Friday, February 5, 2010

Mr Crispo's decorous background

Arthur E. Smith, Billy Baldwin's protege and partner before Baldwin's retirement in 1972, created these rooms for Andrew Crispo, a Manhattan gallery owner, of whom much has been written elsewhere. However, the client is not under review here - merely his possessions and good sense in choosing Mr Smith as his decorator.

In the original article written by John Loring a list, in the guise of being a distillation of works by preeminent artists, designers and craftsmen of the 1920s and 1930s, of Mr Crispo's possessions is gazetted, and an impressive account it is: a 1933 William Zorach bronze; Morris Louis, Georgia O'Keeffe, Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove and Robert Motherwell paintings; studies by Geogia O'Keeffe and Marcel Duchamp; an Eileen Gray cork folding screen; Emile-Jacques Rhulmann armchairs and table; Josef Hoffmann vase and cache-pots; an Egyptian mask; Jean-Michel Frank table, desk and dining chairs; Tiffany plates and Jean Puiforcat cutlery.

"The room's pale-toned decorous background intensifies the pure contours of the furniture and was created for Mr Crispo by a close friend, Arthur E. Smith, who also helped select some of the rare furnishings throughout the apartment."

Designed and to a degree curated by a decorator who had worked for and with the best and who in his time became one of the best of his generation, this rooms have dated little. In a previous post about Arthur E. Smith I said the same thing about a 1977 design - in its aesthetic differing from his work for Crispo, but sharing the same quality of agelessness.

Another quality Mr Smith's work shares with most of the other decorators I've mentioned in the past weeks is that of gentleness. Not from him the aggression or the excesses of some of 1970s decoration, just a job done well, illuminated with a clear understanding of what is appropriate.

Photos by Peter Vitale from an article written by John Loring (from whom the quotes) for Architectural Digest, March 1980.

The cocktail of the week is a Foggy Day and given a week which included a partner who awoke in the middle of the night to find he's allergic to mussels - this after years of eating tons of them, and all other sorts of hell breaking out, the name of the cocktail is entirely descriptive of my state of mind.

1 1/2 oz gin
1/4 oz Pernod
1 oz water
1/4 oz lemon juice

Stir and pour over ice.


  1. Nicely told, Blue!
    "A clear understanding of what was appropriate".
    This is a point of view dangerously near extinction.
    And one more thing: don't you just love the term "a close
    friend' ? One saw that time and again back in the day, a code word
    for what today would be boldly termed Partner.

  2. Wonderful ---- I had been looking for these photos! What possessions, and what a talent!

  3. Mr Worthington, thank you. I sometimes wonder if the concept of appropriateness is even under consideration in design schools. In contract design what is appropriate is conditioned by code but in residential ... ! And, yes, I remember the 'close friend' term very well and we all knew what was meant. Partner, as you say, is bolder but still slightly ambiguous, though I recognize the massive steps forward it represents. I like the older 'lover' but I'm not sure it ever appeared in a design magazine.

    Will - I agree about the degree of Arthur Smith's talent. Superb, as were many of his contemporaries. See you soon?

  4. Some of the excesses of 70s decorating seemed to last far beyond that decade, especially when it came to Art Deco, which style was often rendered in a cartoonish pastiche--when it wasn't flat-out a godawful hodgepdge.

    I remember a feature on Barbra Streisand's house (well, one of them) filled with Art Deco icons & masterpieces, where the wildly varying aesthetics of the individual pieces meant that the whole was far less than the sum of its parts. Tthe place looked like a high-end garage sale, and the fact that Architectural Digest would put such a sorry mess on its cover was the signal for me to unsubscribe.

    On the other hand, Smith's design reads as a collaboration between the various artists involved, the residential counterpart of Donald Deskey's interiors at Radio City, rather than something created 40 years after-the-fact. Like WM Twigs, I remember seeing this handsome spread when it was first published, but I didn't remember whose work it was. Thanks for the reminder of Smith's talent.

  5. Crispo was such an interesting character. Did a little research on some art works previously owned by him a while back. It is fascinating to see his home, as there really is something of his personality infused into those rooms.

  6. I'll raise a glass of cabernet to using the term lover. As a hetero female who grew up in a world where girls were taught to keep their dreams in their apron pockets, I think the world would be a much better place to live with honesty and allowing—encouraging—each other to be authentic. As I commented on Rosie's wonderful post about gays in the military, I said what does sex have to do with serving one's country. Rosie reframed my statement with "sexual orientation." But I chose my word consciously. I think sexual orientation may be more acceptable than the verb. But it is the verb that makes sense of life. It is the passion that shows in the works of these men that make the rooms dance off the page. I suppose it is possible to have passion in one's profession, without having it in one's life, but I wouldn't want to find out! Happy weekend.

  7. Magnaverde - I remember the Barbara Streisand Art Deco rooms, or at least, the rooms full of Art Deco tat. I did not like what I saw, and I'm sure when I find them I shall dislike them even more. I seem to remember a not-too-successful sale, or am I wrong about that? Along the same lines I remember some poor woman about the same time, who, not having the caught the collecting mania, had it awakened by her decorator who suggested she collect majolica - not bad in itself, but I doubt if she had any real apprehension of quality. Quantity was being used as an emblem of aspiration.

