Archive for July, 2008


Plein Air Easton, Part III

Scroll down for part I and II or click here and here.

Day Three, Saturday, July 26

Started the day with another spectacular gourmet breakfast at our “Buckingham Palace of Inns,” and then headed out to the streets to observe the “Quick Draw” event.

Note to self: Next year bring art supplies and sign up for the “Quick Draw.” It looked to be a load of fun!

To recap: The Quick Draw is quite a novel event to bring the art of plein air painting directly to the art lover. In Easton more than 130 artists, competition painters, professionals, amateurs, etc. had pre-registered and participated. These artists were then given two hours to complete their works within a three block area of the town.

During this short time, all registered Quick Draw participants set up their supplies and paint, draw, or sculpt “en plein air” in downtown Easton, while hundreds of people stroll around and look in and ask questions.

There were artists everywhere in this small Maryland jewel of a town! And they were not just painting the streets and beautiful houses and spaces around them! Painter Scott Powers, a young Chicago artist, was mesmerizing the crowd by delivering a portrait of a gentleman reading a paper in the shade of an Easton cafe. The crowd was hypnotized as Powers delivered a remarkable piece that not only captured the subject’s likeness, but also that key ingredient of great portraiture: the subject’s unique sense of individuality and self. How he managed to do that in two hours was a spectacular feat.

We walked around for the two hours (I got a mean sunburn) and admired both the multitude of artists of all kinds of artistic skill, and also the multitudes of people admiring them.

When the “finish” horn sounded at high noon, artists began filing down to Harrison Street, where they began to set up their easels to display (and sell) their just finished work. The paintings were then judged by Plein Air-Easton! Competition Judge Gay Faulkenberry and awards were presented at 1:30pm. By 2:00pm the exhibit and all of its paintings were gone from the streets of Easton.

Once again I witnessed a near feeding frenzy as paintings were bought almost as soon as they were up on their easels. I would say that within the first five minutes about 50% of all the works had been sold, with works ranging in price from $250 to $2,000. By 2pm nearly all pieces were gone and heading to the home of a new collector.
Quick Draw at Plein Air Easton

Larry Moore from Florida won the top prize at the competition and it was a well-deserved award - he was also my pick for the best piece in the show. I also quite liked Joe Meyer’s light-filled house (it also won an award), and Ken DeWaard’s piece.

My wife and I then went biking around Easton (biking with my wife, who used to be a world-class triathlete before she retired from competition a few years ago, is like playing chess with Bobby Fisher) and then back to the Inn to get ready for my talk at the museum at 7PM.

My talk had been advertised as a “new signature event that will embody Plein Air-Easton’s slogan ‘Art for Everyone.’ Campello, a respected artist and art critic with a flair for engaging his audiences with humor, will give a short history of art and discuss the knack of art collecting. This event will not be boring. Cocktails will be served and attendees can mingle and view the competition galleries. Seating is limited but Campello’s wit and wisdom can be heard throughout the Academy” and sort of like Richard Pryor once said, I thought to myself as I walked to the museum: “I better be funny.”

The room was packed, with maybe 150-200 people, and I had expected to talk for about an hour as I gave them a little background on art history and then discussed collecting art and other associated issues.

The audience was really good and I didn’t notice anyone falling asleep or leaving, and so when I glanced at my watch, and noticed that I had been talking for nearly two hours I was dumbfounded by both my ability to just talk and talk about art and by the audience’s resistance!

So I ended it (I could have talked another hour, but I took pity on them), and surprisingly quite a few people came over and started asking questions and I spent another 20 minutes or so answering them… so I think that it went OK.

My apologies for those who were late for other things because of my Castro-like performance.

Next: the last day at Easton, with Winners Paint-Out and Brunch at Rich Neck Manor.

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Plein Air Easton Part II

Scroll down for part I or click here.

Day Two, Friday, July 25

After an amazing breakfast at our even more amazing Inn, we walked around town and dropped in at the Pam Foss Gallery, where we admired some of her paper casts before walking over next door to check out the installation effort, started last year by artists Carol Minarick and Mary Ann Schindler — with the help of gallerist Vivian Knapp — to provide a contemporary “shadow” exhibition to the plein air festival.

This year they’re presenting an installation about the disappearances at sea of two men who have become mythical art figures.

Mounted at Viviann Napp’s small gallery cottage at the corner of South Street and Talbot Lane in Easton, the installation is a seascape from another perspective. Combining contemporary paintings and actual nautical elements, including a naval architect-designed 1939 lapstrake dinghy from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, the work recalls the voyages of cult Dutch conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader and English inventor and would-be circumnavigator Donald Crowhurst.

See a 1970s video by Bas Jan Ader here.

It is an elegant and intelligent installation which is the first in what I hope are many new steps to expand the town’s intelligent approach to endorse the fine arts in general; Easton has a good thing going with the arts, kick-started by the hard working folks who put together the Plein Air Art Festival, and I hope that the city council continues to work hard to make this art event the seed for more and more fine arts in Easton.

