Sunday, October 27, 2013

Private Goes Public

Why is private going public when we know it is usually the other way around?   In this case we are not talking about a public company but rather a confederation of art dealers.  The Private Art Dealers Association (PADA) is a group of 45 dealers around the country who joined together a quarter of a century ago to give a voice to the dealers who decided to keep their businesses small in order to be able to spend all their time on what matters to them—the art: to be able to seek it out, study it and speak about it with all who are interested.

The question what is a private dealer comes up every so often at meetings of the members and, though I am sure all would agree with the above, there is never total agreement on the size and location of the gallery space.  We do believe that the gallery is above street level and there is not a regular schedule of exhibitions.   Some only have a Post Office Address and most are by appointment only.

I was asked to join some years ago and I asked, “How come?” I had a fairly sizeable gallery at the time but we were above street level with a maximum of one exhibition a year, most people did make an appointment before coming and a principal was always available to talk with all who came through the door.

This is, however, a new age, much of the art business is conducted at auctions and art fairs.  Many collectors and potential collectors either don’t have the time to go from one gallery to another or they are scared to enter a location where someone may confront them and they are scared of showing ignorance.  They do not understand that it is the greatest pleasure of the private dealer to have the time to talk quietly about the art that they love.

Therefore, to celebrate our 25th Anniversary we, the members of the Private Art Dealers Association, have decided to come out of the closet, so to speak, and go public for a couple of weeks. It turns out that quite by accident there is a small building on the East Side of Manhattan (13 East 69th Street) that houses 4 art galleries, 3 of which belong to PADA including Stiebel, Ltd.  Together, we and the other 2, Debra Force Fine Art and Menconi & Schoelkopf Fine Art have agreed to host an exhibition for all the dealers in the Association.

Almost 40 years ago I had the pleasure of working on a larger exhibition with a similar concept called “The Grand Gallery” which was held at the Metropolitan Museum and included works from some 300 art dealers here and abroad.  They were all members of The International Confederation of Art Dealers, which consisted, at the time, of some 3- 4,000 dealers in 20 odd countries.  The difference was you could not buy anything in the exhibit at the Met!

Robert B. Simon, President of PADA points out in his introduction to the brochure that many of the PADA dealers were not born into the business as I was but were “art historians, curators, auction house specialists, collectors and writers”.  They are just as varied in their specialties.  In this exhibition you will find Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century Paintings, Sculpture and Photographs from many different countries.

Stiebel Ltd. Is exhibiting a painting by Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837) called “L’Heureux Ménage” (The Happy Family), a painting that belonged to my parents and they had traded it for a picture by  Paris School artist, Marie Laurencin.

David & Constance Yates are showing a large portrait bust by Pierre-Jean David D’Angers (1788-1856), it is of Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand, an extremely timely showing considering the wonderful exhibition on now at the Frick Collection in New York (which is only one block from our exhibition and I plan to write about it next week).

W.M. Brady is exhibiting a drawing by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Il Guercino (1591-1666) the “Head of a Bearded Many Wearing a Turban”.  Guercino is known as one of the most important draughtsman of his time.

Ann Kendall Richards is showing an etching by the best known artist of all, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), “Quatre Femmes Nues” and hers is not the only Picasso being exhibited.

Hans P. Kraus, Jr. is exhibiting a photo by William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) the “Bridge of Sighs, St. John’s College, Cambridge".

As PADA’s President, Robert Simon, has said we hope that, “the exhibition will call attention to the work that private art dealers do and introduce interested collectors to dealers they may not have known, while celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of our organization”.   During the show there will always be one and usually more members of PADA available to discuss the specific art or the art market in general with you.

At one of the exhibiting galleries you will be able pick up a brochure where you will find the works of art mentioned plus about another 30.  In the meantime you can find one on line (click here).

As a reader of my Missives you are invited to attend the Preview Day,  I look forward to welcoming you at 13 East 69th Street for “Private goes Public” on Thursday October 31 (Halloween—costumes not required).

The exhibition continues through November 16.
Monday – Friday from 10-5 and Saturdays from 11-5.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Define Your Terms

"Define your terms" came the request from a reader and I thought that was interesting.  The offending sentence in a recent Missive called “Herb & Dorothy” was, “The professionals, dealers and curators alike, marveled at their ‘eye’ which was at the ‘cutting edge’.” It included two terms that I had used for most of my life yet unfamiliar to people who are not in the art world.

"Photo of Salvador Dali" by Willy Rizzo (1950)
Since I am the first to dislike artspeak which has, in recent years, actually been taught in some of our universities, I wondered whether others may have been stymied by the terms I used so I thought I would make an effort to explain myself.

