Sunday, February 18, 2018

What Do I Do Now?

Your Great Aunt Nellie died recently and left you with a group of art works.  Your first thought is what did she expect me to do with these.  Its simple:

-Learn what it is that you wish to sell
-Find out its provenance
-Reach out to both dealers and auction houses
-Make the difficult decision

Truthfully, it is not quite that simple.  Would have been nice if one of the paintings that was left you was signed by Rembrandt together with all the references in the various monographs including the latest one.  When I was first in the business there were 600 recognized Rembrandts in the literature and that was reduced by the next generation to 300. One more generation and we were down to 150.  Then a committee was set up to decide what paintings Rembrandt actually did and which were just a follower of Rembrandt’s.  Only one member of the scholars’ committee has stayed with the project and I do not know how many Rembrandts are recognized in the current literature.

You quickly ascertain that the painting you have been left is not by Rembrandt but by who is it?  Should you believe that the work is not by Aunt Nellie herself nor her immediate family, see if it is signed on the front or the back.  Should a name appear, go to the web and put in the name with a comma and the word artist afterwards and see if that is a lead.  If so see if the works on line are similar to what you have inherited.

Should you feel there is hope that the work may have some value beyond sentimental,  scour your aunt’s records for an invoice, or letter of gift, or any clue as to how she obtained the picture.  This information in rare cases can add to the value if the work belonged to someone important.  More important, however, is that it might help authenticate the work.  If there is a letter to Aunt Nellie from the artist gifting it to her out of friendship or gratitude you need seek no further.

The Print Lovers by Honoré Daumier

If you believe you have identified the artist see if there are any monographs on the artist and go through those to see if your picture is in there.  This will be important for you to know when you go to the next step and try to find out what the picture is worth. 

If you have that proverbial Rembrandt mentioned above and it is first rate you might go to the most prominent auction houses such as Christie’s or Sotheby’s, but since this is most probably not the case I would not have high expectations.  My father used to say, referring to the major auction houses.  “We can compete with their prices but not with their estimates.”  More than once I have been seduced by an estimate only to get a phone call shortly before the sale asking me to reduce my reserve (the price below which I will not sell) and have them slash the estimate and still buy in (not sell) the picture.  Then your picture is not only handed back to you, usually with fees, but it is what is known as “burned”.  Everyone knows the price it failed to bring and you will have great problems selling the picture for a long time because if no one else wants it, why should anyone else buy it.


Auction is also a lottery.  Someone, and preferably two people, have to want it at that time and place.  If the sale is in New York and the person who is interested to buy the work is in Georgia he may not be able to either get to New York or know who to send in his place.


I owned a contemporary painting by a British artist about 6 feet high that I no longer had room for.   No New York dealer had ever heard of the artist.  I looked her up on line and found that the New Orleans Auction Galleries had sold the artist’s work successfully.  I got less than my cost from the sale but I no longer had to pay storage for the art. 

The way I like to sell is through a dealer, if need be on consignment. If it is on consignment you have a agreed on the price you will receive, you can even agree on the dealer’s commission or he will give you a net figure that you get all of.  If after a set period of time it does not sell you can still put it in auction and there are no records to indicate that the work was available at a different price. 

How do you find a dealer?  One way is to go to the web and go to cinoa.org.  It stands for La Confédération Internationale des Négociants en Oeuvre d’Art,  The International Confederation of  Art Dealers  www.cinoa.org . This is an organization consisting of over 30 art and antique dealers’ associations in over 20 countries and representing about 5,000 dealers.  They have been vetted by their associations and deal in almost every area of the art market.  Start with the ones closest to home and make a few phone calls sending some really good photos and the information you have gathered and  see what they have to say.  Don’t forget that it costs to ship and insure a work so take that into account.

Now its time to get some expert advice.  If you are unfamiliar with the art world and have no idea where to turn get in touch with your nearest museum and find out who the curator is in the department where you think your work might belong.  The museum will NOT appraise it for you and you should not ask.  You only want to know what they think it is and who in the commercial world, auction house or dealer, might have the specific expertise in the art or artists you have to be able to help you.

Good luck with your quest, detective work can be lots of fun … enjoy!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Censorship of Art

Years ago in France I remember an 1866 painting by by Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) was shown behind a curtain because it focused on the private parts of a nude model. Its title, The Origin of the World is in its own way factual, and forces one to think of the painting differently… but what was really in the mind of the artist?  Some people will believe they know ... https://lockerdome.com/6904520370435393/7476138842792468

In December last year a human resources manager at a New York financial firm circulated a petition on line requesting the removal of a 1938 painting by Balthus (1908-2001) from the walls of the Metropolitan museum.  Titled Therese Dreaming, it depicts the artist’s 12-year-old neighbor fully dressed but in a pose that shows her underwear. The petition called it pedophilia and received 100,000 signatures.  Strange thing is, though I have known the painting most of my life and understood it was suggestive, I never thought of that description.


More recently the Manchester Art Gallery in Manchester, England removed from view their painting called Hylas and the Nymphs by Joseph William Waterhouse (1849-1917), which represents a Victorian erotic fantasy.  Why? The reason given was “… to prompt conversations about how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester’s public collection.”  If it is in the museum’s opinion an important work of art representing a moment in history why do they need to ask the public?  I thought the work of a curator and director was to educate the public, not take their guidance. And how is the public supposed to have an informed opinion about what they cannot see?


