Sunday, December 26, 2021

International Art Transport 2.1

Art transport within the United States is not that complicated as long as it is properly insured, and you use an experienced art packer and shipper. A carton for a painting that a fork-lift can go through will not arrive in the same shape it left.

For International shipments it is not so simple, you need a company that is familiar with the ins and outs. One of the biggest issues is that of customs regulations in different countries. There are forms to fill out and knowledge of customs duties. For instance, an antique coming into the U.S. is usually duty free, but it must be at least hundred years old. JFK’s rocking chair would not qualify while Abraham Lincoln’s top hat might and there may be an exception for objects of historical importance. This is where your experienced and specialized customs agent comes in.

One of the companies we used to use when we were shipping to and from France was Chenue. No newcomer to the field, André Chenue founded the company in 1760. Chenue became the Royal trunk maker for Marie-Antoinette. They were responsible for packing her first layette which included a great deal of linen for mother and child as well as a crib. When all went well the company was entrusted with the manufacture of all cases, crates and trunks for transport and storage for the monarchs clothing. From there they developed the concept of being fine art shippers with a reputation that rests on delivering works of art safely and expeditiously.

We often take these things for granted, but that is a big mistake. There is always someone cheaper but as I have told friends and clients alike, “you get what you pay for”. You disregard that at your own risk.

Heading the parent Group ESI, a 100-year-old leader in the global fine arts shipping and exhibition industry, Amaury Chaumet, founded “ThePackengers” in 2018. Note the name is a single word and has an interesting spelling.

Hôtel Drouot the venerated Paris auction house founded in 1852 sells all qualities of old masters, drawings, books, jewelry, wines where many great discoveries have been made as well as many disappointments, has hooked up with this new company.

ThePackengers have crossed the Atlantic opening facilities first in New York and now in Los Angeles. They have made the very smart move of joining forces with the leading auction houses Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams as well as poaching some of their top shipping talent. What ThePackengers offer that all the other shipping companies do not is, according to M. Chaumet, their advanced digital ability. Online art sales have risen substantially and even more because of Covid. For instance, if you are considering buying a work of art from an auction house, before you have even put a bid on it you can get an estimate for packing, transport, and customs issues just by giving the company the details and you will have the answer immediately. Should you succeed in your bid, all will be taken care of with no more effort for you as the purchaser. Their mission statement is simple: “Instant pricing & e-logistics for unique objects”. Staff tee shirts say, “ThePackengers – Pick, Pack & Track”

We are living in a digital and technological age and every-once-in a-while it even improves on a business model that has already worked for several hundred years. We become spoiled as some things get easier, e.g. I have not had to use “white-out” once while writing this missive. Although this art transport service is one, I have never tried, it certainly sounds like it could make a complicated system easier on our nerves.

This is my last Missive for 2021 and on to 2022. I thank all my readers who have born with me and wish all a most happy and healthy 2022.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Artistic Talent

My father always said we were art dealers because we could not create art.

How true it is. I love singing but the only way I could get into my school glee club was to have an upper classman with perfect pitch stand behind me singing. In shop I wanted to make a car but could not cut a wheel. I used my allergies (which were for real) to get an excuse because of the sawdust. Paint? Draw? I could not draw a head or a circle without a compass!

For all these failings I respect and am in awe of those who have the ability and talent to work and be successful in more than one form of the arts.

The most famous multi-disciplinary artist was, of course, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). He is best known as a painter who worked through quite a number of the styles of the 20th century starting out grounded in reality in his blue period but the style in which he had the most influence was Cubism beginning in 1907 with his “Demoiselles d'Avignon”. Painting was not enough for him and he created sculpture and ceramics as well. While his greatest success was in painting his other work still brings good prices.

Have you ever seen a 65-page entry in Wikipedia? That is what I found when I tried to print the entry on the English rock and roll singer David Bowie (1947-20016). Born David Robert Jones, he always dreamed of being an entertainer and formed his first band at the age of 15. He studied art, music, and design, including layout and typesetting, so was ready for anything. While working with a tutor who came out of avant-garde theater, he became immersed in the creation of personae which went on to become icons of fashion. Their ever-changing wardrobe influenced some of the greatest designers such as Armani, Jean Paul Gautier and Katy Foreman. He developed a sexually ambiguous alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, then killed off Ziggy Stardust to develop a new alter ego Aladdin Sane who he portrayed on a 1973 album cover with a red and blue lightning bolt painted on his face.

