October 30, 2010

BOO!!! It's Hallowe'en in New York!

It's the day before Hallowe'en in New York City and signs of impending spookiness are everywhere!

Only the most fearless dares to pass before the ghosts and ghouls who lurk in the doorways...

Is it a gust of wind...or something more sinister...

Is it a good witch or a bad one? Do you dare to find out?

Better look behind you...


October 23, 2010

A Day of Discovery

For my last blog from Paris, I'm going to share with you a marvelous day filled with serendipitous encounters and a lot of fun!

Crossing the Pont du Louvre
with the Grand Palais in the background

Last Thursday was the opening of the annual "Salon du Papiers Anciens", a very low-brow fair dedicated to works on paper from books to postcards and everything in between. Held in a grim 1970's Art Brut building on the outskirts of Paris, it takes courage to go to but is generally worth the effort. I had visited the salon a few times before and had always come away with something but this year Paris is in the grips of the strikes and the public transportation is very much affected. Nevertheless, the day was beautiful and after a half hour wait for the bus and another delay while waiting for a demonstration to pass by I arrived at the fair ready to dig through the tons of wares in search of a buried treasure!

Passing stand after stand of posters, magazines, photos, old books, menus, prints, maps and stock certificates, I spotted several familiar faces and found a few interesting pieces to buy. Lunchtime came and it was time for my annual foie gras sandwich purchased, along with a glass of sweet white wine, from a vendor who participates at every fair. Not exactly a gourmet experience but absolutely delicious and I wouldn't dream of eating anything else there!

Back on the bus which rolled through Paris very nicely until encountering yet another demonstration on the rue de Rennes! That was okay, it was close enough to my destination to get off and go to visit some of my favorite galleries on the Left Bank. One of the best parts about being an art dealer is the people I deal with. I truly love to go and see my colleagues. Beside the anticipation of a great find, there is a very personal element built up over years in the business and this afternoon was no exception.

At 7 o'clock it was time to meet a dear friend for an aperitif. We chose La Closerie des Lilas, a Montparnasse institution that had been the "clubhouse" for literary and artistic lions since it opened in 1847. I had never visited but it was the perfect location for our rendez-vous with Macha a Russian artist who has lived and worked in Paris since the 1980's. We had a nice visit over a kir and then made our way down the rue d'Assas to the next stop in this excellent adventure!

Let me just back up for a minute here. A few days prior, at a party, I met a lovely couple and during the conversation they mentioned that the husband, Julio, was going to have an exhibition of his work at the Musée Zadkine and asked if I would like to come to the opening. Of course, I said yes, but I think they thought I was just kidding because the look of surprise when I actually showed up on Thursday night was marvelous!

The Musée Zadkine is a small museum dedicated to the work of the sculptor Ossip Zadkine, a Russian who worked in the "Ecole de Paris" style. Housed in the villa where he lived from 1928 until his death in 1967, the museum offers not just a survey of his works, but a glimpse into the lifestyle of an artist during the mid-20th Century. Zadkine's atelier, garden and home are now open to the public and filled with his works giving the visitor are real feel for the artist and his œuvre. But tonight was something special. For a limited time, the works of Zadkine were sharing the spotlight with a contemporary artist, Julio Villani, a Brazilian who emigrated to Paris and works in an almost "neo-Dada" style.

What was remarkable, and very effective, was the juxtaposition of the Modern Master with the young prodigy. Villani's sculptures stood strong beside the work of Zadkine and could almost be said to breathe new life into the environs. I had always intended to visit the Musée Zadkine but it was one of those things that always got pushed off to the next visit. This opportunity was worth waiting for.

Finally, it was getting late and time for dinner. I had planned to go to a small restaurant near my apartment but when I arrived a party was in full swing. Not to worry - I was informed at the door that they were having a special "Bergerac Soirée" and guests were welcome to come and join the celebration of the food and wine of this region. Who could resist? In I went, ordered some Bergerac red wine and the special of the evening and was entertained by a strolling accordion player who played everything from Edith Piaf to the Rolling Stones on her squeeze box! The crowd loved it and we sang and ate and drank until I realized it was almost midnight and time to go home!

Now it is also time for me to return to New York as my wonderful October sojourn in Paris is nearly over. But new discoveries await and I hope you'll join me for more autumn adventures back in the USA! A très bientôt!

October 19, 2010

The Middle Ages Are Alive and Well and Living in Paris!

A scan of the museum listings in this week's Pariscope would lead one to believe that the Middle Ages are the latest thing with no fewer than three full-scale exhibitions dedicated to this long ago era. I couldn't visit just one, so I spent three lovely afternoons enveloped in Medieval splendor.

First stop, the Grand Palais for "France 1500: Entre Moyen Age et Renaissance" a survey of the period when France was the link between Italy and the Low Countries and the exchange of ideas and information made for innovation and discovery in the arts. It was a time when commissions for paintings and works of art were no longer just the domain of royalty, rather, for the first time, wealthy private citizens became patrons and the arts flourished.

The other major factor during this period was the invention of the printing press. The French were quick to adopt this new technology and in 1470 the first printed book was produced in Paris. Eight years later in Lyon the first book illustrated with woodcut engravings was printed. So began a tradition of book publishing that continues to this day.

This exhibition explores the development of French art and culture through tapestries, stained glass, sculpture, enamels, paintings and magnificent illuminated manuscripts. One can clearly see the evolution of style as artists were influenced by travel and dissemination of ideas from Italy to the South and Holland to the North.

The next stop was an old favorite that I had not visited in a long time, the Musée de Cluny, most famous for its marvelous tapestries "La Dame a la Licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn)". Housed in former Gallo-Roman thermal baths and the Gothic "Hôtel de Cluny", it has the perfect ambiance for a tour of Medieval treasures.

Beside the renowned tapestries, the museum also boasts a superb collection of stained glass, statuary, ivory carvings, carved and painted altars, medallions, silver and gold religious objects and paintings that date from the 13th to the 15th centuries and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the beautiful works in their atmospheric setting. But then I went downstairs to the frigidarium and I was overwhelmed by a special exhibition entitled "D'Or et du feu: l'art en Slovakie à la fin du Moyen Age" a small but perfect selection of art from Slovakia during the Middle Ages.

Slovakia, a country sandwiched between Austria and Hungary, is not often thought of as a center for art, but during the 1500s it was a very wealthy area that supported the arts generously. On display are magnificent altars and statues, heavily carved and lushly colored in a unique and beautiful style. Sort of a cross between German and Italian if you can imagine such a combination and absolutely beautiful. Also exquisite was a group of paintings with lovely colors and a relief pattern softly carved into the wood panel's background that resembled tooled leather in texture. The show was small but very fine and a real revelation.

Finally I came to "Trésors des Médicis" now on at the Musée Maillol in the 7th Arrondissement. Here we have a history of the illustrious Italian banking family, the Medicis, as told by their collections of sumptuous objects.

In the 15th Century the family patriarch Cosma de Medici began a tradition that continued until the line literally died out in the 1800s. Cosma became a major patron of the arts and commissioned portraits, bronzes and cameos by such artists as Botticello, Cellini and Bronzino. This love of beautiful objects passed from Cosma through his sons and daughters as each pursued his or her own particular collecting interests.

In the mid 16th century, François de Medici created a "cabinet of curiosities" that was unrivaled in Europe. Comprising of treasures from exotic lands such as carved ivory spoons from Benin (now Nigeria), a Teotihuacan jade mask from Mexico and a Tupinamba red feather robe from Brazil, this collection became known far and wide. More practical areas included a library of books that became the basis for the Bibliotheque Palatine, a passion for science, botany and mathematics that supported medical research, agricultural advancement and astronomy. Two of the female descendents were married to French Kings (Catherine de Medici to Henri II and Maria de Medici to Henri IV) and each amassed a copious quantity of fine and rare jewels, particularly pearls. Several male descendents became Popes and commissioned sumptuous religious objects and paintings.

The history of the Medici's, as presented here, is not so much a documentation of the riches of a very wealthy family as it is a look at the development of Italian art and culture. The Medicis were the tastemakers of their time, and they did it splendidly. Never vulgar, and often with a public benefit, the Medici family's support of science and art encouraged creative thinking - the kind of thinking that lead to no less than Galileo's amazing discoveries.

The last Medici, Anna-Maria Luisa, Electress of Palatine, pursued the family tradition of collecting but was more obsessed with providing an heir to continue the line. The most touching piece in the exhibition was an exquisite tiny baby cradle made of gold filigree with a large natural pearl as the blanket covering the infant within, a treasure made in Holland in 1695 and presented to Anna-Maria by her husband as a talisman. Sadly it did not help and she died childless in 1743 leaving her own and the entire Medici collection of treasures to the State.

Italy was the last stop in my Renaissance Revival - it's time to get back to the 21st Century and explore what's going on in today's Paris! Hope you'll join me!

October 17, 2010

Not Exactly Monet, But...

Despite the best of intentions, my attempt to visit the over-subscribed exhibition "Monet" at the Grand Palais did not work out. After learning that no timed entry tickets were available until November, I decided to tough it out and wait in line with a few hundred of my fellow Monet enthusiasts to see this blockbuster show. When I arrived at the venue there were three lines. One for ticket holders, one for museum members and the third for people like me. From where I entered the sign declared a three hour wait but being an optimist I thought they were just trying to scare me. No such luck as I waited for an hour and finally got close to the sign that announced a two hour wait. That was where I bagged it!

