We are in the throws of last minute preparation for the Los Angeles Antiques Show. As I think about it, ‘throws’ is a pretty good choice of words, as, given the arguments Keith and I have over the design of the booth, we would throw things at each other- merely to emphasize a point of disagreement, of course- but most of our furniture pieces are too large, and we are too old, to easily heave them across at each other.
That said, we are always looking for the balance of scale that is both impressive, yet with a selection of pieces that together form, in the resulting design, something greater than the sum of the parts. We don’t want one single signature piece diminishing the remaining contents. Neither do we want so many objects in the booth that the sheer mass is overwhelming. Selling opportunity, yes, and we do want plenty of goods on hand to sell, but we are, as you may have noted in previous blogs, selling a look, as well, and we want to make sure that the booth, above all, can be clearly seen as an outstation branch of Chappell & McCullar.
Still, what we have is often purchased solely with the desire to impress, and, as above, we want to be sure to have some furniture of good scale. We used to look down our noses at those purchases made just to impress. But, clearly, the desire for conspicuous display is so basic to the human organism, we can’t just sniff at it. We all want to be noticed, and if not in our person, then in our possessions- which are, of course, an adjunct of ourselves.
We’ve just returned from a trip to Honolulu, and are just at the moment very much in mind of Iolani Palace, built in the 1880’s as a sort of a Beaux-art vision of a Medici palazzo. Sounds disparaging, but actually, I like the building very much. The building of Iolani Palace nearly bankrupted the Hawaiian kingdom and probably hastened the monarchy’s demise. Still, King Kalakaua felt it was imperative to achieve some sort of parity, despite his remote location, with European monarchs, so Iolani Palace was erected. With all that, the king’s awareness of the wider world and European socialization certainly have more to do with the style of the building than with the fact of its construction.
Iolani Palace was constructed roughly 100 years from the European discovery of the Hawaiian chain in 1778. Although in modest political turmoil at the time, with each major island governed by a king and his court of nobles who were occasionally at war with each other, there was little social unrest. Indeed, society throughout Hawaii was rigorously organized with established rules, both religious and municipal, and social constraints one violated at great personal peril. Society was highly stratified, with the nobility clearly identified by how they dressed, comported themselves, and the overall manner in which they lived- including style of habitation. The last time Captain Cook failed to respect the local nobility in Kealakekua, Hawaii- well, it was the last time he did anything before he departed this mortal coil.
Without proceeding any further and betraying my limited knowledge of Hawaiian history and ethnography, my point is, conspicuous display can be seen as a typical, perhaps natural adjunct to social control, regardless of the age in which one lives. In our own age of the common man, we now often consider personal display gauche at best, and always at least motivationally suspect. But, frankly, we are all of us still in no small degree controlled by display. What has happened, though, is that we’ve replaced the grand homes of the nobility with the display of a democratically elected government. We now look on the White House, the US Capitol, and any other over-large government building in any state or city as symbols of an ordered society.