We also visited and chatted with the owner artists of the Sharp-Mayer Gallery, where we admired the works of owner Joe Meyer. Across the street we walked to the South Street Art Gallery where we ran into the familiar works of the talented NancyTankersley and sort of our first exposure to figurative art in her current series on chefs and restaurant workers. We also quite liked the work of old favorites Sara Linda Poly and Bethanne Kinsella Cople, two extraordinary landscape painters.
4th of July Sky by Bethanne Kinsella Cople
4th of July Sky by Bethanne Kinsella Cople

At 7 PM that night we attended the Collectors Preview Party at the Academy Art Museum, where each of the plein air artists had two pieces for sale, and where the 2008 juror, artist Lynn Gertenbach Gay Faulkenberry (who graciously stepped in at the last minute because Gertenbach could not attend) would later select the 2008 award winners.

Considering how I have been reporting the blues that seems to have hot the art market in 2008, let me tell you that this evening was almost like a feeding frenzy of art buying. Artists were able to replace work on the wall as it was sold, and I would estimate that around $100,000 worth of artwork was sold on this opening night, where collectors paid $150 in order to be there and have first choice at the available works.

This was quite a refreshing change of pace from what I have been seeing in various art fairs so far this year, and while it is clear that the plein air painting niche is very specific on its genre, it is nonetheless a good shock to see artwork fly off the walls.

It was also surprising for me to agree with about 75% of the award selections given out by the judge, although I did have a couple of major disagreements with a couple of her top choices. Nonetheless it is also unusual for me to agree to this extent with any juror, so in that particular vein we seemed to walk a parallel line.

My choice for the top prize?

Had I been the juror I would have given the top award to Bethanne Kinsella Cople’s beautiful landscape painting; her handling of light, application of paint, and experienced brushwork was the best that I saw that night. I also liked the works that I saw that night by Edward Cooper, Stuart White and Frankie Johnson.

Part III will have the “Quick Draw” - More than 130 artists, competition painters, professionals, amateurs and the simply adventurous compete to paint, draw, sculpt and have fun in the sun. These artists have only two hours to complete their works within a three block area, then they are exhibited on easels, prizes are awarded and they’re up for sale!

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Plein Air Easton - Part I

Day One, July 24, 2008
Sometimes writers are challenged on how best to begin to describe an event, in this case Plein Air Easton, which at first seems just focused on the re-emerging art of painting outside of the studio, but when examined in depth has grown to become not only very good at that, but also - on a wider scale - very good for art, for artists, for collectors, and for a picturesque little town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

I had never been to Easton, Maryland before our arrival on a Thursday, July 24, as I had been invited to be a guest speaker as part of the 2008 Plein Air Easton festival. We decided to arrive a couple of days early, to soak in the whole experience of a little town taken over by a bunch of artists painting out in its streets and countryside.

Our hosts had put us in at the Inn at 202 Dover, and I must admit that even for an experienced traveler such as I am, I was floored by the beauty, authenticity and elegance of this gorgeous 19th century historical house, recently refurbished and brought to spectacular modern glory by owners Shelby and Ron Mitchell.

The place is breath-taking and the love of the Mitchell’s for their inn is apparent in the care and expense that they took to restore it.

Restoration began in 2005, not only under the watchful eyes of the owners, but also of Historic Easton, the State of Maryland, the Easton’s Historic Commission, and the Department of Interior. Today the beautiful colonial revval building and gardens boasts four elegant suites and one luxury en suite bedroom, each themed and decorated accordingly. The Mitchells like the Victorian approach to decor, and invoking the Victorian era, the suites have an international flavor in keeping with the Victorian concept of what was exotic to them. Arrivals can expect to choose among France, Asia, England and Africa (Safari) suites or, the Victorian bedroom.

We were given the Asian suite, which was larger than most New York apartments — in fact I think it was larger than the Brooklyn apartment in which I was raised. In addition to a beautiful huge bamboo canopy bed and Asian furniture, I loved the antique puppets and the original Ukiyo-e woodblocks on the walls.
inn at 202 dover
And the steam shower, and the cool air jet tub with the golden dragon spitting high pressure water, the fireplace, and the high definition flat screen TV with satellite TV - located… ahem… in the sitting room within our room.

And free high speed internet access.

But enough about this gorgeous place; suffice it to say that if you visit Easton, and want it to be a super special visit, this is the only place in town that will be a memorable stay! It gets a hundred stars and a thousand thumbs up from my wife and I.

At 5:30PM on our first day we hung around for happy hour at the inn… and it didn’t disappoint, as Jorge Alvarez, the Inn’s Cuban-born chef popped in with some tasty food, which included what can be best described as my first exposure of the delicious results what happens when Southern cooking (let’s say fritters) meets Cuban food (let’s say WOW!).

Afterwards we walked over to a local Easton restaurant called … ah… Restaurant Local, where we had some good happy hour vittles (Shrimp Fajitas and Calamari) on their sidewalk tables, listening to a local dude play the guitar, and you won’t believe this: a $5 pitcher of beer in a fancy restaurant! It was great, although we did have to teach our young Russian waiter what “seltzer water” was.

