Sunday, March 1, 2015

El Greco in New York

Another exhibition that I saw in it’s last days at the Metropolitan Museum and Frick Collection was “El Greco in New York”.  It was a show that opened near the end of 2014 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of El Greco’s death.  There have been tributes to El Greco also at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. and at the Prado in Madrid with the largest one in Toledo, Spain.

The reason I can write about this show guilt free is that you can re-enact it for yourselves by visiting the three museums, all within New York City.  The exhibition was split between two venues. The larger event was at the Metropolitan Museum where they showed 16 paintings by El Greco and the remaining 3 were at the Frick Collection. 

The reason why they were not all together is that the original gift by Henry Clay Frick (1814-1919) stipulated that no work in his collection could leave the building.  The result is that anything acquired before his death cannot be loaned.  Frick was a great fan of El Greco and had acquired 3 paintings by the artist.  The fact that the artist had been forgotten and not resurrected as an important artist until the late 19th century gave collectors like Frick and Havermeyer  a chance to buy the best.  At the Met there were 10 from its own collections and the remaining 6 came from the Hispanic Society of America.  This wonderful gem of a museum that most people miss since it is at 613 West 155th Street way above Columbia University.  There one can study treasures of Spanish art in relative peace and quiet if you compare it to the Metropolitan!  As it was put in The Guardian, “The important but unloved Hispanic Society of America, stranded in a Beaux-Arts penitentiary way uptown, gets about 20,000 visitors a year (the Met gets 300 times that).”  Now that the exhibition is over you have an excuse to visit the Hispanic Society to see  El Greco in a more authentic, i.e. Spanish, environment.

El Greco, whose given name was Doménikos Theotokópoulos, was born in 1541 in Crete, which was at the time, part of the Republic of Venice.   In 1567, already an accomplished artist he moved to Venice and from there he went to Rome in 1570 where all serious artists of the time were drawn.  It was, and some would argue still is, the Mecca of European art world.  Then in 1577 he moved to Toledo, Spain where he was known simply as The Greek and where he made his reputation and and worked until his death in 1614. 

My first interaction with El Greco, I know, was before the age of 10, because at that age I was finally allowed to enter the Frick Collection and discovered Bellini’s “St. Francis in the Desert”.  But first, I had been mesmerized at the Metropolitan Museum by El Greco’s “View of Toledo”.  There was this road that led into a fantastical city.  I think that today the kids could believe that Zombies live there.  It is green like the Emerald City but in my mind still belongs to the Wicked Witch of the West waiting for Dorothy’s arrival.  The painting was given to the Metropolitan as a bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929.


El Greco in the 20th century has been considered totally in tune with contemporary artists.  He took mannerism to an extreme where he actually deformed figures in a very meaningful way.  No wonder he had an influence on the likes of Picasso. Take the Frick’s “Christ Purifying the Temple”: Christ is standing on one foot almost in a balletic pose.  The figures all seem part of a great bravura performance.  The mysterious muted hues of garments turn the picture into an essay in modulated colors.


El Greco’s “Pietà” from The Hispanic Society of America is a rather unusual composition.  The way one usually sees this subject depicted is to have Christ’s body laid across his mother’s knees as The Lamentation but here you see his body being dragged by his mother together with Mary Magdalene and Mary, Mother of James, to his grave?


The Met’s “Vision of St. John” is from an altar commissioned for the church of the hospital of Saint John the Baptist in Toledo.  From the Metropolitan Museum web site, “It depicts a passage in the Bible, Revelation (6:9-11) describing the opening of the Fifth Seal at the end of time, and the distribution of white robes to ‘those who had been slain for the work of God and for the witness they had borne.’ The missing upper part may have shown the Sacrificial Lamb opening the Fifth Seal. The canvas was an iconic work for twentieth-century artists and Picasso, who knew it in Paris, used it as an inspiration for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.”   If you go to Google images and put in The 5 Fifth Seal you will find many images of El Greco’s images of St. John as well as Les Demoiselles d’Avingnon.


