Posts Tagged ‘Art – Exhibitions’

PostHeaderIcon Looking to Rebottle the Magic

Navy Pier

Navy Pier

Cats have their proverbial nine lives.  But art fairs?  Later this week, Expo Chicago becomes the sixth incarnation, by my count, of the successful art fair launched by Michigan print dealer, John Wilson, in 1980. From the mid-80s through the 1990s, the Chicago International Art Exposition (simply known as Art Chicago) on Navy Pier was America’s best venue to view art from around the world. Now, a new promoter–but an old hand of art fairs–hopes to rekindle that flame.

Tom Karmen

Tony Karman

Tony Karman has been hanging around Chicago fairs since 1982. He became a valued adviser to Wilson and his successor, Tom Blackman. When Blackman’s finances threatened Art Chicago’s 2006 fair, Chris Kennedy rescued it and named Karman to lead its Merchandise Mart edition. That auspicious start ended in ashes in 2010 amid much grumbling by dealers about too many lower-grade exhibitors, poor buying crowds  and high expenses. He left after the 2010 show. When the Mart cancelled the 2012 fair earlier this year, Karman set his plans for Expo Chicago in motion.

He appears to have learned from the Mart’s mistakes. Wilson’s first Art Expo had 80 dealers. The number at the Mart approached 200 with leading international dealers on one floor and the newer, edgier NEXT show on another. Karman will have 120 dealers, a strong showing in light of the show’s disappointing last years.

Karman credits the work of his selection committee, Chicago dealer Rhona Hoffman, Anthony Meier from San Francisco and New York’s Chris D’Amelio, along with strong word-of-mouth buzz from many leading dealers such as Richard Gray and Karsten Greve. They have assembled a stellar list with many long-time supporters and top galleries not seen in Chicago for several years, like London’s Annely Juda, Germany’s Hans Mayer, Montreal’s Landau Fine Art, Paris’ Daniel Templon and New York’s Haunch of Venison and Matthew Marks Gallery. In all, fifty New York galleries are fielding booths.

Such support expresses dealers’ confidence in Karman’s vision and managerial ability. His first decision was to move the fair from its usual Spring date to September.  “September is when galleries have their opening A-game up,” he says. Next was to keep participation low and top-drawer. “Accenting quality, not quantity and presenting the art in a respectful way as the art world demands ” Karman says was key in convincing dealers to give Chicago another chance.  Another major draw is going back to Navy Pier, a site beloved by dealers for its waterfront location and natural light. A final touch was hiring award-winning architect, Jeanne Gang to provide a visually-arresting design for the art.

Jeanne Gang and Aqua Building

Jeanne Gang and her 82-story Aqua building design

Surrounding the buying and selling, Karman and his team have planned four days of art-related “Dialogues”, assembled a cadre of Chicago art collectors to give out-of-town guests tours of noted home collections and revived the opening night Vernissage benefit for the Museum of Contemporary Art.

This fair looks like a winner. All the right ingredients are in place. Only two questions remain: Will the people come? and Will they buy?  Whether dealers return in 2013–and Chicago regains its place on the art tour circuit–is riding on the results. I’ll return next week with my assessment.

Postscript: My three visits to Expo were a revelation combined with a large dose of deja vu. Tony Karmen and his team  created an art fair that revived memories of the fair in its heyday. The space looked spectacular, thanks to Studio Gang Architects, the art was wide-ranging and world-class, the reduced number of exhibitors felt right, giving fairgoers a chance to take in all the art in a single day. And the dealers were an impressive group of top domestic and European galleries with few duds in the mix. The sight of so much creative beauty stirred a strong emotional impact in me.

Initial atmosphere among dealers was optimistic. On Friday, Jim Dempsey of the local gallery, Corbett vs. Dempsey, echoed that sentiment. “There’s still some good ghosts up in the rafters.”

By closing day on Sunday, however, dealers were expressing mixed emotions. Traffic had been lighter than expected and buyers were not plentiful. Was the economy to blame? As much as Karmen sought to revive the dream, perhaps it was confirmation that you can’t go home again?

Not only can’t one return to the 1990s but the art world has changed beyond recognition in the past 20 years. When Chicago was the top American fair, there were only three major contemporary art competitors (Basel, Paris, Cologne). Now, one dealer cited 167 art fairs worldwide. Art critic Jerry Saltz, speaking at Expo, called the new phenomenon “moving tent casino cities”. Basel Miami, Frieze, Expo New York didn’t exist in 2000 but now head the pack.

