At a time when digital stimulation is intruding on almost every aspect of our daily lives, it’s reassuring to see a corresponding uplift in pursuits that feel less frenetic. Book sales are up across the board, slow cooking is well-established, there’s a growing revival of artisan craftsmanship and, at the same time, a resurgence of interest in collecting. All help to suggest that there are now multiple generations of well-informed, 21st-century connoisseurs interested in questions of taste, provenance, and history. A prime example is Michael Diaz-Griffith, whose book The New Antiquarians celebrates contemporary art and the culture of collecting.
“There are, demonstrably, far more young people who are collecting now than at any other time,” says Diaz-Griffith, who is based in New York and is a collector, a curator, and design consultant. “In previous periods, people were often inheriting things and buying antiques, but now they’re taking a little more time to seek out specific things. With the book, I was interested in exploring the deeper motivating forces in the lives of these people and what causes them to embark on these experiments, beginning lifelong addictions to beautiful objects. I also wanted to have a wide lens, elevating and highlighting people from very different backgrounds who have been able to build these collections around themselves.”
Diaz-Griffith’s book, published by Monacelli, visits 17 collectors from the US and the UK in their own homes, many of which are modestly scaled yet fully layered and rich in invention. The collectors demonstrate varied approaches to displaying the results of their obsessions, whether in New York, Louisiana, or London. Many of them are “insiders” of one kind or another, from the realms of art or design; all have had to navigate their way through the economic and cultural shifts of the past 20 years, explored in the book’s introduction, and have seen the antiques market rise and fall before settling into its current period of resurgence and growth.
The project evolved from Diaz-Griffith’s own lifelong love of collecting, and his experience curating and organizing antique events, including Manhattan’s The Winter Show for art and antiques. Even as a child, growing up in rural Alabama, he began scouting pieces from flea markets and auctions. His grandmother was an antiques dealer; his parents let him design his own bedroom and themselves became real-estate developers, although with a rather more reserved approach to their interiors.
“They were building elaborate historical reproduction houses and new urbanist developments, rather like Poundbury in England,” says Diaz-Griffith. “I was involved in their business at a young age, helping on the design with the local architect, designing metalwork, or working with the carpenters.” It was a more creative upbringing than it might seem from afar, and in such a rural area. Diaz-Griffith became “quite obsessed with early American interiors at one point and had a bedroom that was a fully conceived period room”.
His university education fused his love of literature and the decorative arts. During his first degree at the College of the Atlantic on Mount Desert Island in Maine, he met his future husband, Mexican-born painter Alonso Diaz-Rickards. The couple spent two years in the UK, before settling in New York, where Diaz-Griffith studied at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, and joined The Winter Show, eventually becoming associate executive director. The New Antiquarians first began as an informal group of millennial collectors, co-founded with friend and colleague Benjamin Miller, which developed into a podcast and—eventually—a book.
“Benjamin and I would convene small groups of curators, art and antique dealers, and specialists from the auction houses, and have these salon-style evenings together,” says Diaz-Griffith. “One of my favorite events was a picnic in Central Park where we would all sit on antique blankets and quilts and invite people to bring their favorite object so we could have a handling session.”
The book, largely photographed by Brian W Ferry, uses the early era of World of Interiors under former editor Min Hogg as one point of inspiration. Those featured are friends, or friends of friends, and highlights include artist Andrew LaMar Hopkins and his multi-layered townhouse in New Orleans. The author first met him at The Winter Show, just as it began incorporating contemporary art in the mid-teens. “It was the opening night and Andrew was dressed in drag as his alter ego, Désirée Josephine Duplantier, which was quite a brave thing to do at the time and wonderful. He has collected a massive amount of material over the years, much of it has served as props for his own paintings.”
Argentine-British artist Pablo Bronstein’s period home in Deal, Kent, is full of color, texture, and delight while offering an exemplar of a collector with focus. There’s a particular obsession with English silver sugar casters, but also Delft pottery and 17th-century candle stands. “I knew the sugar casters needed to be in the book,” Diaz-Griffith says, “because Pablo has a wonderful way of talking about them and has this serial collection in the old-fashioned sense. But it’s also about his visual representation of his collection, which is so wonderful.”
Other collectors encompass what Diaz-Griffith characterizes as a post-millennial approach to antiques within the home, where an otherwise calm and contemporary interior becomes a backdrop to a carefully conceived collection of objects. Design editor Camille Okhio and her Manhattan apartment offer one example, along with gallerist Alex Tieghi-Walker and his home in Echo Park, Los Angeles.
“It’s an emerging taste for a very cool, classic approach to collecting antiques that’s all about this minimalist background which allows objects to pop,” says Diaz-Griffith. “It’s almost like accessorizing a perfectly white button-up shirt and certainly a few interiors in the book have that feel, with the mixing of antiques and contemporary pieces in one vision.”
For the future, Diaz-Griffith is already thinking about book two, with more of a focus on established collectors and possibly a wider geographical remit. And, of course, he continues to collect. His own passions include portrait miniatures, watercolor room portraits and reverse painted glass portraits from the 19th century. Plus, American painted furniture, rattan furniture, and wicker work.
“I have set up our New York apartment rather like a conservatory to try and battle the grayness and gloom of a winter in Manhattan,” he says. “We also have Alonso’s work, and some contemporary art, and I do like things that create a dialogue among themselves. But, at this point, if I had six houses then I would just collect different things in each of them.”
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