A tableau at the Metro Show (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise indicated)

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

The Allegory of Life

Detail of “The Allegory of Life” (1860), mixed media on paper. (from the Alan Daniel Collection)

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.

Spirit Photographs


Detail of a spirit photograph

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

Jeff R. Bridgman American Antiques

Flags at Jeff R. Bridgman American Antiques

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.

Flags at Jeff R. Bridgman American Antiques

Flags at Jeff R. Bridgman American Antiques

Palm Reader Handprints


Marianne Raschig, “Collection of 36 Original Vintage Palm Prints” (detail) (1925-35), Berlin, Germany; Ink and graphite on paper

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.

Marianne Raschig Collection of 36 Original Vintage Palm Prints

More of Marianne Raschig’s palm prints (courtesy Ricco/Maresca, New York)

Cheyenne Ledger Drawings

Cheyenne Ledger

A Cheyenne Ledger drawing

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.

Suitor astride a Yellow Horse Southern Cheyenne, c. 1870 The Sheridan Pages, p. 7 Color and graphite pencil on ledger paper, 11 ¾” x 5 ¼” H. Malcolm Grimmer

“Suitor astride a Yellow Horse,” Southern Cheyenne, c. 1870, The Sheridan Pages, color and graphite pencil on ledger paper (courtesy H. Malcolm Grimmer)

The Metro Show was January 23 to 26 at the Metropolitan Pavilion (125 West 18th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan).

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...

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