Archive for Morris Shapiro

Anatole Krasnyansky-Beautiful Paradoxes

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on April 1, 2013 by Park West Gallery

Excerpted from the upcoming new book on Anatole Krasnyansky

kras image for blog

With an entirely mischievous twinkle in his eyes he greets me. I ask how he is, and as usual he responds, “Still alive,” with deadpan seriousness.

I have known this man for more than 15 years and every time I am with him I am again surprised and amused by his paradoxes. He is a walking paradox; a tangle of contradictions and ironies in living color. Spend a few moments contemplating one of the twisting, turning, swirling, multi-colored, multi- textured figures that inhabits his art and what is true about him in reality, becomes symbolically true in pigment.

He walks slowly and carefully and carries a cane, but I have watched him dancing (think Groucho Marx meets Henry Kissinger).  He is intimate with the architecture and the liturgical symbolism of the world’s greatest cathedrals and yet I have seen him irreverently posing for photographs as a “saint” by holding a plate over his head to act as a “halo.” His physical appearance and demeanor both exude sophistication and refinement suited to his classical cultural training, yet the genesis of much of his imagery emerges from something as foreign to classicism as rock and roll and “over the top” American entertainment. He cites the stimulus for creating one of his styles as experiencing the band “Kiss” (while working as a set designer) and how he was traumatized to the point of needing to create a cathartic artistic exorcism to feel normal again.

No surprise then that this duality carries into his extraordinary art. I know of very few artists who have worked simultaneously in multiple disparate styles. Yes, artists almost always pass through transformations in their work which often yield dramatic differences in style, subject and content, but Anotole creates a continuing artistic dichotomy to mirror his paradoxical nature.

His “Cityscapes,” which delight so many viewers reveal his deep experience as a draftsman, his brilliance as an architect and his poetic ability to create a poignant, evocative mood through a facile command of the unforgiving technique of watercolor.

His “figural” imagery, steeped in the groundbreaking theories of visual perception that pass from Cezanne, through Picasso, to the aesthetician, Rudolph Arnheim (Art and Visual Perception, 1974) continually wrestle with the complex visual problems of plastic space, color interaction and orchestration of form. Yet both styles reside harmonically in the creative world of Anatole Krasnyansky. He has also sought ways of “reconciling” the two styles of his art, and fusing them into a unique conception. These works display his figures in architectural interiors, with lavish cityscapes seen from the windows, or figures flying above complex architectural structures beneath them. Most recently, he has begun to populate interiors with modeled figures (akin to a notion of sculpture) in various poses and activities, with elaborate and detailed vistas of architectural designs in the distance.

Regarding the content presented in his works, there is also a fascinating duality. Though his works initially appear to be driven by formal concerns, as they “dance” and entertain the eye in an aesthetic “performance,” he also contemplates carefully and with great detail the messages he intends to present. I have listened to him discuss a painting and describe one-by-one each figure presented. With great precision he illuminates the subtle nuances of expression, position, apparent activity and even the costume worn by the figure and its relationship to his messages. Often they carry political meanings and incipient statements about dictatorship, hypocrisy, guile and manipulation stemming from his experience as a Soviet citizen. It is rare to find an artist so fluid in the formal language of art to be so articulate as well in the meanings of his imagery. Most artists allow the viewer to draw one’s own conclusions. Anatole welcomes these as well, but typical of his paradoxical nature is anxious to reveal his own allusions.

It is also this two-sided artistic coin that makes him so interesting in the early 21st Century world in which we reside; a world which seems to be less and less attuned to beautiful artistic dichotomies. Herein is another irony. In a world where the “elite” art of our time resides in an anti-aesthetic, an obsessive artistic narcissism wherein art continually looks at itself in the “pool” of context and asks itself over and over again, “Am I art, or not?”– Anatole’s art evokes powerful responses from thousands of people all over the world. The enthusiasm for his artwork is often dramatic, certainly passionate, and enduring for his devotees. I know collectors who have dozens of Karasnyanskys. Anatole and I have discussed the history of art many times. We’ve walked museums together and contemplated dynastic Asian sculptures, paintings by Velasquez and “installations” composed of truck mud-flaps and lunch box thermoses.

In all of this, I feel comforted though by the thought of future generations viewing his impressive and expansive body of work; his paintings, drawings and prints, and seeing his historical position in the pantheon of the champions of beauty. He has “walked the walk.” And he has devoted his life and career to enriching us through his unflagging efforts, often in the face of extraordinary challenges and difficulties.

Dr. Eleanor Hight’s excellent article which follows adroitly sketches the arc of Anatole’s life and career. It is important that his story is told and the details of his accomplishments be recorded in this beautiful book, this record of his life and art at this place in time. But I know much more.

