Archive for the Artists Category

Experiencing Rockwell

Posted in Art Exhibits, Artists, Norman Rockwell with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2010 by Park West Gallery

“I cannot convince myself that
a painting is good unless it is popular.

If the public dislikes one of my Post covers,
I can’t help disliking it myself.”

—NORMAN ROCKWELL

On March 8, 2009, the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) opened its exhibition, American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell. On the day of the opening, The Detroit Free Press “art critic” Mark Stryker (the newspaper’s music critic, who evidently was tapped to become the art critic after another round of Detroit business layoffs) penned his review. His opening tag line: “Love the show, hate the art.” You can save time by not reading the article. That tag line perfectly sums up Stryker’s opinion.

"The Art Critic" by Norman Rockwell (1955)The Art Critic” (1955) by Norman Rockwell

Online, a volley of reactionary comments to Stryker’s column lined up in the opinion blogs. They ranged from absolute venom (typical online stuff) to comments from readers who completely ignored Stryker’s opinion just to laud the show and encourage Detroiters to go see it and support the museum and its efforts.

Another part of the Free Press’s coverage was a side bar, “Was Norman Rockwell a Great Artist?” The DIA’s curator, a professor (whose mother modeled for Rockwell), and a well known Detroit artist weighed in. The artist, Charles McGee, expressed a prevailing attitude towards Rockwell’s work that dogged him during his life and has continued to this day: “I think Rockwell was a great illustrator. To me there’s a big difference between illustration and fine art. It’s not that each isn’t good in its own right, but one is selling a product as far as I’m concerned and the other is selling itself.”

I went to see the show with my 14 year old daughter, Amanda, who had written a biographical report on Rockwell for her history class a few months before. Her assignment was to write about an American artist, and when she asked me who she should consider (perhaps one of the benefits of having a dad in the biz) I replied immediately that it should be Norman Rockwell and expressed to her my reasons why.

Ironically, during her research for the report we as a family flew to Europe to attend a Park West Gallery collector event. One night at dinner we mentioned to a client that Amanda was researching Rockwell, and she proceeded to inform us that she had modeled for him when she was a child; her image appeared on a 1957 Saturday Evening Post cover. Big mistake to say that to me because I surely drove this woman “nuts” querying her about every aspect of Rockwell’s working process and his personality.

Amanda’s report included an interview with our guest – and she ended up with an “A.” Not surprisingly, Amanda was just as excited to see the show as I was. During the entire time she was working on the paper, her teacher was gently ridiculing Rockwell and needling her about her choice. His point was the same as Stryker’s and McGee’s: Not an artist, just an “illustrator.”

Where does this attitude come from? How can an artist who contributed so much to the culture and artistic identity of America (this is profoundly apparent when stepping into the final room of the exhibition and seeing each of the 323 Saturday Evening Post magazine covers he created during seven decades) be so pejoratively viewed by the art “establishment”?

The answer is obvious. There is a disconnect, a separation (more like a chasm) in the art world between the arbiters of what is and isn’t “art” and the American people. This was never more apparent to me than when we left the museum and I saw the lines of enthusiastic people; families with young children, seniors from my parents’ generation, and students. People of all races and ages, all queuing up for tickets and filling the galleries, anxious to experience Rockwell’s art – actually hungry for it.

Rockwell was keenly aware of his image as a mere “illustrator” and frustrated enough to address it many times in his art. Trained as a “fine artist,” he was well steeped (as all of the great ones were) in the history and narrative of his profession.

In one of the photographs included in the exhibition of him working in his studio (on the most important painting in the show, in my opinion – The Problem We All Live With, 1963), I caught a blurry image of Rembrandt’s etching masterpiece, The Hundred Guilder Print. It was in the upper left corner hanging on the wall amidst his own studies and drawings. This delighted me (I’m sure most people wouldn’t have noticed it) because I had just been marveling at the use of chiaroscuro in so many of the canvasses of Rockwell.

