Sunday, April 29, 2012

After All These Years

I can’t believe I am back here in New York for my 50th high school reunion. Where did the time go?  We aIl look at our families and friends’ families and say, I can’t believe you have grown so quickly or I can’t believe you have been married for 20 years.  The next question we ask ourselves is how has the individual changed and in some cases what is different now.

So, I am always asked how has the art market changed in all my years in the business?  Though I often feel that I am doing what I have always done, there is no question that it has changed.  I came into the art business in the mid 1960’s and now I believe that it was the end of an era.  For the first half of the 20th century this country was hungry for the history and heritage of the old world.

Many great collections were built at the beginning of the 20th century.  Those of Henry Clay Frick and J.P. Morgan are probably mentioned the most.  After World War II there were cash-rich Americans hungry for the art from the art-rich cash-poor Europeans.  It was a perfect symbiotic relationship.  By the end of the 1960’s that era was disappearing.

Though it was never a business in the usual sense the art market began to change from small to big time.  Art was no longer just sought after by collectors trying to build collections and social status but also buyers looking for profitable investment.  The auction houses gave the greatest impetus to this new phenomenon.  

I remember that at the first Sotheby’s and Christies auctions that I went to the auction room often consisted of a large table with the auctioneer at one end of the table and 10 to 15 dealers sitting around him.  The lot would be announced and then it was often passed around the table for closer inspection by the bidders.  Today, the market has become much more open with private collectors sitting next to the dealers and some from both categories on the telephone calling in their bids either in order to conceal themselves from the curious, such as the press, or out of fear that if they were seen bidding, others would jump in.

Thomas Rowlandson "A book auction at Sotheby's"

In the early 1970’s Peter Wilson of Sotheby’s began his monetization of the art world, which included new policies such as no longer extending long credit terms to dealers and his best known and much-reviled addition of the buyer’s premium.  Of course, combined with the additional inflow of cash there were aggressive campaigns both in the press and on an individual basis to move the market towards the auction houses.  Indexes were produced to show how much the art market increased each year, often ignoring the fact that there is no single art market but many.

Slowly but surely the emphasis went from the dealers to the auction houses.  Clients would no longer depend on “their” dealer to get advice but relied more on the “expert” in the auction house.  Results depended on the knowledge of the individual in charge.  It was now Christies or Sotheby’s says the piece is a good buy, not Bob Jones at the auction house. In the past families like the Rothschilds felt it undignified to give works of art to the auction houses or to buy there but in the new world they had no compunction about doing so.

At every art dealers’ association meeting across the globe the same question came up.  What are we going to do about the auction houses? They had very limited success in doing anything until the next incarnation of the art market, - the art fair came into its own with the higher end dealers participating.

At art fairs collectors who were intimidated by going into a gallery could see a wide variety of works of art from a wide variety of dealers and be able to leave without having to open a door. It has been referred to as one-stop shopping.  The dealers had finally found competition for the auction houses.  Collectors also had to make up their minds quicker just like at auction in fear that the next collector through might snap up “their” discovery.

Now in the 21st century a new competitor has been added to the mix - the internet.   This one includes both dealers and auction houses.  In some ways it may be called the great equalizer.   Everyone including the private collector has the ability to send their message to an even wider public than the auction houses used to reach with their catalogs.  To everyone’s surprise collectors are even willing to bid and buy without actually viewing a work of art first hand.

All this has made the art world a little less intimate and the opportunities to have quiet and informative discussions with collectors and curators are often reduced to a quick conversation on the fly.  Thank goodness the collector who is not just looking for an alternative investment does still exist and curators still come to our gallery and we can sit down for a friendly chat.

**An apology:  A couple of weeks ago I wrote a missive on the exhibition, “The Steins Collect”.  There I substituted the Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier for the Villa Stein.  That has now been rectified in the Missive.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Maps of New Mexico

I have written about the Round House, New Mexico’s Capitol Building before and the Governor’s Gallery.  Currently there is a fascinating small exhibition in the latter of maps of New Mexico.  There are only about 30 maps in the show with roughly an equal number before and after New Mexico became a State in 1912 after many attempts to be accepted.

The capital of the State is Santa Fe and though the area had been occupied by Indians and Spaniards long before the city got its name, the city was Christened La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís in 1608 as a part of New Spain.  It has a long rich history.

 “Between the Lines: Culture and Cartography on the Road to Statehood” will run only another 10 days.  We had the opportunity to have a tour with the two curators of the exhibition, Tomas Jaehn, Director of  The Fray Angélico Chávez History Library which documents the history of the the State and the other was Professor Dennis Reinhartz, a native New Yorker who taught in England at Oxford University, spent 35 years at various universities in Texas and wrote 14 books on maps.  Judging from his presentation I might actually buy some!  (Images of both curators w. caption)

Tomas Jaehn

Dennis Reinhartz

I expected it to be quite dull but to my surprise what they had to say was totally fascinating.  One of the most interesting things I learned were the political aspects of maps. I had always believed that if it was on a map it was as accurate as possible for the time it was created.  It turns out this is not necessarily so. Early maps had lots of blank spaces on them and in the 18th century they often had illustrations occupying these spaces.  I thought that the blank spaces represented areas that had been unexplored.  While this may have been correct in some cases, we learned that the Spanish knew the Southwest far better than any of the other occupiers who were French, British, American and even Russian, but they considered much of their knowledge to be State secrets so there was an additional reason for the blank spaces.