But from adversity comes creativity and I had the great opportunity to discover a hidden gem, a private museum opened six years ago on the 4th floor of the renowned Maxim's restaurant and dedicated to the decorative arts of the Belle Epoque. In fact, it is a presentation of the amazing collection of Pierre Cardin of fashion design fame but more recently the proprietor of Chez Maxim's. Decorated like a courtesan's apartment in 1900, the rooms are chock full of masterpieces of furniture, porcelain, glass and decorative objects by the likes of Majorelle, Gallé and Tiffany & Co. Truly, it was like stepping back to fin de siècle Paris!

I am a big fan of the Belle Epoque and I was curious to see what Maxim's - not exactly a culinary highlight anymore - would present, but I was knocked out by both the quantity and the quality of the collection. Beside the fabulous suites of furniture in the salon, the dining room and the boudoir, I was very impressed by two charcoal crayon drawings by artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and a complete collection of pochoir colored lithographs by the House caricaturist Sem. Our excellent guide took my tour through the apartment pointing out details of architecture and design while she answered questions about the history of both Chez Maxim's and the Art Nouveau treasures within.

So if you have an hour to spare and would like an intimate look at what turn-of-the-century Paris was like, take a walk over to rue Royale and buy a ticket for a step back in time - a visit to the Musée Maxim's!

October 16, 2010

What's on at the Hôtel Drouot

People interested in the arts or collecting of any kind are very familiar with the Hôtel Drouot. Not a "hotel" by American definition, but the center of the French auction industry - a sort of pop-up mini-mall of auctions that refresh on an almost daily basis. The first Hôtel Drouot was established in 1852 by a group of commissaires priseurs, licensed auctioneers, who realized that they would benefit from a central location where they could set up and sell their wares at public auction. The idea was a huge success and helped propel Paris into the spotlight as the center for the business of art.

Over the years the Hôtel Drouot has moved and expanded and now comprises four main buildings offering 21 rooms in which to hold public sales. Since 1980, the main location has been on rue Drouot, in the 9th Arrondissement, in a very "mod" building probably most memorable for the bright red carpet that covers the floors, and the walls, of the interior. An average of 3,000 sales occur each year under the auspices of the Hôtel Drouot, these in addition to the more elegant, but not necessarily as interesting, auction houses of Christies and Sothebys.

In 2010, Paris may no longer be the center for art, but a visit to the Hôtel Drouot on any Saturday will leave no doubt that the buying and selling of art and collectibles is a passion that is very much alive.

Take today for instance. When in Paris, I generally try to visit the Hôtel Drouot about twice a week as the previews last a matter of hours and the moment the gavel falls on the last lot, a whole new auction takes over the space. I was interested in a couple of sales that had been mentioned in the Hôtel's weekly news magazine, the "Gazette de l'Hôtel Drouot" so this afternoon I took the number 85 bus over to have a look.

Once I got there I was struck again by the tremendous diversity and sheer volume of the goods offered for sale. Today there were two salons dedicated to jewelry sales, one or two of antique furniture and several devoted to paintings of varying periods and quality.

But then it started to get a little more interesting with a sale of movie posters and memorabilia at the house of Kapandji Morhange.

There was a special sale of very fine drawings by French artist Albert Marquet being shown by Aponem-Deburaux Enchères however the lights were dimmed low to protect the drawings and I could not take a photograph. But next door at Kahn Dumousset Millon & Associés I couldn't resist "Collector et Passion" featuring a mix of Walt Disney collectibles and race car souvenirs. Quite a combination and very amusing!

Across the hall was another amazing group up for sale - this was the private collection of a Monsieur Louis Audouin-Dubreuil who evidently had quite a passion for Africa and exotic travel as reflected by his total safari outfit from camp beds to hatchets. This was going to be a three part sale featuring photographs, posters, documents, personal effects, African art objects and paintings as presented by the House of Aguttes.

But my favorite sale of the day was downstairs in the "basement" section which I thought was a shame because it was of very high quality overall. Presented by Auction Art was "Le Passion d'un Cusinier" the private collection of a chef who had until recently owned and operated a Michelin starred restaurant in Lyon, considered by many to be the capitol of gastronomy. His other passion, beside food, was collecting which he pursued with relish. Squeezed into a rather small sale room was the result of years of searching and acquiring anything to do with food and drink. Hundreds of beautiful copper molds, porcelain menus and food themed posters were presented with antique restaurant furniture, fixtures, advertising ephemera and paintings. It was fascinating but a little sad at the same time.

