Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stieglitz and His Artists: Matisse to O’Keeffe

How can I resist this one?  During the last few months in Santa Fe I have been writing about photography and Georgia O’Keeffe.  I come back to New York and at the Metropolitan Museum, “Stieglitz and His Artists: Matisse to O’Keeffe” opens!

Alfred Stieglitz at 291, 1915
Edward Steichen (1879–1973)

Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) was an amazing photographer, founder of the Photo-Secession movement, editor of Camera Work as well an important dealer in photographs and modernist paintings.  In 1929 he gave the first group of photographs accepted as art by the Metropolitan Museum which kicked off their photo collection. He had a number of galleries, the first being “291” which was his address on Fifth Avenue and the last was “An American Place”.  In 1933 he gave another group of photos and more were given after his death by his widow Georgia O’Keeffe along with including paintings, prints and drawings totaling about 400 works of art. 200 of these are shown in this two-part exhibition.  First one finds a small gallery of photos from the initial donations which include works by Stieglitz as well as Pictorialist masters whom he showed in his gallery.

Part two of the show is far larger and includes, photographs, prints, drawings and paintings by the artists Stieglitz represented during his career.   Artists such as Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth, John Marin not to mention Brancusi and Kandinsky.  Can you imagine the excitement that Lisa Messinger, exhibition curator and catalog editor as well as other curators who had worked with the Stieglitz collection over the years felt?  Finally, they could see this treasure trove that had been dispersed among the museum’s departments for generations, brought together in a single show.  No matter how many times you flip through the images there is no substitute for seeing the works together on exhibition.

Marsden Hartley’s “Portrait of a German Officer” (1914)    

Charles Demuth’s "I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold" (1928)   

Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Cow Skull Red, White and Blue” (1931)

Stieglitz like many dealers was his own best client: the treasures he had include  amazing iconic images that are in the show such as Marsden Hartley’s “Portrait of a German Officer” (1914), Charles Demuth’s "I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold" (1928) and Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Cow Skull Red, White and Blue” (1931)

Having said all this, the other side of the coin is that rooms full of a single artist's work, just because they were part of a dealer’s stable and came from his collection, might seem a bit much… I always want to see a tight edit.  As I have said before, however, there are many ways to view an exhibition and those who created it make their decisions.

One editorial decision that seems most apt is that Stieglitz's wife and muse, Georgia O’Keeffe comes as a climax in the last gallery.  As I walked into that space there were several of O’Keeffe’s more erotic plants and a young man said in a stage whisper to his friend, “Look at that vagina!”  Whatever turns you onto art is, in my opinion, a good thing, though the artist would have taken great exception to that comment.  She always denied any sexual connotations in her work.

Stieglitz was able to put together an incredible collection and thanks to his eye for quality the collection itself becomes a work of art.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Party’s Over. It’s time to call it a day…

That is the way I felt by the time our guests left the evening of our Grand Opening.

It was wonderful just the kind of mix one likes to see.  There were museum directors and curators; clients and scholars; young and old; former members of the team at Rosenberg & Stiebel from 20 and 30 years ago; school chums from my distant past… and all are friends.  Years ago my mother asked me if I had any friends because I was always involved with people who related to the art world – hey, that is what I enjoy there is a great deal of cross fertilization be they scholars, museum people, clients friends they are all rolled up into one!

When you have a good mixed group come together people reconnect, for instance, former members of the staff at the Metropolitan Museum see each other for the first time in years and after a few minutes they are reminiscing about “the good/bad old days”. 

I remember a couple who were major collectors of contemporary art and they came regularly to our exhibitions when we had Stiebel Modern.  At one of these openings one of them said to me, “I don’t like what you show but I love the way you do it.” They liked my style, what greater compliment can you get!

Aside from a great party, the ambience of our gallery allows us to discuss our common interests in the arts, and acts as a wonderful reminder of what we deal in and the quality of works of art that Stiebel, ltd. is known for. 

