Former Texas Gov. Ann Richards had the audience laughing at the recent YWCA Leader Luncheon. She recounted a visit to a local antique dealer and her resulting comment: “I never saw so much junk!” That’s usually my immediate reaction to antiques, realizing I don’t immediately recognize the quality and value of restored furniture, vintage clothing, historical treasures, etc.
There’s a difference, of course, between garage sale bargains and antique works of art. My preference is not for the ultra modern or trendy, either, but for traditional. When I first set up housekeeping, it was good that cute “country” was in style, as I was actually in an “early poverty,” phase, utilizing any cast-off by family and friends. Because of, and sometimes in spite of, those fond memories, I still don’t enjoy the flea market and garage sale hunt for antique treasures. But I get the fever to peruse the outlet stores occasionally in search of a treasure.
Through the years, posters sticky-tacked to my college dorm room and first apartment were replaced with bargain priced pictures from a Hotel Pere Marquette auction in the 1980s, along with arts and crafts that were handmade or picked up at a garage sale. As I’ve shared in this space before, I now enjoy searching for original works of art by local artists while visiting vacation spots. I not only take pleasure in looking at the piece, but savor fond memories from the trip. No major recognized artists—the purchases are strictly based on instant attraction.
A recent Wall Street Journal article read, “With traditional works scarce and the economy tough, more collectors are looking for affordable art. But will rock posters and lawn chairs hold their value? … To a degree that’s surprising even experts, some unlikely items are elbowing onto the serious art scene—and making inroads with collectors.”
The trend at many museums and with art dealers is to feature unconventional pieces, causing some to question, “What is art?” The Apollo Theatre’s recent production of Art posed that question as the audience pondered a blank canvas. A rock or movie poster, twisted metal, 1950s and 1960s furniture, and ceramic pots—items that might be found at the Illinois Antique Center—are now being displayed at museums.
As art dealers are running out of traditional works to sell and cash-strapped museums are giving legitimacy to some of the newer categories as they develop pop-culture shows to boost attendance, the experts tell us more unconventional shows will follow.
“Now, some unusual works are getting masterpiece treatment, as the lines between ‘art’ and ‘collectible’ blur more and mainstream collectors talk about vintage costumes and quilts in the same breath as Renoir,” said Victor Wiener, executive director of the Appraisers Association of America. He indicated that for the well-researched, discriminating buyer, those flea markets and estate sales may not only be full of bargains, but also be part of a museum’s exhibit in 2020.
As I do this season’s spring cleaning, I’ll look more closely at that theater program book, that trendy 1980s skirt and sweater, those platform shoes, and rolled up posters before tossing them out. If only I had kept my son’s original Star Wars figurine’s…. but we did keep an original Cabbage Patch doll and boxes of baseball cards. It will be harder to separate the piles of “save” and “pitch” knowing my “junk” may be valuable after all. AA!