Between 1995 and 1997 he painted a series of portraits he called “Dead Heads” using models from his band, friends, and himself. In June of this year one of his paintings, “DHead XLVI” came up at auction in Toronto with an estimate of $9,00-$12,000. Instead, it sold for $108,120!

Other noted performers who painted were Paul McCartney of the Beetles, the great actor, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Dennis Hopper actor and filmmaker, and Rosie O‘Donnell who created disparaging portraits of our former president with whom she had a vendetta predating his presidency. There are many more.

But believe it or not there may be an artist who today outshines them all and dare I say it, may be even better known than Picasso, -- that is Bob Dylan (1941-). I still think of him as the young man with a harmonica and guitar I saw on the stage at the Café Wha in Greenwich village in the early 1960’s. In 1963 I acquired his second album, which he titled “The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan” and I still have it today. Soon after he switched to the electric guitar and electronic music for which he took a lot of criticism from many including me. After all it is a totally different sound, as if Beethoven had suddenly switched to Jazz. Dylan was ahead of his time. He continued to write songs which today total over 500 that are sung by thousands of artists all over the world. For that he received the Nobel Prize for literature in 2016.

As if that was not enough, Dylan was a painter. Like everything else he has accomplished Dylan did it big. From the 1960’s when he used some of his drawings for album covers, he has gone on to paintings, sculpture and large-scale installations shown in gallery and museum exhibitions, and, most recently, a retrospective which is touring through 2022. Here is his mural in Minneapolis completed in 2015.

All of these performers are pigeonholed by the general public and the press for the activity for which they are best known. Their talents in the fine arts however, have offered them not only a form of escape and peace in their hectic lives, but also the opportunity to communicate through a one-on-one experience with the individuals who see the works of art they create.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Art Theft: For Love or Money

Doesn’t everyone enjoy a heist story and particularly one that involves art. I came across a whole list recently and I thought I would give you a sampling.

The first art theft I ever heard of was that of the Mona Lisa which my father told me about when I was 6 years old, and we visited the Louvre. The theft occurred in August 1911, just a month after he was born -- what better alibi! The caper was pulled by Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian artist and museum worker, with two cohorts. They hid in a broom closet overnight and before the museum opened the next morning they took the painting off the wall, got it out of its fame and protective glass, and walked out with the painting under a blanket. A bit over two years later Peruggia tried to sell the painting to a dealer who informed the police, and the picture was returned to the museum. In a sense, Peruggia did the Louvre a great favor since the Mona Lisa had not been regarded as such an important picture until its theft, but from then on people flocked to the Louvre to see the painting, and nothing has changed.

Another famous robbery took place in 1990 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It was an audacious heist where two thieves posing as policemen were let in by guards, who were then tied up while the thieves made off with 13 paintings including 3 Rembrandts, a Vermeer and several Degas drawings. The crime has never been solved and the empty frames have been left in place lest the search should escape anyone’s memory. The FBI has estimated the value at about $500 million but today, who knows. Should you see any of the missing works you might want to report it to the FBI because the Museum has offered $10 million to anyone leading to their recovery.

This crime was called to mind again when earlier this year a man was arrested for breaking into the same museum but never entered the building. He smashed a glass door and threw something inside, prompting the police to call the bomb squad. It turned out the man had thrown a blanket-covered painting he had stolen from a private gallery some days earlier. Why? Who knows?

Last year a thief, taking no chances used a sledgehammer to break into a small museum in Laren, the Netherlands, to steal an early van Gogh, “The Parsonage Garden at Neunen”. That was the only picture he took, and he left with it under his arm. The painting had been on loan from a better-known institution, the Groninger. Was he a picky collector or was it a commissioned deal? In any case, the painting has not yet been found though photographs were circulated in September of this year by the unknown perpetrator.

When you look up art theft on the web, 90% of the reports are about paintings but what about the decorative arts? They don’t get ignored, it is just that most people steal for a possible cash reward or hold their loot for ransom or even use it for collateral on loans, and paintings are worth more.

Decorative arts, however, were the focus of one Dr. John Quincy Feller, a professor of history for over 30 years at the University of Scranton. Living in a modest brick apartment on the edge of town, he was the last person you would suspect of larceny. He wrote scholarly books and articles and had access to museums through his friendship with staff members. He clearly would not have had the same eagle eyes on him than unknown visitors. He was proud to have been invited to become a trustee of the Peabody Museum at Harvard University. His particular passions were for porcelain and glass of the 18th and 19th centuries, especially pieces with historical associations. Once in a while he would even lend objects from his purloined collection for exhibitions.

