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Lawsuits against Louis Vuitton, MOCA about papers, not art

Posted By Administration, Thursday, July 3, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

By bringing class-action lawsuits against Louis Vuitton North America and L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art, a Los Angeles art collector and his attorneys say they are sounding an alarm on behalf of people who shop for art prints that can cost thousands of dollars: Let the buyer be savvy, and let the seller beware.


The suits in Los Angeles Superior Court rely on an obscure chapter of the California Civil Code called the Fine Prints Act. Together Louis Vuitton and MOCA potentially are liable for millions of dollars: The law, at Code sections 1740-1745, allows triple damages for each instance in which a dealer "willfully" fails to provide documents that vouch for an art print's authenticity.

Neither suit contends that the prints sold by Louis Vuitton and MOCA were inauthentic -- only that they lacked proper written documentation and therefore had their value diminished.

In the Vuitton case, plaintiff Clint Arthur says two limited-edition prints he bought for $6,000 each were signed by Japanese Pop artist Takashi Murakami but not also numbered by the artist as promised in an accompanying certificate. MOCA, he says, provided no documentation at all for two $855 Murakami prints.

Charles Sherman, an artist-appraiser who visited MOCA's museum store on June 22, said in an affidavit filed with the suit that he was told art prints did not come with certificates, and that "I would just have to trust them as far as the authenticity goes."

Arthur, who sued Louis Vuitton on June 23 and MOCA on Monday, said he discovered the law on the Internet after having misgivings about the prints he had purchased last winter during the "©Murakami" exhibition at MOCA's Geffen Contemporary building.

A museum spokeswoman said Wednesday that officials would reserve comment while reviewing the suit. Meanwhile, Louis Vuitton said in a statement that Arthur's suit is "baseless litigation," and that he refused the company's offer of a refund plus interest.

Daniel Engel, one of Arthur's attorneys, said the suits were not about just one art buyer's losses, but rather a consumer class action on behalf of all purchasers in a similar position. "What does [a refund for Arthur] do for all the other people who bought them? It leaves them hanging."

The law on fine art prints apparently has been enforced rarely, if ever, since it went on the books in 1970, but on paper it carries considerable clout: It specifically authorizes the state attorney general, district attorneys and city attorneys to bring civil charges carrying fines of up to $1,000 for each violation.

Louis Vuitton, a luxury-goods purveyor whose parent company reported a $5.4 billion profit last year, stuck its toe into the art business by partnering with Murakami to produce limited edition prints of designs he had made for Vuitton handbags. The prints were sold at a special boutique set up within the "©Murakami" exhibition to highlight how art and commerce intersect in Murakami's work.

Plaintiff's attorneys Engel and Matthew Butterick contend that Louis Vuitton sold as many as 500 prints during the 3 1/2 -month Murakami show, for a total of $4 million. MOCA, they argue, should be held liable for any prints it has sold without documentation during the last four years.

Engel said he wasn't concerned that the public might think the suit was bullying MOCA, whose alleged errors were ones of omission.

"I don't think it's picking on them. The focus shouldn't be on us; it should be on whether MOCA is required to obey the law. I think MOCA will find it's not that hard to comply and set an example."

Dealers such as Sidney Felsen, whose Gemini G.E.L. workshop in L.A. has published and sold limited edition prints since 1965, and Martin Brown, veteran sales director of the four-store Village Gallery chain in Orange County, say that providing the information the law requires is good for business because it helps build buyers' confidence.

"The customers should know what they're buying," Felsen said.

"A dealer would have to be a darned fool not to provide something in writing," as the law requires, said Joseph Nuzzolo, a Redondo Beach art dealer specializing in Salvador Dalí prints. However, Nuzzolo said, the law on art prints goes only so far in protecting buyers. "Every fake I've ever seen has had a certificate of authenticity" that also was phony, he said. Steven Thomas, a Los Angeles art law attorney, said only "one or two" lawsuits have been litigated under the law, during the 1980s -- although more may have been filed and quickly settled. "Most of the time it never comes up because people aren't aware of their rights. It has teeth, but the teeth aren't used."

Based on The Times' initial report on the Louis Vuitton suit, "something like this could be charged," said Frank Mateljan, spokesman for the Los Angeles city attorney's office. But he said police have "limited resources," and that the Los Angeles Police Department's art-crimes unit has concentrated on outright fraud.

"In this case it's a little more gray, because they are selling legitimate products but the certificates aren't as picture perfect as they should be," he said.

By Mike Boehm
For The Los Angeles Times

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MoMA Acquires 23 Chinese Photographs

Posted By Administration, Thursday, July 3, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

The Museum of Modern Art has acquired 23 photographs by eight Chinese artists, including Rong Rong, Huang Yan, and Ai Weiwei, reports Bloomberg.


The acquisition has "ruffled some art-world feathers because the seller was not the usual dealer but Larry Warsh," the former owner of Museums magazine (now owned by ARTINFO parent company Louise Blouin Media), according to Bloomberg. Warsh began collecting Chinese art with the help of Beijing-based art historian and curator Karen Smith in 2002, often buying in bulk, snatching up studio contents for bargain-basement prices. He now owns "500-plus" photographs, he says, plus a valuable collection of paintings and sculptures.