We walked around town and saw several artists painting out on the streets, although it seems most of the 2008 artists were out in the gorgeous countryside. We also scoped out a couple of the town’s art galleries - more on that later, but overall the first afternoon and night was just an opportunity to walk around Easton, see a few galleries and a few artists here and there.

Tomorrow the judging begins!

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On Collecting Art

As a man who loves to talk, one of my favorite paid gigs is when I am invited to be a speaker at art functions, or for art groups, etc.

Later this week I will be heading out to Plein Air Easton, where I will be one of the guest speakers for that city-wide art event.

I am going to digress already from my title subject and give you a little background on Plein Air Easton. Just four years ago this event got started as many artists worldwide have begun to return to painting in the Plein Air style, and once again, as they did in 19th century Europe, are leaving their studios to paint and draw outside… on roadsides, on the beach, on top of mountains, in their gardens and yards, and even in city streets to capture landscapes, still life, figures and architecture in their natural elements.

Plein Air Easton

I think that the resurgence of this movement, much like it happened in Europe in the 19th century, may be a reaction by some artists to the overwhelming presence of technology in our daily lives. And I can live with that; there’s plenty of room for plein air painters and digital photographers and technogeeks artists in the art world.

The festival started yesterday Monday, July 21 and goes through Sunday, July 27, 7:00am-5pm… but there are tons of associated events in this gorgeous and tiny Eastern Shore Maryland village. All the details are The festival goes from Monday, July 21 - Sunday, July 27, 7:00am-5pm… but there are tons of associated events in the gorgeous and tiny Maryland village. All the details are here.

I will be speaking on Saturday, July 26th at 7PM at the Academy Art Museum on the subject of contemporary art, collecting, artists and art in general.

In preparing some slides for the presentation, I wanted to address how beginning collectors may want to approach the first initial steps to the process, with the preconceived notion that many people are intimidated by art galleries.

This is unfortunate, because perhaps the safest and best way to collect artwork is by establishing a good solid relationship with several reputable art dealers (never anchor all your art collecting efforts on a single art dealer).

But there are other ways, complementary methods in some cases, which work as well to beginning to build an art collection.

I think that one of the best and safest ways is via art auctions, and not just the major blue chip auction houses such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s and others, but nearly every other auction house on the planet that every once in a while offers art as part of their programs.

I say “safe” with the caveat that for some folks, it is not a good idea to get caught in the frenzy of a live auction. So it is always best to set yourself a limit, register it with the auction house or event, and then leave and hope that your bid is a winner.

I say “best” because depending on the type of auction, some spectacular deals can often be had. For example, in the Greater Washington, DC region there are a couple of very reputable auction houses which tend to focus generally on antiques and furniture, with a sprinkling of fine art here and there. In my experience, works by Washington Color School stripe painters can sometimes be had for a lot less than they would get in New York or LA.

But by far the very best way to accomplish the same thing is via charity auctions.

At a charity auction you’re doing a couple of good things; as they say, it’s a “win - win” situation. You are helping a good cause as well as acquiring artwork, and in some cases even helping the artist (some charity auctions give the artists a part of the proceeds).

A good one is ARTcetera, which began in 1985 as a grassroots AIDS fundraiser, conceived by Boston-area artists to help in some way against the disease which was so directly affecting the artistic community. A year later the event became the biennial event that it remains today.

Today ARTcetera is a “biennial creative black-tie contemporary art auction created and supported by a unique partnership between the visual arts community and AIDS Action Committee. Guests enjoy fine food and beverages and bid on more than three hundred fresh works by acclaimed local, national and international artists. An exciting live auction and two silent auctions present works in a variety of media, sizes, and styles.”

There are literally thousands of these type art charity auctions all throughout the nation, and artists are among the most generous of donors to the many calls that we receive to donate artwork for them. In my own case, I can usually be counted to participate in about a dozen such events a year (including this one by the way).

Many more tips on collecting art coming down this way later…

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A Tale of Two Cities: Anish Kapoor in Boston and New York. (Part 2: New York)

For Part 1, click here

 Anish Kapoor at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York City

In New York City, Anish Kapoor had two concurrent shows at Barbara Gladstone. Reflection, above, predominated in an almost achromatic space at the 24th Street gallery (the show remains up through August 15); red, below, at the new 21st Street location


I first saw Anish Kapoor’s work in 1990 at the Venice Biennale. He was representing Britain, and his work filled that country’s “pavilion,”  a small building that consists of gallery rooms. (Each represented country has a building of its own design that remains permanently on the ground of the Giardini, the gardens, where the Biennale is set.)  There were a number of human-size sculptures, abstract forms all. Looking at my photographs from the exhibition reminds me that there was a room of carved stone blocks, about three feet in any direction, with voids of various sizes in their centers, so that as you peered in, you didn’t know just how deep or shallow the negative space was. There was a disc the diameter of an armspan covered in midnight blue pigment; you couldn’t tell if it was concave or convex and you didn’t want to get too close because of the powdered pigment on its surface.  There were piles of that same midnight blue pigment, and I remember thinking, “Yves Klein at a spice market.” 