It was gratifying how many of our guests told me about pieces in the gallery that they had read about in my ‘Missives from the Art World’.  We don’t do art fairs off of our premises and we don’t advertise but in our media crazed world we have a niche to tell our stories.  Missives and parties are the ways we do it.

Of course, you are dying to know whether we sold anything.  Guests asked for images, data sheets and prices.  Much easier today with email and jpegs than having transparencies reproduced and sending them out.  When you have enough irons in the fire some of them get hot enough to brand with!

Take a look maybe you will see someone you know…

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Grand Opening

For some reason Openings are always "Grand".  I guess that is because they are important to those with a vested interest and for those with an insatiable curiosity!

My family art business has just moved to its 4th New York venue.  When my father arrived from Europe he established Rosenberg & Stiebel in his apartment on Central Park South.  Within 5 years he moved the company with his partners to a 57th Street Gallery which though only 5 blocks away represented the center of the art world.  It was a modest gallery to start out but grew over the following decades until after 45 years it grew to 2 full floors occupying about 8,000 square feet.

The next move at the millennium was to our town house all the way east on 68th Street. Now, this year we have made our first move without my father.  Again by moving just a few blocks laterally we have moved from off center to the very pulse of the New York old master world.  We are now on 69th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues.

Another advantage to the new venue is that the gallery is on different levels making it easier to focus the visitor on a specific work of art; as well as allowing for a 16 foot high gallery which works perfectly with the works of art from Continental Europe of past centuries that we deal in.

One of the questions we had to ask ourselves was are we trying to show the objects as they might appear in the collector’s home or are we offering a bazar from which they should choose.   I think both concepts have advantages marketing-wise.  In the end, however, it is my name on the door and I want my treasures to look comfortable in their new home. 

I am sure you have heard that the worst disease a dealer can suffer from is falling in love with his collection… I mean inventory.  I am afraid that I do  suffer from this malady.  I subscribe to the maxim intoned by the famous art  dealer, Klaus Perls, who said, “I never sell anything.  Every once in a while I allow someone to buy something.”

As we have for the past decade, we will remain by appointment only, since we have a small staff.  We don’t want anyone disappointed if they come by.  But you can phone from the corner to see if somebody is here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

O'Keeffe Country

For my birthday Penelope gave me 24 hours in O'Keeffe country which included a landscape tour at Ghost Ranch, a tour of her home and studio in Abiquiu with O'Keefe's secretary and an overnight at the Abiquiu Inn.

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) visited New Mexico for the first time in 1917 and then again in 1929 and 1930.  She spent her first summer at Ghost Ranch in 1934 and was finally able to buy her own home there in 1940.  Ghost Ranch seems to have been the most inspiring place for her and she probably did more paintings of the landscape there than any place else she lived. 

The tour we took was based on the 2004 exhibition organized by the George O’Keeffe Museum, “Sense of Place”.  The concept of the show was to compare the artist’s paintings with the actual landscape.

In order to understand an artist and what they are painting one needs to go to the places where they were working.  For instance in Italian painting the light is strong and direct while in Dutch painting the skies are usually darker and more atmospheric.

In O'Keeffe country the bright direct light, the barrenness of the land and the rock formations, the spots of green and tufts of clouds are today as they were when she was working there.  Even though she used varying degrees of abstraction, she managed to transmit the feeling of the land in her art.  She referred to Ghost Ranch as “the far away, nearby”, a perfect description.  Actually, I often feel that concept goes for much of the Southwest.

Her second New Mexico home was in Abiquiu, 14 miles south of Ghost Ranch.  She had coveted a house she passed often on her way to Ghost Ranch and was finally able to buy it in 1945.  After years of neglect the house needed a lot of work and there was the perfect opportunity when she had to return to New York to settle her husband, Alfred Stieglitz’s, estate in 1946.  She left her companion Maria Chabot to manage the rebuilding.

