Sunday, November 27, 2011

City 2 – Toledo

Another museum to which we sold 100 works of art and WOW, what they were! I can say that because most were sold in the 50’s and 60’s before I joined the firm.  They include, Rubens, “The Crowning of St. Catherine,” Fragonard’s “Blind Man’s Bluff” and the Morrison Triptych.

Edward Drummond Libbey (1854-1925), the founder of Libbey Glass, together with his Wife, Florence Scott Libbey (1863-1938) not only founded The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) in 1901 but went on to fund the museum’s current palace which opened in 1912.  When they died, having had no surviving children, they left their entire estate to the museum.  This has given the Toledo Museum of Art an ongoing endowment for the past century.

I was treated most royally during my stay.  On my first day I savored the collections, visited with several curators, and went on to the opening of an exhibition - more on that later.  The second day, aside from more viewing, I was taken to lunch by the Curator of Paintings, Larry Nichols, who just acquired a great painting by Frans Hals for the Museum.  We went to the stately Toledo Club, where the museum has a membership.  I am sure that Edward Drummond Libbey would have been quite comfortable there, and he probably was.

I have known the Director, Brian Kennedy, for many years.  When Penelope and I went to Dublin over 20 years ago we wanted to see the French collection at the National Gallery of Ireland but were told that those galleries were closed.  We made a bit of a fuss, saying that we had come for an international conference  - true - and explained our bona fides. Finally this young man came down to take us around.  That was Brian and we hit it off.  When he became director of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra we visited him there and he visited us in New York.  He then went on to the Hood Museum, at Dartmouth and now he is director in Toledo.  All the while we have remained in touch.

After lunch, I had an extended meeting with Brian when he discussed the goals of the institution. He then gave me a tour of their Glass Pavilion, an award winning glass building by Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa / SANAA.  Thanks to this building the architects won the Pritzker Prize.  The Pavilion houses the museum’s renowned glass collection, which runs from Egypt through today.  They also have glass studios which serve artists and student alike.  The Studio Glass Movement with Harvey Littleton and Dominick Labino was born here in 1962.

Brian also took me to see their remarkable concert hall, the Peristyle Theater. When the crash came in 1929, Mrs. Libby decided to put Toledo to work and commissioned the concert hall that seats 1,750 people.  It took from 1929 to 1933 to complete the project but what a magnificent hall it is.  When we looked in there was a lone pianist practicing for the concert that evening and the sound was superb.

My visit happened to coincide with the opening for “Small Worlds,” where several contemporary artists showed works in different media, with the concept of life in miniature.  I enjoyed it far more than I expected, especially the work of Lori Nix, who built extremely detailed mock-ups and then photographed them so that you thought you were looking at an actual scene.

Lori Nix "Library", 2007
In 1997 Jay Shafer, Tumbleweed Tiny House Co. built an 89 sq. ft. house to live in; for the exhibition the Museum took his plans for an extra small 65 sq. ft. house and constructed it in front of the TMA.  It has a shower, toilet, queen size bed above and a seating-kitchen area. When I was there I climbed in with Brian and the docent.  For three it was tight! two would be far more comfortable. The Museum plans to auction it on Ebay on March 8, 2012.  They guess that it will bring between $35 and $40,000.

"Tiny House" photo by Andrew Weber / Tim Motz
The opening party for the show was called “Down The Rabbit Hole”.  All were encouraged to come in costume representing the characters in Alice in Wonderland.  Brian came as the King of Hearts.

The next evening I was invited to the dinner in honor of the artists which was a small sit down affair in the museum’s Cloister which is formed by parts of a real cloister and houses their medieval collection.

Brian did a tribute to each of the 32 guests and singled me out as coming from New York to see the museum and for my family’s contribution through acquisitions the TMA was able to make through our firm.  I became an instant celebrity!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Three City Tour - Cleveland

As I was landing in Cleveland the American Eagle pilot announced the prediction of rain for the next week. Rain everywhere I go, yuk! I have just finished my second and final day here and happily the weatherman proved wrong again.

