Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Humble Collector --- Day 10

More thoughts on art collecting, a huge topic.

You're best off approaching art with humility.  Particularly if you are setting out to be a collector with an eye to investing in art and expecting your investment to grow in value over the years.

Learning about art is fascinating for anybody.  It can be fun, a hobby.  But if you wish to be a collector, educating yourself is a necessity.  And there are many areas of education, all of which are of vital importance.

For openers, there is knowing yourself.  What do you like?  What sings to you?  Knowing and following that is the basis of a truly great art collection.  A collection with soul - yours.

Not a collection comprised of the 'names' of the moment.  Right now in Ciwt's opinion there is a surfeit of this in the individual museums that are being opened around the country.  They are essentially ego trips by wealthy businessmen who have relied on consultants to round up art by currently popular and established artists with the result, in Ciwt's mind, that every collection in these museums has come to be predictable.  There are certain 'names' to be expected, and there they are -Again! if you look at a lot of modern art.  Eli Broad's museum has somewhere around 50 works by Jeff Koons. (You know:   ). That's a buying spree, a show of money, not a great art collection, and you encounter these sprees over and over.  And after a while, if you're like Ciwt, you start to feel an emptiness, a soullessness at the core.

But this doesn't happen when you are in the presence of great collections like the Rockefeller Collection of Early American Art or the Mellon Collection that forms the basis of the National Gallery, or the Philips.  The love and care and education that went into the selection of each individual piece in these and other great collections is palpable.  Also the thought and sensitivity and deep understanding of the art, the artists, the time in art and human history and other factors that went into grouping of the works with each other.

This care is a life's work really.  It is what makes a great collection and great collector, and it comes with humility.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Few Early Thoughts on Collecting --- Day 9

If you wish to collect art, the picture above does not have to be the way your walls look.  In fact, you can buy just one piece, learn from it that you have no interest in collecting and be done.  And that piece can be from an art or craft fair, an artist friend, a rummage sale. It can cost only a few dollars.

However you begin, Ciwt guarantees you that your life will be changed by bringing art into it.  What that change might be is personal.  You might be interested in the period portrayed in the work and begin researching it; you might have enjoyed talking to the artist him or herself and wish to return to their studio and perhaps collect more of their work; you might end up re-arranging or repainting your house because the artwork has influenced your aesthetic. Maybe the artwork you bought portrays a river, and you decide you would like many more artworks centered on a river theme. The possibilities are endless; the transformative capacity of art is as well.  Art can enliven anyone's life; it is not just for wealthy patrons.

Some people just enjoy the art they bring into their lives over time.  Others set out to become Art Collectors, to acquire and amass art so that it will have great future monetary value and status.  This is by necessity a different type of collecting and must be undertaken with education, care, time, some degree of courage and, yes, money.  Ciwt will write in the future about collecting significant (ie, rare and expensive) works, but she wants to be very clear from the outset that collecting is for everyone.

You may not be interested in art.  But in baseball cares, buttons, vintage jewelry, cars.  The range of collections is huge - and often lucrative in the end.  Collections in an of themselves have a certain cachet, interest value and, therefore, often monetary value to people.  One or two pin cushions or canes are fine, but hundreds of them from different eras, with different histories and made of different materials are fascinating and often auction worthy.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Flaming Jane -- Day 8

Frederic Leighton, Flaming Jane, 1895  , 47" x 47", oil on canvas

This painting by the English classical painter, Frederic Leighton, is considered his masterpiece, has been widely reproduced in posters and  is beloved by many.  So why did Flaming Jane go unsold for its reserve price at auction in 1960 allowing a London dealer (The Maas Gallery) to acquire it for $140? ($840 in today's dollars)?

For one thing, 1960 (the Abstract Expressionist, Pop Art, Op Art, Color Field Art among other modern movements Era) was not the time to be selling Victorian art.  In view of the demand for Rothko, Kline, Stella, Warhol, Rauschenberg, Pollack et al, there was no demand for a stiff, formal, classically painted nymph/goddess figure.  But also the painting was controversial in the eyes of many in its own right.  The posture was questioned - particularly the positioning and size of the figure's right arm and thigh - as was the reality of the flow of the diaphanous fabric. More damning were the many English critics who called it kitsch.

But the painting's supporters feel the transparent material is very real.  They hail the stunningly rich colors, perfectly recreated marble surround and Leighton's use of natural light, allowing the painting to be lit by the molten gold of the sunset.  In other words, they praise it as embodying "Art for Art's Sake" which was what Leighton and the Pre-Raphaelite school which immediately followed him prized above all.

Possibly Flaming Jane's greatest supporter was Luis A. Ferre, a noted Puerto Rican industrialist, politician and founder of the Museo de Arte de Ponce.  On a buying trip to London for his museum in 1962 Ferre encountered her at the Maas Gallery, was immediately smitten and bought her for the unheard of price of $2000 (Today @$9,000).  He had her restored, and she has been hanging in the Museo's permanent collection ever since.  Occasionally she makes visits to places such as the Prado (Madrid), Tate (London) and the Frick (New York where she was for a few weeks this summer). In every case art critical controversy precedes her and continues to grow when she arrives.

So she's not quite the innocently sleeping maiden she appears.  In fact, it has been pointed out that the red flowers on the ledge above her are oleanders which are known to be poisonous, thus suggesting Flaming Jane is a dangerously alluring femme fatale figure.  Other Freudian and Modernist interpretations abound  for those who see her painting as much more than Art for Art's Sake.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Late --- Day 7

"I'm late! I'm late!  For a very important date...,"  said the White Rabbit.  Actually Ciwt has never entirely 'gotten' Alice in Wonderland, and probably would not have paid any attention to the book were it not for the illustrations.  Strange, grotesque many of them.  But memorable, fitting to the text and done by Sir John Tenniel (British 1820-1914).