Warsh invited MoMA's curators to sift through images stored at his New York warehouse, and says he sold them the works at 30 to 40 percent below market value and donated images by Weng Fen, Zhang Dali, and Zheng Guogu. MoMA declined to comment on the price.

By ARTINFO

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Loan fees risk killing the goose that lays the golden eggs

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Once upon a time, museums lent to exhibitions almost exclusively according to whether they thought the show was intellectually worthwhile and the work of art was fit to travel. This meant that the less powerful institutions and their curators had a reasonable chance of doing original exhibitions and presenting them to the public, with everyone the winner. In the past ten years, however, this way of doing things has surreptitiously changed for the worse. Now, at last, an official body has blown the whistle.


The Italian branch of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has just produced a paper denouncing the practice of charging money to lend a work. This is not about wide-ranging projects such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi, where the Gulf state is paying e1bn over 30 years into an endowment fund for French museums not just to lend works of art but effectively create a whole museum culture. It is about the renting out of works to pot-boiler exhibitions to bump up the lending institution's finances, and worse—refusing to lend a work, even to a good show or deserving museum, unless a fee is paid.

Italy is partly to blame for this rot. Its public museums, underfinanced, old fashioned and tied up in absurd bureaucracy, have great difficulty in putting on exhibitions (for example, often most of their telephone lines only allow incoming calls to stop employees diddling the state). Into this vacuum step commercial firms such as Linea d'Ombra, with bright organisational and marketing skills, and they persuade the rich cities of northern Italy that they can do wonders for their image and local economy by putting on exhibitions for them. They produce results that have shot Italy up The Art Newspaper's annual exhibition attendance league tables in the last few years: 360,000 to "Turner and the Impressionists" in Brescia, for example. How do these firms get the works of art, having no institutional clout? By paying for them—or rather, by persuading others to do so: local government, and the bank foundations, which are Italy's only major source of non-public money for the cultural world. Thus, the Louvre was to get €4m for a show in Verona this autumn (see p9), remarkable only for the celebrity status of its paintings, including even a major Leonardo.

The ICOM paper points out that this has led to the existing museums losing out, not just on potential investment, but also the opportunity to develop their exhibition skills in a way that could begin to transform the cultural infrastructure of Italy, while the public has seen brainless shows such as "Monet and the Snow" (Turin, 2006). Such exhibitions also reduce support for the local museums; since Linea d'Ombra started in Brescia, attendance at the fine Museo di Santa Giulia's permanent collections has gone down from 93,759 visitors in 2003 to 38,187 in 2007.

The paper reminds everybody that the 1986 ethical code of ICOM states that museum collections are for the benefit of the public and should never be considered financial assets. The great lending museums and their boards should remember this, not least because they risk killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. After all, why should they be deserving of tax-free status, of donations from business and the rich, of being considered superior to ordinary commercial life if they themselves become so commercial as to rent our their collections? Have your fundraising parties, your glitzy tours for billionaires, your exquisite restaurants and your boutiques, but don't forget what you are really there for, which is to spread knowledge and understanding through your art, an objective too noble to be sold off to the highest bidder. Loan fees are bad, as ICOM Italia has spelled out.

By Anna Somers Cocks
For The Art Newspaper

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Master Class

Posted By Administration, Monday, June 30, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

You might want to argue with the Metropolitan Museum's choice of the thirteen "masters" who represent the high points of photography's first hundred years (1840 to 1940) in "Framing a Century," if only because the premise of this trim, instructive survey has all the excitement of an intro-level art-history course. But step into the galleries and look around: every picture is astonishing,and the curator Malcolm Daniel's choices are sure and sophisticated.


Combining famous and little-known images, each carefully annotated grouping doesn't attempt to sum up a career; rather, it suggests the broader scope of the artist's range. The exhibition sets choice pieces from the Gilman Collection, acquired by the Met in 2005, alongside other works to emphasize the rarity, quality, and sheer beauty of the museum's holdings. What sounds like an exclusionary exercise ends up as a pleasure trip—from Roger Fenton's image of sunlight suffusing the mist above a rushing stream in 1854 to Brassaï's shot of street lights glowing through the Paris fog in 1932.

By VInce Aletti
For The New Yorker

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Arts Patrons, the Next Generation

Posted By Administration, Sunday, June 29, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

THE dinner last month at the French Consulate on Fifth Avenue honoring Lin Arison, the Miami arts patron, and her book "Travels With van Gogh and the Impressionists: Discovering the Connections," seemed like just another night on New York's high-end art circuit. Luminaries like Agnes Gund, the former president of the Museum of Modern Art, and the patrons Steven and Kimberly Rockefeller studded the guest list. The meal — of dishes van Gogh ate at the Auberge Ravoux outside Paris, prepared by Daniel Boulud, Yosuke Suga and Jacques Torres — was displayed on blue glass plates set beneath sky-high shoots of yellow sunflowers in homage to the artist.