We are fortunate indeed to have such riches in this country and easily accessible in New York’s public collections, albeit that one of them is generally overlooked!

The images have been each kindly supplied by their institutions.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Bartholomeus Spranger: Splendor and Eroticism in Imperial Prague

What a title and the show at the Metropolitan Museum totally lived up to it.  Unfortunately, I saw the show in its last week but I want to tell you about it anyway.

Bartholomeus Spranger , was born in Antwerp in 1546 and died in Prague in 1611 and this is the first monographic exhibition dedicated to him, which is surprising when you realize what a great artist he was.  We always hear of the artists that were not appreciated in their own time, however, Spranger was celebrated and then forgotten. He was not an overnight success, however.  When he went to Milan he thought that clients would flock to him but they did not. Then he had the bad luck of having a colleague steal what little money he had so he took the hint and left!  He lived in Rome for a decade and worked under the patronage of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and Pope Pius V appointed him as Court painter in 1570.  The Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II summoned him to Vienna where he arrived in 1576 but unfortunately the Emperor died soon thereafter.  He had the good fortune that Maximilian’s successor, Rudolf II, also wanted Spranger’s services and appointed him Court painter in 1581.  He moved to Prague where the Holy Roman Emperor was then situated and worked there until he died.

The guest curator of this amazing show was Sally Metzler and she was able to get loans from 14 countries.  Interestingly, she states in her introduction that she “met” Spranger in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.  One of the pictures that caught her eye took me by surprise in the exhibition.  It is a very small picture without wall power in the usual sense.  But when you get close to this small copper representing “The Lamentation of Christ” that Spranger painted for Maximilian in 1576 it jumps out at you as if it were 3 dimensional.  Unfortunately, it does not come off as such in an illustration but take my word for it.  It is luminous and in a non-sexual way it is a very sensuous image.  Spranger is a great Mannerist artist and the twisted figure of Christ is certainly a fine example of the style.


Rudolf II was not a very successful politician and his enemies blamed his antics and interest in the occult and the arts for bringing the Empire into the Thirty Years War.  His love of the arts, however, gave rise to a surge of creativity at his court and Spranger might be said to have led the way.  The Emperor commissioned a great deal of erotic art and Spranger was a master in that area.  Possibly the sexiest image in the show, though there are a number to choose from, is a large image of “Jupiter and Antiope” 1595-97 from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.  Jupiter is holding Antiope under her arm and around her breast while Antiope caresses Jupiter’s leg.  This is a time long before the ideal woman became anorexic and therefore there is plenty of flesh for the artist to embellish on.


I want to share with you Ariella Budick’s introduction in the Financial Times to her review of the Spranger show, “Imagine a 16th-century version of an adult website, with lithe bodies tangled in impossibly acrobatic poses, lissome limbs, lustrous flesh, supple skin, all elaborately arranged in dances of erotic abandon."

In an extremely erotic image borrowed from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Satyr Mason pulls back the curtain on Venus who is in an extremely suggestive position.  Mason has dropped a string, a plumb line, between her legs, which swings back and forth and up and down in a metaphor for intercourse.  The Metropolitan Museum was kind enough to supply the other images but this one was reproduced by me from the catalog.


Spranger drew and doodled on every surface he could find and was a natural draughtsman as well as a print maker.  The 380 page catalog that accompanies the show by Dr. Metzler is not only a catalog raisonné of the paintings but also the drawings, etchings and related engravings.

The most impressive installation in the show is an entire wall representing a Kunstkammer.   Although a kunstkammer is literally an art room it included wonders of nature as well as of man.  It is what preceded the museum in the wealthy families of the court.  All sorts of  curiosities could be found there often including scientific instruments.  The Met has recreated a kunstkammer on a single wall showing paintings and drawings by Spranger along with bird taxidermies and skeletons.  Rudolf II had a lathe workshop in Prague Castle where he made turned objects himself, so the technical feat of an ivory turned in the form of a crooked standing cup is also included.


