, and stupefying.
Which might also be a good way to describe the Hans Sachs poster auction taking place in New York this weekend, The auction was primary reason that Kristina and I made this trip (aside from the requisite eating out, power shopping, Broadway show, museum visits, etc.) From the moment I heard about the Sachs collection, until the first moment I sat down in the Bohemian National Hall (BNH), ), the story of these fabled posters has drawn me in and held me close. (I have written about the collection before here, here, and here.
The BNH is a five-story building built in 1896, and designed by William C. Frohne in the Renaissance Revival style. It is a rare survivor of the many social halls built in the nineteenth century for New York City’s immigrant ethnic communities, and it was an excellent venue for viewing and buying posters. When Kris and I had first seen the posters in November, they were in the process of being catalogued and were still in their original crates. For the auction preview each poster had been put between two pieces of flexible mylar, so that potential buyers could see the front and back of each of them, and actually handle the posters without causing damage.
Schnackenbergs (a quirky German artist who’s posters are as hard to find as hen’s teeth), Muchas (including those we had seen as they were initially uncovered earlier this winter), Deutsches, Bernhards, and Klingers (of course1) lined the walls of the room. There were posters large and small, from some of the greatest poster artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and although some of them showed signs of age or wear, they were each perfect in their own right.
Almost as interesting – at least to us! – were the folks in the room. I’ve been in the poster business, first as a collector and now as a dealer, for longer than I’d care to admit, so I am familiar with most members of the Poster Mafia. We’re a small bunch of dedicated crazy people who love posters. Period. (To be in this business that’s pretty much the job description: love posters, and be crazy, quirky, odd. ) There’s Jack, who single-handedly created and maintains the US vintage-poster auction market; Laura, who although just retired, still reigns as the High Priestess of the International Vintage Poster Dealer Association; Nico, who’s patterned three piece suits are the ultimate fashion statement; Susan and Robert who know more about German and Austrian art than most museum curators, Sarah from San Fran, Robert from Amsterdam, Beatrice from Zurich, Mickey from MTL/NYC, the very handsome and gracious Lee from Connecticut… We’re like a large, extended, dysfunctionally functional family: This one talks about that one, that one whispers bedroom and boardroom secrets, glances are held a moment too long, cheeks redden, tempers and libidos flare and abate… Kristina pointed out that it would make a great reality show. And that was before the gossiping and socializing began.
I will write again – soon! – about the auction itself, but as the sun rises on Manhattan this Sunday morning, I need to get ready for the last day of my three-day marathon with Herr Sachs. I wonder what he would have thought of: the mystery Soviet buyer who has bought roughly 70% of the posters offered here with a cavalier disregard for price, value or condition; the ability of his son Peter to watch the proceedings from afar via Skype; and the myriad back-stories – true, untrue, – which are circulating about everyone connected with this collection.