Norman Rockwell "Triple Self-Portrait" (1960)“Triple Self-Portrait” (1960) by Norman Rockwell

Rockwell’s Triple Self Portrait, one of the most popular and amusing of all his famous images, deals directly with this paradox of the power of his work and his popular image as a “commercial” artist. In it we see pinned to his canvas self-portraits of Albrecht Durer, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh as well as a Picasso Cubist head. It is well known that Rockwell greatly admired the old masters and was enthralled by Picasso and even Pollack. The painting, which reveals his astonishing technique in the masterful articulation of the fabric of his shirt, the mirror into which he peers, and the golden helmet mounted at the top of his easel, defies us as viewers to ignore or diminish his prodigious mastery of oil on canvas while at the same time casts visual puns about who it is he is portraying.

In another captivating work, The Art Critic (1955), a young art student examines a painting through a magnifying glass while holding his easel and palette (with real globs of paint affixed). The woman in this portrait (based on a Rubens) looks back at the student with an expression of surprise, as if to say the young man is too close and is staring at her bosom. Behind him is a painting of three 17th Century Dutch gentlemen (again a nod to Rembrandt) who appear to stop their conversation to peer with surprise at the young student’s indiscretion.

This is a great and amusing scene until one looks at the technique Rockwell displays. It’s as if he says to us, “Take a look at my ‘chops,’ those of you who question my artistic legitimacy. I can do Dutch and French masters as good as they did and use them in the background of my paintings.”

From my own experience, it has been an honor to work with Curtis Publishing, the owners of the intellectual rights to Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post imagery, and the Norman Rockwell Licensing Company, managed by the artist’s family, in the development of limited-edition prints created exclusively for Park West Gallery clients. More recently, these works have been realized as hand-drawn lithographs created at the same studio French artist Marcel Mouly used for the creation of his lithographs.

I’ve also had the pleasure of offering original Rockwell drawings and seeing several of them collected. It is truly a thrill for an art dealer to be a part of the joy experienced by someone who has the rare opportunity to acquire something of this kind of rarity and historic importance. Through this process and in viewing so many of his works, I have gained a deeper appreciation for Rockwell’s art.

Norman Rockwell produced over 4,000 works of art in his lifetime, a lifetime that he devoted to unfailing artistic discipline and committed to sharing his view of our world with an emphasis on humankind’s higher morals and enduring values. His messages of family, equality, freedom, tolerance, and even human shortcomings touched more Americans than any other artist with our shared heritage. His contributions to the American spirit during World War II are legendary, particularly in the way that he focused not so much on our soldiers fighting abroad but on the heroism and bravery of the everyday people who remained at home.

So once again, we have to ask: How can an artist of such power, possessing spectacular technical genius and an unparalleled ability to communicate and touch so many, be so often dismissed by those who claim to wield the power of judgment as to what is and isn’t “art”?

The answer is too long and complex to be addressed here. I have written about it before and continue to vigorously share my own views on the topic. It has to do with the long (and unfortunate, in my opinion) history of art that extends from Duchamp to Warhol and resides today in the likes of Damien Hirst, whose works fetched unprecedented prices last year for “sculptures” of cigarette butts in medicine cabinets, dead flies on canvas, and his “masterpiece,” a dead calf in a glass case.

It has to do with the fact that when people crave the experiences that art can provide such as elevation of the human spirit, a demonstration of the results of unflagging dedication to hard work and excellence, and a jumping off point into the contemplations of human thought and spiritual meaning, these works of “art” leave us cold, unfulfilled, perplexed, and often angry when discovering the sums paid for them by museums and collectors. There is no way we can know what the future will hold for this kind of art.

As I travelled the halls of the museum with my young daughter in tow, as we moved past the paintings by Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso, and dozens of others who built on the narrative of the art that came before them, I couldn’t help but believe that as long as there are people on this planet, these works will be precious. They will forever be emblems of human greatness and our aspiration to reach for higher and deeper understandings of beauty and the miraculous around us. Thinking about Norman Rockwell, I saw him fitting perfectly into that same pantheon of masters in another hundred years.