The first thing I do when I see a list about something I am involved in is to look for my name.  In the case, of a map I look for where I live or a familiar landmark.  I am sure you know the slight let down if you cannot find it.  So what better way to disenfranchise people than to leave them out and that is exactly what was done with the Native Americans, they were often ignored on the maps!

Another obvious fact that I had never thought about is that maps always have a point of view.  They are made with a specific purpose and often show the prejudice of both the map maker and the person or Country that commissioned the map.  The terms “Cartographic Imperialism” and “Cartography follows Empire” were used.

Unintentional inaccuracies in maps can cause issues that can become expensive. The map chosen to establish the boundaries between the U.S. and Mexico after the war in 1848 was such a case.  Though drawn by an American, it placed El Paso 34 miles north and 100 miles east of its actual location.  This led to the Gadsden Purchase to correct the error in 1854 which cost the U.S. ten million dollars.

We received practical in formation as well.  That well loved map in your glove compartment has quickly garnered rips at the seems because it is made with cheap paper but the maps made before cheap inks and paper were invented were on vellum which not only lasts longer but when needed is easier to restore.

When I originally saw the exhibition I was interested in the history of the State and our town but now a whole new world has been opened up to me and I will never look at a map the same way again.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Steins Collect

In New York for two days before heading back to Santa Fe we rushed over to the Metropolitan to see the exhibition, “The Steins Collect”.

The exhibition does something fairly new.  It focuses on the history of collecting.  It is becoming a subject of intense study. The Frick, in 2007, established in the Art Reference Library the Center for the History of Collecting.  The show is not just an exhibition of wonderful pictures but also about a family that became absorbed in the art of their time. 

Now everyone has heard of Gertrude Stein, thanks to her writings and even more so to her portraits by Picasso and others.  When reminded I did know the name of Michael Stein but the name Leo Stein I am not sure if I remembered.

It turns out that Leo was the collector who got his siblings involved. He moved to Paris in 1902 and his sister Gertrude followed in 1903.  In 1905 Michael and his wife Sarah left their home in San Francisco in order to come to Paris.  Michael was the family banker and their money came from investments and renting properties in the San Francisco area.

Obviously, the family was comfortable but not exactly wealthy.  Leo started buying paintings and Gertrude joined him.  They found they could not afford much of what they wanted so they decided to buy contemporary artists that were not yet in vogue.  It seems strange today to think of Picasso and Matisse as avant-garde or unknown, for that matter, but they like most young artists were scratching to make a living.  How things change, today some people think of Picasso as an old master!  When I started out Picasso was still alive and considered a modern master.

The Steins picked well but did not live long enough to gain large financial rewards from their collection.   Think about it, would you have collected Picasso in 1904?  Did you buy shares in Apple?

The exhibition opens with a small square gallery with white walls on which are projected black and white images of Leo and Gertrude’s home at 27 rue de Fleurus from 1904 to 1934 and the ever changing paintings that were on their walls. It is a perfect introduction to see how the artists’ styles and the Stein’s taste changed.

Michael and Sarah had even more avant-garde taste.  Though they were huge fans of Matisse they also adopted Picasso’s cubist style paintings and later became early patrons of Le Corbusier, commissioning him to build the Villa Stein (1926-28) in Garches, not far from Paris.

In the exhibition we see some of the classics of modern art such as one of my favorites, Picasso’s Boy Leading a horse (1905-1906), now in the Museum of Modern Art.

Also, some wonderful comparisons such as paintings of “La Coiffure” by Manguins 1905, Picasso 1906, and Matisse 1907.  These were not happenstance but artists in a small community learning, feeding off and competing with each other.

Aside from the wonderful art in the show, I had two very important lessons reinforced.  There are sayings such as “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”, and here we see it in a positive light.  Though the Steins were amazing collectors there were many collectors at the time who are not household names today, such as Jacques Doucet (1853-1929) but Gertrude did not only have her portraits painted but the Steins also opened their house every Saturday for a Salon to introduce the world to the art that they had ‘discovered’ and the artists they adopted.  They were great promoters and networkers, with lots of help from Gertrude, they did not hide their light under a bushel.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sainte Anne: Leonardo da Vinci’s Ultimate Masterpiece

When we arrived in Paris we heard about this exhibition that was going to open to the public in a couple of days.  Of course we would want to see it but we were sure we would never get in.  From all we heard, getting into the Leonardo show in London was quite difficult with all the people who wanted to go.  It was a total surprise when we came to the Louvre the opening morning of the exhibition and walked right in.