Reviewing it here I keep wishing it would still be up.  A bit like seeing a play that you can’t go back to.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fate

I looked up the definition for the fickle finger of fate, a term sometimes used in humor but with origins that are serious and profound. 1. An unseen and unforeseeable force that controls the direction of all living things, 2. A series of very unlucky or unfortunate events.

This Missive is about definition #2.  As most of you probably know by now, Walter Liedtke, curator of Dutch and Flemish art at the Metropolitan Museum died on February 3, 2015.  He lived in Bedford Hills New York with his wife, Nancy, who raised horses.  He took the 5:45 pm on the Metro-North line out of Grand Central Station and chose the first car because it was often designated as the quiet car.  In a freak accident the train hit a car stuck on the tracks and six people on the train died as a result.  It happened in Valhalla (according to Norse mythology the destination of soldiers who died in battle).

Photo Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art

I had heard about the crash on the late night news and figured that less than 1% of the people on that train were killed and I could not think of anyone who commuted on that route.  The fact is I knew at least three Met curators who did and I know one decided to take the next train out.

We each learn from our significant other and it often comes together on some level.  With Walter Liedtke it was his book, “The Royal Horse and Rider:  Painting and Sculpture and Horsemanship 1500-1800” which was published in 1989 and won the C.I.N.O.A. Prize from the International Confederation of Art Dealers on whose board I served, also as President, for many years.  The prize was to help defray the costs of publication of an art history book that this body, involving associations in over 20 countries, found worthy of promoting.  It was published on the 20th Anniversary of the day he met his wife, who so loves horses and he dedicated the book to her.

Walter loved to write and share his knowledge.  Just five years after arriving at the Met he wrote the catalog of the Museum’s Flemish Paintings.  In our library alone we have that catalog, three of his exhibition catalogs and the book mentioned above.  In 2007 he published the catalog of Dutch painting in the museum’s collection and was beginning work on the Spanish paintings.

Photo Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art

I cannot say that we were close to Walter, but he arrived at the Metropolitan during Penelope’s tenure there and he was always so nice and generous with his time and knowledge.  Funnily enough he could give the appearance of being aloof, but the minute you spoke to him he was quite the opposite.  He did little things like offer us early entrance into one of his blockbuster exhibitions so that we could see it quietly without jostling with the crowds that would arrive shortly thereafter.  Somehow we stayed in touch. 

His interests were broad and last year after I wrote a Missive on Pinhole photography he wrote, “Dear Gerald, I’m delighted to be receiving your missives and this one is especially interesting. Well done! Walter”.  It wasn’t his field, I did not even realize that he was interested in photography but that was part of Walter’s generosity of spirit.  Walter made you feel you were his friend.  Needless, to say many of my museum and art friends on Facebook posted notices and tributes.  What surprised me was that a museum friend here in Santa Fe said that many of his friends, artists or others involved in the Native American art world also posted expressions of sadness on Facebook.  They most probably had never met Walter but his reach went way beyond those in his own field.

Of course, we ask why, and can’t understand a fate that takes one so talented and who has contributed so much, but destiny is something we have no control over and must learn to live with.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

How to Close Down a City and Lose a Fortune!

I was in New York for Master Drawings Week and the Old Master sales and “the worst winter storm the city has ever seen” was the promise from Mayor de Blasio.   Governor Cuomo announced that Mass Transit would be totally shut down and there would be a curfew for all non- emergency vehicles.  I don’t remember this ever happening, before hardly any snow had fallen.  The promise was that by 11pm the storm would be in full force.  The warnings were so severe that I decided not to go to a benefit dinner and a couple of openings that night being concerned about not getting transportation back to the Princeton/Columbia Club where I was staying.

Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” joked on his pre-recorded broadcast that if you were watching at the time he went on air, New York City probably no longer existed!  When I woke up briefly at 3AM I looked out the window and figured the storm hadn’t really started yet.  That was true, and at least for the city proper, it never really did.  The worst report I heard was one foot of snow and that was at LaGuardia airport.

Can you imagine?  All the theaters, and even opening nights, that were cancelled, the museums and businesses that were closed the following day because of the dire warnings.  The financial losses must have been colossal!  It was unheard of.  Of course, some years ago, everyone blamed then Mayor Bloomberg for flying to Bermuda on his own plane just before a bad storm hit New York leaving the city unprepared.

More the fool was I because most of my colleagues ignored the warnings and they were right.  We had a snowfall like we do every year at this time.  My Club, managed to stay open, clean the rooms and serve 3 meals.  Many local restaurants also remained open.  Some of the large shops opened, if a bit late.  The roads were plowed and while there was snow piled around and slush, I have seen so much worse!

What did yours truly do?  Admittedly, it was not a day to rush out first thing in the morning but I did call old friends who were in town and we had a lovely leisurely lunch at their Club, the Yale, that is in the same neighborhood. Then I headed uptown and managed to visit half a dozen dealers who were exhibiting in the annual Master Drawings New York event where individual galleries have exhibitions in their own premises or one of their colleagues.  Also, others took advantage of the opportunity and did exhibitions as well.  I was in New York for Master Drawings Week and the Old Master sales and “the worst winter storm the city has ever seen” was the promise from Mayor de Blasio.   Governor Cuomo announced that Mass Transit would be totally shut down and there would be a curfew for all non- emergency vehicles.  I don’t remember this ever happening, before hardly any snow had fallen.  The promise was that by 11pm the storm would be in full force.  The warnings were so severe that I decided not to go to a benefit dinner and a couple of openings that night being concerned about not getting transportation back to the Princeton/Columbia Club where I was staying.

Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” joked on his pre-recorded broadcast that if you were watching at the time he went on air, New York City probably no longer existed!  When I woke up briefly at 3AM I looked out the window and figured the storm hadn’t really started yet.  That was true, and at least for the city proper, it never really did.  The worst report I heard was one foot of snow and that was at LaGuardia airport.

Can you imagine?  All the theaters, and even opening nights, that were cancelled, the museums and businesses that were closed the following day because of the dire warnings.  The financial losses must have been colossal!  It was unheard of.  Of course, some years ago, everyone blamed then Mayor Bloomberg for flying to Bermuda on his own plane just before a bad storm hit New York leaving the city unprepared.

More the fool was I because most of my colleagues ignored the warnings and they were right.  We had a snowfall like we do every year at this time.  My Club, managed to stay open, clean the rooms and serve 3 meals.  Many local restaurants also remained open.  Some of the large shops opened, if a bit late.  The roads were plowed and while there was snow piled around and slush, I have seen so much worse!

What did yours truly do?  Admittedly, it was not a day to rush out first thing in the morning but I did call old friends who were in town and we had a lovely leisurely lunch at their Club, the Yale, that is in the same neighborhood. Then I headed uptown and managed to visit half a dozen dealers who were exhibiting in the annual Master Drawings New York event where individual galleries have exhibitions in their own premises or one of their colleagues.  Also, others took advantage of the opportunity and did exhibitions as well.  Over the time I was in New York, I visited about 22 of the 34 exhibitors plus others.  It was a busy week.

The Pandora Gallery, with offices in Milan and New York had one of the most intriguing and in some ways funny, images.  In 1939 there were discussions between the German Foreign Minister Adolf Hitler and the Soviet Foreign Minister, Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov to bring Russia into the Axis powers.  In this watercolor caricature, the recto and verso show the before and after of this meeting.  The latter after Germany invaded the Soviet Union.  The artist who created the caricature is Giovanni Costetti (1874-1949).