Circulating with the self-assurance of someone who had worked a room for decades was 23-year-old Sarah Arison, granddaughter of the guest of honor and president of the Arison Arts Foundation in Miami. Meanwhile, holding court next to Patsy Tarr, the indefatigable supporter of dance in New York, was her 28-year-old daughter, Jennie Tarr Coyne, a museum educator and the vice president of 2wice Arts Foundation, a group founded by her mother in 1989.

Young faces at such events are of course not unusual. Arts institutions have been cultivating people in their 20s and 30s for years as a way of shoring up future donors. But Ms. Arison and Ms. Coyne are not merely passing through, writing a check and dressing up for a night in order to rub the right shoulders. They are among a small and privileged group who hope, and are being groomed, to do much more: to take over the family business, so to speak — that business being arts patronage.

Their position is a rare one. Not many people have a foundation in the family. But the journey ahead of them poses some interesting questions. It is one thing to pass on a casual appreciation of the arts, but can one also pass on a lifetime commitment? How does one learn the ropes? And how do foundations integrate the sometimes different priorities of younger and older members?

"Arts institutions are now seeing more young people who want to be involved in and respect family histories," said Virginia M. Esposito, president of the National Center for Family Philanthropy. She added that such donors "also want to ensure that those institutions reflect their changing values and experiences."

In 2005, when she was in her third year of college, Sarah Arison was named to head the Arison Arts Foundation, a nonprofit organization created that same year by her grandmother to encourage arts across America, particularly in high schools and conservatories, and to ensure the longevity and expansion of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts (whose core program is called YoungArts) and the New World Symphony, both of which her grandparents founded.

A self-proclaimed academic traditionalist who had, in her adolescence, considered artists, including her mother, to be "slackers," Sarah wasn't the obvious choice to ensure the continuation of the Arison vision. But as her grandmother, Lin Arison, explained, "She's the one, the only one out of all 12 of them that came to me and said, 'You and Grandpa started these organizations, and I want to help you.' "

Sarah was just 15 when her grandmother, grieving after the death of her husband, Ted, the founder of Carnival Cruise Lines, took her to France to retrace the steps of van Gogh and the Impressionists (a trip later recounted in Lin Arison's book.)

At the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise, Sarah remembers, she wept after visiting the closet-size room where van Gogh spent his final 70 days.

"I realized that for him being an artist wasn't a choice," said Sarah, who lives in Miami. "And just as much as I would have been unhappy being an artist, he would have been unhappy not being one. It was the biggest realization at that age — that both points are completely valid and should be supported."

Once it dawned on her that she might want to follow in her grandmother's footsteps, Sarah gave up her plans to pursue science and instead majored in French and business at Emory University, disciplines she thought would be more helpful for a life devoted to the arts.

But her greatest education, she said, came simply from watching her grandmother. "Sarah has been with me a lot these past few years and by osmosis has taken in how I think and what I do," Lin Arison said. "She is already taking those basics and dealing with the organizations in her own way."

Eight years after she first started trailing her grandmother around, Sarah is now starting to take over a few responsibilities wholesale: helping to develop programs for YoungArts and attending board meetings for both YoungArts and the New World Symphony, something Lin Arison rarely does these days.

"It's a lot of responsibility," said Sarah, who is pursuing a parallel career in fashion journalism in New York with the blessing of her grandmother, who believes Sarah should have the same experiences as any typical young adult.

While a previous generation of women turned to philanthropy because their career options were often limited, today's young women (and men) have far wider horizons. Writing checks and attending benefits are a pretty easy sell for those who can afford it, but beyond that, full-time arts patronage means life in the nonprofit trenches. It is not necessarily something everyone wants to do.

"Real funding is not about parties," said Patsy Tarr, a tireless dance advocate through 2wice Arts Foundation, which supports art, film, dance and performance through grants and charitable gifts, and publishes a magazine by the same name. "Real funding is about attendance, about sitting in the back of the theater during rehearsals and performances, about witnessing creation."

Mrs. Tarr's daughter, Jennie Tarr Coyne, knows her way around benefits; most recently she served as a co-chairwoman of the Dance With the Dancers gala at New York City Ballet (her first time at the helm). But she is also learning, as she puts it, that in order to be a true patron, "You have to be the real deal."

This means drudge work like paying bills, fielding phone calls, answering mail and going to rehearsals to become more fully informed about an artist or choreographer. "I believe passionately that philanthropists are handmaidens to the art they support," said Mrs. Tarr. "We do not see ourselves in the world of philanthropy at all. We see ourselves in dance and museum education."

After a childhood overflowing with concerts and museums — sometimes two or three a weekend — and the occasional dance session with Twyla Tharp, Ms. Tarr Coyne, who now describes herself as a nonprofit professional, majored in art history at Harvard and then went on to earn a master's in museum studies from Bank Street College in New York. In addition to working full time she volunteers at the Met, has served on the boards of various dance companies and has written a children's book on women artists.

"Jennie will most likely, if she wants it, eventually have the ability to give out grant money, but that is far off in the future," Mrs. Tarr added. "We are not yet at that level, and I am easing her into the nonprofit world ever so gently as I try to prepare her for life without her parents, which hopefully is decades away."

Among the families that have successfully passed the torch down through successive generations are the Rockefellers in New York, the Fields in Chicago and the Haases in San Francisco. But incorporating young people into an established board can require finesse, especially if there are a large number of them. Young perspectives are critical to the future of any organization, but first-time board members also have to be sensitive to the board's overall focus.

The Maurer Family Foundation of Palm Beach, Fla., founded in 1996 by Ann and Gilbert Maurer to support the arts in the United States, has a board on which three generations sit, including the three oldest grandchildren. Now the two children of Jonathan G. Maurer, a son of Ann and Gilbert and a director and treasurer on the board, are not too far off from turning 18, when they will be eligible for the board. Mr. Maurer said that he and the rest of the board were having second thoughts about offering positions to their mature children, including his daughter, Stephanie, 16, and son, Alexander, 15.

"My daughter is the oldest of kind of a big group that over the next eight years will reach that age," Mr. Maurer said. "We're trying to figure out whether we can, as an organization, support that many members from an expense standpoint. But the flip side is, can we afford not to since they are in effect going to be the stewards of this foundation 20 or 30 years down the road?"

The Maurer family had considered forming a children's board, an idea they gleaned from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and of giving them small amounts of money to do with as they desired.

"But there's a kind of schism on the board," Mr. Maurer said. "The kids have broader interests. And they haven't totally developed a giving or service type of mentally. There are those who would rather have them learn on their own than to have the board teach them."

The Tecovas Foundation went in the opposite direction when two older members died, leaving a board with four of the seven members under 30.

"That not only left a strange vacancy on the board but reinfused the foundation with a lot of money it didn't anticipate having," said Mary Galeti, the 25-year-old vice chairwoman of the foundation, which grew from $700,000 to $11 million in the course of a few years because of gifts left after the death of her mother and aunt.

Suddenly the youthful trustees found themselves reconsidering the direction of the foundation, which was established in 1998 by Caroline Bush Emeny, who was 88 at the time, for the creation of the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts in Amarillo, Tex.

"We saw the priority of arts funding," Ms. Galeti said, "but we also saw that there are a lot of other priorities out there."

Four years later the trustees have reached a forward-looking compromise: the foundation has broadened its outreach with grants to international-development organizations like the Hunger Project and the Women's Trade and Finance Council. And though it continues to support the Cleveland Orchestra and the Cleveland Play House, the foundation imposes some 21st-century criteria on its gifts — for example, that an education program at the Globe-News center include remote-site possibilities so that students in rural areas could participate through the Internet.

"I think a lot of folks are struggling with legacy," said Ms. Galeti, who also helps small nonprofit organizations set up Web sites through grassroots.org. "They struggle with how we honor those people while doing their own work.

"The thing about my generation is that we are more directly interested in leaving our mark, building something that will create a lasting impact, whatever that may be."

By Kathryn Shattuck
For The New York Times

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The artist is also an art collector

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 27, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Pickling sharks and sheep is his business, and business is good. Good enough to have enriched British artist Damien Hirst sufficiently to plunge in as a buyer rather than a seller of art, becoming the first visual artist ever to appear on ARTnews magazine's annual list of the world's 200 most active art collectors.


The 2008 list -- the 18th compiled by the New York publication -- was based on interviews with collectors, dealers, auctioneers, museum directors, curators and art consultants.

L.A. collectors on the list are Eli and Edythe Broad, Maria and William Bell Jr., Michael Crichton, David Geffen, Cindy and Alan Horn, Peter Norton, Judy and Michael Ovitz, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, and Dean Valentine.

With nine collectors, L.A. tied the San Francisco Bay Area as the world's fourth-ranked metropolis for art world high-rollers. New York had 34, London had 14 and Paris had 10. Of the 200, 107 make their primary homes in the United States. Collectively, buyers have been shelling out enough for ARTnews to dub this "the age of the 'I don't care' bidder. They don't care what a work of art costs as long as they get what they want."

By Mike Boehm
For The Los Angeles Times

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Dia Art Foundation Names a Curator as Its Next Director

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

After two years of flux, the Dia Art Foundation said on Monday that it had hired a prominent contemporary-art curator, Philippe Vergne, deputy director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, as its director.


Dia's chairwoman, Nathalie de Gunzburg, said that Mr. Vergne would begin work on Sept. 15. He succeeds Jeffrey Weiss, who resigned at the end of February after just nine months in the post, saying that he felt that it did not allow him to focus enough on curatorial and scholarly work.

Among Mr. Vergne's biggest challenges will be to find a permanent exhibition space in New York City for Dia, a nonprofit institution devoted to contemporary art.