The interest may build or maybe it is the idea of a whole exhibition focused on a single work makes people feel that it will be boring or that they will only see one work by the Master and it will be too scholarly.  This in fact is not the case.  Aside from Leonardo’s painting of St. Anne you have one of the full size cartoons for the picture from the National Gallery in London.  As an aside, in the 1960’s I saw the Cartoon at Burlington House. Then the cartoon was put up for sale and amid fears that it would leave the country it was acquired by the National Gallery in London.  With all the publicity that the sale brought there were huge lines to see it, while there had been none before.

The exhibition is wonderful.  We were treated to 22 drawings by Leonardo lent by Her Majesty the Queen which directly related to the St. Anne. Most of these are limbs and fragments of garment.   One of the best, if not the best, of the drawings was not lent by the Queen but by the Metropolitan Museum.  It shows the head of the virgin and in context absolutely blew me away.

Comparing this head with versions done by followers of the Master is an education in itself.  The differences are so obvious that one feels like an instant expert!

I love the fact that the exhibition is totally focused and commences with St. Anne, the Virgin and Christ Child as an ensemble through the ages before Leonardo, then most of the show is about the masterpiece itself.

In fact, Leonardo never finished the St. Anne and had worked on it from 1503 until his death in 1519.   During that time he had many changes of mind and many students to record them.  As a result we can follow the artist’s thought process during these years.  The most obvious change is the reversal of the figures in the composition and then there are changes in the attitude of St. Anne.  We also get frequent radical and less radical changes in the background of the painting.

The picture has been painstakingly cleaned and restored after years of research and analysis.  Of course, this led to serious disagreements such as whether paint added later, possibly by the master, should be kept or cleaned off.  The restoration was finished very shortly before the opening of the exhibition and I could imagine quite a bit of pressure to finally get it done.  The result, however, in my opinion, is pleasing and the luminosity of the picture and its myriad of details has all been brought to the fore.

After reaching the St. Anne itself we see a brief video about the development of Leonardo’s composition.


There are other related works such as Leonard’s Madonna of the Rocks which is in the Louvre collection.  There is also the contemporary copy of the Mona Lisa which caused a great sensation after the Prado had it cleaned it and discovered it’s close relationship with the original.  In my opinion, the picture has not been well served by the overzealous work done on it.

The final segment of the exhibition is devoted to the influence that the painting has had since Leonardo starting with Michelangelo and ending with Max Ernst.

As you have read here before I want exhibitions to be tightly focused with the material presented bringing me to a total understanding of the subject at hand and I found the exhibition most satisfying. I was only sorry that I would not have time to return to see it again.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Le Salon du Dessin

Having done two weeks worth of viewing in one week in Florence we flew to Paris.  My main reason for coming was the Salon du Dessin but there is always much to do even without a special event.

The evening before the Salon opens there are openings at galleries on the Left Bank that show works on paper and we hit a few before heading over to the Louvre for a highlight of the week.

The drawings department of the Louvre invites many serious collectors, curators and dealers for a private viewing based on a theme.  This year it was about drawings made for engraving.  Drawings are put out on the walls and tables in the study room of the department. 

Louvre Drawings Room
The problem is there are no labels, so everyone guesses at their own attributions. There are two books put together with the details of all the images so you can check yourself.  One important collector said to me, “still no labels”, echoing what everyone in the room must have been thinking!  But it is all fun and here you begin to see all your colleagues, clients and friends from many different countries.   There is no lack of conversation in that room!

I hope you have all been enjoying the brief videos that we have added to the blog and in this week’s on Paris you will see the fabulous drawings’ study room at the Louvre

The next evening is the opening for the Salon du Dessin, an international fair of top drawing dealers.  This year there are 39 dealers in all with slightly more foreign than French.  They come from Germany, Switzerland, England and the U.S. as well.

Salon du Dessin
I went to the Salon 3 times in the week. The first was for the opening which was an absolute mob scene, but for the dealers it seems to have been well worth while.  Going back the next day, things were quieter and many dealers had a number of dots on their drawings or price lists and one even had 18 prices crossed out on their list which was their way of saying these pieces were no longer available.  In the section devoted to drawings by unidentified artists two had been sold.  This all being in the first 24 hours of the fair it seems like a great start.  One dealer had a wonderful picture by a famous artist that I have seen at several fairs and exhibitions and finally it sold here on opening night!

On several stands I heard a strange lament.  Dealers who were doing both TEFAF and the Salon had sold items at TEFAF that were now not available for the Salon.   We all work hard to sell something and when we do we would like to do so again and again, unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.

Also, there are zeitgeists and you will find many works by the same artist on different stands.  This year the ones that stood out to me were Menzel, Delacroix and Domenico Tiepolo.

If I could pick just one object in the place to take home it would definitely be the Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) that I found front and center on the stand of Thomas LeClaire from Hamburg.  It is called  “Le Mur du Jardin Potager, Yerres”.  A large (43.5 x 59 cm) sheet of a very colorful garden created by a great painter assisted by an excellent gardener and by my third visit that had sold as well.

"Le Mur du Jardin Potager, Yerres" by Caillebotte