Sunday, January 30, 2011

What We Learn From Our Visitors

So often questions and answers from those who come to the gallery are helpful to us. Sometimes it is only finding out what our friends and clients like, but that helps us know what they may be looking for next time they come by.

Every once in a while we gain important insight into one of our works of art through our visitors’ comments. The other evening a colleague came in and was thrilled over our fan shaped drawing and spoke at length on what fabulous condition the drawing was in considering that it was about 400 years old. We noticed together that it had been folded and possibly it was kept in a box for most of these years. That would explain the state of preservation. I bought the drawing in France where such works tend to be preserved in family collections that go back a long way.

The most illuminating piece of information we received in the last few days was about a drawing I bought knowing nothing about it, not even thinking that I, an old master dealer, was buying a drawing that was less than a half century old. My excuse, was that I liked it, it amused me. Turns out, there was much more to know. My colleague, a collector of later material, recognized that the drawing of a man fallen in the forest with a rhinoceros peering at him from around a corner was actually related to a print of a century earlier.

The drawing is by the Italian Surrealist Stanislao Lepri (1905-1980) and the print “The Good Samaritan” is by Rodolphe Bresdin (1822-1885).

Though the drawing clearly does not represent the tale of The Good Samaritan, it is equally clear that the Lepri is “en homage” to the print. Note all the similar motifs, even the thistle at the bottom center.

This is the new information we were able to add to our data sheet: The composition represents Lepri’s tribute to the 1861 print “The Good Samaritan” by Rodolphe Bresdin (1822-1885). The highly detailed fantastical landscapes of this idiosyncratic 19th century draftsman were much in line with the imagination of the later Surrealist movement. Bresdin was a friend and teacher of Odilon Redon to whom he taught etching and lithography. In an 1869 essay on Bresdin, Redon described “The Good Samaritan” as “an extremely strange and mystical dream, curious and disquieting.” Lepri enhanced the strangeness of the scene by eliminating the figure of the Samaritan and replacing his camel with a rhinoceros, unseen by the now-solitary naked figure in the clearing.

The other morning, as I was working on this Missive, a distinguished Frenchman, clearly a connoisseur, came in to see Master Drawing New York. He particularly admired a drawing we have by the sculptor Pajou. It is an early neoclassical image called “Pyrrhus Presents Glaucias”. The artist used this image for sculptures he created 25 years later. The connoisseur asked where are the reliefs today, an excellent question. We went back to the 1998 Pajou exhbition catalog to sort out the various related entries. What we found was that a copper and two plaster reliefs were in private collections, one having been kept in Pajou’s family and owned by his descendants. A wax version in the museum in Anger, was given by the sculptor David d’Anger, who had received it from Pajou’s favorite student. All of this sheds light on how important the subject was to Pajou.

I remember a case when we had a client come in and admire a terracotta sculpture that we had attributed to the 18th century French sculptor, Joseph-Chales Marin. It had come from a Rothschild collection attributed to Claude Michel Clodion who is a better known artist. We told this to our visitor and he said, “of course, it is Marin” as he pointed to the signature. This after untold visitors and scholars had seen the piece. A little embarrassing but also most helpful. Sometimes the obvious is missed.

A good dealer has done his or her homework before presenting a work of art in the gallery but remember, even with New York’s Public Library, The Frick Library and the web to consult, nobody has all the answers.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Master Drawings New York

Last week I mentioned that I would preview Master Drawings New York (MDNY) but time got ahead of me so instead of a preview, here is a report.

What an evening! This past Friday was the opening for MDNY at all the participating galleries.

MDNY is a different kind of art fair, originating in London. The New York version includes 25 galleries showing works on paper. There are many modern galleries but even more specializing in old masters. It is also old masters week including, not only exhibitions at all the galleries, but the Winter Antiques Show as well as auction sales later in the week. All these events help to bring more visitors into town.

Our challenge was how to distinguish ourselves from all the other gallery openings occurring at the same time. What was that something extra? We decided that together with art food is good for the soul and we went with Sushi at Six at Stiebel. It worked. I have never sent out an invitation that so many people have commented on.

It was one of the coldest nights of the year but that does not stop the art interested. The collectors, curators, colleagues and friends came in goodly numbers. In some fairs the opening nights are selling nights, particularly in the modern and contemporary, the idea is to get in and buy early before anyone else has the chance. With old masters, while that does happen, it is a rarer occurrence. People want to look and come back and then decide.

Last year was one of our best fairs ever, but I believe, all our sales occurred after the last day.

Here are a few of the works of art that people seemed particularly interested in. Maybe the most popular with curators and collectors was the 16th century fan shaped drawing. It continues to mesmerize, not only by its shape and subject matter but the quality is so high that, I believe, it was done for a very special marriage.

“I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree, At least until the billboards fall I shall not see a tree at all”, remember this out dated Ogden Nash couplet. Well, here we have one of those formerly hidden trees. I have been thinking of doing an exhibition of tree images but have had trouble finding others that stood up to this enchanting image by the German 19th century artist Max Seliger.

I must mention one more, our pair of extraordinary pastels by Jean Valade, which I have written about previously. They are soon on their way to the Getty Museum and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston for the exhibition ‘Paris: Life & Luxury”.

There is still time. The exhibition continues through this Saturday and I want my readers to please come in and decide for themselves what they like. We have over 40 drawings on view. But if you cannot make it there is always our website where you will find the section devoted to Master Drawings New York.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Art in Santa Fe

I have probably mentioned it before, and will again, American legislators, generally, give short shrift to the arts and art programs in schools and these are always the first to be cut. But here in the Capital of New Mexico, Santa Fe, there are legislators who are most supportive of the arts and as in many other towns across the country there are many ordinary citizens who believe art is very important.

In what other town do you ever here things like the mayor saying, “I raised the percent for art (Art in Public Places) from one percent, mandated by the Governor in 1986 to two per cent and I hope to raise it to three percent.” Where else would you hear your state representative say, “Art is our oil and gas”? This, where the new Governor was elected with solid support from the oil and gas industry.

In New Mexico we actually find politicians who are willing to stand up for the arts and there is good reason. In Santa Fe there are three main businesses: real estate, government and art. There are more museums, albeit small ones, than in most cities in this country. There are three different cultures that live side by side, Hispanic, Native American and Anglo which here includes black people who are still here in very small numbers. We rely on the tourist trade and one of the big reasons people come is for the arts.

There are about 300 galleries in Santa Fe of which 90 belong to the Santa Fe Gallery Association. Some of the fields they include are Native American, Spanish Colonial, Western, ceramics, furniture, sculpture, photography, and contemporary. ATADA with its large roster of members represents a veritable Who’s Who of the American Indian and Tribal Art dealers and many of them are in New Mexico.

I believe that New Mexico is the only state that has a cabinet post for the head of the agency devoted to the cultural assets of the state. The New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs created by the legislature in 1978 is now under threat from the new Republican Governor. It oversees the state museums, monuments, arts, libraries, heritage preservation, and archaeology programs.

I only learned the term Creative Tourism recently though I gather that it is not a new concept. It allows visitors to not only see art but to participate in it as well. I know a New York frame maker who comes to Taos, New Mexico for a week every year to learn the art of pottery, taught by New Mexico potters. These courses can last a few hours a day to full days for a set period, usually a week. UNESCO formed a creative cities network and in 2005 Santa Fe was the first so named city in the U.S. I plan to come back to the efforts made in regard to creative tourism later in the year.

Even though I am sure one could find cities with an equal number of arts programs or maybe more but relative to population I am sure the percentage is far higher in Santa Fe.

These are some of the reasons why Santa Fe is called the 3rd largest art market in the U.S.. Well, maybe it is not quite that high in the ranking but for certain areas of collecting it clearly is.

I am heading back east and will preview Master Drawings New York which brings together art dealers specializing in works on paper from all over.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Doin’ What Comes Naturally

We all do it but why? Why is it so important to us? Few among us are recluses. We are social animals who need interaction and approval from our fellow beings. We all work the crowd or at least wish to whatever our motive.

When we first bought our house in Santa Fe, New Mexico we had visited often but only knew a few people well. For anyone who arrives in a new place you know it can become very lonely very quickly unless you get to know the locals.

But how do you make a concerted effort to meet people? We really had no idea. Since school all our friends and social acquaintances were art related. My mother once asked me, “don’t you have any friends?” Well, I felt I had many but most I had met through work. I do not have a business in New Mexico and living in a town of about 70,000 in the American Southwest is rather different from New York and its 7-8 million inhabitants!

In our first apartment in New York, we saw our neighbor exactly once in 5 years and that was my making a date for a specific purpose. He was the only other person living on our floor in a five floor walk up. By contrast when we first got our house in Santa Fe I was working out front and suddenly I hear someone yell, “Hey, I’m you neighbor”. I realized as a typical New Yorker I had neither looked at nor listened to a passer by. In other words it is obligatory to say hello. I had to rethink my attitude.

So we devised a plan going forward. We would make note of any names of people we enjoyed speaking with at dinner parties or cocktails and art people that we naturally gravitated to. Then on January 1 every year we would invite them all to an open house. It became a tradition and we just gave our 11th open house.

