Sunday, November 1, 2015

Dealers’ Pop-Up Exhibition

I ended my last Missive recommending that everyone see the pop-up exhibition in New York, at the Academy Mansion at 2 East 63rd Street, which ended this past weekend.  In spite of it having closed, I feel it is worth talking about some more because I would love to see more exhibitions of this caliber. 

The three art dealers who put together the exhibition were Brimo from Paris, Di Castro from Rome and Kugel from Paris.  A greater treasure trove of old European art you could not see anywhere in the world. What is being exhibited is material from ancient Rome to the 19th century.  As much as the term has been abused one can honestly say all was of “Museum Quality”.  Brimo de Larousilhe deals in objects of the medieval and renaissance period,  Galleria Alessandra Di Castro has mainly Italian renaissance art in all media and Galerie J. Kugel  has continental European works of art from the 16th to 19th century often of an unusual nature.

But first of all, what is a pop-up exhibition?  I found the following definition/explanation on line:   “A pop-up exhibition is a temporary art event, less formal than a gallery or museum but more formal than private artistic showing of work. The idea began in 2007 in New York City where space for exhibiting artistic work is very limited.”

While I can agree with some of this, the exhibition at 2 East 63rd Street was anything but informal.  While it has not been unusual that during active art seasons dealers did exhibitions in a foreign venue it is unheard of to be done with this size and quality.  The “Wow Factor” begins with the venue.  The location just off 5th avenue is incredible, the sort of private mansion one reads about owned by billionaires and Arab sheiks.

Recently I read a book by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark, Newell, Jr. called “Empty Mansions” about Huguette Clark who owned grand houses and apartments around the country but did not live in them.  From her own inherited fortune she could keep them up and always have them ready for her imminent arrival, though she never arrived.  Then there are those who buy houses as an investment and so it is with Leonard Blavatnik, who has invested heavily in New York real estate.  In 2001 a company belonging to him purchased the mansion that is the site of the Pop-up exhibition .  It was built by William Ziegler, Jr., heir to the Royal Baking Powder Company fortune.  Ziegler had commissioned the architect Frederick Sterner to design the building in 1919 for himself and his wife, Gladys.  It was on the site of 3 old brownstones.  Today, we are still lamenting the loss of such old buildings … nothing changes!  After divorcing his wife, however, Ziegler sold the building in 1929 to Norman Bailey Woolworth of the family that owned the eponymous stores.  Twenty years later Woolworth donated it to the New York Academy of Sciences, and it has since been known as the Academy Mansion.  In turn they sold it to Blavatnik.  He never planned to move in but has rented it out for parties, weddings and pop-up exhibitions!

Photo Credit: Christopher Gray

I asked Laura Kugel how come they took this space and she responded, “After looking at many places, including galleries, we chose it because it's really a house and gives us a unique opportunity to invite people in our temporary home. It wasn't fitted with professional lighting for works of art so we had to install all of it in the week prior to the opening.”   In the end they had to add some walls as well.   Here is an image of the temporary office that the dealers designed in which to greet clients.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Lippman

Walking into the exhibition one was immediately transported to the Old World.   Of course, at the beginning of the last century wealthy Americans were imitating the luxury of the European living style.  Therefore, the building is perfect for making one feel that one was in one of the grand houses of the three dealers involved in the show.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Lippman

Beyond the ground floor rooms of the pop-up installation and up a spiral staircase was another floor full of great treasures.  The gallery that looked most like an Old World Kunst Kammer was the one in which members of each gallery posed for a photo.  They are Alessandra Di Castro, Nicolas Kugel, Alexis Kugel, and Marie-AmĂ©lie Carlier.   They are standing at a marble Italian renaissance table and behind them you can see wonderful early vermeil pieces.  No objects were identified with a gallery in the installation so no judgments could be made for reasons of dealer prejudice.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Lippman

One of the objects that all the dealers were particularly proud to show and is worth singling out is a large Roman 16th century bust of Emperor Caracalla (186-217 AD).


As if this all were not enough, by invitation, one could go to another floor in the Mansion’s small elevator where on display was a tapestry cycle: The Meersburg Hunts of Maximilian tapestries, a set of seven tapestries after cartoons designed by Bernard Van Orley from Brussels, circa 1550-70.

If you missed the show in New York, you will need to travel to Paris and Rome to visit these premier galleries… or maybe they will be coming back to New York next year.

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