Like many museums The Cleveland Museum of Art is in the middle of a building program.  Theirs should be finished in 2013.  The original building was built in 1916 and in 1970 another building was added designed by Marcel Breuer.  On one of the landings are three portholes Before, with a historic image, Future, with a photo of the final model and Present where you actually see the construction going on. During construction one needs to navigate to the 1916 and Breuer buildings and to do that you go down to go around to go up again and sometimes more than once.  I got my exercise within the buildings.

Being involved in so many media, I always need to see several curators and they are not always available just because I arrive.  I was, however, lucky enough to meet with the curators of paintings, drawings, medieval art and decorative arts and had material to show to them.  Of course, many departments are divided by period as well so for paintings you have curators before 1800, the 19th century and the 20th & 21st centuries.  The “good old days” when the director of the Cleveland Museum accompanied by a couple of the pertinent curators, who were not so numerous as now, could make decisions on site in New York.  These days, though curatorial visits still occur but they are more often at art fairs where they do not need to slog from gallery to gallery.  As there is less art available there seem to be more dealers to handle it!

As any business person understands it helps to put in face-time and get to know the people who choose the art and can tell you in what direction they and their director are hoping to go.  But curators must also be opportunistic if the “right” work of art comes up.  So, I am trying to find the right work of art and pique the curator’s interest and possibly show them something that they had not thought of.  In the old days I would send transparencies when I got back to New York.  Today, I can send an email as soon as I get back to my computer, much more practical and expeditious.

I learned that neo-classicism was of interest in the painting and drawings departments, but not in the decorative arts.  This made perfect sense in light of what had been collected in the past.

Below, are a pair of paintings by Rubens, Diana Before the Hunt and a portrait of Isabella Brandt, Rubens’ first wife, that we sold many many years ago to the Cleveland Museum.  In all, the museum has acquired over 100 works of art through my family.

I have 2 more stops to make on my tour. Tomorrow I head for, Toledo, Ohio and then Detroit.  Like Cleveland’s, their art museums have been major clients of our firm over the years.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Central Park

Permit me an indulgence.  In this Missive I am going to talk about a different kind of art.  The art of city planning.  In New York City, Central Park opened to the public on city owned land in 1857 and a year later Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux won a design competition to improve and expand it.  They are the ones credited with creating the park.  The land had to be taken by the right of eminent domain and some renters and squatters did have to be evicted first.  This displaced 1600 individuals, but if they had waited… today it would be millions. What foresight to have built a park so early on.

I grew up in New York and I know Manhattan quite well.  I was lucky enough as a child to live on Central Park South and got to know the south end of Central Park though I was always jealous of all my friends who used to sleigh on the 79th Street hill and I was alone on one smaller and nearer to 59th Street.

Later in my life there were opportunities to live on the Upper East Side and then the Upper West Side.  For the past decade we were in the most convenient neighborhood I have ever lived in for the amenities of life but not near my park.

A few months ago we came again within a very short distance of Central Park and I am hit by how much I missed it.  It is truly an oasis in this mad city.  When I was a kid I felt I had it to myself and there were all these places I could go and when I saw no others I was sure I had made discoveries.  In the mid 1960’s, however, when Tom Hoving was Parks Commissioner he did for Central Park what he later did for the Metropolitan Museum… though some may say did it to Central Park and the Met.  He opened them up so that they really belonged to all the people.  It was as if the park had been newly discovered and it seemed to instantly become overrun with humanity.

A short while later in the 1970’s the park deteriorated and was not being kept up. It probably had not needed as much attention before the throngs arrived. The Central Park Conservancy, a private not for profit group went into partnership with the city to keep the park in good shape and replant when and where necessary.  The Conservancy bears the lion’s share of these expenses and has been a great success.  It has all been kept in tip top shape.

Happily no mayor or legislature has allowed developers of any sought to change the park with few exceptions.  The Metropolitan Museum did make a mild incursion when they installed the Primitive Wing on the left and the Temple of Dendur on the right of their edifice.

When tourists come to town we, of course, talk about the museums but also Central Park.  As a matter of fact, if you walk Museum mile you have the park on the other side of the street the whole way!

Aside from the playgrounds which you would expect in the ten block walk between the Frick and the Met.  You will find the Bethesda Fountain, where so many congregate on the weekends but actually everyday.   On a hot day some will climb into the fountain or you might find a harpist by the lake.