I sampled about a dozen dealers on Sunday. The consensus was that business was not as much as expected. The William Shearburn Gallery in St. Louis had few sales. However, the gallery rep was waiting to hear from a possible buyer for a large, beautiful blue and orange Robert Motherwell canvas. If it sold, the fair would have been a success. Many galleries probably left Chicago not having sold enough to recoup the cost.

The big question remaining is: Will they return?  The cost to come is significant. Robert Mann of the self-named New York gallery, had shown at 8 prior fairs and done very well but admitted his experience this year is making him wonder if he can afford to return, even though he found Expo a “beautiful show”.

I did hear several reasons why they will. Even some dealers who had light sales expressed the view that coming to Chicago is a long-term investment that may take up to three years to achieve success. Anthony Meier, a member of Expo’s selection committee, expressed this positive view. “It’s totally cumulative,” he said. He also noted that museums plan collector trips up to 18 months in advance and that Expo Chicago didn’t exist 18 months earlier. He thinks that lost audience will come next year.

Another reason dealers cited in Chicago’s favor is that our city is a “serious” fair. Chicago is known for its serious collectors and major collections. Dealers say they are growing tired of the party atmosphere that prevails at Basel Miami and New York. The reason to do an art fair is to recruit new clients and the NY-Miami-London art loop draws the same small circle. Dealers see Chicago as a way to renew ties with the rest of America and meet a new generation of collectors. “Chicago is a unique platform for people who don’t do other shows,” Meier says.

Another dealer who has been away several years thought Chicago was a good experience. “It’s not the numbers, it’s the quality,” says Robert Landau of Landau Fine Art in Montreal. He liked the collection of other quality dealers in attendance. While refusing to cite sales, he says he saw collectors from Texas, New York and Florida and will definitely be back in 2013.

Two weeks after the fair’s closing, Karmen has yet to release sales figures or the number of returning galleries next year, a sure sign of disappointing financial results. However, if Landau and Meier are representative, Karmen’s efforts have generated enough good will to insure a second shot at returning Chicago to its former high perch.

PostHeaderIcon The Steins Collect.Did They Ever!

Moviegoers were captivated last year with Woody Allen’s movie, “Midnight in Paris”. Millions of viewers fantasized going back in time to Paris in the 1920s to drop in on Gertrude Stein‘s salon and meet American writers and fellow expatriates, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

That is not my fantasy. Mine would be to find myself in the Paris apartment at 27 Rue de Fleurus on a Saturday evening in 1906. On such a night, starting at 8 p.m., Leo and Gertrude Stein would convene their regular Saturday salon. Leo would hold me spellbound as he spoke about the groundbreaking, avant-garde art he and his family were collecting. I could gaze at now-priceless masterpieces hanging on every inch of wall space. Had I arrived on a good night, I might even share words and a drink with fellow guests, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. I’d be present close to modern art’s creation.

Leo & Gertrude Stein Family

Leo & Gertrude Stein Family

I came close to having that vision last October when I entered the galleries of Paris’ Grand Palais museum and came face to face with many of the iconic paintings that now reside in museums around the world. As I entered the opening galleries, I gasped in astonishment. I had no idea that the Stein family was responsible for acquiring such works, nurturing the careers  of now-heralded artists. Like great explorers, the Steins were the earliest champions of modern art.

Unlike much wealthier collectors of that period, such as the Potter Palmers of Chicago or the H.O. Havemeyers of New York, the Steins were neither particularly wealthy nor had they come to Paris with the intention of collecting paintings. They were well-educated, had some art training (Leo was an artist who had studied with art historian and connoisseur, Bernard Berenson) and exhibited discerning taste for the new.

The exhibit, “The Steins Collect”, now at The Metropolitan Museum of Art through June 3, is the culmination of a decade-long commitment by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the French Union of National Museums–Grand Palais and the Met. It is truly the proverbial once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, made possible due to a one-time exception by the heirs of Elise A. Haas, allowing Matisse’s “Woman with a Hat” to travel. Viewers owe a debt of gratitude to the three museums and the lead curators (Janet Bishop at SFMOMA, Cecile Debray at the Grand Palais and Rebecca Rabinow at The Met) for bringing the exhibit to fruition with great flair and newly unearthed scholarship. The first examination of the Stein Collection in more than 40 years, it reunites close to 200 works, now scattered to all corners of the globe.

