July 2013 Chelsea Gallery Tour

Not easy on the feet to make the rounds of Chelsea in July as heat waves radiate from the hard cement streets. You want to linger longer in the air conditioning of the galleries, but that’s no way to make the rounds if you’re aiming for about 20 stops before you succumb to rising temperatures and your endurance flags.

I’ve waited a few days to recount my visit and in the interim have forgotten most of the exhibitions I saw – attributable to either lapsed memory or lapsed interest. What stuck in my head?

Wolf Kahn at Ameringer/McEnery/Yohe for one. At 85 he’s more than had his chance to get it right, and in many ways he does. One of the best pastelists practicing today, Kahn’s lushly vivid scenes literally grab the viewer’s attention and holds it by its decorative color. Not great, but good art by a serious artist.

Kind of interesting, although slightly dated in it depictions of very old, proudly wrinkled survivors of the Cuban Revolution superimposed on the antiqued walls of that city. Shown in Cuba, as well as across America, the paintings combine the images with writings and evokes a sense of intimacy shared with people the viewer will never know. The show is at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery.

Not going to say where, but saw two identically themed exhibitions that were take off by younger artists on famous images of Modern Masters. But in these cases, why?

Leslie Tonkonow always has interesting shows. This one, of 20 color photo images depicting men, women and children in the middle of absolutely nowhere at night in the glare of a pinpointed light source, in this case a powerful flashlight. The effect is slightly weird, strangely riveting, rather scary.

The kind of show that always gets me – amateur photos of “The Flight Attendant Years: 1978-1986,” at Lombard Freid Gallery. It’s exactly as described. A male flight attendant photographs his friends and fellow flyers in various combinations (not pornographic but friendly), and somehow allows the viewer to for the moment step into the past when flying was fun, both for the attendants and for the passengers.

A most satisfying visit was to Paula Cooper Gallery to see an exhibition of that very fine photographer, Eliot Porter’s vintage prints, both black and white and color – dye-tranfers. I’ve always thought of Porter as a naturalist who loved to photograph trees, but this show is much more and much greater. Much to be admired.

At Klemens Gasser and Tanja Grunert (about to move to the Lower East Side) a show called “October 18, 1977” caught my eye. Based on Gerhard Richter’s 15-painting cycle about the imprisonment and finally the end of the Baader-Meinhof West German terrorist gang from the 1970s, the commissioned artists riff on the master’s version. This goes back to what I was writing about young artists utilizing directly the work of their predecessors. It’s always been done, but does it have to be so literal? Where are the original ideas? It’s not possible that in the artworld we’ve used them all up, is it?

Please don’t answer that.

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June 2013 Chelsea Gallery Tour

The season may be winding down according to the calendar, but there’s still a lot of life left on the art scene.

It may be because there are so many artists and so little room in which to fit them. That is why group shows were invented. I saw so many on Saturday that I no longer remember where they were as I wandered the crowded streets of Chelsea, packed with tourists (I always figure if they are overweight and in shorts they are tourists) and art students. The buyers were probably in the Hamptons which accounted for the absence of directors in situ.

I take that back about not remembering group shows – there was “5 Rooms” at Robert Miller Gallery that included Yayoi Kusama with a paint decorated upright piano in red with her overall obsessively repeated decorations in black and white.

This is in no way a sequential tour since I just dumped the press releases for the shows in my MZWallace (designer married to David Zwirner) bag and they were scrambled when taken out this morning.

There were a few surprises, at least to me, at the Luhring Augustine exhibition of works by Philip Taaffe who used to be such a straight lines and bold dark color guy just a few years back. Now he is into gestural painting with hand-drawn relief plates, linocut printings, gold leaf and marbeling, with sources from around the globe which he has traveled a lot. Almost as much a jolt as when Stella went from minimalist work into phantasmagorical. There was a lot more fantasy at the Pace show of Tim Hawkinson, but the gallery wasn’t handing out handouts so I can’t give you the names of the pieces.

