March 28, 2015

It's Drawing Week in Paris

Every March the Parisian art scene turns its attention to the humble drawing with a week of special exhibitions and fairs celebrating the medium.  Old and new, pencil and pastel, large and small, all sorts are on view at various museums and institutions or offered for sale at galleries and the two major fairs: the "Salon du Dessin" at the elegant Palais Brongniart and "Drawing Now" held in the newly renovated Carreau du Temple in the Marais district.

The ninth edition of Drawing Now is dedicated to Contemporary drawings and features 73 international galleries exhibiting on two levels.  While I am not an aficionado of Contemporary art, I was tremendously impressed by the quality of the drawings on view.  Many of the galleries had the artists on the stand to meet collectors and discuss their work.  I was very happy to meet Daniel Zeller, a young New York artist whose intricate and colorful pieces filled the booth of Michael Soskine, Inc., based in Madrid.  Mr Zeller's ink and colored pencil drawings look like a cross between marbled paper and a topographical map and are exquisite in their detail.

Another interesting stop was the stand of Galerie Sator, Paris.  Vincent Sator is a gregarious young gallery owner with a passion for drawings.  One of the artists he represents is Sylvain Ciavaldini who takes antique prints and embellishes them with ink and watercolor to create a thoroughly modern scene.

Gallery Joe, Philadelphia, presented the work of a young American artist Rob Matthews whose beautifully rendered graphite drawings were very fine indeed.
While I am still not prepared to give up on the Belle Epoque, I was very pleasantly surprised by what these emerging artists are creating right now and was very tempted by some of the works for sale.

A short bus ride away, in the former site of the Paris Stock Exchange or "Bourse", is the Salon du Dessin.  This fair is now in its 24th year and features 39 exhibitors from Europe and the United States offering works from Old Masters through Contemporary, with an emphasis on the former.  As many of the drawings are quite small in format, this is a very intimate fair and it takes time to really examine the beautifully framed and displayed works on the walls.

The works ranged from religious subjects to landscapes to abstract designs by artists from Titian to Picasso and were executed in everything from red chalk to pen and ink.  Some of my favorites included "La jolie modiste", a portrait of Coco Chanel done in 1912 by Paul César Helleu.

I loved the details of this interior by Marie-Désirée Bourgoin (1839-1912).  This undated watercolor depicts the painter Alphonse de Neuville in his atelier surrounded by works both finished and unfinished and all the props used in his paintings. 

For a 21st century version, here is Erik Desmazières' "Wunderbibliothek III", 2105.  This detailed drawing done in a variety of mediums including black ink, charcoal, watercolor and gouache is typical of the artist's style and a wonderful piece.

There were many other events surrounding Drawing Week here in Paris including a wonderful special loan exhibition of Italian Old Master drawings from the Städel Museum of Frankfurt now on view at the Fondation Custodia, the Netherlandish Institute, on the rue de Lille.  It's been a thoroughly wonderful week of discovery as the art of drawing takes center stage here in beautiful Paris!

March 24, 2015

A Visit to the "New" Musée Picasso - Paris

One of the main events of the 2014 cultural season was the re-opening of the Musée Picasso - Paris on October 25.  This national museum, housed in the former "Hôtel Salé" a private mansion in the Marais district, was originally opened in 1985 as a repository for the very large donation given by the Picasso heirs to the French Government in lieu of estate taxes.  The museum was closed in 2009 to accommodate a massive renovation and expansion project that was expected to take two years, but, as anyone who has ever done work on a home or apartment knows, these projects are always much more expensive and take far longer than originally anticipated.  The story of the remodeling of the Picasso Museum became almost daily fodder for art newspapers around the world as the cost overruns were astronomical and the bureaucratic infighting was worthy of a soap opera.  Of course all's well that ends well and the museum re-opened to rave reviews and hoards of people longing to see what the fuss was about.
The upper level of the central staircase
with a light fixture by Diego Giacometti

I, of course, was one of those people and last week I queued up for a peek at the new galleries and displays.  The finished product was indeed impressive - a beautiful compliment to the spectacular collection and user friendly too!