It has been an amazing social experiment. Facebook writ small! Being collectors of Native American Art and naturally attracted to the museum world, it started out, and remains mainly an art crowd. At this time of year there are many visitors to Santa Fe and that gave us the opportunity to invite visiting friends as well. At our first open house we had a curator from the Portland Art Museum and a woman who worked at a photography gallery here walk in and hug warmly. Naturally, we were rather surprised but it turned out that they had attended the University of New Mexico together years before. The next year several museum people met but they were from several museums around the country. One year two long time museum directors from here in Santa Fe met for the very first time!

Over the years we have met scientists, writers, politicians, and even a few government types who were working on secret projects in D.C. Don’t forget we live not far from Los Alamos. This year people from many fields came. A lawyer talked to a Los Alamos editor whom he had known from University days, teachers met individuals who wanted to teach and museum people who could discuss museum exhibition exchanges. In a state with a small population you are more apt to encounter people from a wider circle. In New York one usually only gets to speak to the Mayor or Governor or local councilperson at a fundraiser! Here we have had Christmas dinner with the governor, were invited to a chocolate party by a city councilwoman and chatted with the mayor and state legislators often.

I used to worry whether enough people would show up? Are we that interesting? How can we keep people coming? Then last year a guest kindly explained all, when she said, “I love your parties I always meet someone interesting and get to speak with friends that I haven’t seen all year.” What wonderful opportunities networking gives us to expand our horizons personally and professionally.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Matachines Dances

The Spanish came north from Mexico to occupy New Mexico at the end of the 16th century. They arrived at the Indian village of Ohkay Owingeh in 1598 declaring it the first Spanish Capitol of New Mexico and renaming it San Juan de Los Caballeros. They also brought to the region many European customs and most importantly the Catholic church. There was a great deal of cross fertilization and assimilation over the years which has only begun to be studied in recent times.

One ceremony that has been adapted from the Spanish tradition is the Matachines Dance. It is performed in both Hispanic communities and Indian Villages throughout the Americas. In Northern New Mexico it is danced around Christmas time and is more secular than religious in nature. We attended a Matachines Dance at Ohkay Owingeh on the day before Christmas.

There is an old joke about Indian Time based on the fact that the Indians do not look at time as we do; it is merely an indication as to when an event may occur. We arrived for the dances at around 10:30 in the morning. An area in front of the two village churches had been cordoned off for the dance and there were a few Native Americans waiting as well. We saw the Anglo Parish Priest nearby and asked naively what time the dances would start to which he replied, “I don’t know, I have been waiting here since 8”!

Shortly thereafter the Native American dancers came into the proscribed square. Their costumes were most unusual for the Indians to wear. They seemed much more Hispanic than Indian in nature. Most of the corps of dancers were wearing bishops hats with bandanas over their faces and fringes over their eyes. From their hats hung long ribbons in all the colors of the rainbow. They carried rattles in cloths and dance wands of a unique form consisting of three rays cut into zigzag shapes

The dance varies from village to village and the story being told remained a bit of a mystery to us. At Ohkay Owingeh there were only 15 to 20 participants. The leader who wore an open crown represented Montezuma (c. 1398-1469). One can find varying spellings of his name, he was the fifth Aztec Emperor. Dancing nearby and sometimes interacting with him was his Mistress La Malinche. Here, however, she had been transformed into a little girl in a white party dress. Wandering around the outside of the group of dancers were two men with masks and whips. They were called abuelos or grandfathers and were clearly guardians who also assisted any dancers who might need ribbon straightening or bandana tightening.

While Native American dances are usually accompanied by a drummer and a chanting chorus, here in front of the dancers we found a fiddler, a guitarist and a little boy with a drum who seldom played it. Also, up front was a child who represented a bull and every once in a while he would attack one of the grandfathers with his horns. Then we heard the drummer boy beating his drum intently as the bull started to attack Montezumah and we heard a shot. We had been wondering why there was a man with a rifle standing at the edge of the onlookers. The bull fell and was dragged off only to revive a short time later with a handwritten sign around his neck saying, “Bull for Sale”. Later he came back without the sign to fight again with the grandfathers.

The dance took a little over an hour (extremely short, relative to the traditional Indian dance). Afterwards, the priest gave a blessing reciprocated by a thank you from one of the tribal elders. The priest then left and we thought that the dance was over but more people were arriving. Everyone was walking across the road to the pueblo’s plaza where traditional Indian festive and religious dances are held and the entire dance was started over again.

To witness first hand the cultural amalgamation of the European and Native American traditions was another step in our education about the American Southwest.