I’d never heard of this artist, but I responded to the simplicity and materiality of his work. Since then I’ve encountered his work, as I’m sure you have, with increasing frequency. The surfaces are always interesting; and more than most dimensional work, his forms challenge your spatial perceptions of dimension and direction.

These concerns continue in two recent exhibitions at the Barbara Gladstone Galleries in New York City. Red predominated in Gladstone’s  24th Street “flagship” space  (the show is now closed);  reflection in the 21st Street space, where the show remains on view until August 15.


Vertigo, 2008, 85 3/4 x 189 x 40 inches.  The horizontal curve of mirror-polished stainless steel is compelling not only in its sleek form but in its distortion of the space and objects around it–big small, right side up, upside down. The only color in the gallery comes from the clothing of  the visitors and the Exit sign


In the 21st Street show, reflection deepens and alters the forms. There are four large, reflective stainless steel forms: a spindly cone, a tall rectangular block, a “cooling tower,” and a long horizontal curve that’s concave on the inside, convex on the outside.  Your  first impression is of the way they are placed within the space:  the rectangular block is aligned with the spindle and tower to form a reverse arc in conversation with the curved form on the other side of the room.  You are thus enclosed within the space of these four forms. It is a neat trick of placement. Their mirror-like surfaces alter your perception because you see not only the their form and the way they hold their part of the room, but the other sculptures that are reflected in them. Those reflections are distorted by the concave and convex surfaces, and they change as your position changes in relation to them. I visited this exhibition several times; the gallery was never crowded, but the degree of engagement was intense.

The spindle (”Spire”), the block (”Door”), and the “cooling tower  (”Pole”), are arranged in a sort of arc opposite the curved form. You are not only surrounded by the forms, you are distorted. That Giacometti-esque figure reflected in the tower is moi.


It is particularly enjoyable to see jaded New Yorkers engaging with the work in such a physical way. Viewers move up close and then back up, watching their reflection change in the process, and they peek and peer into orifices.  And, yes, these are New Yorkers, not tourists; they’re all wearing black (unless they’re from Brooklyn, in which case they’re dressed in anti-Manhattan garb, no black, which is to say they look like tourists.) And of course there are tourists, too.

I noticed one scuff mark toward the base of one work. Given the way visitors are allowed to navigate freely around the work, I was surprised there weren’t more. I asked  young man behind the desk if there had been any scrapes or scratches. “We have this chalky powder we rub on the surface and buff it a little bit,” he replied.  Ah, polishing clay. Jewelry makers use it to get their metal surfaces up to a high shine. So even big sculptors and galleries depend on little tricks.


At the “red” show in the gallery’s 24th Street location, how you approached the work made a huge difference in what you saw.  Above and below, two views of Blood Stick, 2008, resin, 52.76 x 55.12 x 401.57 inches


The “red” show at the 24th Street location, now down, had more of a narrative about the body, given the predominant color of the various forms. Blood Stick, the largest and most dramatic, is an accurate title. Creepy and compelling in equal measure, it  beckoned and repelled. A fellow gallerygoer likened it to a club. I thought of a used tampon—life coming and going.  

The “cooling tower,” a form that also appeared in the 21st Street Gallery, is here split to reveal a blood-red interior.  The opening is large enough to permit entry. What was pure form on 21st Street now has womb-like associations. Do you dare enter?    A bulbous form hangs on the wall, weightier at the bottom. Called Drip,  it suggests an enormous drop of blood ready to yield to gravity.

Here for Alba, 2008, Fiberglass and paint, 110.38 x 109.06 x 118.11 inches. Below, a view into the center reflects the space outside



Drip, 2008, resin and paint, 106 x 76 x 59 inches

In a video about his work, Kapoor describes his process: “I’m going in a direction I’m interested in. But what I’m doing precisely, I do not know.”  That’s as good a definition of the creative process as I’ve heard.

In terms of the breath of ideas and materials, Kapoor is part of a triumvirate that would, for me, include Louise Bourgeois (subject of a just-opened retrospective at the Guggenheim), and Martin Puryear (subject of a recent retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art).  Each of these sculptors, using a range of materials—some natural, some not— draws on elements from the collective unconscious (dark voids and spiders, for instance) or elements from our collective culture (domes, baskets, horns) and transforms them into vessels for navigation. Through them we may find our way between the known and the not-known, or the real and the illusory, or even shuttle between one level of thinking and another.  Then again, to paraphrase Kapoor, they may simply carry us in a general direction whose destination remains something of a mystery.

All photographs by the author.


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Art Santa Fe… and Art Basel Miami Beach

I know that I had promised to report from Santa Fe, where last week I was wearing both my gallerist and artist hats at the Art Santa Fe art fair. However, the best laid plans of mice and art dealers often go awry when you arrive at your pristine white booth and the crates full of artwork await your unpacking, review and hanging.