Tenniel was a prominent (but socially reclusive) English illustrator, graphic humourist and political cartoonist who is best known for being  Punch magazine's political cartoonist and illustrating Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.  He was knighted by Queen Victoria for his artistic achievements in 1893.

Contracting with Tenniel was a hard-won achievement by Carroll, one which he may have regretted when the book first came out - in the United States, not England.  Why the U.S.?  Because Tenniel, who was absolutely exacting in his eye, found the first book inferior in its printing standards. When his objections were cleared, a second printing was released in England in 1865 and became an instant best seller.

So, like the White Rabbit, Alice was late, and all of this is on Ciwt's mind because she ended up with numerous events today is feeling quite late herself.  So now, off to hear Marcia Coyle interview Justice Stephen Breyer......

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Maud Lewis --- Day 6

Maud Lewis (Canadian, 1903-1970), Three Black Cats, oil on board

Since returning from the Getty Center's current show of Hellenistic Bronzes, Ciwt has been researching that era and traveling through the Greek empire, the lives of Alexander the Great, Philip the 1st, Alexander's mother, sister, best friend, Aristotle, and so much more.  Ironically, as she has assimilating the powerful, rich complexity of that ancient era, the simple optimism of North American folk art has called to her.  It's just a nice way to clear her head from all those battles and larger than life people and happenings.

Yesterday, the first day of Autumn this year, she remembered Grandma Moses.  And memories of growing up years vaguely started wafting back: fall in New England where she lived for a while and went to school and college, and even a time when she had seriously considered opening a gallery of folk art back in the Midwest. That would have been right after her post-college New York and Washington, DC years.  But, instead of moving to the middle of the country (and possibly/probably losing her shirt in the art 'business,')* she went West where she has made her life for over 45 years and put folk art very much on the back burner.

Today she discovered Canadian artist Maud Lewis and rediscovered the simple, direct offerings of that type of art.  Often born of - but usually not speaking of - hardships;  hardships overcome, ignored, or somehow turned into joy, inspiration, love.

In Maud Lewis's case, she was born with almost no chin and a tiny body. Feeling uncomfortable with her differences from other children, she spent most of her time at home with her parents and brother in Nova Scotia. It was there  - as a child painting Christmas cards for sale to local neighbors - that her art career began and slowly grew through newspaper and magazine articles and eventually television documentaries until she became the most beloved folk artists in Canada.

Image result for maud lewis house


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Best of Autumn --- Day 5

Anna Mary Robinson 'Grandma' Moses (American 1860-1961), Autumn, Ca 1930's, oil

Especially on this first day of Autumn, 2015, Grandma Moses comes to mind.

Did you have Grandma Moses in your house growing up?  Ciwt did.  We had a set of Grandma Moses plates which Ciwt just Loved eating off of.  The borders were white with the image in the middle, so you didn't know what painting was on the plate until you finished your meal.  To Ciwt, it didn't matter what was uncovered because she loved them all - although maybe the ones with the checkered house best of all.

  Image result for grandma moses checkered house

Image result for grandma moses checkered house Besides capturing it, Grandma Moses - who didn't begin painting until her 67th year - embodied the spirit of Autumn.*

*In 1952, she published My Life's History, her autobiography. In it she said "I look back on my life like a good day's work, it was done and I feel satisfied with it. I was happy and contented, I knew nothing better and made the best out of what life offered. And life is what we make it, always has been, always will be."[

Les Iris de Los Angeles --- Day 4

Vincent van Gogh, (Dutch, 1853-1890)), Irises (originally Les Iris), 1889, oil on canvas, 28" x 36 5/8" 

Los Angeles is a city of unexpected discoveries. One memorable one on Ciwt's recent L.A. museums trip was Vincent van Gogh's Irises at the Getty Center.  Like her surprise at finding The Woman in Gold  in the permanent collection of the Neue Galerie*, Ciwt may be one of the few who didn't know the Getty owned Irises so it was a particular delight to be standing just a foot or so from the actual painting.

'Owned' is an operable word surrounding Irises; many people associate the painting with $53.9 million, the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction.  The year was 1987, and two interesting things happened after that: 1. the Irises record stood for almost three years and 2. the 1987 buyer had insufficient funds so the auction house (Sotheby's New York) arranged a private sale to the Getty - which had been overbid in the original auction - for an undisclosed sum. But certainly not a minor sum, Ciwt can safely bet.

Too bad that many viewer's minds might be filled with economic thoughts because the painting is fresh, clear and a joy to view.  The colors are marvelously and appealingly pure with the blue based leaves and flowers rising with graceful energy from a warm-toned bed of soil.

Apparently - because there are no preliminary drawings - Irises is considered a study by art experts, not a fully realized, finished painting.  Just based on visuals, Ciwt would disagree.  Like Sunflowers*, each Iris is painted with its own individual character, and the painting is replete with complex, often lush and thick brushwork .  This plus the size and expense of the canvas and paints strikes Ciwt as the kind of work artists do on finished canvases.  Plus there is a joy in Irises that captures a moment in van Gogh's life when he had just arrived at the asylum and was feeling relief at sanctuary and optimistic that he would be saved from his encroaching insanity.

Study or finished work, Irises was a beautiful and uplifting L.A. surprise for Ciwt.

Here is the signage that accompanies the painting at the Getty: