Alive with History
Gallery owner and antiques connoisseur Richard Shapiro acts on his passion, fulfills his passion, and shares his passion for unique and masterful period pieces
Do enough soul-searching to give yourself permission to have art and aesthetics front and center in your life,” deems Richard Shapiro. It is this same guidance he likes to impart to the visitors to his Antiques and Works of Art Gallery on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. A personal collector for over thirty-five years, Shapiro displays an unbridled passion for art and antiques. After years of dedicated study, Shapiro believes that the pieces in his gallery are embodied with both aesthetics and historicism. Inspired by the late Renaissance and the all-encompassing Baroque spirit, Shapiro searches for rare and unique art and period pieces as the essential elements of his world.
Growing up in an environment that encouraged the creative process, Shapiro looked beyond aesthetics; he was constantly fascinated by the details in a work of art. He still continually analyzes why something looks good, not just that it looks good. His own personal collections reflect this penchant for detail, which emphasizes the importance of collecting the best possible work by an artist or a collection. From his first collection of 18th century rifles to his collection of contempo- rary art—which includes work by Lucio Fontana and Sol Lewitt, to name a few— to his carved, 16th century The Warrior David sculpture, Shapiro believes in buying the very best representation of the artist.
“Don’t just chase after a name,” explains Shapiro, “Buy the best you can afford, one that is carefully and thoughtfully curated with the methodology that is researched and correct. Beautiful things that are done aesthetically have soul rather than cost.”
Standing in front of a monumental and extremely rare Tuscan walnut two-phase cabinet (Italy, ca. 1650), Shapiro takes pleasure in its unique architectural quality. Its overwhelming scale and presence, coupled with the carved design, make it a statement in any room—not just a piece of art. Shapiro searches out these uncom- mon pieces from a variety of sources: antique dealers, auctions, fairs and private estates throughout Italy.
The Warrior David, a wooden statue of a youthful warrior, is an attention-grabber.This elaborately carved, 16th century Italian walnut piece represents an unusually intense and masterful depiction of David, an immensely popular Old Testament figure in Renaissance Florence.The skill of the carving, combined with the quirkiness of the details of the warrior—its long neck and somewhat funny face—are exam- ples of the distinctive characteristics Shapiro looks for in his pieces.
Intrigued by the interiors of residences throughout Italy, Shapiro was inspired to create Studiolo, a line of contemporary furniture created and designed to accen- tuate the grandest of each antique period piece in his salon. “When I traveled through Italy I noticed the nonchalance and casualness in the decor,” he remarks. “It was their approach toward design and decoration that struck me.” Studiolo appeals to the sophisticated palate.The classic shapes and colors do not try to be the focal point of a room, but rather compliment and intrinsically combine with a Baroque piece, for example.
According to Shapiro, the personal fulfillment in providing these extraordi- nary pieces for his clientele far surpasses the tedious and time-consuming process of transporting them into the country.“I am truly driven to create a spiritual envi- ronment, promote connoisseurship, and develop a hierarchy of all things that are special and unique,” he smiles.
He enjoys showing patrons around and marvels at the way they react to the pieces in his salon.“I never feel pressure in having to do business,” he says.“It’s all very effortless, very easy to me. It is my true calling.”
Image: The Warrior David, Italian (possibly Florentine), late 16th century.Walnut. Photo by Steven Barston.