An art fair is a demanding event for an art dealer – there are the long hours on your feet, the science of hanging the work on the limited wall space, arguing with your partners as how and what to hang, and attempting to figure out what will best represent your gallery, dealing with the thousands of people, day after day, and hoping for the best return on the massive investment that participating in an art fair can be.

And in spite of nearly flawless delivery by the organizers of Art Santa Fe – and kudos to them and to all art fair organizers; it is a complex and demanding job and I am always in awe of the people who organize it well – the fair was not a commercial success for most of the participants that talked to me.

But the talk at the dealers’ break room and at the aisles was the same: low sales.

Like any art fair, I am sure that some dealers did very well; however, I spoke with many gallerists who were very disappointed by the low sales and the crowd composition.

“This is the worst Saturday that I’ve had in ten years of doing art fairs,” said to me a New York gallerist with a lot of fair experience.

The fair started with a vernissage on Thursday evening. “Don’t expect sales to night,” warned a local gallery which had done Art Santa Fe several times. “Tonight is a social gathering and chances of making a sale are less than 1%.” A video of the grand opening, courtesy of Vernissage TV can be seen below:

Unfortunately she was right, but for many spaces her prediction eventually applied to the entire four day event. As the last day approached several dealers confided in me that they had not made a sale yet. Sunday brought a few sales from that same sample group, but in low numbers. A British gallery only sold $900 worth of art in the entire fair, while an Asian gallery didn’t sell a single work the entire four days.

A New York gallery that had sold a $2500 painting on the opening night (and thus hit that 1%) went through the entire next three days without a sale other than selling a catalog. last year they had sold seven paintings on Sunday alone. But on this Sunday the gallery assistant went to the break group, grabbed a couple of apples, and when he got back to his space, tossed one to his boss. “Thanks,” he said acidly, “that’s a $20,000 apple.”

The low sales at Art Santa Fe appear to reflect anecdotal evidence that the art fair market has certainly put the brakes on. The fair organizers seemed to have done everything that was demanded of them to make the fair a success, although one local dealer commented that it was crazy to set the fair on the same weekend as the Fifth Annual International Folk Art Market,” the largest international folk art market in the world, an event which was taking place at the same time as Art Santa Fe. I’m not sure what, if any effect this had on the low sales experienced by most of the gallerists and dealers who confided in me, and in fact it seemed to me that if that other art event attracted (as I am told it does) collectors from all over the world, then perhaps some sort of complimentary ticket factor, where your ticket to the folk market gets you into Art Santa Fe, and viceversa, may have worked out wonders in adding some actual art buyers to both fairs’ visitors.

Other than the curious fact that the art storage was closed and not manned during the fair’s hours of operation (so that if one had the rare sale and wanted to replace the sold work, then you had to fill a work order sheet to get someone to open storage in order to get a new piece for your booth), the fair organizers operated the complex chess game of running an art fair pretty well and deserve well-earned kudos for organizing it.

One last thing, not just for Art Santa Fe organizers but for nearly all art fair organizers in the world: invest in a dozen community ladders that can be borrowed by the galleries as needed. It will make installation and deinstallation flow much smoother.

Thus overall, in my impression the art fair was a commercial failure underscored by lack of significant sales by the majority of participants – the galleries which did well (and I am sure some small number did ) will probably return next year, but I suspect that Art Sata Fe 2009 will see a lot of new faces in a year.

Money is not everything in the decision to participate in an art fair, but it is the most important factor. It is expensive to do an art fair, as booth costs are in the thousands and rapidly climb into the tens of thousands. Then there’s shipment costs, hotels, staff salaries, transportation and food. By the time that you add up all those costs, even the smallest booth often means investing more that $10,000, and if expand just a little, you can easily end up with a $20,000 apple… or $30,000 or…

But another key factor in fair participation is exposure, and in this aspect our presence there was a successful one.

In the crowds, although collectors seemed rare, artists were plentiful and tourists enjoyed the visual show, and we did manage to connect with two separate top notch collectors, and we hope that as we develop a relationship with them, that it will translate into some future sales.

And the networking facet of this connection has many ramifications. Collectors with connections are possibly as important as a good sale. In one case of a collecting couple, he is not only a major photography collector about to become a collector of contemporary Cuban art (on the advise of his art advisors), but also he is on the board of a major American museum. He is very interested in acquiring some important pieces by some of the Cuban artists who we represent and we have begun a cyberspace dialogue with images, prices and details. His wife is a major collector of glass, and also on the board of a major school. At Art Santa Fe we exposed her to the groundbreaking work of Tim Tate and this may be the beginning of a long relationship.

For a gallerist interested in promoting his artists to other markets and dealers, art fairs are also very good, and we were able to begin cementing a relationship with three separate galleries for one of our key artists, including his first gallery representation in the United Kingdom, as well as representation in Santa Fe and New York.

And thus, although we didn’t sell a single piece of his work, we will now be working with him to get his work represented and exposed to Europe, New York and Santa Fe.