You can’t please all of the people all of the time. The Metropolitan museum decided to keep the Balthus on view. The Courbet started out at the Louvre and today resides at the Musée D’Orsay and, as far as I know, has always been on view. 

A famous living artist, however, who critics and public alike have appreciated for half a century, has been denied a planned exhibition due to allegations of  sexual misconduct. I cannot say I know the artist Chuck Close but his gallery was in the same building as mine and when I had the chutzpah, to open a contemporary department in my old master gallery Mr. Close came, in spite of his wheelchair, to the inaugural luncheon we arranged.  Coincidentally, he had kids at the same schools as I did so I would see him there regularly attending to his children.  From what I have read he spoke inappropriately to his models who have complained as they have every right to do.  I might advise my daughter not to model for him or, at least, not listen to him.  She in turn might start a movement depriving the artist of models and thereby dampening his career.  But, what has happened as a result of the recent complaints?  The distraught artist insists he has done nothing wrong  but The National Gallery in Washington D.C. cancelled  a show of his work drawn mainly from its own collection. denying the public access to the work in an act of outright censorship unprecedented for the institution.

The Artist

This is, of course, a direct result of the #metoo movement which is a positive empowerment of women to call out lewd or indecent behavior. But we still have a legal system and, I hope, a belief in the concept of innocent until proven guilty!

“Every day, thousands of commuters pass by a series of 12 mosaics by Chuck Close, recently installed in the new 86th Street station of New York’s Second Avenue subway line. The murals, are 9 feet tall and depict a cross section of New York City cultural icons — Close himself among them,— all rendered in his signature style, photo-based images transposed with meticulous care onto psychedelic grids. They are a reminder both of the diversity of the art world here and of Close’s stature within it.  Here is the mosaic of British artist, now living in New York, Cecily Brown and another one of Close himself: an artist’s artist, at 77 years old.“ (from the New York Times)



What is the National Gallery afraid of?  Is it not strong enough to withstand criticism as the Metropolitan Museum did regarding their Balthus. It goes beyond censoring images to suppressing the body of work of an artist on the basis of accusations about his behavior.  Does our National Gallery now bow to the politics of the day like the rest of Washington D.C.?

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The US-Mexico Border: Place, Imagination, and Possibility

The exhibition, “The US-Mexico Border: Place, Imagination, and Possibility” opened at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles and is currently split between 516 Arts, a gallery in downtown Albuquerque, and the Albuquerque Museum.

It was conceived long before the current U.S. administration made an extreme effort to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.  Our relationship with Mexico is at an all time low because of the lack of understanding of the mutual good that our countries can do for each other.  This is not to say there are no natural tensions between neighboring countries as there are between husband and wife!

Lowery Stokes Sims a very old friend from New York, and her colleague Ana Elena Mallet, a Mexico City based independent curator, were co-curators on this exhibition. We heard them speak about it at the Albuquerque Art Museum last week.  Lowery went to great lengths to explain that this show was not directed at the border or the issues there at the moment, but rather the artistic production of artists who live in close proximity to it as well as artists who cross it regularly.

The press release from 516 Arts puts it this way, “The contemporary artists in this exhibition explore the border as a physical reality (place) as a subject (imagination) and as a site for production and forward thinking solutions (possibility).

At the lecture we heard the story of Daisy Quezda, who grew up in Southern California, a block from the border.  In the evenings her mother would hang clean clothes on their laundry line for immigrants to take, leaving their torn and dirty garments to appear there the following morning. That childhood experience is symbolized by the dirty shirt cast in ceramic hanging on a rod above dirt collected at the border by the artist.


Elizabeth Rustrian Ortega is a Mexican artist who sees the border in an interesting way in her jewelry.  In 2013 she created  the “Cruce de Armas” necklace made in silver, gold plated silver and  barbed wire with a figure of the Christ child sitting on the barrel of a rifle with more rifles on  both sides.  This is a piece I would not advise wearing but rather keep it in a showcase!  (image of barbed wire necklaceChiricahua Apache artist, Bob Haozous has a unique way of seeing the border and his 1991 sculpture is shown outside  the museum entrance. The front is painted in bright colors with O’Keefe clouds in a sunny sky above the mountains of New Mexico but it is edged with posts bristling with barbed wire. On the back is a somber view in rusted steel. A door with the words “Border Crossing” is secured with two locks, on one side of the door is an airplane, and the other andarmed guard waiting for those who cross over by foot.


In works titled “The Space in Between” fitting commentary is also provided by Margarita Cabrera who has created cacti as a symbol of the land that surrounds the border, sewn out of the border patrols uniforms.


A project called “Repellent Fence” was created in 2015 by Postcommodity, a collective composed of indigenous artists who lived in Arizona and New Mexico. They created 26 scare-eye balloons that were enlarged replicas of a product marketed to repel birds from, for instance, orchards where you don’t want them eating the fruit.  “Repellent Fence” required a great deal of cooperation between Mexico and the U.S. as it consisted of a 2-mile line of balloons with their large eyes floating over the border fence built by the U.S. In the museum a video of the project is shown with one of the actual large balloons looming above you.  For more details on the project go HERE.




The show loses some of its continuity by being in two venues but it is well installed in both.  If you can I would suggest starting at 516 Arts and then going onto the museum but that is not a must.  There will also be other events related to the show around Albuquerque.  It will be on until mid April.