Leila Heller always has something interesting to see. This time it was something called “The Consumption” by Negar Ahkami, which is basically a bunch of scared figures being consumed by whirling blue tsunami waves of destructive force. She also showed twisted rugs by Faig Ahmed, oddly disturbing weavings of distorted carpets that at first seem standard but after a second look you realize there’s something crazy about them.

What made the tedious cross town journey to Chelsea totally worthwhile was my visit to Galerie Lelong where there was an extraordinary exhibition of the late works (1981-85) of Ana Medieta that included a segment from a documentary film currently in post-production about the artist’s fellowship and residency at the American Academy in Rome. There was also a film depicting earthen silhouettes of the artist’s body in a landscape in which gunpowder is ignited and which are related to her floor sculptures, similar to those she created in the landscapes of Cuba, Iowa and Mexico. This was the 9th solo exhibition of Medieta’s work at Lelong. I wondered that there was such a trove to show since the artist’s death was so untimely.

There was a beautiful exhibition of Linda Stojack’s paintings – the operative word being “beautiful” because the artist’s evocative images latch on to your imagination with their lush palettes, half formed images and striking lines. It’s old fashioned expressionistic painting with a contemporary twist. At the same gallery was the powerful work of Bruno Romeda, an Italian artist who deals with simple forms in a complex way.

Maybe I was tired by then, or maybe it was hard to get out of the way, but the rope sculpture of Specer Finch at James Cohan Gallery almost got me. This site-specific installation called “Fathom” (a measure six feet in length used to measure to depth of water) is composed of a very, very long (120 feet) twisted heavy rope to which are attached paper tags and swatches of color that the press release says may “best be considered a drawing of Walden Pond.”

At Andrea Rosen Gallery there was more conventional unconventional art in the form of Wolfgang Tillmans’ 11th one person show that consists of works selected from a four-year project begun in 2008 and includes a wall of 128 pages from Tillmans’ newest book Fespa digital/Fruit Logistica.

At Bruce Silverstein’s was Rosalind Solomon’s exhibition that drew crowds – “Portraits in the Time of AIDS, 1988, which brought in groups led by lecturers. It was too crowded to wait and figure out how the talks were conducted but it might be worthwhile to return on a quieter day to review this award winning photographer’s third gallery show.

There were multiple other exhibitions to remember from last Saturday, but it’s not possible to skip three – “Landscape Painting in the Civil War Era” at Driscoll Babcock, New York’s oldest art gallery, taken from the gallery’s holdings of Hudson River School paintings. Refreshing to see these old friends like Blakelock, Durand, Inness, Kensett and Fitz Henry Lane (gave his name in full because just writing ‘Lane’ won’t do it).

At Friedman Benda the first solo gallery exhibit in the United States starred the Campana Brothers’ “Concepts,” a really unusual body of cowhides that include a wall-mounted bookshelf, table, and standing shelf; a “Racketz’ collection of chairs and a screen in vent brass with nylon stitched base and hand-stitched motif made from remnant Thonet chair backings, A cabinet made out of tanned and leathered skin of the world’s largest fresh water fish and a sofa and chari created out of a series of life-like stuffed alligators. Naturally the brothers are from Brazil. The editioned alligator sofa is $90,000.

Really tired now so I’ll wind up with a visit to Gagosian Gallery where I took in two outsized Venus sculptures in polished stainless steel, polychromed Hulk statues, a black granite Gorilla, a humongous balloon swan, rabbit and monkey of monumental scale, standing huge and gleaming in a light filled huge cavern at the rear of the gallery. Koons sculptures are always flawlessly executed and shiny. One tiny finger print would throw the whole show out of kilter. There will have to guards galore at the Whitney Museum when it presents a major retrospective of his work in 2014.

Okay, quickly, what else did I see? “Chasing the Light,” Deborah Dancy’s oils on canvas at Sears-Peyton Gallery Jannis Kounellis’ classically composed installations of coal, wool, iron, glass and stone, mixed with personal articles like overcoats, shoes and hats at Cheim & Read; small dreamlike paintings by John Lees at Betty Cunningham Gallery, and finally, Christopher Evans’ clearly delineated landscapes at Fishbach Gallery.