There is a lesson in there somewhere as to why a good artist-gallery relationship often encompasses a lot more than sales. In this case the artist walks away with three new dealers, while the gallery walks away with a huge bill, but the good feeling of knowing that it helped the artist grow. As the artists grow, hopefully they will help the gallery grow.

Networking and information exchange are good for business and gossip, and Art Santa Fe yielded some gems!

Not only the overall feeling that American art fairs seem all to be doing fairly bad this year, and that the “brakes are on,” as far as the art fair market is concerned, but also that we may see an associated reduction in the number of fairs in 2009. We also heard some horror stories about some “hotel fairs.”

And yet the Miami December art fair weekend, which in December 2008 hosted 22 separate art fairs, and in spite of seeing some of those fairs not return in 2009, will nonetheless have some new fairs in the schedule and I’m told around 25 art fairs will take place in the land of exiles, sun, sand and mojitos.

One lovely Santa Fe evening we had dinner with some gallerists from Europe and the US, as well as a few other artsy folks - a fair organizer, a curator, an art magazine editor, and someone who has a business of constructing the booths at the fairs; all of them insiders into the fair scene and name-dropping, connected art nobility.

It was lively conversation as arguments erupted about the art centers of the world, and the discussion of LA as future emerging art center for the developing marriage of art and technology.

It was here that I dropped a bomb of a rumor that I have been hearing for months from people who do not want to be quoted.

“I’ve been hearing a rumor that Art Basel Miami Beach may be pulling out of Miami Beach and relocating to Los Angeles,” I said.

“Nonsense!” said a very, very connected curator from Miami. “ABMB and the city have a six year contract - ABMB is not going anywhere!”

“I’ve heard the same thing,” said a magazine publisher from Los Angeles.

“And,” added the art magazine publisher, “there’s only two years left on that contract anyway.” That info was backed by another person in the group, who also added that he thought that it was pretty much set that ABMB would be moving to LA after its contract with Miami Beach expires.

“It will never happen,” said the vigorous defender of the Greater Miami area. “Miami is a magnet for Europeans in the winter, and the crossroads for Latin America, Europe and North America… people and collectors, want to go to Miami in December.”

“That’s true,” replied her Californian tormentors, “but LA is the center point of the Latin American Pacific rim as well as Asia… and we have beaches as well.”

And thus you heard it here first… several plugged-in insiders seem to verify what I’ve been hearing about for months: that the heart of the Miami art fairs phenomenom - Art Basel Miami Beach - may be, and I repeat, may be, pulling out of Miami Beach once its six year contract ends and ABMB may be moving the American version of the European fair to Los Angeles.

The question then becomes: if ABMB does move to LA, will the other 25 satellite mini-art fairs follow ABMB to Los Angeles?

Miami is not an easy place for art fair visitors to get around, but it is still a hundred times better to get around Miami than to get around LA trying to visit a dozen separate art fairs – not to even try to visit all 25 of them – in one weekend.

ABLA may be able to re-create its ABMB success in Los Angeles, while at the same time shaking off many of the small satellite fairs that slowly but surely sprouted around it over the years. But it will – at least initially – be a lot less satellite fairs than ABMB and thus it may be a cool, calculated move by AB to reduce its competition for the stagnant collectors’ market by bringing them to a new pond with less competition.

It is no secret that part of the success of most major art fairs like AB, ABMB, ARCO and others is that on their nickel they fly in and put up a most of the top 200 or so art collectors in the world – much like Vegas does with big gamblers.

And because of this, these major collectors attract many other collectors and soon you have the core of the world’s collecting nobility at an event like ABMB. Some portion of those collectors will not only spend their Euros and dollars at ABMB, but also at the satellite fairs.

Bring them to LA, shake off a few satellite fairs in the process, and the over saturation of available art is reduced, and more money is spent at ABMB and the few brave satellites that will follow AB to LA.

I imagine that the LA city fathers and mothers are doing all they can to make the move to California irresistible for the AB people. Not only great incentives in potential location, city involvement, etc. but plausibly enough even in the creation of city ordinances and regulations which may make it impossible for a hotel fair to be organized.

In austere financial times the need for drastic action rises to the top, and so I think that this combination of factors may be the reason that the rumored ABMB move to LA may be true.

And if ABMB does become ABLA, what would that mean for the first weekend in December in Miami?

If ABLA takes place on that weekend, things look grim for Miami. I believe that there still will be room for a few art fairs – after all the foundation has been set – but we will see a handful of them, not 25 on that December weekend. But I suspect that most of those fairs would follow AB out West.

If ABLA takes place on some other timeframe, then perhaps the Miami December art fairs - a reduced number of them anyway – could possibly exist on their own, sans ABMB.

We will see. For now we have to check our bank account to see if we can afford to get a booth in Miami this coming December.

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Art Santa Fe - Day One

And so we flew in couple of days ago to beautiful New Mexico where I’m taking part in the Art Santa Fe art fair, and where we’ll be trying to find homes for lots of good artwork at the fair, which is being held this year from July 10-13, 2008 at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe and right across the street from Site Santa Fe.