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Who knows why an image intrigues but this profile head by Pietro Fancelli (1764-1850) took my notice.  The sitter is anonymous but is thought to be a cleric.  The artist is known to have collaborated with local artists on the decoration of a number of palaces.  It was being exhibited by Richard Berman.  He lives and works uptown near Columbia University and a mid-town dealer, Kraushaar Galleries, is always kind enough to give over it’s space for this annual event.



At Jill Newhouse Gallery I found a set of drawings, which were being sold as one, by Charles-François Daubigny (1817–1878), a member of the Barbizon School, much admired by Van Gogh.  I am afraid that though he is considered a great landscape painter I could never warm up to his paintings.  These small sketches, however, I found wonderful.  The purpose of the drawings was to transfer them to etching plates and create prints.  Prints could be used to spread the artist’s work far and wide and they were also less expensive for the collector to acquire.



At the drawing dealers Nissman, Abromson, also showing at the Newhouse Gallery, I found a drawing that I am quite crazy about.  I loved it immediately and was surprised to learn it was by the Czech photographer, František Drtikol (1883–1961).  He is one of my favorite photographers that I could not afford when I was collecting in the field.  The artist did portraits to keep body and soul together but was known for his lyrical nudes with chiaroscuro shadows that gave an exciting and mysterious air to his photos.  There is always something new to learn and that someone I knew as a photographer was also a fine draughtsman was one of many take aways for the week.



This was my first visit to New York for old masters week without my own gallery.  I wanted to see old friends for fun and business and to keep in touch with my earlier fields of interest.  It was exciting to be in The Big Apple again and I have more tales to tell, but I was very happy to fly home out of the snow in New York and into the snow in Santa Fe!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery

The Frick Collection in New York essentially gave a preview to a larger exhibition showing 10 out of the 55 paintings that will go on tour.  From New York the show will go in its entirety to The Art Museums of San Francisco and then on to the Kimbell in Fort Worth.

It is not just paintings that move around but curatorial personnel as well.  Colin Bailey currently the Director In San Francisco was, curator at the Kimbell and then Deputy Director at the Frick.  The show was conceived when he while he was still at the Frick and he was on the selection committee to choose the pictures from Edinburgh.  Michael Clarke is today Director of the Art museum in Edinburgh though when I last saw him there, some years back, he was curator of French painting and Colin Bailey is also an specialist in that area.  So it is no accident that there is a great French 18th Century painting in this exhibition--- making me very happy!

It amused me that the morning of the day that I went to the Frick to see the exhibition I had been at Sotheby’s for a stand up brunch and a preview of the Old Master sales for the week.  Before the brunch they had a lecture on food and art, a subject I had never given much thought to but was quite interesting.   One of the members of the panel mentioned that there were very few early images of the kitchen because usually food is celebrated in the eating not the creation of the meal.  

The first painting in this small sampling at the Frick is a wonderful Diego Velazquez (1599-1660) of a “Woman Cooking Eggs” of 1618.  The artist was still a very young man and this was probably part of his recent life’s experience.  In the painting it appears that the woman’s son is watching and tasting because she is looking at him expectantly.



In the room next to the exhibition is an even smaller show of El Greco at the Frick, which is being done in conjunction with a show at the Metropolitan Museum. But you don’t have to leave the Edinburgh paintings room to see a great El Greco (1541-1614).  Although El Greco was born in Greece by 1577 he was already working in Spain and there was known as The Greek.  El Greco is certainly easier than his given name, Domenikos Theotokopoulos!  The painting presented here is “An Allegory (Fábula)”, 1585–95.  It’s a complicated story from classical antiquity which can be found abbreviated on the Frick website, but what is so enticing is the way El Greco works with the light.  The only source being the boy blowing on the fire.



If this is not enough for one wall in between these two amazing pictures is Sandro Botticelli’s (1444/1445-1510) “The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child” of 1485.  What a masterpiece.  Botticelli doesn’t get any better than this.






Of course, we have the Scottish and English pictures including a wonderful Gainsborough, Ramsay and Reynolds with a John Singer Sargent in homage to the Colonies!

