Sunday, November 14, 2010

I rented out my gallery!

Emanuel von Baeyer is originally from Bavaria. His interest in art began as a child of 12, with Japanese prints. So he started out as a collector and dealing became his passion. After all, we can become custodian of a lot more works of art if we sell some of them to feed our obsession. He moved to London 14 years ago as it is one of the centers of the art world where many passionate collectors meet at auctions, art fairs and at the galleries. It is hard to say precisely what his specialty is but one can narrow it down to works on paper with an emphasis on prints.

A few months ago Emanuel phoned to ask whether he could bring an exhibition of over 100 prints covering five centuries to exhibit in my gallery space. I had never done that before, but Emanuel was a good friend so I said yes.

A little late I thought, why does he want to do this exhibition here and now and how was this going to work? The first question was easily answered. New York in early November was the venue for three different works on paper fairs and about twenty galleries had their own shows. The second question took a little more thought. I had shared my walls with others including Emanuel when we did Master Drawings New York together but I had never totally given over my gallery to someone who was selling outside of my field. I thought that I would have to clear off the walls of my paintings and drawing as well as the French 18th century furniture from the floor and hire moving men to take everything to a warehouse, then store it for a week and bringing it back, but we wanted to do this without too many expenses.

The saving grace was that Emanuel wanted the gallery just as it was leaving enough wall space free for all of his prints. We live in a brownstone and he liked the ambience of showing the art as it would appear on the walls of a home. Therefore, we would only have to move some of the pictures and a few of the smaller pieces of furniture. Happily between Emanuel and a couple of very strong members of my staff the works of art could all be moved to other parts of the house.

When one does an exhibition either in a gallery or museum one must expect the unexpected. In this case, we were quite surprised when the FedEx truck pulled up in front of our house and the FedEx man informed us that he had two huge crates with all the prints framed and unframed and they were to be left curbside. There had been a snafu with the shippers and FedEx took the shipment with the designation of freight meaning that it had to be delivered to a loading dock or curbside. Thank goodness for a kind FedEx man who assisted in getting the crates into our house and with the help of an electric screwdriver the crates were soon opened and then emptied of their contents.

But then we had the two huge crates sitting in our small hallway so that one could hardly get around them and we were expecting visitors shortly. We couldn’t get hold of the London shippers to find someone to pick up the crates expeditiously. So we shoved them into the garden and got some heavy plastic in which to wrap the crates to protect them from the rain. Then we put a couple of garden chairs on top to keep the plastic from blowing away. Necessity is the mother of invention!

Now where to put all these prints? Over half were in 3 print boxes and the rest were shown on the walls. Emanuel had to figure out which of our pieces would need to be removed and whether he would use the staircases for some of the prints or pack the large parlor floor with prints as close together as tasteful. Deciding on the latter gave a very rich feel to the installation. And we could place some of our drawings and watercolors on the staircase trying to find ones that would not clash with the prints. Now what to do with the 3 large heavy boxes with the rest of the prints which the visitors would be free to sift through. I had to step in at this point and say that they could not be placed on the 18th century furniture which might get scratched and damaged if too many people worked at it at once.

What could we use without buying a special table for only a few days use? We did have a 6 foot work table in our basement on which we kept tools and packing materials etc. and I suggested that we bring that up from the basement and we took a magic marker to cover some of the bad scratches. It worked perfectly holding the print boxes and allowing visitors to move prints from one side of the boxes to the other. As a final touch we picked out a few objects from our collection that went well with the prints and moved them to appropriate places in the room.

The transformation was wonderful. The prints were top quality pieces from the mid fifteen century to the mid 20th and it all looked great in situ. Even I, not a print person, could easily see what a quality exhibition it was and, of course, ambience plays an important role in making people comfortable with the art. I asked Emanuel what his concept was in putting this particular group of prints together and he said that they were European in different techniques and that many were early or formerly unknown states as well as artists’ proofs.

Well, it worked. That the show was a success became obvious almost immediately. From the first morning on we had a steady flow of museum curators, collectors and dealers and a good number of them bought one or more of Emanuel’s treasures.