Sunday, March 25, 2012


After 4 trains several taxis and a plane from Dussledorf we arrived at our hotel, The Albergotto, in Florence.  It is a very nice and hospitable bread and breakfast opposite the Palazzo Strozzi in the Via Turnaboni.

So, what do you do most in Florence?  Walk and gawk!  The town is not that large and it has many pedestrian zones so taxis are impractical.  The bicycles and motorcycles, however, go wherever they wish and the streets are not very wide. 

Via Santo Spirito
The Via Santa Spirito was a main thoroughfare into town in the 15th century.  Carriages were only introduced in the mid 16th century and by then it was too late to widen the streets!  Of course, along the way you stop in your tracks to stare at the incredible sights be they across the Arno or staring at a church, Cathedral or other architectural wonder.  When you arrive at your destination, be it a museum or church again you stare and ogle with guidebook or Iphone in your hand to try to read up at the same time.

Across the Arno
The town seems overrun with students like Fort Lauderdale at Spring Break, but in this case they are students of all ages with teachers trying to teach against all odds.  So one races to beat the large school groups to the door of the church or museum.  Happily in some cases one can purchase tickets in advance, which allow entry through a separate door.

The first day we did a guided tour of Brunelleschi’s Florence.  The dome of the Duomo is his architectural triumph, but the Pazzi Chapel in Santa Croche shows his minimalist style. The colorful ceramic roundels are added by Lucca della Robbia.

Dome of the Duomo
Pazzi Chapel
Though Brunelleschi may have revolutionized architecture I, for one, am very grateful to the patrons such as the Pazzi’s and Cosimo de Medici who also liked a little decoration in in their lives.  Cosimo also hired Donatello to give relief to the architecture.

Of course, one of the many MUSTS of Florence is the Uffizi. the museum with many of the greatest two dimensional treasures of the town or world for that matter.  Probably the most famous are the Botticelli of the Primavera and the Birth of Venus.   But these are not necessarily the most important.  How do you pick between the Cimabues, the Giottos, the Duccio, the Lorenzo Monacos, the Ghirlandaios,  the huge Hugo van der Goes triptych, it just goes on and on.

We wandered into churches that were not necessarily on the top of anyone’s list and found treasures even in these.  The church of Orsanmichele has a gallery above that is open only one day a week.  There we found the amazing sculptures that were once on the outside of the church and are now replaced by copies.  One truly gets the monumentality when looking up at these marbles and bronzes up close.   Here we have the Giovanni da Bologna of Saint Luke.

Giovanni de Bologna of Saint Luke
The Bargello, the National sculpture museum, has many of the bronze sculptures that have been taken from the buildings and loggia in order to protect them from the elements.  Unfortunately, the floor with all the small bronzes was closed and they did not know when it would reopen.  When I think of those rooms I have to think of my parents who in the 1930’s received a sculpture tour of Florence by none other than Leo Planischig, the guy who wrote the books, including one called “Piccoli bronzi italiani del rinascimento.”  Boy, I wish I had been on that tour… you probably do too!

I feel a bit overwhelmed trying to do a blog on Florence.  one can only write in superlatives when it comes to the art. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

TEFAF - Maastricht - 2012

Returning to New York from Santa Fe for a few days we then flew to Brussels to take the train to Maastricht and attend TEFAF, The European Fine Art Fair.  What Basel and the Venice Biennale are to the contemporary art world TEFAF is to the old master world. At TEFAF the dealers show many different fields, periods and countries.  They include paintings, drawings, decorative arts, sculpture and a whole lot more.

One of the pictures seemed to show just how we felt and we named it 'Early Jet Lag'.  It is an 1851 watercolor by Adolfo Menzel showing a couple traveling in a first class carriage on the train, nothing has changed, except we get there faster!

"On the Train" by Adolfo Menzel
First day in Maastricht is to get acclimatized and shake off as much jet lag as possible.  We are staying at the intimate and atmospheric Hotel Orangerie.  Ubiquitous with Maastricht at this time of year are TEFAF signs, triple the normal hotel rates and as always the bicycles.  The children must learn to bike at the same time as they learn to walk.

The fair itself takes place in the Maastricht Exposition Hall known as the MECC.