After closing its Chelsea spaces in January 2004, it had planned to open a museum at the entrance to the High Line, an abandoned railway line on the West Side of Manhattan that will become an elevated park. But Dia's board scrapped that project in the fall of 2006 after losing its longtime director, Michael Govan, who became director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and its board chairman and biggest benefactor, Leonard Riggio. (The Whitney Museum of American Art is now planning to build a satellite museum at that downtown site.)

In seeking a New York home, Dia no longer has someone like Mr. Riggio willing to write big checks, as he did when giving some $30 million for acquisitions and the creation of Dia:Beacon, a sprawling exhibition space in a former box factory in Beacon, N.Y.

But in a telephone interview Mr. Vergne, 42, said he believed Dia could rally and hold a more important place than ever in the art world. "I've always been a big fan of Dia," he said. "It's a place with an incredible history and is different than the traditional museum model. The chance to take it to a new chapter is exciting."

His first priority, he said, will be to learn as much about Dia and its culture as possible and to start scouting for a New York site. "We have to figure out what would be the ideal kind of space for Dia," he said.

Mr. Vergne is well known in the contemporary-art world. He joined the Walker as a curator in 1997 and has organized dozens of high-profile exhibitions, including the first retrospective for the Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping, a traveling exhibition that made its debut at the Walker in October 2005, and the 2006 Whitney Biennial in New York (with Chrissie Iles of the Whitney).

In the fall of 2004 Mr. Vergne was appointed director of the new François Pinault Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris, but resigned the next year when the foundation decided to locate in Venice instead. He returned to the Walker as its deputy director and chief curator in 2005.

In 2007 he organized "Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love," the first full survey of Ms. Walker's work. He has also been responsible for the Walker's acquisitions of works by popular living artists, including Doug Aitken, David Hammons, Thomas Hirshhorn, Pierre Huyghe and Luc Tuymans.

His departure from the Walker is unlikely to surprise the art world. When Kathy Halbreich, its director for 16 years, resigned last year, Mr. Vergne was said to have been a candidate to replace her. But the museum chose Olga Viso of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, who was named the Walker's director in September. (Ms. Halbreich is now an associate director at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.)

Mr. Vergne was also viewed as a candidate for the job of chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Modern, where John Elderfield is to retire from that post this summer.

"I have spent 11 years at the Walker; that's one-fourth of my life," Mr. Vergne said. "It's time to turn a page, and this was an offer that was difficult to refuse."

He also said he found Dia's history unusually compelling. Founded in 1974 by the German art dealer Heiner Friedrich; Mr. Friedrich's wife, the arts patron Philippa de Menil; and Helen Winkler, a Houston art historian, it is known for breaking the conventional museum mold.

The founders started out simply buying works they loved by artists like Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Walter De Maria, Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, John Chamberlain and Fred Sandback. Over the years Dia has focused more closely on specific artists who rose to prominence in the 1960s and '70s, adding major sculptures by Judd, Richard Serra and Michael Heizer. It also commissioned a series of paintings by Agnes Martin.

Mr. Vergne said he hoped to fortify programming at Dia:Beacon, which opened in 2003, so that it will become a vibrant site for special exhibitions as well as a showcase for the collection.

Dia has also played a pathbreaking role in supporting ambitious public-art projects that might not interest more conventional institutions. It oversees site-specific installations like Mr. De Maria's "New York Earth Room" and "Broken Kilometer" in Manhattan; his "Lightning Field" near Quemado, N.M.; and with support from the Lannan Foundation, Mr. Heizer's "City" project near Caliente, Nev., and Robert Smithson's "Spiral Jetty" earth sculpture along the Great Salt Lake in northern Utah.

Dia also oversees the Dan Flavin Art Institute in Bridgehampton, N.Y., and works closely with Judd's Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Tex.; the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; and the Cy Twombly Gallery in Houston.

In May 2007 Dia entered into a collaboration with the Hispanic Society of America, presenting projects by contemporary artists in the society's home on Broadway and 155th Street in Washington Heights.

Mr. Vergne said he was keen to cement relationships with artists. "The art world is changing, and there is so much we can do to work with artists today," he said, adding, "The sky's the limit."


By Carol Vogel
For The New York Times

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Crime Was Weegee's Oyster

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

ON the north side of Broome Street, between the Bowery and Elizabeth Street, you can stand where a dead guy once lay. Of course in New York City you can stand on lots of spots where dead people once lay. There are, after all, "eight million stories in the naked city," as the narrator of "The Naked City," the 1948 film noir classic, intoned. But as Andrew Izzo sprawled on this sidewalk on the Lower East Side in 1942, Arthur Fellig, one of the city's most famous photographers, took his picture.


Late on the night of Feb. 2, 1942, Izzo and accomplices tried to hold up the Spring Arrow Social & Athletic Club, near the Bowery. Shot by an off-duty cop, Izzo staggered toward Elizabeth Street and fell dead on his face, his gun skittering across the sidewalk.

The first photographer on the scene was Fellig, better known as Weegee. He was almost always the first photographer on the scene.