I know the story of how he borrowed the original watercolor paintingsfrom the Soviet institution that had nationalized them, made copies which he replaced in the frames when returned, and walked on the backs of the originals to make them look old and unimportant when the customs officers located them with his belongings as he departed Ukraine. I have seen these paintings as they now hang on the walls of his living room. I know how that when he proclaimed his intent to leave the U.S.S.R, he became a “marked” man and of the fear and uncertainty he and his young family faced, especially as Jews. I know while barely able to speak English he pretended to have experience as a scenic designer to get his first job in Los Angeles so that he would not have to go onto the streets as a beggar to support his family. I know of the widow of a famous Russian painter who lent him her husband’s studio in California without charging a cent, to allow him to work because she believed in him. I know of his insecurity when he first showed his works to the Dalzell Hatfield Galleries in Los Angeles with master paintings on the walls surrounding him and the joy he felt when he was invited to exhibit there. I know of his love for his family, his strong, smart and devoted wife, Nellie, who has stood by him all these years and been his “rock.” I know of his love of Louis Armstrong, and Mozart, of Kandinsky and El Greco. Yin and Yang. Two sides of a coin.

I know too of his uncompromising dedication to his art; his refusal to accept anything that does not meet his standards; the way he labors and studies his imagery and considers carefully the content it conveys, his preliminary drawings, his printing proofs. He knows that his work needs to be uncompromising because every painting and print released to the world by Anatole Krasnyansky is a piece of his soul, a testament of his dedication to his chosen profession, his struggles, his triumphs and his mark on the history of art. It is part of the narrative of a man born and trained in a communist world whose journey has brought him to a world of nearly limitless freedom. This is a story that resembles many artists who have walked a similar path in their quests to find freedom for their art. But, I can’t think of another who has walked as uniquely as Anatole Kranyansky. Or one who has walked it with so many beautiful paradoxes at play.

A Detroit Jewish News Exclusive

Posted in News Articles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2010 by Park West Gallery

PLATINUM: Decor – Art & Soul
Peek inside the personal collection of Park West Gallery’s director

Morris Shapiro, Detroit Jewish NewsMorris Shapiro sits in front of Le Marriage by Marc Chagall, a wedding gift Shapiro and his wife, MaryAnn, gave to each other. “The couple stands under the chuppah and surrounding them is a visual feast of celebration — dancers, musicians, friends, family and children,” says Shapiro. “His drawing talent was one of Chagall’s greatest gifts, and this work, absent of color, focuses the viewer on his extraordinary draftsmanship.” Photo credit: GENE MEADOWS

Written by KHRISTI ZIMMETH • The Detroit Jewish News

A large work by Marc Chagall hangs in the front hall of Morris and MaryAnn Shapiro’s Novi home.

“It’s definitely one of my favorites,” the 56-year-old Park West Gallery director says of Le Mariage, a 1976 aquatint framed in black that depicts a traditional Jewish wedding. “We bought it for each other as a wedding gift.”

A tour of the Shapiros’ contemporary home reveals more than 100 other works, all with personal meaning. Hanging over the living-room sofa is a large contemporary piece by Miro; and nearby, the small gold-framed Portrait of Jan Lutman the Goldsmith is by Rembrandt. In the family room, a large piece by Detroit artist Marcus Glenn hangs over the fireplace. Other walls hold a Matisse-like drawing, works by 1998 World Cup artist Linda LeKinff and mysterious and otherworldly images by New York artist Robert Kipniss. Many share Shapiro’s Jewish heritage.

“I don’t have a traditional art collection, per se,” he explains. “I’m immersed in art. My collection is eclectic and based on personal experiences and relationships with artists. Each means something special to me.”

Working with Southfield’s 63,000-square-foot Park West Gallery has enabled Shapiro to meet many of the artists whose work now hangs in the home he shares with MaryAnn and 14-year-old daughter Amanda. Three other children – Mia, Myles and Mason – are grown. A family portrait by artist Peter Max hangs over the living room’s grand piano, and a tour of his collection is sprinkled with stories and reminiscences of artists he has been fortunate enough to meet and work with.

Contemporary artist Igor Medvedev, whose quietly elegant Late Fishing hangs above a cherry-wood Ello sideboard in the dining room of Morris and MaryAnn Shapiro’s Novi home, says that his work is about capturing “visual miracles.”

Working directly with artists is one of the best parts of the job, he says, and a dream since he was a child. Shapiro grew up in Chicago in the 1950s and ’60s. His mother, he says, decorated the house with gaudy French Provincial furniture and accessories. “It was really hideous,” he remembers. “There was no art on the walls, so I made my own. I drew and painted in part to rebel against my parents.”

Thumbing through a book on the Holy Land one day in his parents’ library, he came across a woodcut of Adam and Eve by Albrecht Durer. “I was mesmerized by the contours and lines and Durer’s use of space,” he says. “From that moment on, I was smitten.

“He eventually followed Durer into drawing, going on to study at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. While there, he shifted his emphasis from studio art to art history and art criticism, later working at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts before returning to the Windy City to pursue another passion – music.

After playing the drums professionally for a time, Shapiro took a position as gallery director for Chicago’s Merrill Chase Galleries, where he worked from 1977-1983. In 1983, he came to Detroit to head Park West’s retail gallery, where he’s been ever since.

After 25 years, he’s still passionate about the company’s philosophy of bringing art to the public.

“In many ways, art has been taken away from the people and made less accessible,” he says. “It’s gratifying to be able to swing the pendulum back and to allow people to experience art firsthand.”

While Shapiro is serious about his art, not all of his art is serious. Another favorite piece in his collection is a drawing by animator Chuck Jones, dedicated to daughter Amanda. “It was really neat to meet him,” Shapiro says.

While eclectic, Shapiro says his collection reflects his interests and his life. He’s passionate about reading, writing and music and loves to travel. He participates in jazz jam sessions whenever possible and is currently collaborating with Amanda, a burgeoning singer-songwriter, on her first demo recording. He enjoys spending time with his first grandchild, Matthew.

A member of Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield, Shapiro also is passionate about his family and his faith. He believes it “is about being appreciative of the blessings I have in life, the sanctity of family, the observance of and passing on of tradition,” he says. “My religion also provides for me a perspective of how short life is, how miniscule and insignificant we are, how God’s creations are miraculous and infinite and how fortunate [we are] for every day we are given. Each day is a gift of inestimable value.”

He believes others interested in collecting art should follow the same philosophy, allowing art to enhance their life, not just their wallets.

“Knowing what you like is the entrance into the art world,” he says. “People should buy art because they love it. It should be collected for its emotional and spiritual benefits, not its financial benefits. It’s really the only way to go.”
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Download the article [pdf]

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.

Welcome To “Who Killed Art?” a Blog by Morris Shapiro

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2010 by Park West Gallery

The age of the “Gatekeeper” is over.

We now live in a time when anyone, anywhere can produce anything and hurl it into the universe of the internet… an anarchist’s dream.

Funny though, how in this new paradigm, everything at first seems to have the same “weight,” no matter how vapid, rabid or misinformed it may be. Ravings and inventions of dilettante lunacy can be positioned right next to the writings of a distinguished historian, and be delivered up in the same gastronomic scoop of Google’s detached information hash.

But also, because of this unprecedented level field, those who used to control the information and determine the “darlings” of the culture are now engaged in a losing struggle to hold on to their power. Now anything can “bubble-up” to the top of the stew and fill our craving (If enough of us deem it delicious). Consider the teenager who becomes an overnight singing “Star” from a YouTube video, or the socialite, absent of any talents, whose every move and whim becomes the obsession of bored Americans everywhere.

Morris Shapiro, Marcel Duchamp, Pompidou Museum, ParisMe with Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” at the Pompidou Museum in Paris.

And what about art? 

The result of all of this, in my view, now heralds the end of the “Age of Conceptualism.” For nearly one hundred years now the “religion” of the conceptual deity, Marcel Duchamp has reigned throughout the lands. The anti-aesthetic “Crusaders” swooped down upon the world’s artistic topography and vanquished all that was once transcendent, illuminating, ecstatic or healing.  Their disdain for beauty, order, sacrifice and the discipline necessary to achieve technical mastery, was manifest in their adulation for “The Emperor’s New Art.”  And the result was the creation of an elitist world: the gallery and the contemporary museum in conjunction with the international auction houses, winking at each other as the river of conceptual flotsam and jetsam flowed by and filled their pails.

The rest of the world (not “enlightened” enough to be invited into the club) at first was outraged back in 1917.  “How can this be art?” they shouted, “Just because someone says it is?” Decades later they became bewildered by the prices being fetched for things that were incomprehensible both artistically and functionally. This was followed by the inevitable apathy and eventual disdain which brings us to where we are today.  Dead art…  a slow and long, agonizing demise of any relationship between the culture and the rarefied expressions of the culture. We are all widows and widowers of what was once our culture’s spearhead.

My writings herein are about a resurrection.

If there is to be only one truism in the rich history of art, it must be that it is a “pendulum,”  swinging back-and-forth between one extreme and another. I’m excited now because there is a world full of gifted and dedicated artists who are pulling hard on it. There are others who are gone too, but their works have kept the flame alive (with very little oxygen, I might add).  Both living and deceased, these artists write the continuing narrative of the quest for the sublime and seek answers to the same age-old questions that were pressed onto the walls of the caves of Altamira, asked in Picasso’s “Guernica,” and seen in the liquid eyes of Albrecht Durer’s self-portrait.

I invite you to let me know what you think about my articles and the thoughts that follow.