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is probably the greatest and most famous artist of the 20th century and he created over 60,000 works in his lifetime.  The Musée Picasso - Paris boasts over 6,000 pieces in the collection and about 400 are on display at any given time.  This is enough to give visitors a very good overview of the artist's œuvre without overwhelming them in the process.

The flow is arranged chronologically starting on the ground floor with Picasso's earliest works, his Blue Period, then the Rose Period leading up to his experiments with Cubism and some of the wonderful collages.

"Women in the Bathroom", 1937-38

The exhibit continues upstairs where the collages evolved into assemblages and paintings with more texture and relief than traditional oils

The end of World War I saw a return to a more classic style - formal yet with a Surreal edge.  I particularly liked these three small paintings that were displayed side by side.  Here one can clearly see the evolution of the same subject over a decade...

"Bathers", 1918

"Two Women Running on the Beach", 1922

"Bather Opening a Beach Hut", 1928

There are rooms devoted to the work done in each of his studios including the decade spent on the rue des Grands-Augustins.  Here he was influenced by the cataclysmic events of the Second World War and the Spanish Civil War as well as his turbulent love life.

"Portrait of Dora Maar", 1937

The next floor takes us from approximately 1945 until the end of Picasso's life and the subjects range from the excitement of the bullfight to the violence of war to peaceful portraits of his children.  Up in the attic was his collection of works by other masters including Cezanne, Bonnard, Renoir and Manet.  One doesn't often think of Impressionism and Picasso as having anything in common, but he was profoundly influenced by these more traditional artists and often reinterpreted their work in his own special style.

The last stop is the lower level where works on paper are displayed in the dimmer light of the limestone-walled cellar.  Here we find photographs, drawings, prints and illustrated books from all stages of his life exhibited alongside some impressive metal sculptures. 
"The Painter, 20 February, 1963"
As you can imagine with an artist as prolific and diverse as Picasso there was a lot to see and a lot to learn but the well curated selection of works gave an excellent overview of the genius of Picasso and in a beautiful milieu.  The long overdue renovation of this cultural treasure was certainly worth the wait!

March 22, 2015

A Visit to the Musée des Arts décoratifs

Located on the rue de Rivoli, in the western wing of the Palais du Louvre, is the Musée des Arts décoratifs, the Museum of Decorative Art and Design.  Founded in 1907 by members of the Union des Arts Décoratifs, the museum was closed for a major renovation in 1996 and re-opened to the public ten years later.  It is now a very popular destination with a fabulous permanent collection of furniture, decorations and objets d'art from the 13th century to modern times.  In addition, the museum also features special exhibitions and that was the purpose of my visit the other day.

Now on view in the main nave of the museum is "Piero Fornasetti: La Folie Pratique" the first French retrospective of the life and career of the fabulous Italian decorator.  Known for his theatrical and fanciful interpretations of utilitarian objects, Piero Fornasetti (1913-1988) left behind a massive archive and an extensive body of work, of which over one thousand pieces are on display here.

Fornasetti's trompe-l'œuil imagery drew from a multitude of sources but he is probably most famous for black and white faces, the sun, moon and stars, playing cards, antique Roman ruins, butterflies and Surrealist forms.

A painter as well as a decorator, Fornasetti worked in a multitude of mediums including fabrics, wallpaper, furniture, plates, trays, umbrella stands, scarves and folding screens.  He created interiors for private homes, casinos and the first class staterooms on board the ocean liner Andrea Doria!

Piero Fornasetti's career reached its apex in the 1960s and while his designs had become a little less popular when he died at the age of 74, his son, Barnaba, continued the production of Fornasetti objects at the shop in Milan.  Today we have seen a revival of interest in these whimsical wares with vintage Fornasetti pieces fetching very impressive prices.  And no wonder - these charming creations are not only practical - they're fun!