The first term I will look at is “the cutting edge”.  At first I wondered what my reader had thought.  Did he think I was speaking of a sharp tool or a metaphorical ledge that I was about to fall off or possibly the 1992 film by that name about a figure skater and a hockey player.  In Santa Fe there is an Auto Maintenance shop by that name that specializes in European Models.  The possibilities go on and on so no wonder my reader became confused!

In the art world the term refers to that point in art that is at the very forefront of the evolution of art.  One cannot stay on the cutting edge for as soon as the artist has arrived there it vanishes in favor of a new cutting edge.  It is the new style of the moment.  It is so difficult to pin point this moving target that I found 34 synonyms in Webster’s.  Three definitions on an art site that I like better are, innovative, boundary-pushing, and risk-taking. 

In the sense that I used the term it was about collectors who were looking at all the contemporary art available at the time and picked what was the latest in artistic innovation and experimentation.

The more amorphous term, “having an eye”, I believe is easier to feel and more difficult to define.  I did find 24 synonyms in the dictionary but I thought none of them satisfactory.

We speak of giving someone the evil eye or having an eye for the ladies but when it comes to art there is an added aspect there is the concept of having some discernment.  Knowing what is good art from bad, seeing the quality.  When it comes to abstract or minimalist or conceptual art the mind has to make a leap and go way beyond what the usual standards are and have some understanding of the zeitgeist, the spirit of the moment.

One of the definitions I found was “to be able to understand and appreciate something: She certainly had an eye for art, which explains, of course, why she was a successful art dealer.”  It is true that de facto: if you have a great eye you understand what you are looking at and in artspeak the term has positive connotations and a compliment to the person it is applied to.

As Judith H. Drobrzynski wrote in “Real Clear Arts, ‘On Art Finds and Having a Great Eye”, October 29, 2009, “… and  Lucky are those that are born with a great eye — and nurture it.”

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Looking at African American Art

I went down to Albuquerque to visit our nearest Apple store in search of a new computer and decided that I would go and see an exhibition at the science museum, “STARTUP: Albuquerque and the Personal Computer Revolution” about Paul Allen and Bill Gates and the beginning of Microsoft in Albuquerque.  As luck would have it, the exhibit was closed for updating but I found myself opposite the art museum so I thought I would pay a visit.  They rotate exhibitions and I happened upon one called, “African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era and Beyond” organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The curator, Virginia M. Mecklenburg, had a theme in mind.  She wanted to show the artistic reaction that Black Americans had to their lot before, during and after the civil rights movement. This quote I found is probably the best way to put the exhibition in context:

“In his 1925 essay, "The New Negro", Howard University Professor of Philosophy Alain Locke encouraged African American artists to create a school of African American art with an identifiable style and aesthetic, and to look to African culture and African American folk life for subject matter and inspiration. Locke's ideas, coupled with a new ethnic awareness that was occurring in urban areas, inspired up and coming African American artists. These artists rejected landscapes for the figurative, rural scenes for urban and focused on class, culture and Africa to bring ethnic consciousness into art and create a new black identity. The New Negro movement would later be known as the Harlem Renaissance.”
Some reviewers said the show was just an opportunity for the Smithsonian to dig works of art out of storage that have not been seen before and others said “Never been seen before” as a positive not a negative. 

I generally have a problem with the term African American artist, either one is an artist or not and one’s ethnicity should not play a role.  As the writer and cultural critic Touré was quoted in the exhibition, “Our Community is too diverse, complex. Imaginative, dynamic creative and beautiful to impose restraints on Blackness”

In this case, however, the concept is that through approximately 100 works and 41 artists addressing their environment the viewer gets some insight into the world of being black in America.  I did not feel the works as condemning of whites as they might have been. They were rather observations of what was, and as such, far more powerful. Maya Angelou is quoted in 1993, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again”.

The first work I saw when I came into the exhibition was by Melvin Edwards (born 1937 Houston, Texas) It is a welded steel piece entitled “Tambo” 1993, as a tribute to the president of the African National Congress who died that year.  He and Nelson Mandela had in the 1940’s turned the ANC into an activist organization calling on the people of South Africa to peacefully protest Apartheid. The South African police, however, proceeded to kill 69 peaceful protesters. This changed the organization into a militant one resulting in it being outlawed in South Africa and Tambo going into exile for 30 years. He then led the fight from outside the country which must have been preferable to going to jail which Mandela ended up doing.  The objects in the sculpture represent the origins and tools Tambo had to repair society.

An artist who lived and died in Knoxville, Tennessee, Joseph Delaney (1904-1991) studied with Thomas Hart Benton in New York and a work in this show that I found very evocative and of the period is a 1943 painting called “Penn Station at War Time”.  It captures the hubbub of Penn Station still today and I observe few if any blacks present. Though my nanny’s husband at the time was a short order chef on the Pennsylvania Railroad!