From there a few steps will take you to the rowboat rental for the lake which is a good size on which to spend an hour or two searching out the area.  There is a restaurant on the lake where you can have a scenic meal or you can grab a snack at the fast food counter on the park side.

Across the road is the model boat pond where the younger folk bring their own remote control boats or rent one by the hour.  There too, snacks and light lunches are available.

As you follow around the pond you will find the Alice in Wonderland Statue upon which the kids climb and invariably have their pictures taken.

A bit further on is the statue of Hans Christian Anderson by which in the warmer months you will often find a storyteller reading to the younger children.

This has been merely, what the real estate people call, “a peek at park” (ie if you crane you neck out a bedroom window there is a very small view of the park).  There is so much more to do and see even in the short walk or bike ride that I have described.  One could easily devote a weekly blog just to Central Park and the goings on there.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Those Were the Weeks that Were

Penelope left Santa Fe to join me in New York for just over two weeks.  You already know the main reason: our Grand Opening for the new gallery, but there was also the visit of family from England, and it is the season when the New York Art World is bustling.

There was the Fine Art and Antique Dealer’s fair at the Armory for which Penelope serves on the vetting committee; dealers had receptions for exhibitions in their galleries such as Otto Naumann hosting a sculpture exhibition by Tomasso Brothers Fine Art, based in London and Leeds.  And the auction houses held sales of import such as Sotheby’s much-touted sale of works of art from the New York apartment of Edmond and Lily Safra which in spite of a number of buy-ins, the 1,225 lots yielded over 45 million dollars.

Of the many galas that occur every day in New York we pick out just a few that are very important to us and, of course, they need to work out with our travel schedule.

The Frick Autumn Dinner, which is the museum’s biggest social event of the year, was very special to us this year.  The out going Director, Anne Poulet, and the incoming director, Ian Wardropper not only went to the Art Institute of New York University at the time Penelope was there, but we have been in touch with them professionally and personally ever since. 

Director Emerita Anne L. Poulet, Frick Director Ian Wardropper, and 
Chairman of the Board of Trustees Margot Bogert; photo: Christine A. Butler

A few days later the Frick held another more intimate event for the Fellows of the Frick to introduce the new director and we did stop by again just to show our support and then had to rush off to another event that evening.

This was for an old friend, Karl Katz, who likes to take credit for bringing Penelope and me together to work on the CINOA exhibition, The Grand Gallery, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and subsequently get married more than 36 years ago.  At the time he was in charge of special exhibitions; later on he ran the Met’s department for Film and Television.  When he left the Museum he started MUSE Film and Television, a not-for-profit that produces films on the arts.  I served for many years on its board of directors.  This year the theme of the gala dinner was “Artists Rights = Human Rights”.  The dinner commenced with an impassioned speech by Artist Shirin Neshat, an Iranian  photographer and video-artist, who came to the U.S. 30 years ago.  Her work addresses social, political and psychological dimensions of the woman’s experience in contemporary Islamic society.  Then we saw clips from films produced by MUSE about Ai Weiwei among others.

Later in the week we went to the Neue Galerie to attend the opening of the exhibition of the private collection of its co-founder, Ronald S. Lauder.  It is really an incredible collection of works of art.  It goes back to the medieval period but the primary focus is Austrian and German from1900 through the 20th century and onto the present day.  This amazing exhibition represents just a part of the vast Lauder collection.

The next evening there was a gala in honor of Jo Carole and Ronald Lauder given by the World Monuments Fund for all their services to the preservation of art and architecture throughout the world.  The keynote speaker was Mrs. Colin Powell.  She and her husband have known the Lauders for 25 years and travelled with them often.

Jo Carole is chairman of FAPE, The Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies, whose mandate is to enhance the U.S. image abroad through art displayed in and created for our embassies. Ronald has restored many cultural and religious institutions in Vienna as well as Central and Eastern Europe.  The Tempel Synagogue in Krakow, Poland is just one example.

The final event of our whirlwind tour was the Private Art Dealers Award dinner this year honoring the Museum of the City of New York.  The director, Susan Henshaw Jones, accepted the award from PADA’s president Robert Simon and both gave the perfect length, i.e. short, humorous speeches.  Proof of the success of the evening was that unlike many gala dinners most people stayed to chat and meet all those that they had not spoken to at cocktails!

What an exciting and exhausting fortnight!