Maastricht Exhibition Hall
TEFAF has opened and it seems like the world has descended. 10,413 people poured through the doors to see the 288 exhibitors on its, invitation only, opening day.  Last year there were over 72,000 visitors to TEFAF during its 10 days.  Who knows if the record will be broken again.  Museum directors and curators from all over were at the show.  Of course, some had served on the very serious vetting committees and they had already been there for several days.

Shortly after the doors opened I heard a man say to his wife very quickly, "it's a million dollars", as if you say it fast enough, it seems like less!  A Woman coming in who obviously had a goal at the other end of the fair said to her friend:  "Are you capable of walking by all these other booths?"  That is a challenge because almost in every booth there is at least one work of art you would like to see up close.

This is TEFAF’s Jubilee years.  In its 25-year existence this fair has survived starting out and staying in a small Dutch town on a European border, boom times and recession with a number of prestigious dealers both entering and exiting as exhibitors.  Though one might consider one year better than another, on the whole it is always strong and one finds objects in one field or another to salivate over!  They have produced a second catalog this year to go with their usual huge tome celebrating their Jubilee.  There I found many museum directors and curators who had brought groups and purchased works of art making tributes.  TEFAF has by now proven an institution in the art world that has been beneficial to participants and visitors alike.

It is hard to pick favorites.  I have already illustrated “Early Jet Lag” above and here are a few others.

Of particular note was the bronze at the Tomasso Brothers by Giovanni Francesco Susinni representing the Farnese Bull after a Roman 16 foot marble statue found in the Baths of Caracalla  in Rome and moved to Naples.  A most incredible feet of engineering.

"Farnese Bull" by Susinni
It compares with the Los Angeles County Museum moving its 340 ton rock from the Riverside quarry to  to the Museum recently.  The complex composition of the bronze both copies the marble and at the same time conveys the monumentality of the original.

At di Castro were a pair of French 18th century terracotta reliefs of Chinoiserie Subjects and a marvelous relief by Soldani Benzi representing “The Mystical Marriage of St. Rose of Lima”.

"The Mystical Marriage of St. Rose of Lima" by Soldani Benzi
A painting that appealed was a small Canaletto of the Torre di Marghera, the identical scene as one painted by another famous 18th century Venetian artist Bellotto as well as several others.

"Torre di Marghera" by Canaletto
So much to choose from one could stay and make discoveries for a week!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Art Investment

The concept of investing in art received a major boost from Peter Wilson, head of Sotheby’s in the 1970’s, who monetized the art market far beyond anything before.  He is responsible for convincing wealthy collectors that they could buy a work of art and sell it at a  vast profit a few years later.  He is also responsible for convincing the trustees of British Rail to put part of their Pension fund into art.  They finally decided to take a small portion of their fund, 40 million Pounds, and put it into art.  While some sections of the investment came out on the plus side, other’s did not.  Though overall the fund made a profit, In the end, it was said that the fund might have been better off invested in the stock market.

In the late 1970’s when British Rail was still collecting, a friend invited me to lunch with a very successful captain of industry.  He had decided that he too wanted to enter the art investment area.  He had a fascinating idea.   We would form an investment consortium around an international group of experts.  Since the fund was going to be buying older European Art they would be individuals in France, England, The Netherlands and Italy. 

The concept was that each year the fund would be re-valued by this same group of experts who would receive a commission commensurate with the increase in the fund’s value.  Obviously, the businessman felt that this would encourage the experts (mostly dealers) to buy well.  Also these were the years that the art market in many of its fields was flourishing.  But I was concerned that since there are no market tools with which to measure values, even the most scrupulous would be tempted to err on the high side of  an estimated value.  This, however, was seen as a detail that could be worked out later.

In any case, it was an exciting idea.  It did not take too many months before I had  commitments from a most illustrious group of experts.  Most of them were dealers and all were raring to go.  Being professionals, and therefore realists, they were not yet counting their profits, but all were ready to take a chance.  The financial mogul kept the project on hold, from what I remember, for a  year.  Then from out of the blue I received a phone call saying that my financer “had heard” (those words I do remember) that diamonds would be a better investment and therefore was scrapping the art project.  Quite a disappointment for all, but I think none of us were convinced it would ever come to fruition in the first place. Many such schemes that have received wide-spread publicity since, have also not come to pass.