Matisse: Woman with a Hat

Matisse: Woman with a Hat

Leo was the collection’s driving force in its early years. Deciding to become an artist, he moved to Paris at the end of 1902 from Florence where he had met and been influenced by Berenson. His sister, Gertrude, joined him in the fall of 1903. Their brother and sister-in-law, Michael and Sarah Stein, arrived in January, 1904. Leo’s early aesthetic was more classical in outlook. The artists he called “The Big Four”: Manet, Renoir, Degas and Cezanne informed his aesthetic though the first three artists were beyond his means. He purchased his first Cezanne from legendary dealer, Ambroise Vollard, in 1903.

In Paris, Leo was delighted to learn he could afford contemporary oil paintings. Leo and Gertrude were transfixed by the art on view at the second Salon d’Automne in 1904. Works by Cezanne, Odilon Redon, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec were featured. Two weeks later, they emptied their bank accounts of close to $7,000 and bought two Cezannes, two Gauguins, two Renoirs and a Maurice Denis.

Madame Cézanne with a Fan

Madame Cézanne with a Fan

Six weeks later, they purchased Cezanne’s “Madame Cezanne with a Fan”. They acquired the centerpieces of their young collection, Matisse’s, “Woman with a Hatin 1905 and Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude in 1906. During their lifetimes, the Steins owned 180 works by each artist.

Throughout the decade from 1904 until 1913, the Steins were modern art’s most influential tastemakers. Alfred Barr Jr., the first director of the Museum of Modern Art, has written: “For the two brief years between 1905 and 1907 he (Leo) was possibly the most discerning connoisseur and collector of 20th-Century painting in the world.”  Years later, Gertrude tried to inflate her role in assembling the collection but Rebecca Rabinow, curator of the exhibition at The Met, told me in an interview, “If Leo hadn’t been around, I don’t think there would have been a collection.”

Studio at

Apartment - 27 Rue de Fleurus

If one were to have visited the Steins’ small apartment at 27 Rue de Fleurus in 1906, one would have seen paintings, hung floor to ceiling, crammed on three walls. There were works by Cezanne (3), Renoir (2), Gauguin, Picasso (3), Matisse, Manguin, Bonnard, Daumier, Delacroix, Denis, Toulouse-Lautrec and several by Leo Stein.  In the mid-1930s, Gertrude reminded her readers that the art they showed was once scorned. “It is very difficult now that everybody is accustomed to everything to give some idea of the uneasiness once felt when one first looked at all these pictures on the walls.”

The exhibit I saw six months ago at the Grand Palais opened with a room devoted to art by “The Big Four” and then devoted subsequent rooms to displaying the art collected by each of the Stein siblings and their companions in turn. Rabinow, however, has taken a different tack toward hanging the collection in New York. Her aim, she said, was to have the collection speak to its specific moment in time. “I arranged the paintings so that the art tells stories.”

Stein Salon

Stein Salon

In the entry room, Rabinow hung paintings Leo saw from 1900-1903 that he didn’t buy. Leo and Gertrude had a rule that they would only buy works by artists they were friends with. A showstopper of Rabinow’s design is an exact replica, down to the exact dimensions, of Leo’s small studio (460 sq. ft.) complete with an in-gallery projection of the original artworks onto the studio walls. If you can’t make it to New York, you can view a video of the projection on the Met’s website, But you should, by all means, hop a plane or train if you want a special thrill.

While the exhibition is a full immersion by itself, I cannot end without praise for the lavish, nearly 500-page catalog, published by Yale University Press. I cannot recommend it too highly. It is a necessary complement to the exhibit that squares the circle, so to speak. The eleven original essays (including those by the three lead curators and a highly incisive profile of Leo Stein by Gary Tinterow, a former senior curator at The Met and now director of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts) are an entertaining read and a rich trove of fascinating biographical details about each member of the Stein family, along with new research findings.  The catalog contains 500 plates, many in color, a helpful chronology, pages from Sarah Stein’s Notebook of Matisse’s teachings, photos of the Stein residences illustrating how they displayed their art and, last but not least, an  invaluable inventory of the Stein Collections with dimensions, current ownership and past provenance.

Every aspect of the exhibition and catalog manifests the labor of love this endeavor was for all parties concerned. I offer a bow of deep appreciation for making that moment in time come alive for me. Go treat yourself to the same experience!