The interior is rather stark in it’s minimalist style.  Light came from bare bulbs in ceiling sockets or hanging down on wires.  The only covered ceiling fixtures were Akari paper lamps, a gift from Isamu Noguchi who had been invited to dinner but did not show up!  They were hung in the dining room.  Her work and dining tables were made of plywood.  Her rock collection covers most of the flat surfaces particularly on the window sills.  The warmth comes from the gardens, the original adobe undulating walls 16 to 18 inches thick, and, most of all, from the beautiful scenery which seeps in from the many large windows.

Penelope had arranged for Agapita Judy Lopez, known at Pita, to give us the tour of the house.  She had come to work there in 1976, first as companion and later as secretary to Ms. O’Keeffe.  Her grandfather had been the gardener and her mother the cook, so Pita became part of the “O’Keeffe family”.  I had taken a group tour of the Abiquiu house some years ago and the difference doing it with Pita was not the facts, which were obviously the same, but the personal stories.  O’Keeffe by any measure was not the easiest of people to deal with, so when Pita started out and had questions she did not bother the artist, instead she would call her mother!

O’Keeffe managed her image but had difficulty relating to people on a personal basis.  She was known as reclusive in Santa Fe circles, but she expressed the wish to have her home be open to the public when she was gone. When Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico wanted to make it a Federal site open to the public, she was told that the doors would have to be widened under the Disabled Persons Act and other modifications would have to be made.  As Pita told us “Miss O’Keeffe said “’That is not my home!’” and stopped Domenici from carrying through.  The house is today part of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

The world of Georgia O’Keeffe and her paintings have a mesmerizing effect and once you have seen O’Keeffe country it is impossible to separate the two.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Granddaddy of Them All

As Vince, our New York Gallery Director, and I looked at our new gallery, which is almost ready for prime time viewing, one work of art in particular caught our eye.  It was not the 18th century decorative arts or the Old Master paintings and drawings for which we have been known for over a century, but it was an Art Nouveau Grandfather Clock.

Penelope and I acquired it 25 years ago and it spent over a decade gracing the living room of our Park Avenue apartment and later over a decade in our bedroom in our townhouse.

The story began on a visit to the Macklowe Gallery’s restoration studio where we were reviewing the work being done to a piece that we had purchased from the Lloyd Macklowe.  As my eyes wandered around I spotted a bit of a bronze jardinière (planter) sticking out from under a work bench.  It absolutely epitomized the Art Nouveau spirit and I loved it so much that, without even looking at my wife, I said to Lloyd, “I’ll take it”.  Instead of saying, “sold” he said, “it’s a bit larger than you think”.  Judging from the detail that I had seen I figured it was an object you set on a table.  It looked like the work of one of the greatest artists of the period,  François-Rupert Carabin (1862-1932).  Well it wasn’t either.  It was an eight foot plus grandfather’s clock with two such jardinières!

Only problem was that we lived in a 5th floor walk-up at the time with 8 ½ foot ceilings!  I just couldn’t leave it behind, however, and asked my father if we could just leave it at our 57th Street gallery for a time.  He agreed and that is where it rested until a couple of years after when we bought our apartment on Park Avenue.

Meanwhile, we had some time to do research on the piece and learned that it was not by Carabin though the greatest expert for this artist at the time exclaimed Carabin as soon as he saw it.  You see, unfortunately, one of the bronzes is signed ‘Jouant’ for Jules Jouant (active 1885-1913) about whom we know precious little.  Maurice Rheims (1910-2003) a major figure, as a collector and expert of the period suggested that the case be attributed to the architect Hector Guimard (1867-1942).

What we did learn later is that this clock is one of two known and that one of them was in the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

Look at some of the details, there are twelve female nudes representing the hours of the day; the ones at the top are surrounded by sunflowers symbolizing midday. The clock is wired for electricity with a light bulb at the center of each sunflower. The figure of night stands closed eyed on a crescent moon with poppies surrounding her. This combination of sculptural invention with electric light, that was just coming into usage at the beginning of the 20th century, would have made a state-of-the-art representation of French furniture for a World’s Fair.

Our new life style in New York and Santa Fe has led us to change our collecting goals.  So it is time for someone else to get the same pleasure out of this piece as Penelope and I have.