After spending a day in Albuquerque, on Wednesday we checked into the fair and checked our booth spaces. The whole area around the fair site is a whirlwind of construction as new art sites, art buildings, etc. continue to populate this area of the city.

At the fair, it was a beehive of work as shiipers unloaded crate after crate of artwork and gallerists from 19 countries checked in. All of our crates were waiting for us at booth 52, and right away I realized that (as usual) I had shipped too much work. In fact, I probably shipped about twice as much work as I should have.

Somehow though, we hired Reed (an art installer) to help us open all the crates and begin hanging the work. Somehow everything was unpacked and then we had the crates removed.

Because the storage area at the fair site didn’t open until 5 PM (memo to fair organizers, the storage site should be open and manned at all times), it was an interesting chess game moving around all the extra work while isolating what work to hang for the opening tonight.

The press preview is today at 3:30PM, and then the grand private opening for collectors is an hour later. Keep checking in - there will be lots more later as I tell you how the opening gala went!

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Delia Brown: Precious — at D’Amelio Terras

Delia Brown -- Story Time -- 2008 -- 12 x 16 inches -- oil on wood panel

Delia Brown — Story Time — 2008 — 12 x 16 inches — oil on wood panel — from D’Amelio-Terras’ website

As an artist who’s spent a lot of time in galleries, I’ve thought much about the need dealers have to position artists in relation to art collectors, and the effect this has on dealer and artist success. This leads me to consider collectors, their backgrounds, motivations, interests, tastes. They’re not a homogeneous block, obviously, so it only makes sense that an artist who’s seriously intent on commercial success should, like any conscientious marketing professional, consider a specific segment within that block and target their work toward that segment as sharply and specifically as possible, using any and all means.

This came to mind, with quite a chuckle, when I visited D’Amelio-Terras late in June and pondered Delia Brown’s show, aptly titled Precious.

Viewing these small panels from a distance, I felt as though I’d stepped out of Chelsea and into JC Penney’s home furnishings department, sans furnishings. The literature accompanying this show speaks of “the delicate decadence of the Rococo painters” and “Balthusian tension where innocence teeters on the cusp of naughtiness,” but I’m not buying it. With an MFA from UCLA, I have to believe Ms. Brown knows precisely what she’s doing here. These artworks are, in my opinion quite intentionally, executed in the slick, glowing and vacuous style of the manufactured oil paintings sold in shopping malls to people who neither know nor care about art, the crowd that’s made Thomas Kincade a ridiculously wealthy, powerful and Pooh-defiling man.

But whereas Kincade’s work is designed for a decidedly middle-class, even Southern and Christian, crowd — see for example his painting NASCAR Thunder- The 50th Running of the Daytona 500 — Brown has targeted the upper middle-class and wealthy collector, obviously the kind more likely to amble into a Chelsea gallery.

Much to my amusement, her marketing is even more refined than that; these are images of mothers and daughters, or images of young girls, but all designed to appeal to wealthy mothers.

In every image, girls and their moms luxuriate in a world of satin sheets, high fashion (for the most part), pearls, pricey bathroom fixtures, primpy lapdogs and chi-chi bistros. It’s as if Ms. Brown has tapped into a market of wealthy mothers with absolutely no art sophistication whatsoever, who want mall-quality honey-dripping oil paintings that relate to their self-important, Mabelline lives.

For me Brown’s project comes off as a brilliant ploy by a masterful artist with a broad, sophisticated understanding of art and society. Its conceptual component is heavily salted with the smiling sort of contempt that steams from the disenfranchised, and Brown’s feeding of these images to this market sounds more than a little like Tyler Durden’s “Fight Club” formula of selling wealthy women soap made from their own lyposuctioned fat.

In the past, artists devised strategies to avoid commodification, often effacing and even removing aesthetic considerations in the process. It fascinates me to find an artist who makes commodification her plaything, and, aided by manifestly manipulative aesthetics, integrates it into a sweet yet caustic body of work.

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Art Santa Fe

Early tomorrow morning I’m flying out to Art Santa Fe, where we will be participating as one of 59 galleries from 19 countries showcasing over 1,000 artists.

I hope to be able to report from the fair and give you an insider’s view on the business of art from inside the art fair.

The fair’s 2008 Keynote Speaker will be Dean Sobel, the Director of the new Clyfford Still Museum in Denver.

If you’re in that gorgeous and amazing little sunny city full of art galleries (nearly 300 of them) known as Santa Fe between July 10-13, come by booth 52 and say hola!

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A Tale of Two Cities: Anish Kapoor in Boston and New York. (Part 1: Boston)

For Part 2, click here 

If you’re a fan of Anish Kapoor, this is a good time for you. And if you’re not a fan, it’s as good a time as any to become one.  Kapoor, the Bombay-born sculptor who lives in England and has an international career, is the subject of a major retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, and two solo shows of new work (one still up) at the Barbara Gladstone galleries in New York City.