One of my all time favorite artists is Jacob Lawrence (1917 Atlantic City, New Jersey -2000 Seattle, Washington).  I “discovered” him decades ago when his “Migration Series” was first exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  For this exhibition an image was chosen called “Bar and Grill” a 1941 gouache on paper.  In this picture the space for the blacks and whites is divided by a slatted wall, again a most powerful image.

There are so many images to choose from but maybe the most appropriate one to end on is one by Gordon Parks (1912, Fort Scott, Kansas - 2006 New York City).  I may have even met him once in the office of our doctor with whom we were both friendly as well as being patients.   Parks was a great photographer of the contemporary scene and here we have one, appropriately enough called, “Harlem” where all the residents of an apartment building are trying to get some air on a summer day in 1948.

This evocative exhibition transported me to another world with a different culture and may have been more educational than the history of the computer!   It will be showing through January 19, 2014 at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Herb & Dorothy

The tale of Herb and Dorothy Vogel is as close as you can get to a romantic art story.  Dorothy was a librarian at the Brooklyn public library and Herb a postal clerk.   Dorothy has a Masters degree in Library Science and both attended art school and were painters.  Giving up their artistic careers, they lived in a one bedroom rent controlled apartment and Dorothy’s salary covered their living expenses.  Instead of going out to dinner and traveling they prowled the museums and galleries and used Herb’s salary to collect art.

Herb and Dorothy were not into the Old Master world but rather they collected Conceptual and Minimalist art which was not expensive at the time.  They rarely bought one work by an artist but would buy several all at once.  The professionals, dealers and curators alike, marveled at their “eye” which was at the cutting edge.

They are a prime example to hold up to people who say they cannot afford to collect. As a dealer I had similar clients.  I remember one couple that were school teachers who would buy something and pay us over many months but we loved these collectors.  They were passionate and we never had to chase them like we did with some of our wealthier clients. The day, or day before, a payment was due we always received it.

Herb & Dorothy amassed an incredibly prescient collection of close to 5 thousand images. They collected so much material that they had nowhere to put it all in their small apartment.  Works of art were on the ceiling (which I have seen done to great effect), in the closets and under the bed.  In fact the artist, Chuck Close, says that their bed seemed to get higher and higher!

If you would like to know more, I was actually on the board of the company, MUSE Film & Television, that made the documentary called “Herb & Dorothy” by the filmmaker Megumi Sasaki.  You will find the trailer here.

In 2008, they approached the National Gallery in Washington D.C. regarding a gift.  The museum agreed to keep about half the collection and they decided together to give 50 works to each of the 50 States which resulted in the 50X50 Project.  The National Gallery in consultation with the Vogels chose which institutions in each state and which works would go to them.  In the case of New Mexico they decided to give works for the most part by artists who came from or worked in the state, as well as artists who have exhibited at the New Mexico Museum of Art.  The Vogels visited Santa Fe in the 1990’s and the Museum had borrowed some pictures from them for an exhibition at the time.   I am sure that is one of the reasons that our museum was chosen and it did not hurt that this is the state capital!  Capitals, however, were not always the choice for donations.

The Museum actually received 63 works of art from the collection but this included close to 25 Minimalist works by Richard Tuttle which the artist decided represented only 3 works since they came from notebooks.  Here is a more colorful one from “Loose-Leaf Notebook Drawings, Box 10, Group 4”, 1980-82 watercolor on loose-leaf notebook paper.

I asked Merry Scully, the curator of the current show of the Vogel gift to New Mexico, what her role was, since the selection had been made for the Museum and they were required under the terms of the agreement to show the collection as a solo exhibition in its entirety in a certain time window after the gift was made in 2009.  She explained that she obviously had to review the collection and decide what pieces might need paper conservation and then what needed framing.  Her most important job was to fit the material into the space that had been allotted and obviously it had to make some sense.  To state the obvious you would not want to see the 25 Tuttles interspersed individually among the other works.  They were shown together as designated by the artist. In order to understand it better she put all the works from a single notebook together.  Also, a curator is de facto an art historian and there are interesting points that can be made through the Vogels’ collection on issues such as the continuum between abstraction, Conceptualism and Minimalism.

I must say that I went to the exhibition rather pessimistic about what my reaction to this material would be and I was pleasantly surprised.  The show held my interest and made me wish to learn more. In the end it is up to the viewer to make up his or her own mind. Not all the work was abstract.  A Mark Kostabi, an artist I have liked in the past, did an untitled work on paper from 1988 which captured my imagination.  It reminded me of one of those cartoons where the New Yorker asks readers to submit humorous captions. How would you title it?

The picture that I liked best in the exhibition is an over life size image by Neil Jenny entitled, “Herb Thinking” 1999, Xerox collage and graphite on mat board.

Herbert died last year but both members of this passionate couple had the chance to see their dream fulfilled and their legacy live on to educate others.