Whew! I had no idea I had gotten around so much in just a few hours, and still had time and shoes enough to get uptown and shop. It just proves that even though those who pass for fashionable in this city absent themselves (or never leave their air-conditioned apartments) on weekends it doesn’t mean the city dies. Museums are still open, galleries still operate, artists still work, dealers still sell. So much art, so little time.

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Growth in the Art Market

Something strange is happening all over the art world and I’m trying to figure it out. Maybe I hadn’t been noticing all that much, but I started thinking about it a couple of weeks ago when I attended an American Art auction at Sotheby’s and a small Norman Rockwell nostalgic painting sold for $2.2 million, of course a record and a wake up call to start looking at a few other sales that weren’t Contemporary Art.

What I’ve discovered is a consistently rising market for many kinds of art that normally don’t attract the mass market, causing me to think that money is being invested in work that is not exactly affordable for the ordinary Joe, but could be a bargain for serious collectors if they are comparing it to what is going on at the evening sales at the auction houses.

 

Just this morning I was looking at the results of the Antiquities sale at Sotheby’s:

Marble torso of a young satyr estimated at $50,000-80,000, sold for $329,000

Egyptian bronze figure of Harpocrates-Somtous estimated at $30,000-50,000, sold for $137,000

Hellenistic marble head of a woman estimated at $20,000-30,000, sold for $112,500

Two small Egyptian polychrome figures estimated at $7,000-10,000, sold for $53,125

 

At the Sotheby’s Old Master sale:

Antwerp Mannerist School painting estimated at $100,000-150,000, sold for $257,000

Gillis Mostraert painting estimated at $4,000-6,000, sold for $43,750

Circle of Jan Wellens de Cock painting estimated at $30,000-50,000, sold for $106,250

Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s small painting estimated at $700,000-900,000, sold for $2,285,000

 

These were not aberrational sales, but a reflection of the overall sales, and I am finding this repeated in the sales of other categories of art, i.e., paintings, sculpture, objects of art. I’ll be checking out the other areas now that I’m alerted to the rush towards obtaining physical proof of where someone’s money has gone rather than investing in the more ephemeral ink on paper representing stocks, bonds, gold and whatever.

The other day when someone told me her son was so interested in art I remarked that so was everyone else. It probably  wasn’t until the 1970s and Scull auction sales that the general public was alerted to the fact that paintings could fetch a good deal of money. Then the world seemed to sit up to look a little more closely at the art market. Interest gradually rose, but the wild prices of the late 1980s and the 1990s really caught their attention.  And as I told the lady, everyone today is interested in art. But it is because of a growing appreciation of it or the prices it brings?

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May 2013 Summary of NYC Art Events

‘tis the season of semi-hysterical hyperbole regarding the art market. Christie’s with its all-time all-star contemporary sale, the plethora of exhibitions, the panting over-the-moon prices for rectangles of canvas and sticks of synthetics. It’s exhausting and not altogether fun. The promoters say it’s fun, the publications say it’s an other worldly experience. The eye says it’s tired.

Frieze was noisy and crowded with expensive foods and nothing extraordinary in the booths. Maybe the artists are tired too. They’ve been at it day and night to produce enough saleable stuff for all these fairs, 200 thus far and counting. We played “what four works do you remember from the show?” during dinner that evening with collectors and professionals. They were hard-pressed. Maybe they were tired too.

For some reason, instead of recalling marvelous contemporary work I still see the Rauschenberg cardboard construction soaring on the wall at Gagosian’s. And the two Dennis Oppenheim drawings in a London booth. Why can’t I remember the more recent items? Great art holds up. Doesn’t mean the emerging artists don’t have some chance at immortality, or at least a mention in the art history books, and perhaps walking through the show with others isn’t the way to take the work seriously. And maybe that’s the problem with these big shows that are proliferating like dandelions in May. Perhaps the sheer size doesn’t allow us the opportunity to engage with the art in these 100 plus exhibitions where we tend to rush through, looking for that “wow” piece or the one we can chuckle over with our companions. And then there are always those satellite shows, some of them interesting but too many boring or bad.