The final picture in the show, if you go through counter clockwise, as I did, was in some ways the most exciting.  It is Jean-Antoine Watteau’s (1684–1721) Fêtes Vénitiennes”, 1718–19.  This was probably a prime model for the popular subject of the Fête champêtre, freely translated as a garden party.  Both his student Jean-Baptiste Pater (1695-1736) and his great admirer Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743) are well known for similar subjects.  Many of the paintings seem rather turned out to make a buck but this one has wonderful painterly qualities that show the real master.




Senior Curator at the Frick, Susan Grace Galassi, is responsible for the coordination of the show at the museum and the great hang from my point of view.  As I have said before, I prefer to see just the best rather than more, and this exhibition truly delivers.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

This is a Music Town

We have booked for many of the simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera at or local “Palace”, The Lensic Theater.  It was literally the Movie Palace of Santa Fe once upon a time before the Multiplexes.  Then it fell into disrepair and William and Nancy Zeckendorf resurrected it and helped make it a cultural center of town with across the board events including, the simulcasts, concerts, old movies, theater, lectures and dance.

The simulcast we saw a week ago was the Met’s production of Franz Lehár’s, “Merry Widow” translated into English.   We so enjoyed it that as soon as we got home looked up what the New York Times had written about it.  They totally agreed on the wonderful voices of Renée Flemming who played the title role for the first time and Nathan Gunn as her amour, Danilo.  The direction and choreography was by Susan Stroman who is famous for her Broadway productions but the Met was a first for her.  What wonderful music and great performances!



As a light operetta, it had been chosen for the Met’s New Year’s Eve Gala.  The New York Times reviewer, however, had a problem with all the intimate dialog which was difficult to understand in the huge Metropolitan Opera House.  I chuckled when my wife read this to me because we had no such problem.  In the simulcast the camera focuses on the individuals speaking and we had a much better vantage point than those sitting in the Met itself.  What was supposed to be intimate was.  Obviously, there are advantages to be sitting in the opera house for a live performance but we have been lucky enough to have seen opera live around the world and can well appreciate being right there on stage with the singers.   My father who loved opera, and in later years had a Met subscription, lamented the fact that the auditorium was so large, having heard opera in many of the smaller houses in the capitals of Europe.



If you want to buy a ticket in the orchestra at the Metropolitan Opera it will cost hundreds of dollars.  If you go to a simulcast with an unbelievable savvy audience in Santa Fe it will cost you $22.  One often hears applause in an audience essentially watching a film.  You get a lot more than you pay for.  It is, however, not so simple to bring this amazing mix of art and technology to an audience.  When 2 founding directors of the Lensic, Bill Zeckendorf and Patricia McFate, learned that the Met planned the simulcasts they became very excited about the idea.  It took a leap of faith, however, to think that there would be enough of an audience here particularly in tiny Santa Fe with a population of only 100,000 in Santa Fe County at the time.  They decided, however, to put up and raise the $80,000 to acquire a high definition digital projector and install an HD audio interface so that the satellite transmitting from New York could communicate with the Lensic system.  The projection booth had to be refitted to accommodate this new equipment The sound system which had left something to be desired before had to be greatly improved since there is nothing worse that an opera with poor sound particularly on the high notes.  Their faith proved well worth it.  The subscription series for the actual simulcasts have been regularly sold out with the encore performances that run the same evening are well filled, if not quite to capacity.

The next day we were back at the Lensic to hear the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra composed entirely of local artists. A short piece by Mozart, the Ballet from Idomeneo, was followed by the Concerto for Two Cellos  by Vivaldi.  For this there are only strings on stage with two excellent cellists Joel Becktell and Dana Winogrand. The latter received her BA and MA degrees from Julliard and has performed at Carnegie Hall.  She moved to Santa Fe in 1999.  Mr. Becktell received his degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music and was awarded the Rubenstein prize for Cello.  In other words these are not amateurs but very accomplished musicians as the entire orchestra seem to be.