Some of the museums he stole from were the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Rhode Island School of Design Museum, the Wadsworth Athenaeum and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford England. A late 18th century porcelain saucer with the great seal of the United States that he had donated to the State Department in Washington D.C. was seized by the FBI. It was one of the roughly one hundred objects the FBI concluded the professor had stolen. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months in prison and a $30,000 fine. He stole for his love of objects. How can you hate a guy like that?

One more before I leave you to find your own crime stories. Another thief from Pennsylvania, Thomas Gavin, had gone on his crime spree in the 1960’s and 70’s. His passion was for firearms and found his loot in a dozen East Coast museums. He seems to have also stolen for the love of the objects and not for quick money. He was only recently caught when he raised suspicion as he tried to sell a private collector an American Revolutionary War rifle with an estimated value of $175,000 for $4,000. This says to me that he was trying to sell to survive not for vast profits, or maybe in the end he wanted to get caught and confess. The statute of limitations had expired on most counts and the one that remained when he was sentenced at the end of November this year was trying to sell a stolen article of historical importance. This carries a maximum ten-year sentence and a $50,000 fine. However, since he is now 78 years old, and in a wheelchair, he was given just one day in the slammer. Here is an image by Yong Kim for the Philadelphia Inquirer of the rifle.

There is always more sympathy for one who steals for his love of art and not just for profit!

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Mackintosh: A Very Special Traveling Exhibition

How very lucky the Albuquerque Museum in New Mexico is to have a Museum Director like Andrew Connors, to snag a show worthy of the greatest museums in the world. It is called, “Designing the New: Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style”.

The show was organized by the curator of European Decorative Arts and Design at he Glasgow Museums, Alison Brown, in 2018 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Mackintosh’s birth. Even though Covid put it on hiatus it is continuing its tour of just four venues in the States.

Mackintosh and his collaborators were known as ‘The Four’ comprised Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), James Herbert MacNair (1868 - 1955), and the sisters, Margaret Macdonald (1864 - 1933) and Frances Macdonald (1873 - 1921). TheFour had met at the Glasgow School of Art and Mackintosh married Margaret and MacNair married Frances. Together they came up with innovative designs that influenced design and style for generations to come.

Mackintosh, as architect, and designer became the main exponent of the style. The Four were best known for their decorative arts and this exhibition has 165 works including Furniture, textiles, posters, drawings and glass. While artists may wish for control of the space their work will occupy, they rarely do. Mackintosh worked as an architect designed every detail of his buildings using the full range of media, thus “owning” the entire environment.

The imaginative interiors he created from 1896 to 1917 for Miss Catherine Cranston’s four tearooms in central Glasgow are his best known works. Here is an image of the lady herself and one of the high-back chairs from her Argyle Street Tea Rooms. (Images Catherine Cranston and one of the chairs)

A highlight of the exhibition is a large frieze by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. created in gesso on burlap with painted string, glass beads, thread, tin leaf, papier-mache and steel pins. It was a partner panel to a frieze by her husband, Charles, in their collaborative decoration of the Ladies Luncheon Room for Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street Tearooms. They had international impact as they were shown in the Vienna Seccession exhibition of 1900 before installation in the Tea Rooms. Here is the entire image and a detail.

Personally, I love the posters and on-line you can still buy copies. Here is one Mackintosh did in 1896 for the The Scottish Musical Review.

I couldn’t resist this design for a music room (1905) by George Logan (1866-1939) a furniture designer, musician, and poet. It was inspired by the “Choric Song” from Alfred Tennyson’s “Lotus Eaters.”, note the motto inscribed along the picture rail. The patterns of flowers on the walls and textiles and the attenuated shapes of the furniture are typical of the Glasgow Style.

Similar forms can be found on the cabinet designed by Mackintosh for Mrs. Ellen Pickering in 1898. The cabinet was intended to store music books and sheet music. Its design drawing shows that its lower shelves would have been hidden by a linen curtain embroidered with a delicate rosebush and bluebells.

Maybe it’s just my prurient instincts but a good way to end this Missive is with a door that Mackintosh designed in 1907-8 in his later geometric style for the gentlemen’s basement restroom cubicle. It demonstrates his concern for detail, -- and where else but for the Ingram Street Tea Rooms. Here is the full door and a detail.

While I must confess to not loving every object in the show there was enough to enthrall for both the layman and the scholar. A film takes you through Mackintosh’s major architectural commissions and there are detailed timelines, along with labels that are unfailingly illuminating. The show will remain at the Albuquerque Museum until January 23, 2022.