We continued on to the contemporary wing of the DIA. We turned a corner and on the floor to our left we encountered a “sculpture” by Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama. The work entitled Silver Shoes is a clear acrylic box, encasing 23 shoes with cloth protrusions emanating from the openings, everything spray-painted silver. It’s a work, I am confident, Mr. Stryker would love. However, there was no line of people outside the museum queuing up to buy tickets to see it. No line of people behind the work patiently waiting to view it. No “audio tour” devices pressed up against people’s ears in contemplation before it. In fact, there was no one looking at it at all.

They were all downstairs, Experiencing Rockwell.

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Visiting Linda Le Kinff’s Studio and Home

Posted in Art Videos, Artists, Linda Le Kinff with tags , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2010 by Park West Gallery

In a special unprecedented visit, I traveled with Park West Gallery President, Marc Scaglione, other members of the Park West Gallery team, and 70 of Park West Gallery’s long-term clients, to see the home and studio of artist Linda Le Kinff. At Linda’s home, in the historic French town of Rambouillet, we were treated to a tour of the house and Linda’s adjoining studio filled with Le Kinff art of all types and periods.

Le Cirque by Linda Le Kinff“Le Cirque” by Linda Le Kinff

Along with her husband, Jacques, Linda elected to present a never-before-seen collection of paintings on wood and canvas, collages, and a most unusual array of objets d’art, including sculpture bases composed of four painted panels and two ‘coffee tables’ created by mounting large painted panels on legs. Also included were two poetry books created by Linda on special hand-made papers, filled with original poetry, drawings, paintings and collages. These two highly intimate and compelling creations were a delight to the guests.

Most well received were Linda’s sculptures in bronze. These works had never before been offered to collectors and they ranged in size from small table top works to life-size bronzes installed in her backyard. Linda announced that she would be going to the studio foundry in Italy where the works are cast to supervise the casting of each sculpture ordered and the specification of the color (or patina) chosen by each collector.

Left to Right: Agathe en or, La Contrebassiste, Anais a la Capeline, La Trapeziste
From left: “Agathe en Or,” “La Contrebassiste,” “Anais a la Capeline,” and “La Trapeziste” by Linda Le Kinff.

Finally, Linda unveiled — for the first time — the new catalog raisonée of her graphic works. The book, over five years in the making, was enthusiastically received and a signed and dedicated copy was made available to each couple in attendance.

There is no experience like meeting an artist and peering into the creative world in which they work and live. At Park West Gallery, we are delighted to bring these enriching experiences to our clients, as they provide a deeper appreciation and understanding of the remarkably talented people who represent the art of our time. This was truly a unique experience that only Park West Gallery could bring.
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Click the player below to join me on an exclusive tour of Linda Le Kinff’s home and studio in Rambouillet.

A Tribute to Marcel Mouly (1918-2008)

Posted in Artists, Marcel Mouly with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2010 by Park West Gallery

I was with Marcel Mouly (February 6, 1918 – January 7, 2008) in Paris in November 2007. Marc Scaglione had organized a small ‘artist party’ at a favorite restaurant of Marcel’s a few blocks from Arts Litho, the atelier where Marcel worked creating his lithographs for so many years. Along with Marcel’s studio collaborators were his wife Maguy, Linda Le Kinff and her husband Jacques, Fanch Ledan, Jean-Claude Picot and his wife Christiane, Victor Spahn and his wife Elizabeth, Emile Bellet, Shan Merry, and my wife. 

We were all so pleased when Marcel arrived. And although an air of optimism abounded as we all took in how great he looked and seemed, the inevitable understanding that this may be the last time any of us would see him again shrouded us all.

Marcel Mouly (L) and Morris Shapiro (R)Marcel Mouly (left) and I in Paris, November 2007

The photograph shown here is no doubt one of the last taken of Marcel as he died just a few weeks later. As I look at it, it fills me with conflicting feelings and emotions. In it I see a smiling me, all optimism and posing for the camera and although I am aware that I have more yesterdays than tomorrows in my own life’s story, I am still looking forward to many more years of the richness that life has to offer. In Marcel, I see the face of a man who has already confronted his inevitable destiny. He looks frail and wan, and although he was obviously not feeling well, he soldiered on that evening, laughing, telling stories, drinking his beloved scotch, and showing all of us so unfailingly, that no matter what lies ahead for us, we must grasp every moment of life fully and embrace the time we are given as an irreplaceable gift. In the photo I also see a man who achieved so much in his life and although obstacles of the greatest kind were placed before him, now and also throughout his entire life, he chose to accept them, overcome them through sheer willpower and the commitment to work, and become stronger at each conquest. That night as we sat together at dinner I noticed the fresh paint on his hands and under his nails.