 Since this is a tale of two cities, it will also be a tale told in two parts. Here, Part 1: Kapoor at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston:  Past, Present, Future  (through September 7)

Although you’ll know a Kapoor sculpture when you see it, describing one does not come close to reflecting what a Kapoor sculpture is.  A sculpture by Anish Kapoor is monumental, yet it pulls you in close. It defines and reflects space; yet it suggests the topography and orifices of the body. It’s concave; it’s convex. It’s hard and smooth; it’s soft and powdery; it’s shiny, translucent, opaque, gooey. The materialty of the forms defines both what’s there and what’s not. Like the blind men defining an elephant by touch, Kapoor’s sculpture is all those things. And more. And less.


Reflecting on the exhibition: It’s simplistic to call this sinuous and beautifully polished structure a funhouse mirror because while it distorts, it makes you think about the ways in which all the work in the gallery changes your perceptions of shape and space.  Image by John Kennard, courtesy of the ICA, Boston

Take the the enormous polished red disc installed along one wall of the large rectangular exhibition hall (you can see this work reflected in the image above).  Standing before the disc you feel yourself get woozy. Are you falling into it? Is it somehow expanding itself to touch you? Eventually your eyes become accustomed to the spatial distortion and you see that it’s bulging out—until you check it from the side and realize the surface is concave. Next to it, a polished metal disc with a recitulated surface engages you with its reflecton–make that its thousands of reflections. What you see is never quite what you see.


 Looking at Lisson: I couldn’t photograph the show, but these two images–above and below–shot at the Lisson Gallery booth at Art Basel/ Miami in December, are of the same reticulated piece that’s in the ICA exhibition



Similarly, across the room, you see what appears to be a perfectly formed depression, about 48 inches in diameter, in the gallery’s white wall. It’s barely noticeable, but there’s a slightly darker ring that defines the concavity.  A guard prevents you from getting too close, and this is a good thing because in fact that depression is a bump which protrudes about two feet into room.  A pregnant wall! The effect is totally disorienting in a heady Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole way—and do let yourself take the trip—while at the same time it summons all your rational thinking: what, how, where, how big.

And so it goes around the room, 14 works created since 1980, each one challenging your perceptions of space and reality, as you fall visually into and out of the work.  In the center of the gallery is the undulating form of an enormous polished stainless steel sculpture. It’s tempting to call it a funhouse version of Richard Serra, but given its reflectivity, it engages you in a totally different way way. The  structure is both concave and convex, so what you see at one moment changes—elongates, compresses, inverts—as you walk its length. It is constantly reflecting and distorting the shapes which, on their own, have already altered your perceptions and disoriented you. Has the floor actually risen? Are you sinking?  Where is the object you thought was behind you?



Past, Present, Future  is the title both of this work and of the exhibition itself. Overnight when the template is still, that wax skin begins to slide. Image by John Kennard, courtesy of the ICA, Boston

 Then you get to the dome,  positioned against the far wall.  Now this is solid; no distortion, no reflection. Here is an enormous quarter sphere, some 30 feet in diameter, coated in viscous red wax. Given your experience with the other works in this gallery, you nevertheless find yourself wondering: Is the sphere pushing into the room or retreating from it? Indeed it’s moving, but not in the way you think. A large template is passing ever so slowly over the dome. You can hear its motor. During a 90-minute traverse, it reshapes the rubicund goo that is slipping ever so slightly down the surface of the dome. 

(What you can’t see is that about three inches of viscous wax has been slathered onto netting that’s stretched over a cast resin skin, which is in turn set onto a foam armature composed of 10 wedges, like the segments of an orange. The template is turned off at night, and its first pass in the morning smoothes and reforms the surface, smooshing the extra wax up against the wall (reader, I touched the smoosh).

But the back story shouldn’t take away from what’s before you.  Experiencing Past, Present, Future is sort of like watching paint dry—except that you can, if you are still enough and patient enough, watch it all take place in real time.  And there is a reward for such close and patient viewing. Given its reference to planetary shape and the way it is constantly remaking itself, its placental color and primordial goo—and of course, its title—you realize this imposing structure is nothing so much as a metaphor for creation itself.

Next post: Part 2, Anish Kapoor at the Barbara Gladstone galleries, New York City.

 Post Script: The ICA is itself an impressive sculpture of a building.


 The Diller & Scofidio-designed building is set into Boston’s redeveloping waterfront, not far from where the historic Boston Tea Party once took place. The dramatically cantilevered fourth floor contains the main exhibition space as well as a glass-walled gallery with a panoramic view of Boston, from  a small knot of downtown buildings at one end of the visual span to Logan airport at the other.

Links:  Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston;   Via You Tube, a guided tour of the exhibition by Nicholas Baume, curator of the exhibition and chief Curator of the ICA;  Via You Tube, 30 seconds of the red wax being applied ; a Flickr set showing the installation of the show, including unpacking and the application of the red wax;  Roberta Smith’s review for The New York Times Sebastian Smee’s review for The Boston Globe ; Richard Lacayo’s review for Time magazine    

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