Now there are design shows as well as art shows. One recently at the  pier on 15th Street (never been there before) was filled with chairs and tables and desks that required discussion, but there was relatively few people with whom to discuss anything- at least on opening day. The displays begged for signage, explanations, some sign that the sellers were interested in the pieces they were showing.

But on the weekend, at the conference on Initiatives in Art & Culture I remembered why I had enjoyed the art world so much once. Put together by Lisa Koenigsberg, the two-day conference on American Art was filled with intelligent talks on a part of the art world that has been shamefully neglected for the past several years – art made in America from the 1700s into the mid 20th century. Perhaps if we called it “international art made in America” it might have a better chance. Much of the great art from our older American artists is in museums or important private collections, but there is a wealth of overlooked artists from the past. We may see a resurgence of interest in the discovery of these now obscure painters and sculptors of the past. But will collectors whose eyes seem blind to all but the one-stop shopping artist’s in your face creations find any excitement in the moderately priced homespun heroes of yesterday? And will their hearts beat faster at the prospect of not competing with the $50 million trophy? And does the $7.2 billion spent on art in 2012 have much to do with art?

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Review of the 2013 AIPAD Photography Show and Affordable Art Fair

What struck me about the most recent AIPAD photography show last week was how black and white it was. I mean that all those oversize contemporary color photos that had so dominated past shows seem to have been kept in the closet this time ‘round.

There has been so much to see since then that the illustrated cards I picked up and kept on my desk between then and now may or may not have been what I thought were  the most interesting exhibits or just the ones that offered attractive cards.

The naked Asian lady stretched out on a divan reading a book is a C-print by Gao Yuan from Throckmorton Fine Art, New York. Then there’s a famous photo of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963 at Daniel Blau Gallery, Munich and London.

Staley Wise Gallery in Soho was billing Bert Stern as the “Original Mad Man,” with a snap of the photographer sitting on a sofa next to a posed shot of Marilyn Monroe, hair askew, empty wine bottles and overturned shoes and cigarettes strewn about the floor. A sort of inside joke I suppose, made sad by what we know now.

I know why I picked up the brochure from Scheinbaum & Russek Ltd, Exclusive reps of the Eliot Porter Estate, and that was the Eliot Porter images from the Great Smoky Mountains, Concord River, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. If you are into color photography Porter says it all.

And then there were the black and white frontal face portraits by John Kenny of African tribal members shown by Capital Culture, London. The intensity of expression in those otherwise still faces is both riveting and just a little scary.

From famous photographers to the unknown emerging artists at the Affordable Art Fair held this year at the Metropolitan Pavilion on West 18th Street. Not much to say about that show since I apparently failed to pick up postcards, or perhaps they weren’t being offered (to cut down costs), but I do remember that that the 2013 version of how to fill the walls of your apartment without robbing your kid’s college fund was a major improvement over the 2012 offerings. The usual “looks just like” and “what’s affordable in this show?” struck me as I wondered through. I kept thinking of how many people want to be artists whether they have significant talent or not, and how easy it is to evade an answer with derivative creations. I was looking for crude but innovative or not-quite-there-but promising. Didn’t find it, but there seemed to be a lot of enthusiasm among the viewers and works to go were being wrapped up, so maybe I’ve seen too much over too many years and see the often dead famous artist in all those emerging artists, or maybe there are just too darn many art shows and we’re all getting tired.

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Review of the 2013 Armory Show and the ADAA Art Show

Last week disappeared in an art tsunami that left show-goers dazed and glassy eyed. Started with a private showing by Paul Morris, one of the Armory (revisited) founders who set up an exhibition of contemporary superworks in a gutted 1882  bank building on Beekman Street downtown. All the names the big collectors want to own given its own separate peeling walls space in a one-off (42 works)  exhibition to reel in the biggie buyers. It’s Morris’ contention that the 200 per year art fairs have run their course and sellers must conceive a new direction. This is his. We must agree about people being weary of art fair crowds who appear more and more to party, while fewer come for the art. El Anatsui, Anish Kapoor, Ai Weiwei, Basquiat, Calder, Cindy Sherman, Dan Flavin, Yves Klein, etc. – they were all there in great form. The artworks I mean.