Moving across the courtyard and into the main building we come to the second special exhibition now on view.  "Déboutonner la mode" presents for the first time a collection of buttons acquired by the museum in 2012.  As well as over 3,000 examples of buttons, from the practical to the sublime, the exhibition also features one hundred female and male garments where, you guessed it, buttons feature in the design.

For most of us buttons are not something we generally spend time thinking about, unless we lose one.  Briefly, the first buttons were created in the 13th century and by the 17th century they had become status symbols.  Now, for the first time, buttons did more than just close an opening - they became decorative.  Made from a variety of materials ranging from the simple (wood, shell, glass, leather) to intricate creations of enamel, jewels, painted porcelain or silk passementerie.

By the 19th century, the position of the buttons on men's clothing became almost more important than the button itself denoting the degree of refinement of the garment and therefore of the wearer.

Women's wear at the time featured smaller buttons but more of them.  Buttons appeared on shoes, gloves and even lingerie and they became objects of coquetry and even seduction.  By the 20th century, women's clothing featured buttons according to "a secret geometry that is the key to aetheticism".  Now, designers like Paul Poiret, Elsa Schiaparelli and later Coco Chanel, used buttons deliberately and thoughtfully to create an overall "look".

With the invention of the zipper and other fastening methods, buttons have lost some of their popularity, but they have never gone away.  A beautiful button, perfectly placed, can still make or break an outfit and is a useful tool for fashion designers.

This exhibition seeks to bestow a new stature to the lowly button and gives it pride of place in the history of costume and fashion.  I know it's given me a new appreciation for these little objects of practicality and fancy!

March 16, 2015

Maastricht Marvels

Hello from Holland where the 28th edition of The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) has kicked off in splendid style.  Just when you think it can't get any better, the organizers and exhibitors of this preeminent art and antiques fair produce an event that is beyond even the highest expectations.  This year, nearly 300 exhibitors from around the world presented an exceptional selection of rare, fine and extraordinary items ranging from icons to ivory to illustrated books from antiquity to modern times.  It was my great pleasure and privilege to spend two days exploring the treasures of TEFAF.

One of the greatest joys of a fair of this scope is the opportunity to see fabulous examples of works in fields that one would not ordinarily seek out.  For example, I know next to nothing about Asian art, yet I am enthralled with the marvelous objects so beautifully displayed on the stands of the specialists in Oriental art.  Like this group of three Samurai hats, one in iron, one in lacquer and one in mother-of-pearl, all from the Edo Period and displayed atop a wheeled ledger cabinet from the late 19th century at the booth of London dealer Ben Janssens.

Or this two foot high "Sacred Mountain" made of enamel on biscuit porcelain during the Kangxi Period (1662-1722) in China, one of three superb examples on the stand of Vanderven Oriental Art, The Netherlands.  In Chinese culture, mountains represent the mythical land of immortals and here we have small figures and animals on a spiraling path past trees, rocks, pagodas and other buildings.

The pagoda theme is echoed in this superb epergne crafted by noted silversmith Thomas Pitts, London in 1762...

And again with these terra cotta figures representing two Malabars (people of South India or Nepal) made in the mid 18th century in Germany...

There was gorgeous jewelry, like this emerald, ruby and diamond fan-shaped brooch made in France circa 1835...

And fabulous pocket watches like this double dial automaton watch of gold and enamel made in Switzerland in 1800 to honor Napoleon Bonaparte as General of the Italian Army.  This remarkable work depicts a hunter mounted on a horse and holding a falcon.  The horse's head moves up and down as it drinks from a fountain while the sails of the windmill in the background turn and the stream of water flows from the fountain.

Some stands were almost stage settings like this elegant French dining room...

Or the simpler but equally elegant Art Deco dining room..

Or the total surprise of an authentic American Shaker house created by Galerie Downtown, Paris, in collaboration with the Shaker Museum in Mount Lebanon, New York.  Some of the pieces were museum loans, but many were for sale including the super-long three pedestal communal table seen here...

Paintings were well represented with portraits like this pair by Renaissance master Frans Pourbus the Younger of Willem Van Vyve and his wife Marie de Huelstre painted in 1591...

Or the late 18th century genre scene "La Lettre" by Jean-Simon Fournier...

Finally, I will close with two small but amusing items that capture the spirit of discovery so special to TEFAF.  I found this funny little Delft porcelain of a child in a high chair on the stand of the venerable Amsterdam porcelain dealer Aronson Antiquairs...

And this table croquet set, made in England circa 1900, was featured at Mallet, London.

Trust me when I tell you that I had a hard time choosing this small selection from the many photos I took over two days at the fair!  I must also say that for the first time ever I felt as though I could have spent another day to really see every wonderful thing on view.  But it was time to go to Paris where there are many more wonderful things to see and I will be checking in again with more art adventures very soon!

March 07, 2015

"In the Studio" at Gagosian Gallery

Every now and then commercial galleries turn a philanthropic cheek and offer scholarly exhibitions where nothing is for sale.  Such an event is going on right now at the Gagosian Gallery who has turned over two of its New York locations to a museum quality show on the theme "In the Studio".

The Gagosian Gallery was founded in 1980 by Larry Gagosian.  From a rather unremarkable beginning, Mr Gagosian has developed into a global force in modern and contemporary art with fourteen locations from Hong Kong to Rome, a roster of major artists and a celebrity client list.  In short, Gagosian Gallery is generally considered to be a superstar in the art world - an enterprise in a class by itself.

Pablo Picasso 
"L'Atelier (The Studio)", 1928

So when I read that Gagosian Gallery was offering a pair of exhibitions devoted to images of artists' studios, I knew it was going to be something to see!

Jean-Baptise Simeon Chardin
"Attributs du peintre (Attributes of the Painter)", c. 1725-27
I started off at 522 West 21st Street in the Chelsea gallery area, where guest curator John Elderidge (Chief Curator Emeritus of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA) had assembled over 50 paintings and works on paper on the theme.  "In the Studio: Paintings" presents works by nearly 40 artists who worked between the mid 16th and late 20th centuries.

 Jacek Malczewski
"Melancholia" 1890-94

Some of the works were very classical depicting the painter at an easel and other genre scenes, while others were more abstract.  Several were presented for the first time in New York and were very nice discoveries.  Taken together, the exhibition filled Gagosian's rather large space and was a true delight.

Constantine Brancusi
"View of the Studio: Plato, Mademoiselle Pogamy II, and Golden Bird", c. 1920

Moving uptown to the Gagosian premises at 980 Madison Avenue, I came to "In the Studio:  Photographs" curated by Peter Galassi (former Chief Curator of Photography at MoMA).  Here, spread over two floors, were over 150 photographs by 40 artists depicting views of the studio from the beginning of photography to the present.

Jeff Wall
"Picture for Women", 1979

In my opinion, this section was a little looser in its interpretation of "artist's studio" and not as tightly edited, but there were certainly some masterful examples.  I could have lived without some of the more "anatomical" examples, but overall the show was an interesting interpretation of the studio and what goes on inside.

It is a rare and generous gesture by a for-profit institution to offer such an academic and altruistic exhibition.  I thank the Gagosian Gallery for giving the public this opportunity to see two very worthwhile shows with no admission fee, and I would urge anyone in the neighborhood to visit one or both before they close on April 18.

March 01, 2015

What's on at the Museum at FIT

Last week during a short break in this never ending winter I took the opportunity to do some errands and catch a couple of exhibitions downtown.  One of the stops was at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology where two shows are currently on view.

In the Fashion and Textile History Gallery on the ground floor is "Faking It: Originals, Copies and Counterfeits" a topic that turns out to have been as relevant a century ago as it is today.

The issue of authorized and unauthorized copying of couture fashions has plagued designers and the fashion industry since the 1860s when Charles Worth began the practice of signing his name to his labels as an assurance to his clients that they were purchasing his original designs.  Later, some European countries enacted laws to protect their prestigious fashion industries but these copyrights and patents did not extend overseas and cheap knock-offs appeared from foreign sources.

By the 1940s the idea of licensing became quite popular and fine stores such as Bergdorf Goodman would purchase the rights to create copies of couture clothing for their American clientele.  These licensed copies adhered to strict standards of quality and workmanship and were often indistinguishable from the original designs except in price.  While this practice opened a whole new market for couture clothing and helped to revitalize the post-war garment workers industry in the U.S., it also opened up new opportunities for counterfeiters.

Take, for example, the tweed suits by Coco Chanel seen at left.  Both appeared in 1966 and seem to be identical until one takes a really close look at the construction and the materials.  The one on the left is an original, made in Paris in the Chanel atelier under strict supervision.  The one on the right was made in China using inferior fabrics and notions and missing many of the finer details like a full lining, matching plaid and working buttonholes on the sleeves.  This was obviously a clear violation of any licensing arrangement the couture house might have had with a foreign producer.  It is also further evidence of the continuing problem of unauthorized copies leading to a proliferation of poor quality clothing bearing fake high end labels.

The issue got even more complicated when designers tried to appeal to broader market with second-tier collections like Donna Karen's DKNY label or Lauren by Ralph Lauren.  These are deliberately designed to imitate the brands' higher end goods but with lesser quality fabrics and more efficient construction methods so the consumer can get a similar look without paying a premium price.  While these are authorized copies by the designer, they are often copied themselves making for a true buyer beware situation for consumers.

The real Missoni dress is on the left,
Missoni for Target is on the right

The problem of counterfeit goods in the luxury markets is a global concern and intellectual property lawyers are actively searching for ways to prevent these flagrant rip offs.  Legislation has been proposed that would copyright fashion design in much the same way that music, art and writing is protected but some feel that this measure would stifle creativity.  One thing is certain, the counterfeit market is alive and well and not going to go away without dramatic action.

For something a little less serious let's head downstairs to the Special Exhibitions gallery at FIT where "Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s" is now on view.  The 1970s were a decade of social upheaval and nowhere was this better reflected than in women's fashions.  No longer the beatnik 60s and ahead of the disco 80s, the 1970s were a time of relaxed dress codes, the Women's Liberation Movement, the energy crisis, and a shift away from couture houses to designer-led businesses.  Advances in synthetic fabrics and a demand for more wearable styles gave rise to new cuts and looks that allowed women more freedom in what they wore for both day and evening.

No designers are more representative of this era than Yves Saint Laurent and Halston.  Though they came from different backgrounds (YSL was born in Algeria and began his career with Christian Dior in Paris; Halston came from Des Moines and worked with milliner Lily Daché in New York), their careers followed remarkably similar paths.  By the early 1970s both were designing women's wear with a decidedly masculine twist and both were pioneers in the incorporation of the pants suit into every wardrobe.

As the decade progressed both designers looked to the exotic for inspiration.  Yves Saint Laurent produced his opulent Russian collection while Halston created the sarong dress using one long piece of fabric to wrap around the body.  At the same time, both men were turning up at parties and events dressed in similarly exotic versions of caftans and pajama sets!

Another element used by both designers was a reference to historical costume.  Yves Saint Laurent looked back to the turn of the century for sleeves and crinolines and both he and Halston each re-interpreted the elegance of the 1940s in bias cut dresses.

Today, Yves Saint Laurent is lauded primarily for his extravagant use of color and fantasy while Halston is considered the master of minimalism and modern design and one's legacy is seldom confused with the other's.  However, this step back in time to 70s "Mod" is proof positive that, at least in the beginning, they were, in fact, very much the same.