This was just a typical weekend at the Hôtel Drouot - the items may change but the energy never does and neither does the thrill of discovering something absolutely wonderful within its hallowed walls!

October 13, 2010

Autumn in Paris

I wonder if Vernon Duke had experienced "Autumn in Paris" before he composed "Autumn in New York" in 1934? Because if he had been in Paris now, he would never have looked anywhere else for inspiration! Absolutely classic fall weather with crisp, cool sunshine and an energy that speaks of the start of a new and invigorating season!

The chestnut tree leaves are turning brown and falling but bright red geraniums still bloom in window boxes everywhere. The air is just cool enough to warrant wearing a smart jacket and scarf to stroll along the boulevard and maybe have a café outdoors under a heater lamp. It's a great time to be here!

Well, maybe not a perfect time as the general strikes that have plagued France for the past few weeks continue with on-going disruptions of public transportation and consequently interruptions in services and deliveries. A strike had been called for Tuesday which made getting around very difficult with protesters marching against raising the retirement age to 62.

Nevertheless, with some strategic planning I was able to cross from the Left Bank to the Right and back again to visit some colleagues, but going to a museum was out of the question as they were closing without notice to (a) sympathize with the strikers and (b) allow their employees to find a way home under the difficult circumstances.

The major museum exhibition in Paris at the moment is a huge Monet retrospective at the Grand Palais. We've all seen countless paintings of waterlilies and the Japanese bridge, but this show promises to be very special with over 200 works, many of which had not been seen by the public in a very long time. I had every intention of seeing it right away until I discovered that the timed entry tickets are sold out until November! Any doubt that the French are still die hard museum-goers can be laid to rest with this one. So tomorrow morning I am planning to get an early start and stand in line for admission. Naturally, I'll post a report and we'll see if all the anticipation was worth while!

After another lovely day it's time to go to dinner. I think tonight calls for a classic "plateau de fruits de mer" a feast of shellfish accompanied by a dry Sancerre! A bientôt!

October 06, 2010

A Visit to "The New York Earth Room"

I know, I've been remiss in my blogging these past few weeks, but I'm going to make it up to my loyal readers with this one! In the "..and now for something completely different" category, I'll be taking you on a visit to one of the oldest continuous art installations I know of, Walter De Maria's "The New York Earth Room".

In 1977, under the auspices of the Dia Art Foundation, the American Conceptual artist Walter De Maria filled a room knee-high with 250 cubic yards of earth. That's right, earth. Dirt to some, but that depends on how you look at it. It was actually De Maria's third Earth Room sculpture, the first being in Munich and the second in Darmstadt, but is the only one still extant. Actually more than just extant, thriving.

Situated on the second floor of a building on Wooster Street in New York's bustling Soho neighborhood, "The New York Earth Room" has been open to the public from 12-6 (with a break between 3-3:30) on Wednesdays through Sundays, for over 30 years. There is no admission charge, no photography allowed and and one cannot actually enter the room. It is not advertised yet a steady stream of visitors, about 70 a day, come to experience the quiet, the steadiness and the calm of this remarkable installation.

This is the brainchild of Walter De Maria, a native of California who has made New York his home since 1960. Despite a brief stint as a drummer in a rock band, Mr De Maria has dedicated his career to producing Minimalist and Conceptual sculptures and installations around the world. His most famous work is probably "The Lightening Field", 1977, installed in Western New Mexico and consisting of 400 stainless steel posts arranged in a grid over an area of one mile by one kilometer. Playing off the weather, time of day and other environmental changes, the posts reflect light, or lack thereof, to tremendous, ever-changing, visual effect.

But here in New York we are not as outdoor-oriented and Mr De Maria's approach to "The New York Earth Room" focus' on a limited interior space where the surroundings can be controlled. The result is a never changing (that in itself remarkable in this face-paced city) refuge that speaks to the visitor in different ways with each encounter.

Even the guardian of "The New York Earth Room" has remained constant! For the past 21 years, the space has been maintained by Bill Dillworth, an aspiring artist who took the job for a steady paycheck. He admits to having wondered at the time if he would become bored with the limited tasks involved in taking care of a room full of earth, but found that the concept and the place cast a spell over him and his weekly watering and raking have became almost a ritual ceremony.

So if you're looking for a quiet spot in the middle of the downtown frenzy, walk on over to 114 Wooster Street, go up the stairs, say hello to Bill and enter the magic of Walter De Maria's "The New York Earth Room".

P.S. This Saturday I'll be taking off for Paris. I hope you'll check back soon to see what I've discovered this fall season in the City of Lights!