And to speak of crowds – the lines at the Armory Pier Show Sunday were an hour long – to get in, to get from Pier 94 to 92, to get a taxi. The only quiet spot was the VIP Lounge where bottles of water cost $4 and a small tea was $3.50.  At least it didn’t cost $80,000 for a (looks like styrofoam) melting 6-foot snowman artwork who stood guard outside one booth.  I could see its amusement appeal if situated in the atrium of a Miami villa during a Basel Miami week party. Pier 92 was filled with first rate examples of art that revisited the 70s, the original Armory Show, the established names, and was a comforting and familiar sight for serious collectors. Probably more exciting than the ADAA exhibition at the 68th Street Armory, which had some really fine one-person sightings.

Mitchell-Inness & Nash displayed a wonderful group of Arp sculpture, drawings and reliefs; “political pop” shouted from the walls of Mary Ryan Gallery with the Big Daddy portraits of grotesque men in various guises; Galerie Lelong surprised with the early paintings and works on paper (1975-1980) of Sean Scully, the kind of show that lets you see where an artist is coming from before he got here; another kind of surprise by Kiki Smith with her flat metal dogs, birds and flowers bolted to the wall; and the leaves of ore of Tam Van Tran whose fluttery leaves adhered to panels occasionally flutter off the backing (as the artist intended), but did he intend an endless departure? Mystery to me.

At Sean Kelly Gallery a Mapplethorpe photo of Roy Lichtenstein, from an edition of 3, was available for $40,000, and at James Goodman Gallery  a large classic  pencil drawing of a woman  by John Graham was available for $250,000 while a large painting of two men by the artist dominated another booth at $3.5 million.  A small “Elegy” painting by Motherwell looked inviting at $750,000 at Lillian Heidenberg Fine Art, and at Pace Prints a Barnett Newman silkscreen on plexi on wood, from an edition of 125 from 1966, was yours for $60,000. Probably an excellent purchase if you’re looking into the future.

All right, we could go on and on and on. There was so much art to be seen around New York this past week it was overload for those whose livelihood derives from that source, which to others may be pure viewing pleasure. It makes for a very overcrowded eye, if there is such a term. If not, we invented it today.

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Midtown Manhattan Gallery Tour

Manhattan galleries have been sucked from their Upper East Side niches into the immense maw of Chelsea, with its impersonal streets, very occasional eateries, and definitely deplorable transit service. Still the diehards remain, peppering the 57th street area with the artistic offspring of earlier times and the occasional interesting newcomer who might be lost elsewhere in the lower regions.

A casual stroll around midtown on Saturday allows the perennial art stalker to revisit the work of some well-known artists, such as Joan Brown, Gene Davis and Beatrice Mandelman, all working creatively in the 1970s, work that looks just as avant-garde in 2013.

Mandelman was a Taos Modernist, associated with the artists colony of New Mexico since the 1940s. She studied in Paris with Leger, later forming artistic relationships with both East Coast and Bay Area artists. She worked through much of the 1990s and her paintings can be found in the collections of museums both east, west and states in between.  The current exhibition is at the David Findlay Jr. Gallery.

I’ve always thought  Gene Davis to be one of the most overlooked artists of his generation, that of optical and stripe painters, and it was a pleasure to find work of his from the 70s at the D. Wigmore Gallery on Fifth Avenue, where he shares space with Tadasky, another stripe painter whose colors and forms are far more assertive, but less effective than those of Davis. A member of the Washington Color School, which included Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis, Thomas Downing, Paul Reed and Howard Mehring, Davis was credited with being the first artist (1958) to use masking tape to achieve clean lines. Davis died in 1985; Tadasky survives.

Ms. Wigmore has revived the career of any number of Op and Stripe artists from mid-century America, and in the surroundings of her gallery the result is highly convincing.

Joan Snyder has been exhibiting her art since 1966 and received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1974, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship in 1983 and a MacArthur Fellowship in 2007.  This is her first exhibition at the Gering & Lopez  Gallery.

Wanted to mention two artists at Davidson Contemporary: The extraordinary cocktail umbrella construction of Lauren Wax (the work may not be for the ages, but the conception is marvelous), and the paper constructions of Jane South who builds entire mini-machines out of delicately cut and painted paper, as well as smaller mini-constructions in a box. Both artists build with a delicacy that contains power thinking.

The photographs of Nicholas Nixon at Pace/MacGill Gallery, evoked visions of “Amour,” with its close-ups of aged mouths and wintered eyes. Somehow Nixon even made his photos of infants grotesque, and his flowers lonely and depressed. Having said that, I thought them exceptionally appealing.

If cold weather keeps you closer to home and out of the blustery winds of Chelsea, don’t despair. There is plenty to observe in the warm galleries of midtown Manhattan.

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Review of the 2013 Outsider Art Fair

No question about it – this year, 2013, was the best ever for the Outsider Art Fair. Quality was up, as were the prices. Interesting to note that many of the more famous Outsiders, such as Bill Traylor and Thornton Dial, had not increased in price from last year (at least not notably), while virtual unknowns (except regionally), are commanding prices in the 20 and 30 thousands.

Found the work and back story of Gayleen Aiken particularly fascinating. Her work was featured on the first page of the NY Times Art Section on Friday the 1st, a cardboard replica of Gayleen’s imaginary family – 24 “cousins” together with her mother and father, each with a name and individual characteristics. These were her family and companions for years in her Massachusetts home. I was told by her art dealer, Luise Ross, that the artist would even bring some of the “cousins” on the porch with her so that she would not be lonely when she sat outside. At $130,000 (although they can be sold individually), the family would fit suitably into a museum collecting Outsider Art.

The repeat pattern paintings of Winfred Rembert at Kinz & Tillou Fine Art was another interesting insight into the work of untrained artists, although somewhat optically challenging. Another repeat patternist was Josephe Jovelus of Haiti, at prices in the $2,000 – 5,000 range. But what really struck me was the similarity of Sylvain Corentin’s spirally plaster sculptures at the Cavin-Morris Gallery because they were so related to the spirally plaster sculptures of Enoch Perez, who is represented by major galleries in Manhattan. The difference is that an 86-inch work by Corentin is $6,700, while one by Perez is certainly ten or more times that. And the similarity between the outsize mud and stick and wood slat work of Bill Trayor and the outize mud and stick and wood slat work of Anselm Kiefer, all except the price. The Traylor’s were in the $65,000 – $75,000 category and the Kiefer’s are in the strasophere.

I have to comment upon the size of the crowd, despite the fact that the Super Bowl was just short of kick-off. There were so many visitors that the catalogs had sold out hours before, and the place – the former DIA Foundation – was packed. It was noticeable that work was selling at a fast pace – a change from other crowded art fairs where there has been a lot more smoozing than selling.

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Art Fairs on Both Coasts

Last weekend Dr. Elin Lake-Ewald visited the Los Angeles Art Show:

The LA Art Show brought in so many unexpected visitors that there weren’t any brochures or catalogs to purchase by 1 on Sunday, January 27th. The place was mobbed, primarily with an under 50 crowd of eager-to-look, not so quick to buy visitors. Or so it seemed. It was disappointing to those who were seeking to see familiar names or big gallery artists. This was a show for emerging artists, or artists who had been around a while but never could make it out of their home territory.

One of my fellow travelers, a young woman who knew little about art (or so I thought) mentioned in a mild tone that the works seemed a lot like those of famous artists, but not quite. She meant derivative, and so right she was. Yet their prices matched those of artists in NY who had had a showing or two: $2,500 – $10,000.

