Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ceramic Bust of a Boy: Decorative Arts or Sculpture?

Does the fact that it is made of porcelain, a form of ceramic, relegate it to the “minor” or “applied” arts? Yet if it were terracotta it would be considered sculpture. The fact that it is a multiple, cast from a clay model, does that argue that it is a manufactured item not a work of art? Yet bronzes are deemed sculptures and they too are multiples.

To me this bust bridges all categories as a major expression of the Rococo style in what was at the time a new medium for sculpture.

In 1746 Maximilian III Joseph, Elector of Bavaria, started experiments in the creation of porcelain as a means of revenue for his court. But it was not until 1754 that he began to have some success. In 1761 the manufactory moved into a specially constructed building on the grounds of the Nymphenburg Palace, the Wittelsbach summer residence outside of Munich.

A Swiss sculptor Franz Anton Bustelli (Locarno1723 - Munich, 1763) was hired to become the chief modeler and was given artistic directorship of the enterprise. His fame came from his unique interpretation of the Rococo style in the twisting, turning figures that he created at Nymphenburg. Among his best known works are a series of characters from the Comedia dell’Arte which I referred to in an earlier missive. Exceptional in his oeuvre are works of larger scale like this piece that measures 10 inches.

I have known this chubby-cheeked boy all my life because the bust sat in my parents’ dining room. Rosenberg & Stiebel had received on consignment a collection of works of art from Baron and Baroness Louis de Rothschild of Vienna. When the Rothschilds left Vienna and moved to their new home in Vermont, they no longer lived in palaces as they had in Austria, so they de-accessioned many works of art and kept what they could use. Among this large consignment, a third sold quickly, a third went more slowly and the last third became quite difficult to dispose of. From this last group my father acquired our little boy.

A German porcelain dealer had told my parents that the piece was nineteenth century, but somehow, living with it all those years, I never believed it. The modeling and finishing and glaze were just too right. So after my parents died, I photographed it in detail and began researching it. We must remember that the study of art history does not remain static and we learn more all the time. Today there are specialists in the work of this factory who have studied archives, and compared Nyphenburg pieces in collections around the world.

The Munich porcelain dealer Angela Gräfin von Wallwitz was most helpful to me. She saw the piece in original and consulted with the scholar Alfred Ziffer and showed him the photos. He concurred that the piece was of the period of the original Bustelli model and that ours was made between 1760 and 1765.

A conversation I had with Nicholas Penny when he visited our house some time ago highlights the questions that introduce this blog. He is now Director of the National Gallery in London, but he was, at that time, head of the Sculpture Department at the National Gallery in Washington. Taking the bust off of a piece of furniture he said, this is something I hope to acquire for the gallery someday. I said, but it’s porcelain, not a traditional material for sculpture. He responded, This isn’t just ceramics. It’s sculpture. And anyway my department covers sculpture and decorative arts.

There are many works of art that cannot be easily pigeonholed and I personally think that we should stop trying to do so.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Question Oft Asked

Do you have a gallery in Santa Fe? The answer is, no. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t work out here. Much of our business is now done through email, snail mail, telephone, and fax,… and the FedEx truck comes down our drive way often. Needless to say, if a client wants to see me in front of a work of art I am on the next plane. And there is good reason to be out here.

From my ‘Missives’ you have probably figured out by now that a great deal of my business is ‘schmoozing”! Many clients and colleagues visit Santa Fe or have homes here. You may wonder what draws them to a small town (population of 60-70,000) in a poor state.

Every summer people come from all over the world to hear great opera in a beautiful outdoor theater high in the mountains. There is a chamber music program which attracts major musicians such as the world renowned clarinetist Zuill Bailey for this coming season. The Lensic, built originally in 1931 as a movie theater, has been revamped by the Zeckendorf family as a venue for a varied calendar of performances of dance, music and the spoken word.

Since the early 20th century the scenery and breathtaking light has attracted artists who made Santa Fe into an artists colony. Among the most celebrated are Georgia O’Keeffe and Agnes Martin.

By my count there are at least eight museums in town. All together they are not as large as the Metropolitan Museum or the Louvre but they offer a menu of art in digestible doses.

The best known museum is the Georgia O’Keeffe with more out of town visitors than any other. The largest institution is the New Mexico History Museum which I have written about previously.

Three museums are devoted to Native American Art; The Wheelwright, The Museum of Arts and Culture and the gallery of the Native Americans’ distinguished art college, the Institute of American Indian Arts. Hispanic art is covered by The Spanish Colonial Museum, The National Hispanic Cultural Center in nearby Albuquerque and a portion of the Museum of International Folk Art.

The Museum of Fine Arts, in the 1917 adobe building that initiated the Pueblo Revival Style, houses a permanent collection of art from the South-West and presents special exhibitions that cover the gamut of international art history. For contemporary art there is Site Santa Fe, a Kunsthalle for what is going on in the world of contemporary art.