In the last few years it has become increasingly difficult for me to present his work in public. I’m not sure when I will be able to do it again. Many of my associates at Park West Gallery will attest to seeing me choke up and be unable to continue when talking about him. Most of this has been due to the realization that as his health began to fail and he was in and out of the hospital, we would not have him with us much longer. But also, a great deal of it came from my first-hand experiences, at seeing how truly humble and grateful he was for all that life brought him. For me, he really was a father-like figure in many ways and I looked up to him as an example of how a man could be in his life and in his profession.

In 2004, we did our first VIP event in Michigan and Marcel was the artist we featured. We knew we would probably not have many more opportunities to have him come overseas, and I am so grateful this event happened as I will never forget the effect it had on me and everyone else who was present. He was 86 years old at the time.

We held the event at a beautiful Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The event was first-class and we had approximately 100 guests for the evening. Our guests were in from all over the country and Canada, and had been waiting–in some cases–years for a chance to meet Marcel and collect a painting by him. The cocktail area outside of the ballroom was packed and when Marcel arrived, a throng of people descended upon him for pictures and autographs. Inside the ballroom, we had set up approximately 20 paintings of all sizes and subjects.

We had elected not to auction the paintings but to make them available on a first-come first-served basis (a mistake in hindsight), and when we opened the doors and the crowd rushed in, within 30 to 40 minutes, every painting was sold. Most of the paintings had multiple red stickers on them (some as many as 5 or 6), whereby clients wanted to be next in line for a particular work if the first person reserving the painting changed his or her mind the next day (when the entire exhibition would be shown). In all my years as a dealer, I have never seen such frenzy. Marcel had clearly conquered America.

He had flown overseas from Paris and had stopped the day before in Chicago, as he wanted to see the illustrious collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. The AIC has an extensive collection of modern masters, and one of the greatest collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings on earth. In particular, Marcel wanted to see their Van Goghs.

Now, here he was, at the height of his career, in his later 80’s, having achieved a pinnacle position in the art world where he could fly across the globe to an adoring international audience of collectors, experience their adulation, and sell out a room full of his art (at 5-figure prices) in about a half an hour in a luxurious American hotel. For an artist who has worked his entire life tirelessly, could there be a greater triumph and validation of his efforts?

When Marcel was asked to speak, Albert Scaglione introduced him and he rose to take the stage. There, accompanied by his friend and translator, Kathryn Stewart-Hoffman, he began to cry.

He said only a few words and they were these (I paraphrase): “I thank you ladies and gentleman for the warm welcome. I do not like to speak in public. I choose art because it is an international language and now, as I stand here before you, all I can think of is my trip yesterday to Chicago, and the Van Goghs there. And now I think of Vincent…and how important his work has been to me and his inspiration for all my life…and when I think that he only sold one painting in his life…” and he began to cry again and was unable to go on. He left the small stage to a standing ovation, and to everyone in the room wiping the tears from their eyes, me included. I will never forget as long as I live that communal moment of intimacy and insight that everyone in that room shared into a man of such eminence.

The next day at the opening to the public, Marcus Glenn came to see him. I was standing next to Marcus when the footage was shot that is included in our Mouly Artist Profiles segment, where Marcus says to him, “It is a pleasure to meet you sir, because you are my favorite artist, and a master, and in my opinion the best artist and most important artist in the world today,” Marcel quietly lowers his head and dismissively says, “Thank you. But that is not for us to say. History will decide how great an artist I am.”

I count myself so lucky to have been there to experience the two events I recount above. They profoundly shaped my view of Marcel. His honesty, self-effacing humor, deep humility and genuine love and gratitude for his life will forever be the traits for which I will most remember him.

