November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Greetings!

One of my favorite days of the year is Thanksgiving - a uniquely American holiday celebrated by everyone regardless of religion or region or race.  While the rest of the world is slogging through another November Thursday, Americans are enjoying a holiday that is focused on friends, family and feasting!

Two "Pilgrims" Riding a Turkey Float

Of course the turkey dinner is the centerpiece of most Thanksgivings, but many start the day off with another great American tradition - the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!  2016 marked the 90th Anniversary of this wonderful event which begins its track on 77th Street and Central Park West and passes quite close to where I live.  This morning, as I have for the past 19 Thanksgiving mornings, I joined the approximately three million other spectators who lined the parade route to cheer the floats and bands and especially the humongous helium balloons for which the parade is famous.

Charlie Brown

Fortunately the weather forecasters' predictions of rain showers did not come true, but the sky was overcast and the temperature a chilly 44 degrees.
Some of the balloon characters were familiar to all...

Ronald McDonald
Some less so...

Hello Kitty

Some I had to rely on the children in the group to identify...

Wimpy Kid

And some I still don't recognize!


One of the highlights for me was the New York City Police Department Marching Band...

And their balloon mascot...

I wasn't the only one who loved this band...a police officer proposed to his girlfriend on the street right in front of me!  He got down on bended knee, and fortunately she said "yes"!!!

Everybody seemed to be having a great time - especially this young man in his turkey hat!

In the spirit of this great American holiday, I'd like to wish my wonderful readers a very Happy Thanksgiving.  May your feast be blessed with friends, family and good fortune.

November 22, 2016

From Darkness to Light - Beckmann and Klee at The Met

Last Saturday was a splendid autumn day in New York, clear blue skies, mild temperatures and perfect for a walk in Central Park to admire the last of the foliage.  As is often the case, I ended up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and decided to pop in and have a look at what's new.  One of the main exhibitions currently on view is "Max Beckmann in New York" a mini-retrospective of the German painter focusing on his final years.

Max Beckmann "Self Portrait with Horn", 1938

Although often classified as an Expressionist, it was a label that Beckmann himself rejected.  Traumatized by his experience as a medical orderly during World War I, Beckmann's portrayals tend toward the dark and haunting rather bleak view of civilization.

"Paris Society", 1925, revised 1931 and 1947

Despite enjoying both critical and commercial success in post-war Weimar, Beckmann's fortunes began to turn with the rise of Hitler and the National Socialist Party.  Branded a "cultural Bolshevik" and considered a "degenerate artist", Beckmann chose to leave Germany with his wife Quappi and they remained in exile in Amsterdam from 1937 until the end of World War II.

"The Beginning", 1946-49

The Beckmanns were finally granted a visa and left for the United States in 1947.  Their first stop was Saint Louis where Max had earned a temporary teaching position at Washington University.  After two years Max transferred to New York and taught at the Brooklyn Museum Art School.  As you can probably imagine, the Beckmanns were happy to be back in a major metropolis during peacetime and life was good.  They enjoyed the cultural stimulation and the nightlife, especially the bars of The Plaza and St Regis Hotel.
"Plaza (Hotel Lobby)", 1950

One December afternoon in 1950, Max Beckmann set off to view one of his paintings (see below) in an exhibition at The Met when he succumbed to a heart attack at the corner of 69th Street and Central Park West, not far from his (and my) apartment.  It was a sudden and dramatic end to an intensely lived life and this current exhibition is a fitting tribute to an artist who was reborn in New York only to have his second chance snatched away.

"Self Portrait in Blue Jacket", 1950
Exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in
"American Painting Today"

After the rather downbeat tenor of "Max Beckmann in New York" I was definitely in the mood for something a little more lighthearted.  Of course The Met had the perfect antidote, just not in the Fifth Avenue location but a few steps away in the new Met Breuer where "Humor and Fantasy - The Berggruen Paul Klee Collection" is on view on the fifth floor.

Paul Klee in his studio in Dessau, Germany, 1925

Born in Switzerland in 1879, Paul Klee began his artistic career as a member of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) before a trip to Tunisia in 1914 permanently changed his perspective and style.  From then on, his work took on a lovely, ethereal quality filled with color and light and about as far removed from Max Beckmann as you can imagine.

"Hammamet With Its Mosque", 1914

In 1984, The Met was the enviable recipient of a donation of 90 works by Paul Klee from the German art dealer and collector Heinz Berggruen.  Mr Berggruen (1914-2007) was passionate about 20th century art and a consummate collector of works by some of its biggest stars.  A good part of his collection of works by Picasso, Matisse, Braque and Giacometti is now housed in his eponymous museum near the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin, but his magnificent group of drawings, watercolors and oils by Paul Klee is right here in New York City.

"Black Columns in a Landscape", 1919

This temporary installation of 70 works at the Met Breuer (formerly The Whitney Museum of American Art), spans the entire spectrum of Klee's career from his earliest drawings done in 1893, to his last paintings executed before his death at the age of 60.

"Boy in Fancy Dress", 1931

Though Klee's work may appear simplistic or even childish, he was always considered a very serious artist and his works are coveted by collectors around the world.  A natural draftsman and color theorist, Klee has been associated with schools from Expressionism to the Bauhaus, Cubism to Surrealism and his "Writings on Form and Design Theory" aka "The Paul Klee Notebooks" are considered as important to modern art as Leonardo da Vinci's "A Treatise on Painting" was for the Renaissance.

"May Picture", 1925

I have long been an admirer of the work of Paul Klee, probably because I love color and find his work joyful without being trite.  Though true Klee scholars find political and sociological references in his work, I find it simply beautiful and "Humor and Fantasy" was a lovely way to wrap up a glorious Saturday afternoon in the fall.

"Man Under the Pear Tree", 1921

November 17, 2016

A Vist to the New York Public Library

The main branch of the New York Public Library is a magnificent Beaux Arts structure at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-Second Street.  Now known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, it is the jewel in the crown of New York's public library system and an invaluable resource to readers and researchers from around the world.  Indeed, I have availed myself many times of the reference works in both the Art and Architecture Reading Room and the Rare Print Room and am always thrilled at the privilege and good fortune of having such a treasure trove of information in such grand surroundings, all just a bus ride away!

So when the Library announced both the re-opening of the Rose Main Reading Room and the inauguration of a new exhibition of 19th century French prints, I couldn't wait to go and check it out.  The Fifth Avenue entrance, guarded by two stone lions nicknamed "Patience" and "Fortitude" by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia during the Great Depression, is imposing to say the least and entirely appropriate for the soaring marble foyer and staircases within.  My destination was the third floor and I always like to mount these massive stairs with their beautiful chandeliers - truly a staircase to [book] heaven!

The Rose Main Reading Room, Room 315, is a massive hall on the top floor where readers can study or work on laptops at large wooden tables.  Nearly the length of a football field with 52 foot high ceilings, the room is lit with both natural light and large chandeliers and features a perimeter filled with books on open shelves.  Ornately decorated with painted murals and 900 carved plaster elements, the ceiling is as magnificent as any European castle's.  Two years ago it was exactly one of these carved plaster ornaments, a rosette to be precise, that fell to the floor during the overnight hours and caused the immediate closing of the facility.

On October 5, 2016, after a full scale examination and securing of the plaster decorations, a cleaning and restoration of the murals and the conversion of the light fixtures to LED bulbs, the Rose Main Reading Room reopened to general acclaim.  An upgrade of the book delivery system was the icing on the cake - now readers can get their books faster and enjoy them in the restored and enhanced comfort of this inspiring space.

Also on the third floor is the temporary exhibition space for the Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs.  Recently opened is "A Curious Hand - The Prints of Henri-Charles Guérard 1846-1897" a survey of the one of the most unusual and talented print makers of his day, and an artist whose work I have long admired.

Thanks to a generous donation by the art collector Samuel Putnam Avery, the New York Public Library has the largest holdings of the prints and drawings of Guérard in the United States.  This exhibition showcases some of the best examples of Guérard's wide ranging œuvre and offers visitors a chance to view his work process with comparative states ("proof" or "test" prints).  The two long corridors of the north and south wings are the perfect venue for this intimate show and I was able to have a close and uninterrupted look at the lovely prints on display.

Although Henri-Charles Guérard initially set out to study law he quickly realized that his passion lay in art and he devoted his career to the medium of prints.  Influenced by Rembrandt, and later Manet (with whom he was both a friend and colleague), Guérard had his own distinct style that verged on the bizarre.  But no matter whether he was depicting a rather ordinary landscape like these views of "L'Avenue Trudaine", 1872...

or these comical portraits of his dog, "Azor", 1888

...he sought to achieve a variety of effects by using different papers and inks and manipulating the plate itself.

Like many of his contemporaries, Guérard was very much taken with the prevailing fashion of Japonism, in particular the woodcuts of Hokusai.  One can find Japanese elements in both the objects depicted and the stylistic format of the image.  A good example of this cultural cross pollination is this color etching and aquatint of a "Rat in a Vase Gazing at the Moon", c. 1886...

or in this, perhaps my favorite of all of Guérard's works charmingly entitled "L'assaut du soulier (The Assault of the Shoe)", c. 1888...

Guérard experimented with two different shoe colors for this print, one in pink and another in a greenish yellow.  Here we see a beautiful woman's shoe with nine little Japanese male figures climbing all over in a surprising juxtaposition between the playful and the erotic shoe fetishist symbolism of both Western and Asian cultures.

This is a small but dense and important show for printed imagery - typical of the type of temporary exhibitions mounted by the New York Public Library.  These shows, like the Library itself, are always free and open to the public, another reason why I feel so blessed to call this metropolis home!

November 10, 2016

Hello! Hello! Moholy Nagy and the Telephone Painting

One of the featured lots in this season's Impressionist and Modern art auctions is a super rare and super important work by the Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy.  A pioneer of conceptual and performance art, this work put the Bauhaus professor at the forefront of the avant-garde and earned him an international reputation as an innovator and theorist.

What is this curious work?  It is called "EM 1 Telephonbild (Telephone Picture)", 1922/23, and it is being offered by Sotheby's New York in their evening sale of November 14.  Why is it so important?  It marks the culmination of an effort to replace traditional easel painting with a manufactured article literally turning the artist into a creator of ideas rather than of objects.  If this reminds you of Marcel Duchamp's famous "Fountain" readymade from a few years prior you'd be on the right track.

What makes it so unique?  Well, that's the thing.  In 1922, László Moholy-Nagy placed a long distance telephone call from his studio at the Bauhaus School in Weimar to the Stark & Reise Enamel Sign Company in Tannroda, Germany.  Armed with a sketch on graph paper and a color key sample, he spoke with a factory supervisor and described precisely what he wanted as an image and ordered it in different sizes.  "It was...", to quote the artist, " playing chess by correspondence".  The following year, three porcelain enamel signs in small, medium and large, were delivered to Moholy-Nagy by post.  The artist had, in fact, created these works via the mechanics of a telephone - he had never laid a finger on them until he received the finished product.  It marked the beginning of art as transferable data, a creation of mechanical reproduction, and it was sensational.

Though the "Telephonbild" series "EM1", "EM2" and "EM3" had its roots in Dada, it was a springboard for Constructivism, Productivism and Performance Art and remains historically very important as well as aesthetically very lovely.  The three works were exhibited together in 1924 in Galerie der Sturm, Berlin, and eventually the two smaller versions were purchased by New York's Museum of Modern Art.

The third and largest example "EM 1 Telephonbild" was in the collection of the esteemed American museum director Jan van der Marck before being sold to its present owner in 1987.  It is this remarkable work that is being offered at public auction next week with a pre-sale estimate of $3-4 million, which, when one reads the staggering prices achieved for some contemporary works, seems almost a bargain.

László Moholy Nagy (1895-1946) went on to great success as a photographer, typographer, sculptor, painter, printmaker and master of industrial design, and his achievements in the avant-garde inspired many contemporary artists today.  Despite his devotion to the ideas of producing machine made art for the masses, the "Telephonbild" series was the only time he applied this method in practice.

"EM 1 Telephonbild", 1922
Executed in 1923
Porcelain enamel on steel
37 1/2" x 23 3/4"

It was my good fortune to be able to see this remarkable work both at a preview of auction highlights at Sotheby's London in October and again last week here in New York.  I think it would be wonderful if MoMA could acquire it to complete the trilogy and hang them together for the first time in three quarters of a century, but we'll all have to wait and see who the lucky bidder turns out to be!

P.S.  I am happy to announce that the MoMA did indeed acquire this marvelous work for a hammer price of $5.2 million (a little over $6 million with commissions).  Looking forward to the first time the three are exhibited together!

November 06, 2016

It's Print Week in New York!

For print aficionados, there is no more exciting time than the first week in November when the entire  community converges on New York City for what has become known as "Print Week".  Of course, the highlight of this occasion is The Print Fair that opened on Wednesday night at the Park Avenue Armory.  I had the good fortune to attend both the opening night party and again on Friday afternoon where I could take a little closer look at the wonderful examples of this magical medium that has captivated collectors since the invention of the press.

This year's celebration of the 25th anniversary of the IFPDA Print Fair is bittersweet as it marks the last time the fair will be held in the historic Seventh Regiment Armory.  In a push toward more performances and fewer exhibitions, the administration of the Armory have not renewed contracts with a number of long running shows thereby forcing them to seek new venues.

So it was with a lot of anticipation and a twinge of nostalgia that I perused the offerings of the 84 dealers from across the United States and around the world who presented marvelous examples of original prints from Old Master to Contemporary.  Some booths featured the work of only one or two artists, like a wall of Whistler etchings at Harris Schrank, New York, or the complete set of linocuts by Picasso entitled "Portrait de Jacqueline aux cheveux lisses", 1962, at John Szoke Gallery, also of New York.

Other galleries presented a wider selection of artists but from a specific period, like Jörg Maaß, Kunsthandel, Berlin, whose booth was dedicated to the German Expressionists.

Erich Heckel "Stehendes Kind (Standing Child)", 1910

And Helmut Rumbler, Kunsthandel, Frankfurt, who specializes in fine Old Master Prints like the "Rhinoceros", 1515, by Albrecht Dürer...

Many Contemporary art dealers presented works by American artists like Chris Burden's "The Atomic Alphabet", 1980, at Susan Sheehan Gallery, New York...
While some featured the work of Contemporary Japanese artists, like The Verne Collection, Cleveland...

Katsunori Hamanishi "Shower", 2016

The Print Fair is famous for the depth and quality of prints on offer - old and new and in between.  Etchings, engravings, lithographs and woodcuts, American, European or Asian, colorful or black and white in all shapes and sizes - there is truly something for everyone.

I am very proud to be a member of the International Fine Print Dealer's Association and I am confident that next year's edition, to be held in the River Pavilion of the Javits Center on Manhattan's West Side, will continue the tradition of excellence for print collectors in the future.