The last piece was Mahler’s Symphony #1 where there must have been close to 100 musicians on stage.  What an incredible performance! It was so well done that the small woman playing the triangle in the back could be clearly heard and I believe that there were 7 or 8 French Horns alone. The guest conductor Guillermo Figueroa was amazing.  What he pulled out of those musicians was inspiring and you could tell that they were inspired as well.  At the end of the performance, with never-ending applause, Figueroa had each section of the orchestra stand up to receive their due from the enraptured audience.

I have heard comments from people living elsewhere like, “We don’t get as much culture in our town in a year as you can get here in a week”. We are extremely lucky that Santa Feans have such love of music.  We enthusiastically support what is brought to us from cultural capitals but we also have a wonderful symphony, which compares well with orchestras from larger cities and, of course, we have the world class Santa Fe Opera during the summer that draws people from all over the world.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Art World

I would very much like to put to rest the idea that there is such a thing as The Art World.  It is a bit like saying the Wine World if all wines could be thrown into one category.

Yet, over and over again we read headlines about how the art world is doing.  After 9/11 everyone believed the art market would tank and for the most part it did except for one area, American Paintings.  For whatever psychological reason people felt not only comfortable but also patriotic by buying American paintings so that market experienced a boom while other areas were not so lucky.  I remember my reaction,, I bought some stock in Southwest Airlines just because I wanted to show support!

Even though you can find many surveys and analyses showing one area of art or the other being up over the last decade it is no indication that any one work of art is going to increase in value.  I made the mistake years ago of assuming because we sold a great deal of Louis XV furniture that I should stock up only to see tastes change and people no longer wanting the curvy lines of the Louis XV style but preferring the straight lines of Louis XVI.  Not so surprisingly, it happened in other areas too.  At about the same time Art Nouveau again with many curves, went out of fashion, and Art Deco with its straight lines took its place.

Art can better be compared to the fashion industry.  Chanel or Dior may be popular this year but there is no guarantee that it will be next season.  Listening to the critics regarding what the stars wear to awards ceremonies it is clear that there are wide differences of opinion in dress as there are with art.  When a look goes out of fashion, it does not disappear altogether, but it will fade for a time and have very few patrons which naturally reduces demand and therefor the market depreciates.

After many a headline on how well the art market was doing or not I would inevitably have someone come up to me and commiserate or congratulate me as if there were a direct correlation to my area of the art world.  More often than not the opposite was true.  I have done very well at times when other art worlds were foundering and vice versa.

Speaking of one art world, why have artists regularly asked if they could exhibit in my gallery?  Wouldn’t you think that an artist who wanted an exhibition would want to find a gallery with a compatible direction?  If you look up Stiebel, ltd. or now Pahaana, LLC on line and find my site you won’t find any contemporary art there.  One time I answered an enquiring artist, I thought nicely, that we only deal in Old Masters i.e. ones no longer living and I hoped that it would be a very long time before this person qualified.  I received a vitriolic email in return saying he had never been so insulted and treated so badly.  The result is I no longer try to be helpful and respond.

Art is not easy.  You can enjoy it but it requires time and effort to learn and understand a given area.  People, however, often don’t take the time to learn and want it all spelled out for them.  A very sad result of all this is that we set up certain people, sometimes critics, curators, or collectors, and believe that what they say is right and we have to follow their lead.  I ask, why?   Of course, we all want to know the secret, whatever that may be, and if we can have our choice blessed by a known scholar or collector, we feel secure.

Unfortunately, these people are not infallible and I know more than one story of the expert being discredited or even have the ill fortune of dying and a new expert comes in denying what his or her predecessor said. This, of course, affects the market value of a work. Even more frequently taste simply changes and the demand for one field gives way to another.

 If you are buying for investment the odds are very strong that you will lose a lot of money.  If you buy because you love a work of art you can only come out ahead, buffered against the vagaries of “the art world”.