    Arthur Smith's rooms are handsome, I agree, and it is clear a great deal of thought had gone into the disbursement of the furniture and art. The phrase "helped select" was not unexpected in that article but one assumes there was real collaboration between client and decorator. That room is a classic, but I wonder, after looking at the latest issue of Elle Decor how it would be photographed today.

    Thank you for your very interesting comment. I really appreciate then.

    Janet, there is more of his personality to be found in a book called Box o' Toys that a correspondent recommends I read. I see it is for sale on Amazon. Mr Crispo gave us a very entertaining half-hour at the dinner table a couple of weeks back - at least in the form of gossip.

    Home before dark - I always look forward to your pithy comments and I really do enjoy them. I like the word lover, as I said, and am reverting to it for, after 31 years it's time. Politically correct language in trying to be inoffensive creates a barrier between the user and the object and makes perfectly explicable language offensive. The most ridiculous example I hear frequently is ladies and men - as if the word woman is becoming uncouth. Sexual orientation is meant to be inclusive, I feel, in the right hands it is, but it also may be that the word sex in an increasingly pious society is joining the ranks of forbidden words. What a pity that would be.

    So, Mr Worthington, Magnaverde, Home before Dark, Will, and Janet, what a good conversation we have had! Sirs and Ma'ams, I thank you for it.

  8. I have lingered long over this exquisite post and the marvellous
    conversation here. Forgive me Home for wrapping up the whole idea of sex as a verb in the notion of 'sexual orientation'. I'd rather call a spade a fuck between lovers, actually.

  9. Oh yes, and the expression 'Ladies'.. awful. Clearly I don't behave like one.

  10. Blue,

    As I was scrolling down viewing each of these very calming images, the word "gentleness" came to mind and there you said it. These are so lovely, free of contrivance and affectation. Thoughtful and appropriate in ways rarely seen.

    I, too, enjoyed the lively conversation from my spot at the back of the room, as though I happened by and looked in. I think the weather perfect for a Foggy Day.

  11. Rose, as far as I am concerned, you're once, twice, three times a lady -if you'll forgive me quoting a song.

    Errant Aesthete, what a lovely image - you happening by and catching a glance.

  12. Andrew Crispo, some consider him to be the Devil incarnate -- but who would be surprised to see a devil live so handsomely, for seduction is a work of entrapment and beauty is the most seductive of all, don't you think? It was where it all went horribly wrong with him and his victim(s) that he will chiefly be remembered for, however. One of my favorite codes was "lifelong bachelor", and "he's not the marrying kind." Rose, dear, I believe "lady" is an appropriate term for such as yourself (title aside), except when used by lounge singers and their ilk...

  13. Wonderful, stimulating discussion, of which I am late to partake. I love the collection of art. Well done!

  14. "...just a job done well, illuminated with a clear understanding of what is appropriate."

    Just as it should be. Thank you.

  15. Mr Darling - it is to be entirely expected that the handsome devil would be beautifully housed. Crispo's story is interesting and until the murder of which he was found not guilty, not at all shocking. I didn't know him and it's not easy to get a clear picture of him from what I read - I have not read the book - as there is a lot of reaction rather than analysis. Ah, yes "lifelong bachelor" - as good as "confirmed bachelor."

    Karena and Tina - thank you.

    Mr Terestchenko - you're welcome.

  16. READ:Bag of Toys... all about Crispos involvement in the murder of a male model in N.Y.C.I was a bit "thrown" to read of Arthur Smiths partners exploits.Smiths work in contrast is very refined.I guess he liked to feast with panthers...

  17. It is always interesting to see comments by people who never met either man. "Bag of Toys" is not all fact. It contains a great deal of speculation, suggestion, innuendo, uncorroborated anecdotes, mis-information and plain old guesswork.
    But the colloboration between Crispo & Smith on their two different homes (three if you count the Southampton house) was an exquisite and ongoing work in progress that always looked to be 98% finished. There was always some minor change, project or addition going on. Having visited all three homes long before any of Crispo's problems started, I can say that there has not been anything like this collaboration since.

  18. Anonymous, thank you for your comment. I bought Bag of Toys on the recommendation of a correspondent and, frankly, I did not warm to the book - I found it far too sensational - I don't really care for scandal sensationalized to the point of tittilation. I never met either Mr Crispo or Mr Smith but I would have liked to as both sound really interesting. As to the design work - I find it wonderful and if it came out of a collaboration between the two men, then all the better. It is clear to me that whatever their characters, and character in the sense of good or bad is not relevant here, their work, individual and collaboratively is beautiful.

  19. Perhas one day Mr. Crispo will re-emerge with a gallery and have a memorial exhibition to his good friend Arthur.

  20. Anonymous, thank you. That Mr Crispo could do so would be of great interest to many, including me.

  21. The collaboration between Crispo and Smith was one of two good friends, not lovers. Smith was a great interior decorator who often acquired wonderful works of art for his discriminating clients from the Crispo Gallery.

    Masterpieces of American Art passed through the Andrew Crispo Gallery but only the most important clients were ever treated to viewings in the private show rooms behind the closed doors of the major exhibition space.

    Between Smith's extraordinary talent and Crispo's ability to acquire major artworks, they gave their clients beautiful environments in which to spend their private hours.

    Regardless of the scandals, these men were important talents in each of their respective fields. Together they formed a powerhouse of good tast.