At the end of last month, the 2014 Metro Show in Manhattan brought a miscellany of oddities the likes of which are rarely seen at art fairs. From art of the occult to sideshow advertisements to deeply unsettling children’s toys, the experience was like tumbling into a cluttered curiosity shop.
However, it was a fair, one with over 30 galleries and dealers representing their wares with wild sights like photographs of ghosts and a palm reader’s collection of handprints. Below are five of the more unusual highlights from the Metro Show.
The Allegory of Life
This “Allegory of Life” with Gemini Antiques Ltd. from the 19th century covered a huge space of paper with a sad tale. A small peaceful town grows into a city, but along the way there is corruption through disease, violence, and death. Here you see the culmination where things just can’t to seem to get worse with a volcano, murders in the streets, fighting, demons hanging about, and some sort of small dragons prowling into town. However, it looks like the faithful might be hiding out in safety beneath a hill.
William H. Mumler might have hit his high point with the famous photograph of Mary Todd Lincoln with her assassinated husband’s ghost clutching her shoulders, but he was quite prolific as a spirit photographer. Stephen Romano had a group of the photographs on display, showing Mumler’s manipulation of exposures to produce a spirit silhouette behind a subject. Alas, poor Mumler’s career would be destroyed by a trial of fraud, where P.T. Barnum — of such “authentic” 19th century claims as a “fiji mermaid” that was actually half of a monkey stitched to a fish — testified against him.
Vintage American Flags
Who knew the grand old flag has so many iterations? Jeff R. Bridgman American Antiques had a patriotic selection of framed antique flags, with wavering numbers of stripes and messages of pride and gloom. One flag was written over with “We mourn! Our chief has fallen.” Lincoln’s ghost appearing again.
Palm Reader Handprints
Berlin-based Palmist Marianne Raschig read the palms of the stars, from Albert Einstein to Peter Lorre to German politicians, to ordinary folk, most in the 1920s and 30s. She kept prints of these hands taken with ink, a wall of which were shown with Ricco/Maresca Gallery. It was tempting to hold up your own hand and compare your life line to that of these traces of long departed souls.
Cheyenne Ledger Drawings
Finally, H. Malcolm Grimmer Antique American Indian Art had a fascinating group of Cheyenne courtship drawings on ledger paper from the 1870s. Known as “The Sheridan Pages,” the warriors are shown in color pencil drawings as romantics. Yet while the subject is fascinating with all its ritual, the use of the ledger paper brought in by white settlers on the Plains to track expenses along with the pencils is a striking collision between change and tradition.
The Metro Show was January 23 to 26 at the Metropolitan Pavilion (125 West 18th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan).