March 31, 2010

What's On in Paris

Here in Paris the Spring season of museum exhibitions is well underway, even if Mother Nature is still dithering! I never go out without an umbrella as even the clearest, bluest sky has a nasty habit of darkening and exploding in a rain or hailstorm at a moment's notice, and just as quickly returning to sparkling sunshine.

So if lounging outdoors at a smart café is a perilous pastime, there are plenty of interesting things to see indoors in some of the city's many museums.

Let's start with the Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris where the work of American born artist Elaine Sturtevant is on view. Sturtevant's "The Razzle Dazzle of Thinking" is part retropsective and part unveiling of her most recent work and a very good overview of her unique genre. Since the 1980s Sturtevant has challenged the notion of "original art" with her exquisitely rendered "Appropriations" of famous pieces. It's a curious concept and difficult to really understand, but has been practiced by several artists with Sturtevant probably the most original and most accomplished.

This exhibition presents her famous Marcel Duchamp installation, as well as works representing Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Paul McCarthy and others in mediums spanning oil painting to video. A brand new piece is "House of Horrors" where visitors ride in a carnival style gondola through a contemporary art inspired "House of Horrors". It is technically brilliant, intellectually challenging and a lot of fun!

Another living artist being honored with a museum show is British painter Lucian Freud whose work is now on view at the Centre Pompidou. Freud may not be everyone's cup of tea, but he is indisputedly a very fine painter and revered by many cognoscente as evidenced by the two hour wait to see this show. Divided into four main themes including "Interiors/Exteriors", "Reflection", "On Painting" and "As Flesh" the curators emphasize Freud's intention to make "...paint work as flesh". Views of interiors, urban landscapes, gardens, and above all portraits, are enigmatic, surprising and very insightful. Most people are painted naked, in blistering detail, as not just a depiction of how the person looks, but how the person really "is". This is an intense show and it leaves no doubt as to Freud's place in the contemporary art scene.

Now let's move across the Seine to the Left Bank and visit the Musée Maillol currently featuring "Vanités: From Caravaggio to Damien Hirst - C'est la vie!" a survey of skulls, skeletons and icons of death from the Middle Ages through the present. Since ancient times people have been both frightened and fascinated by death and have expressed these obsessions through art and objects. On display are paintings by Old Masters such as Francisco de Zurbaran of Saint Francis with his face obscured holding a skull, 1635, or Genovesino's 1652 image of a putti asleep on a head. Carved ivory memento mori of skeletons as cane or knife handles are displayed next to crystal sculls, exquisitely - if perhaps morbidly - illustrated books, and a fabulous collection of vintage 1940-50 jewelry by Codognato, all on the theme of death in every conceivable permutation.

Modern artists also used the imagery of skulls and skeletons and paintings by Picasso, Cézanne and Braque are great representations. Then the exhibition goes totally Contemporary and I was surprised at how pervasive the use of the skull device still is. From Damian Hirst's famous diamond studded cranium "For the Love of God", 2007, to Nicholas Rubenstein's 2006 skull sculpture with Mickey Mouse ears, to Andy Warhol's 1976 silkscreens of skulls - the iconography is everywhere. Although the Musée Maillol did not always use the finest examples of the œuvre, I think they successfully made the point that death endures with us in art.

Now it's back to the living and the rest of a beautiful day in Paris. Wait a minute - is that a storm cloud? Oh no! Better get the umbrella out again! A bientôt!

March 28, 2010

A Visit to the Château de Malmaison

For me, one of the most fascinating women in history is the Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. Born Marie-Joseph-Rose de Tascher de la Pagerie on the island of Martinique in 1763, she left her native land for an arranged marriage to Count Alexandre de Beauharnais in Paris in 1779. The couple had two children before the French Revolution broke out and Alexandre was imprisoned and guillotined. Rose, as she was then known, survived the "Terrors" and was introduced to a young General Bonaparte who became fascinated with her and pursued her until she married him in 1796. It was a turbulent time in French history and she stayed by Napoleon's side as he fought campaigns in Europe and Egypt and eventually crowned himself Emperor. The Empress Josephine was a perfect partner in every way but one. She could not provide an heir and after much painful deliberation it was decided that they would divorce so he could marry a younger woman who could give him a son. Josephine retained her title and friendly relations with Napoleon, and lived in quiet comfort until she died of a cold in 1814.

Now, shortly after Napoleon married Josephine, and while he was on his way home from Egypt, she purchased a 17th Century mansion outside of Paris called Malmaison. The house was intended to be a retreat from the whirlwind of Paris yet it also had to be a fully functioning command post for the leader of the Empire. The house and grounds were expanded and improved and decorated in a way to honor the accomplishments of the master. No expense was spared in ordering furniture and decorations befitting the illustrious occupants, and it served as both a home and a headquarters for them as a couple and later as Josephine's residence.

Napoleon's Library at Malmaison

A Sunday afternoon seemed like the perfect time to take the RER, the French suburban commuter railroad, out to Rueil Malmaison for a visit. A short walk through the town and I came to the beginning of the forest and park and soon to the Château itself. Although very unassuming at first glance, especially in comparison to its neighbors Versailles and Fontainebleau, the house is perfectly proportioned and beautifully situated. I walked from room to room amazed by the stunning décor, much of which was done on an Egyptian theme to celebrate the Napoleon's early victories. Much more than at other castles and mansions I have visited, this one truly had the feeling of being a home albeit to rather illustrious residents. I could just as easily imagine Napoleon and his advisors in the Council Chamber (see photo below right) studying maps and planning strategies as I could envision Josephine entertaining a special guest such as Thomas Jefferson or Czar Alexander I of Russia.

The house was opened to the public in 1906 and has recently been carefully restored using both private philanthropy and government funding. Fortunately many paintings and drawings of the interior were done at the time and still exist so later rennovations and repairs could be historically accurate. The museum is also actively repurchasing items that had been sold off over the years and are now being returned to their original home - a magnificent set of gold and hand painted Sevres porcelain plates being a prize example.

Josephine de Beauharnais Bonaparte rose from being the daughter of a not-so-important nobleman assigned to the French colonies to being Empress of an Empire that spanned Europe. She was an astute diplomat, an important advisor to Napoleon and her favour was sought after by leaders and intellectuals everywhere. Her "Empire" style of fashion and decoration is emulated to this day, her important collection of exotic birds, animals and plants was a major resource for scientific discovery, and her descendants include many of the sitting crowned heads in northern Europe. But the most visible legacy of this important figure is her private retreat and the site of some pivotal political events, the charming Château de Malmaison.

March 27, 2010

Salon du dessin 2010

Drawings enthusiasts gathered in Paris this week for the 19th annual Salon du dessin, The Drawings Fair, held in the former Stock Exchange building, the historic Palais de la Bourse, in the heart of the 2nd Arrondissement. 39 exhibitors from Europe and the United States presented the finest in original drawings in pencil, ink, pastel and other mediums from Old Masters through Contemporary.

This is always an elegant show and the vernissage saw a chic crowd of invited guests sipping champagne and surveying the other attendees as much as the works on display. And there was a lot to see, in both cases!

From the moment the fair opened until it closed at 10 PM there was a crush of people in the aisles and in the booths. Beside seeing a lot of people I knew, I enjoyed exploring the stands and found many beautiful works for sale.

Some of my favorite pieces include a delicate pen and ink drawing of owls by Giovanni Tiepolo (1727-1804) on the stand of De Bayser, Paris. Another pen and ink drawing, this one of "La Tour de Saint-Rombault-deMalines", 1850, was done by Victor Hugo who is probably best known to Americans as the writer of "Les Miserables", could be seen on the stand of Arturo Cuéllar, Zurich. Steven Ongpin Fine Art, London, featured a hand-written letter from Edouard Manet to his friend Albert Hecht in 1879 decorated with watercolors of plums and cherries, and Talabardon & Gautier, Paris, had a lovely pastel drawing of pansies by Odilon Redon (1840-1916) that was marked "sold" almost immediately. Regular readers of my blog know that Sonia Delaunay is one of my favorite artists and can imagine my delight in finding the original gouache for a print that I own made for her album "Ses Peintures, ses objets, ses tissus simultanées, ses modes", a collection of 20 pochoir colored plates done for the famous Art Deco exhibition of 1925, on the stand of Galerie Antoine Laurentin, Paris.

The 2010 Salon du dessin has been, by most accounts, both a critical and financial success which is good news for art lovers everywhere, but especially for those of us who look forward each year to the chance to see first rate examples of this rather intimate art form under the crown of the Palais de la Bourse.

March 20, 2010

Maastricht Magic!

For fifty weeks of the year, the city of Maastricht is quiet and quaint. Situated very near the Belgian border, on the banks of the Maas River, its 118,000 inhabitants live among medieval streets and squares filled with historic buildings, chic boutiques and lots of restaurants and cafés.

But for the past 30 years, for ten action-packed days in March, the city becomes the undisputed center of the art and antiques world when it hosts The European Fine Art Fair, or TEFAF. This year 263 purveyors of the finest in antiquities, clocks, furniture, jewelry, silver, porcelain, maps, rugs, paintings, sculptures, and items that one hasn't even dreamed of, gathered in the MECC Convention Center miraculously transformed into a paradise of beauty and wonder that literally made my jaw drop. It had been three years since I last had the opportunity to visit TEFAF and I was expecting to be amazed, but the sight of the entryway with floor to ceiling panels studded with thousands of the biggest pink roses I have ever seen, each panel separated by columns of black and silver, was truly over the top.

And it just got better! Some of my favorite pieces in the "absolutely fabulous" category would have to include an 1805 gilded bed with a blue silk satin canopy and bedclothes that came from a chateau in the Loire Valley on the stand of Pelham, London/Paris. Beautiful and bizarre was the pair of Qing Dynasty porcelain tureens with covers in the shape of carp fish on the stand of Jorge Welsh, Lisbon/London. I also enjoyed examining the 19th Century travel case for a gem engraver complete with drawers filled with samples of cameos, miniature intaglios and semi precious stones at Alessandra di Castro Antichita, Rome. Galerie Meyer - Oceanic Art, Paris, featured an excedingly rare Korwar Ancestor Figure from West Papua, Melanesia, that had been in the collection of the Surrealist giant André Breton. Jaime Eguiguren, Buenos Aires, had a collection of 18th Century Neopolitan Nativity figures just like the ones on the Christmas Tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Several booths were so completely fabulous that I couldn't choose a favorite piece, like the "curiosity cabinet" of Georg Laue, Munich, or the exquisite adornements at Van Gelder Indian Jewellery, Holland.

The fine art section was also wonderful. Kunsthandel P. de Boer, Amsterdam, was showing a suite of oils by Old Master painter Sebastian Vranckx depicting the four seasons in Flemish landscapes. The four seasons were also depicted in larger than life size white marble figures on the stand of Robert Bowman, London, and to finish up "suites" I have to mention the five panel "Arcadian Landscapes" by Jurriaan Andriesson (1742-1819) that could transform your living room into the "Fragonard Room" at the Frick Mansion for a mere 1.5 million Euro, hanging at Agnew's, London.

Prominently featured on the stand of Hammer Galleries, New York, was a Gilbert Stuart "Portrait of George Washington", 1822, formerly in the Armand Hammer Foundation. Another New York dealer, Otto Naumann Ltd., showed a very large oil painting by Michele Giovanni Marieschi (1710-1743) depicting "The Courtyard of the Doge's Palace, Venice, with the Scala dei Giganti, Saint Mark's Basilica beyond". Daniel Katz, Ltd., London, devoted an entire wall to thirty marvelous plaster statuette caricatures of musicians and personalities done by Jean Pierre Danton, aka Danton le Jeune, circa 1840.

This year the organizers of TEFAF offered a new section devoted to Works on Paper that featured 19 first time exhibitors specializing in prints, drawings, photographs and rare books. It was a little out of the way, but the merchandise was of the highest quality and worth the trek.

I spent a fantastic two days discovering treasures in Maastricht both at the fair and exploring the historic old city. Cambodian Buddhas, French "papiers peintes", Delft porcelains, Russian icons, gold pocket watches, jade snuff boxes, Art Nouveau tables and Medieval stained glass windows - it was a plethora of riches to feed the soul, all fully vetted and all for sale. I can hardly wait to come back next year!

March 13, 2010

Goodbye New York! Bonjour Paris!

The true sign of Spring in the Kelman household is the annual trip to Paris! Tomorrow I will be strolling along the Boulevard Saint Germain, hopefully under sunny skies!

There is a lot going on in Paris in the next few weeks. I am looking forward to museum exhibitions, Art Paris at the Grand Palais and the always marvelous Salon du Dessin, The Drawings Fair, at the Palais de la Bourse. The highlight of this trip will be an overnight visit to Maastricht, Holland, to attend The European Fine Art Fair, or TEFAF, considered to be the greatest art and antiques fair in the world. This is always a spectacular show and of course, I will post a report.

So, you can see we have a full agenda and I am very much looking forward to Springtime in Paris! Naturally, I will do some shopping for prints and other goodies which you will be able to view on my website:

I hope you'll check the blog for my travel reports and of course the website to see what new treasures I've found! A bientôt!

March 06, 2010

An Abundance of Art Fairs!

If you feel like taking advantage of the mild temperatures and sunshine in New York this weekend, why not get out and visit some of the many art fairs happening right now? From classic Modern to cutting edge Contemporary, Uptown and Down, East side and West, there is something for just about everyone!

Let's start at the Park Avenue Armory, Park Avenue @ 67th Street with the Art Dealers Association of America "The Art Show", comprising 70 exhibitors from across the country. This is always an elegant and refined fair with carefully selected participants who bring choice material. From drawings to sculptures, photographs to paintings, the art of the late 19th through to the early 21st Century is very well represented here. Ink drawings by Henri Matisse, woodblock prints by Blanche Lazzell, Rayographs by Man Ray, Wayne Thiebaud's charming cake paintings, Joseph Cornell boxes and Alexander Calder mobiles can all be found during a leisurely stroll up and down the Armory aisles. You don't have to be a collector to enjoy this show and the dealers are happy to talk with an appreciative visitor!

The other major art fair going on now is The Armory Show, named after the (in)famous 1913 Armory Show which featured the scandalous Marcel Duchamp painting "Nude Descending a Staircase". That show was held in the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue @ 25th Street and was organized by The Association of American Painters and Sculptors and has gone down in history as one of the most groundbreaking events in Modern Art. The much expanded new incarnation has relocated to Piers 92 and 94 on the Hudson River at 55th Street and has become so popular with both dealers and visitors that it has been divided into two sections - The Armory Show and The Armory Show - Modern.

Enthusiasts of more traditional art, like myself, will enjoy the offerings of the many international fine art dealers on Pier 92. From Frey Norris' homage to Dorothea Tanning on the occasion of her 100th birthday to Hirschl & Adler's presentation of marble sculptures by Elizabeth Turk that look like weightless ribbons floating, there is a lot to see! One unique feature about this venue is being able to look outdoors instead of being confined to an artificial interior - more like being in a living situation than visiting a museum.

After exploring the Modern section it is time to descend the temporary staircase to the street level and the rest of the show. Here's where it gets edgier - and much more crowded! Visitors to this section are greeted with a re-creation of the watershed Ferus Gallery that made Los Angeles the center of the Contemporary Art world in the 1960s and set the stage for much of the avant garde art being produced today. 167 galleries from the United States, Europe and Asia, including quite a few exhibitors from Turkey and India, have brought the latest in leading-edge art to fill their booths and the response seems to be very positive. Many of the artists shown here have works on display in the current Biennial exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art (see my previous blog post) the difference is that these works are for sale!!

Still haven't had enough art? There are several satellite fairs being held in conjunction with these two big ones. You can visit VOLTA NYC on 34th Street, SCOPE at Lincoln Center, PULSE on West Street or Red Dot at Skyline on Tenth Avenue & 36th Street. Not to mention Critical Design, Fountain, Verge, Pool, Independent and Dutch Art Now!! And after all that, you'll deserve a nice dinner with a BIG glass of wine!