Art investment funds always sound glamorous and exciting.  These days they are usually focused on contemporary art which has in recent years been a hot market, particularly at auction.   It is, however, also the most capricious.  The hot artist of yesterday is not necessarily the hot artist today.  You ask a collector about his/her collection and they will tell you about all their successes, but what about the artists who did not pan out?

Investing in any area is not just about the wins but rather the percentage of wins over losses.   Of course, much depends on timing.  In 1990 my father, who collected Paris School pictures, said to me, “someday you will be upset with me for not selling the collection now”.  The comment did not register until years later when I realized he had actually pegged the height of the market, when the Japanese were collecting voraciously in this area.

The reason that British Rail Pension Fund did as well as it did was the breadth of the collection.  Also, they held onto their collection for quite a number of years, and  they sold their best investment of Impressionist paintings at the height of that market when the Japanese were spending their fortunes on Impressionism.

As a final comment on the subject, over the years I have acquired for my personal collection works I fell in love with in several fields.  Of course, I have had no objection if a work of art has appreciated in value, but , I have never thought of it as an investment.  Interestingly, the area where I thought about this the least was in our photography collection.  If I had, I would have bought a lot more!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Culture Town

In one week we went to three live performances.  All my readers in the big cities could go to one every night and not repeat themselves so why do I find this so incredible?

It is quite simple I am spending much of my time in Santa Fe, New Mexico where the population is 68,000 while that of Manhattan, where my gallery is, has over 1 ½ million people living there.

New Mexico is one of the poorer states in the country but the prices are lower too.  Top price for a solo performance by Patti Lupone is $92, we skipped that because we can do Broadway in New York.  The show we went to “Marx in Soho” cost us $8 for two.  Not the best seats in the house, it was sold out, but the back of the Orchestra is not bad.

"Marx in Soho"
“Marx in Soho” is by Howard Zinn and the solo performance is by Brian Jones who took this show on the road at the end of the 1990’s and between gigs teaches 4th grade.  From the performance we saw we wanted to be in that classroom because you could tell what a great teacher he must be.

The next evening we went to “Benchwarmers 11,” an annual event that consists of 8 short plays written around the center piece, a bench;  sometimes appearing in a park, sometimes in the country side and sometimes on the street.  Of the eight that we saw we thought that five were quite good, not a bad average for locally written and directed plays! It was particularly enjoyable because we knew one of the playwrights. It was her debut in the craft and the play was hilarious.

Our last theater experience for the week was at the National Dance Institute’s (NDI) Dance Barns, for their “Winter Escape” performance.  I have written about this program for kids before.

The program ranged from ballet to contemporary dance to show music (the latter both danced and sung). NDI shows always give me a little lift.  One piece from the younger group (10-year-olds) was so good that I would like to find an additional venue for it, but it is too early to discuss here.

National Dance Institute (NDI)
Since then my wife went to a standing room only history lecture and we went together to a lecture by a young computer scientist and poet , Brian Christian, had written a book called, “The Most Human Human: What talking with computers teaches us about what it means to be alive,” and that was what his lecture was about.  Now to make that interesting and amusing as a lecture takes real talent!

We will soon be listening to a moderated panel on film in New Mexico. We are all acquainted with the many Westerns that were filmed in this state but there are many others as well.  We also have three Cinematheques here, small theaters that show independent, avant-garde or classic films and our opera is known internationally.

Why all the culture in this relatively small town?  There are many reasons but here are a few:  German Jewish Merchants including names like Seligman, Florscheim, Wertheim and Zeckendorf, emigrated here in the 19th century; we have had an artists’ colony since New Mexico became a State in 1912; the School for American Research founded here over100 years ago made it possible to develop the study of Southwestern archeology.  Today known as The School for Advanced Research it hosts archeologists, anthropologists, ethnologists and artists on a bucolic campus to pursue their own studies and exchange ideas.  Best known of all in the region is the Los Alamos Lab (birthplace of the atomic bomb) which has brought many scientists to the region.  From this was born the Santa Fe Institute, a think tank created in 1984 which attracts not only scientists but college professors and researchers to study complex systems.  They sponsored the lecture by Brian Christian mentioned above.

Bringing all these people together has attracted an older more socially active and intellectual community to create this great culture center of the Southwest.