I came away impressed with how many more people have been exposed to art and who wanted to live with art than has probably ever been the case in this country. And it’s wonderful to see how many different nations and states participated in the fair, from Georgia to Germany to Nubia and numerous countries in between.

Funny thing about art shows away from your home base…when you bump into an a professional acquaintance it’s like coming across your best friend unexpectedly in a foreign country. You can’t stop talking. Bump into the same person when you’re both in New York and it’s “hi” and pass by.

Well, I’m delighted I went. I did bump into an old friend and came away with a ticket to the Maastrict Fair in March. So it was worth the traffic on the 101.

Meanwhile in New York, Julia Plotkin made the rounds at the Old Masters auction previews and the annual Winter Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory:

At Christie’s, upon entering the exhibition I was offered an iPad loaded with short video clips of Christie’s specialists explaining the art historical significance of many sale highlights. Hearing the dialogue while standing face-to-face with the works tremendously enriched the preview, and I hope both auction houses expand on this practice.

One of the stars of the Old Master sales at Christie’s was a rare, tiny canvas by Chardin, The Embroiderer, measuring only about 7 x 6 inches but worthy of its $3 – $5 million estimate (realized $4 million). Another gem-like painting displayed beside it was Watteau’s La Déclaration, about 8 x 7 inches, estimated between $500,000 and $700,000 (realized $600,000). Both are precious in size but powerful in execution.

At the Winter Antiques Show, at least two strong examples of paintings by George Bellows from private collections were spotted. It looks like collectors and dealers hope the market for Bellows will heat up in tandem with his retrospective currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum. Asking prices reach into the nine digits.

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Review of “John Cage: The Sight of Silence” at the National Academy Museum

We’re in the art business so we are expected to visit museums and galleries on a regular basis. That’s a given. So we dutifully attend every new exhibition at the Met (there seems to be something opening there every week), MoMA, the Whitney, the Asia Society, the National Academy Museum – not so often the New York Historical Society, the Museum of Natural History or the Bible Museum (this is better than it sounds and has some first-rate shows), and perhaps I’ve overlooked…oh yes, the Neue Gallery on 86th Street. Remind me if I’ve left something really important out.

A few of the galleries have put on exhibitions that rival those found at museums, and not only the mega galleries, but some select small ones. But you have to look – seek and ye shall find. And that’s exactly what happened on Sunday when I went to see an all-woman artist exhibition at the National Academy. On walking down the stairs from the top I noticed a one-level show, not particularly well-publicized, of a rather extraordinary show of work by John Cage, “The Sight of Silence.” Years in advance of now avant-garde (does anyone besides me use that word anymore?) sound art and the general use of computer art, Cage practiced chance art based on a process that incorporated a set of predetermined rules and parameters. Earphones (not all working unfortunately) provided excerpts of Cage created music. The rolls of dice determined in which gallery a work would hang and on which wall they would hang, the exact location of the work on the wall and then the vertical or horizontal position of the work.

All right, you don’t understand what I am writing. I hardly do myself, but after listening at some length to Cage’s video explanation of how he created his paintings it was beginning to become clear. Frankly, I had always wondered. Hours afterwards I got a glimmer and then I thought about it that evening and finally – I got it. Real art is a constant learning process and do not let anyone tell you differently.

John Cage departed the scene in 1992, after 50 years of influencing the culture of this country, and perhaps the world, as the post-World War II influence on music. His most famous piece was probably 1952’s “4’33” in which a complete orchestra sits, holding instruments, and does nothing. The “music” is the sound of the environment. It dawns on me that might have influenced Andy Warhol’s extraordinarily boring endless films in which nothing happens except the day and night passing in silence. Cage limited his non-music to a bit over four minutes and it made sense. He wanted listeners to hear and be aware of “sounds.”

There is a current run on pretentious conceptual art that flings about stuff and calls it, with great seriousness, “The remembrance of my first day in nursery school and six leagues beond.” Or something like that. It is rather satisfying to enter the thinking processes of a creative intellectual who was neither stayed by jeers nor undone by praise. He was that rare avis, the man who thinks for himself.

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