There are also art fairs throughout the year ranging from the well known Indian Market where Native Americans from all over come with their finest creations to the Spanish Market that showcases local Hispanic traditions. As of last year we even have contemporary design with SOFA, West. Culture goes on 24/7.

There are hundreds of art galleries in Santa Fe covering all of the above categories of art. In addition to the established downtown galleries a new district for cutting-edge contemporary has developed around SITE Santa Fe in the old Railyard. But the most charming art scene is Canyon Road, a winding lane flanked by old adobe houses that were once artists’ residences and are now inviting galleries.

You can see that Santa Fe offers a great deal of art to blog about… stay tuned.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

On The Road Again

This time I did not head abroad but to our home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where my wife now resides. The trip takes 5 hours flying time plus a change of planes. Now is a time to review these past hectic weeks.

My last few missives have confused some of my readers. They wanted to know if I had a booth in either Maastricht or at the Salon in Paris. No, we did not have a booth and no, I did not spend my considerable time at these fairs just working on my Missives!

So what was I doing? Simply put I was looking and talking. Looking at all the art and speaking with dealers, scholars and friends. Like any junket these are opportunities to meet people and consult with many. The art business, like any other, revolves around connections and knowledge.

People will say, don’t buy at the fairs because everything will be more expensive. This is not necessarily so. Every once in a while, even I, as a dealer, have bought a work of art advantageously at a major fair. This can be especially true if the exhibitor is selling something that might be in my field or more for my clients than his or hers.

In other cases, I may see a work of art that is very similar to one that I have in my inventory and I may be asking much more or much less for it. In the case of the latter, I might ask if the dealer would be interested in acquiring my art work; it is probably more in his field than in mine. Or it might be that this dealer is only looking for a specific period by the artist and my work was not created in those years. In these exchanges I can gain knowledge that can be very important later on.

Often I see a work of art that is on the desiderata list of a client of mine. In these cases I ask for a photograph, data sheet and price. I will then email or snail mail this information and sometimes I manage to broker a deal.

As you can imagine, by now, these trips have generated a very large ‘To Do’ list. It will take me a while to get through all of the items. I need to figure out my priorities and what I must do to effect them. For instance only during my down time did I remember that I had consigned works of art from my inventory to dealers at both Maastricht and the Salon. But I neither heard whether they were sold or taken home. I haven’t seen them yet. I must follow up. Some of these chores are simple, a phone call or an email. Others, however, take more time. A colleague who specializes in the field of a group of works we keep in a warehouse has asked for photos and details. So I will now see what I have photographed and what still needs photos. Also, I must find whatever data is available about my small collection. Obviously, I want to put my best foot forward so that I will get the desired response from my colleague.

So that is why the travel expenses, the jet lag, and physical wear and tear of attending these fairs is worth it.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Why would anyone want to buy an un-attributed work of art?

Last week I brought up the question: “Why would anyone want to buy an un-attributed work of art?” Why is the gallery of anonymous drawings at the Salon du dessin so popular?

There are actually many reasons. I believe, foremost, that we all have little of the explorer in us and wish to make a discovery. We want to discover something nobody else has which, of course, makes us feel superior, if for only a moment.

Then there is the lure of a bargain. No matter how expensive a work of art may turn out to be, one believes that it must be less than if it has a name attached to it. An un-attributed picture, however, is not necessarily inexpensive. The most costly drawing I found at the Salon with no name was 16,000 euros ($21,500) but I have seen them for much more as well. Quality is paramount.

As you may have guessed by now, I bought an un-attributed work at the Salon du dessin, in fact a most unusual one. Being fan shaped it was probably made as a design for a fan or could it have been made as a design for a set of dishes? We don’t know for sure but right now I don’t think so.

The captions above the figures refer to a wedding and they are in French. There is no question about the style of the drawing being from the 16th century. Therefore, the caption written by the exhibiting dealer logically said, “French 16th century”. French, however was not just spoken in France in the 16th century. It was also the language of the upper crust in the Netherlands as it was in Russia in the 18th century. So could it be the work of a Northern artist?

Additionally, the drawing also, is not necessarily referring to a specific wedding so it could be allegorical in nature? So many questions to answer.

It is most unusual for an art dealer to show an anonymous drawing publicly before having completed his or her research. I wanted to share these thoughts, however, when they were pertinent and who knows someone who receives this missive may have an idea they would be willing to share!

When the drawing arrives in New York, with the original in hand, we will speak with scholars, go to the Frick Art Reference Library and search for similar and related works. When we have exhausted our resources the drawing will either be attributed or still a mystery… some puzzles are never solved. Then and only then will it be available for sale. The investigation is part of the fun of being involved with art.

Art lovers are not just explorers but detectives as well.