Just take a moment to think about his life. He came from humble beginnings. His parents and family had no interest or attachment to art of any kind. In his youth he was a bad student, a mischievous child. He dropped out of school at 13, never finishing his elementary education. He took on various menial low paying jobs, including back-breaking physical labor. When he delivered baskets of wine (sometimes over one hundred flights of stairs), afterward he would go to art school and draw until late at night only  to get up early the next morning and begin again. He was imprisoned by the Gestapo during the German occupation of France, suspected of being a spy, and was in solitary confinement for months. Here is where he made sculptures from his bread rations, which led him to his work in ceramics. Eventually he was able to focus on his painting and he worked for years in the medium before showing his paintings and offering them for sale. He said, “I nurtured my painting long before it nurtured me.”

As the quality of his work grew, so did his experience. As a young student, his early professor Andre Auclair introduced him to the world of the modernists, principally Picasso and Braque. Later he met Pignon, and although they struggled through hard times, he and Pignon eventually rented the studio of the great modernist sculptor, Jacques Lipchitz in Bologne. In 1946, he moved into the famed “La Ruche” area of studios where artists like Chagall and Soutine had lived before him. There, he met Jose Fan, Picasso’s nephew who took him to meet the master. That experience would forever change him. No one of us can image what it would have been like to walk into the studio of Picasso, and drink in the fabric of his life with him standing there to greet us. Marcel tells us he was working on his series of large “cafetieres” a subject which would forever become a part of Marcel’s oeuvre. He saw paintings, ceramics, African sculptures and masks everywhere, and lithographs en masse, as Picasso was then heavily into his period of work with Mourlot.

Marcel Mouly seated next to Pablo Picasso, May 1953.

By the mid 1940s, Mouly was exhibiting with Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Brancusi, Lipchitz and others. In 1945, he exhibited at the prestigious Salon d’Automne where the careers of Matisse, Derain, and Vlaminck were launched in the early 20th Century. His favorite show was the Salon de Mai, where the most progressive artists were featured. In 1953, his work was shown there in the same exhibition with Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Leger, Pignon and others. This is where the famous photo of Mouly, his colleagues and Picasso pose joyously as they take a break from hanging the exhibition. In 1948, the French government bought its first Mouly painting and after so many trials and tribulations, challenges, near misses with fate and countless hours honing his skills, his career was in full swing.

We all know what followed: decades of powerful, compelling, insightful, moving, awe-inspiring and truth-filled art. Great canvasses, lithographs, drawings, ceramics, books and catalogs, all testifying to a life lived in the complete immersion of the quest for aesthetic beauty.

Mao Shi An, an art critic from Shanghai, in a catalog created for Marcel’s shows in China in 1995 and 1996, described his work this way: “…one realizes that he is not trying to paint an imitation of nature, but rather he is seeking to recreate man’s internal connection with the ‘real’ world. Mouly has understood that the only way to search for truth is through a collaboration of the soul and (the) imagination.”

I think of Marcel every day now, at least once a day. Today, as I write this, I have deeply pondered his life, his work, the living, breathing man I knew, and the body of work he has left us: a lifetime of work. I was so lucky to have known him, to have laughed and drank and joked with him. To have watched him fill with genuine delight as a client approached and complemented him. To see him engage and play with small child. To hear him push away the compliments so many heaped upon him. To be a small part of his life was for me a deep honor and among the fondest memories I will ever have as an art dealer.

That night at the party, I told him of how I had just returned from visiting Marseille and how we went to Paul Cezanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence. There, in that little room, Cezanne had created some of the most influential paintings in the history of modern art. There, I touched the table where he laid out his still life props, the table that occupies so many of those paintings I have contemplated in museums and books. I touched the box of paints that lies next to his easel, the box of paints from which so much of modern art has sprung.

As I told Marcel of this and he sensed my excitement, I saw his eyes light up and I glimpsed a spark of that same passion in him as a younger man. He smiled and shook his fist and put it down on the table and said, “Ah Cezanne…he was ‘The Rock.’”

As we all got up to leave that night, we one by one hugged him and told him we’d be coming back for his 90th birthday party in February. But this was not to be.

Instead we all have our memories of that night together and, of course, his art.

Rest in peace, Marcel. You will always be “The Rock” for me.