Born Usher Fellig in 1899, in an eastern province of Austria, he came with his family through Ellis Island (where his name was Americanized to Arthur) to the Lower East Side in 1910. He left home as a teenager and began working as an assistant to a street photographer who shot tintypes of children on a pony. Through the 1920s he worked as a darkroom assistant at The New York Times and Acme Newspictures, which was later absorbed by U.P.I. Photos.

Weegee's peak period as a freelance crime and street photographer was a whirl of perpetual motion running from the mid-1930s into the postwar years. Ceaselessly prowling the streets during the graveyard shift, he took thousands of photographs that defined Manhattan as a film noir nightscape of hoodlums and gangsters, Bowery bums and slumming swells, tenement dwellers and victims of domestic brawls, fires and car crashes. He gave it its enduring nickname, the Naked City.

"Weegee captured night in New York back when it was lonely and desolate and scary," said Tim McLoughlin, editor of the "Brooklyn Noir" anthology series, the third volume of which has just been published by Akashic Books. "He once said he wanted to show that in New York millions of people lived together in a state of total loneliness."

Manhattan has changed a lot since Weegee's heyday. Now the Naked City is probably best preserved in the archives of the International Center of Photography, which houses some 20,000 of Weegee's photographs, along with hundreds of his filmstrips, the newspapers and magazines where his work originally appeared, and two of his hats.

Christopher George, an archivist at the center, has created online maps of many Manhattan sites associated with Weegee. He led me to Centre Market Place, between Broome and Grand Streets. It's now a quiet row of renovated town houses in the shadow of the former Police Headquarters building, itself converted to luxury apartments.

But when Weegee lived in a single room at 5 Centre Market Place from the mid-1930s to 1947, the street was a drab block of tenements inhabited by reporters and photographers who worked the crime beat. No. 4, known as "the shack," was their main hangout. Frank Lava's gunsmith shop, with its wooden revolver sign, was at No. 6. Weegee lived over the John Jovino Gun Shop at 5. (It has since moved, with its own revolver sign, around the corner to Grand Street.) You can still see over the door at No. 7 the gold-lettered sign for Sile Inc., purveyor of "Humane Police Equipment."

Every morning the narrow block was crowded with paddy wagons (Weegee called them "pie wagons"), bringing in the night's arrests from various precincts for booking and processing. The newshounds crowded the sidewalk for the morning "perp walk," when cops paraded their handcuffed catch.

"The perp walk is a combination of courtesy and hubris on the part of the police department," said Mr. McLoughlin, a former court officer who bought his first service revolver at Jovino's shop in 1983. "The press wants the photos, and the police want the credit. So the perp walk could be rather elaborately planned."

Weegee sometimes bribed the police to bring a perp in a different entrance, "so he'd be the only guy standing there with his camera, while everybody else was waiting around the corner," Mr. McLoughlin said. One of his most striking perp-walk shots was of Norma Parker, a pretty young woman who in 1936 held up a number of restaurants on lower Broadway using a cap pistol, for which The Daily Mirror nicknamed her the Broadway Gun Girl.

"Crime was my oyster," Weegee wrote in his 1961 memoir, "Weegee by Weegee." "I was friend and confidant to them all. The bookies, madams, gamblers, call girls, pimps, con men, burglars and jewel fencers." For his behind-bars portraits of famous gangsters like Dutch Schultz, Legs Diamond, Waxey Gordon and Mad Dog Coll, colleagues called him "the official photographer for Murder, Inc."

An enthusiastic promoter of his own legend (he billed himself as "Weegee the Famous" and "the World's Greatest Photographer"), Weegee claimed that his elbow itched when news was about to happen. "Somehow, the word spread that I was psychic because I always managed to have my pictures in the hands of the paper before any news of the event was generally known," he wrote in "Weegee by Weegee." Co-workers gave him his nickname after the rage of the time, the Ouija board, and he phoneticized it as Weegee.

His prescience was aided by the police and fire department short-wave radios he installed near his bed (though he had no telephone, claiming he was "allergic" to it) and in his '38 Chevy. In the car's trunk he carried photo equipment, a typewriter for photo captions, clothes, salamis and cigars.

From Centre Market Place, Weegee often strolled over to the Bowery for both work and relaxation. Walking the Bowery today, you encounter striking juxtapositions, like homeless men from the Bowery Residents' Committee shelter cadging smokes outside the former CBGB next door, now a John Varvatos store selling $500 sweaters. In Weegee's day similar culture clashes happened at Sammy's Bowery Follies (267 Bowery, between East Houston and Stanton Streets), which from 1934 to 1970 attracted what The New York Times once described as a mixed crowd of "drunks and swells, drifters and celebrities, the rich and the forgotten."

Weegee (who disparaged The Times as a paper for the "well-off Manhattan establishment") called Sammy's "the poor man's Stork Club" and wrote in the newspaper PM in 1944: "There's no cigaret girl — a vending machine puts out cigarets for a penny apiece. There's no hatcheck girl — patrons prefer to dance with their hats and coats on. But there is a lulu of a floor show."

Among the regulars, he wrote in his 1945 book, "Naked City," was a woman they called Pruneface and a midget who walked the streets dressed as a penguin to promote cigarettes. When the midget got drunk, Weegee wrote, he "offered to fight any man his size in the house."

Weegee held two book parties there. At the photography center Mr. George showed me silent-film footage taken in 1946 at the party for Weegee's second book, "Weegee's People." Pretty uptown blondes and dowagers in pearls mingle with toothless crones and panhandlers, as models parade in their foundation garments, and a man with a flea circus puts his tiny performers through their paces.

Next door in front of No. 269 (now the Bowery & Vine liquor store), Weegee performed one of his "psychic" feats. Late on Christmas Eve 1942, he snapped a shot of a local inebriate collapsed on the sidewalk. As Weegee continued on he heard a commotion behind him. The man had stumbled into the street and been struck down by a taxi. Weegee labeled his photographs of the incident "Before and After."

Around the corner, the proprietor of a cafe at 10 Prince Street, where a coffee shop is today, was smoking a cigarette outside on the evening of Nov. 16, 1939, when an unknown gunman shot him dead. When Weegee arrived moments later, the body was still lying in the doorway, and the fire escapes of all the tenements on the block, which remain largely unchanged today, were crowded with gawkers. He captioned the photograph "Balcony Seats at a Murder."

Sixty years later history sadly repeated itself at this address when robbers shot and killed the owner and the manager of the Connecticut Muffin Company.

By the end of the war, Weegee was in fact "Weegee the Famous." Short and pug-ugly, with a boxy Speed Graphic camera always in hand and a cigar permanently in his teeth, he was recognized throughout the city and, increasingly, the country.

His book inspired "The Naked City," a film in which Weegee makes a fleeting, Hitchcock-like appearance. That prompted a move to Hollywood, where Weegee hobnobbed with stars and got tiny acting parts in a few more films. But he never really fit into what he called "the Land of the Zombies" and moved back to Manhattan in 1951.

His crime photography days were over. Until his death in 1968 he experimented with film and trick photography and toured the United States and Europe, giving lectures and enjoying his fame. In his travels he met Peter Sellers on the "Dr. Strangelove" movie set; an excerpt from an audiotaped conversation is on YouTube.

In 1968 the theater and film director Syeus Mottel, who was experimenting with still photography, was walking in Washington Square Park with a girlfriend. "I see Weegee sitting on a bench looking very forlorn, with an old camera, really a piece of junk, hanging from his neck," Mr. Mottel recently recalled. "When I asked if he had any advice for a young photographer, he said, 'Yeah, sharp elbows.' " While the young woman charmed Weegee, Mr. Mottel took photographs. When it came time for dinner, Weegee suggested Bernstein-on-Essex, a kosher Chinese restaurant.

In 1957, suffering from diabetes, Weegee took a small apartment at 451 West 47th Street in Hell's Kitchen, a town house owned by his friend Wilma Wilcox, an amateur photographer. When he died he left the place crowded with equipment "and stacks and stacks of thousands of photos and negatives strewn about," Mr. George said. "His philosophy of archiving was to keep everything in a barrel, so if anyone wanted anything, they'd come over and fish." Much of that material came in the early 1990s to the International Center of Photography, which has mounted several exhibitions.

"Along with everything else there was a cardboard box labeled 'Weegee,' " Mr. George said. "It was opened several months after it arrived. Weegee was really in there." It was his cremated remains. "Apparently some staffers got the heebie-jeebies from having the ashes around," he said, "so I.C.P. arranged to have them dispersed at sea."

By John Strausbaugh
For The New York Times

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'This Side of Paradise' at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

A1991 photograph by John Humble shows Selma Avenue at Vine Street as a jumbled, architecturally constructed Hollywood landscape of office buildings, stores, asphalt and advertising billboards. Dominating the center is Angelyne, the cosmetically manufactured "human Barbie doll," who adorns one enormous sign.


Radio host Rick Dees, then an eternally adolescent 41-year-old, graces a KIIS sign just above her bleached-blond head. Neutered Ken to Angelyne's pneumatic Barbie, he's the benign Adam to her wicked Eve in Hollywood's media-made Garden of Eden.

Humble's deceptively simple image -- documentary in the most profound sense of that slippery term -- hangs at the entry wall to a large new exhibition at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. Hot on the heels of opening its beautifully refurbished, exquisitely reinstalled mansion, so rich in 18th century European and other art, the Huntington has mounted what is being billed as the most comprehensive show of L.A. photographs ever assembled. It spans the 1860s to the present.

Those dates correspond with two epochal narratives: the history of Los Angeles, incorporated in 1850, and the modern development of the camera, invented almost simultaneously in France and England a scant decade before.

Here's the thing: France and England had rich visual legacies when the camera came along, but L.A. did not. Los Angeles and photography matured together. "This Side of Paradise: Body and Landscape in L.A. Photographs" perceptively mines that strange and specific relationship.

That's Fitzgerald

The title is borrowed from F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel, whose despairing protagonist laments, "I know myself, but that is all." The alchemy of the still camera in fabricating perceptions of people and places is an inspired subject for examination. Humble's picture is emblematic.

The show, like Fitzgerald's book, is novelistic -- less an art exhibition than a pictorial essay about L.A. as a mediated environment. Its whopping 284 photographs stand in for words.

Artists made many of these pictures, but far from all. The largest group -- 25 photographs -- comes from the "Dick" Whittington Studio, an invaluable commercial outfit that worked for almost every major business and organization in the city between 1924 and 1987, recording L.A.'s explosive growth and commercial development.

Several other commercial photographers are well represented. They include William M. Godfrey, a former Midwest dentist credited with the city's first photograph (an innocuous 1862 view of downtown's plaza), and C.C. Pierce, a distinguished architectural photographer, appropriate to a city powered by waves of real estate speculation.

William A. Garnett's aerial chronicle of the postwar construction of suburban Lakewood is nearly Minimalist in its organized geometry. (Implausibly, Garnett got his start working in the Pasadena Police Department's photography lab.) G. Haven Bishop's 1915 street scene of a downtown neon advertisement reverberates against Humble's 1991 Hollywood view, but Bishop's nocturnal photograph is part of Southern California Edison's corporate archive, documenting the urbanizing effects of electricity.

The next largest group -- 19 photographs -- was made by arguably the greatest 19th century American landscape photographer, Carleton E. Watkins. Although better known for his classically ordered views of Northern California and Nevada, in which a rustic dam or mountain plateau is endowed with the noble gravity of the Parthenon, Watkins' two L.A. excursions resulted in languid vistas of Santa Monica Canyon and Pasadena farmland. Sylvan southern harmonies supplant rustic northern dramas.

Among postwar photographers, the two most abundantly represented are Harry Gamboa Jr. and Gusmano Cesaretti. Gamboa's well-known series of Chicano portraits plays off cultural stereotypes, promulgated by mass media. Cesaretti is a visual consultant who pulls those mass-media levers, most notably with film and TV producer-directors Michael Mann and Tony Scott.

Disappointingly, just 18 of the 108 named photographers are women. Glamour photographer George Hurrell is unsurprisingly included, for example, but not his MGM predecessor, Ruth Harriet Louise. More men than women would be expected, given social norms of the last 150 years, but the disparity is greater than it should be.

The show is not organized chronologically or by artist. The seven visual essays are instead thematic, beginning with a selection in the library's West Hall that looks at L.A.'s reputation as an artificial garden.

An Edenic vista is framed by such works as Pierce's panoramic 1910 view of the Cahuenga Pass, all rolling hills dotted with farmhouses. The pervasiveness of the pastoral idyll subtly recasts Herb Ritts' pair of sensual portraits of male and female fashion models as iconic images of humanity's tragic fall, a blend of Angelyne and Dees. Ditto Larry Sultan's porn actors in a middle-class Valley backyard and Anthony Friedkin's deluxe patrons at the Beverly Hills Hotel swimming pool.

The remainder of the show, installed in the Boone Gallery a short stroll from the library, is cleverly reached by ambling through portions of the Huntington's own celebrated gardens. Artist Allan Sekula was commissioned to create a visual link between the two spaces.

He responded with a sequence of 15 small garden "billboards." Some are provocative. A neon bus sign lets you know your experience is being stage-managed ("Go Greyhound, and leave the driving to us"), while a woman with a mop in a tatty domestic driveway puts as careworn face on the unsung drudgery that keeps ordinary life going.

The Boone Gallery rolls out themes of work, home, play, aspiration and conflict -- and, of course, car culture. Each is multifaceted, with selections assembled like curatorial collages. Juxtapositions recognize that photographs, unlike paintings, are inherently linked to a world outside themselves.

Take one series in "Work," which opens with Imogen Cunningham's 1932 portrait of actor Spencer Tracy on an unidentified movie set. Next to it is Edward Weston's pair of rubber dummies on the MGM back lot, followed by two hyper-masculine beefcake pictures by Robert Mizer, underground publisher of the homoerotic magazine Physique Pictorial. Ansel Adams' adjacent picture shows female movie mannequins severed into pieces, which resonates with Peter Stackpole's 1938 picture of two dames in bathing suits, hoping for work as movie extras.

This gendered acting sequence culminates in Philippe Halsman's 1952 "Marilyn With Barbells." Monroe lies on a bench working her pectoral muscles, conjuring a different type of physique pictorial.

A city that moves

"Move" reconfigures car-culture clichés in 18 pictures that riff on street photography. There's the classic version -- say, the freely swinging camera of Garry Winogrand, which tilts and destabilizes ordinary urban views. Then there's the Pop Art pun on a street photograph: Ed Ruscha's 21-foot-long accordion of snapshots, together showing "Every Building on the Sunset Strip."

Finally, absurdist humor doesn't get any better than the pairing of printed dialogue with self-portrait photographs of Conceptual artist Allan Ruppersberg affably asking other pedestrians for directions -- "You go down Sunset to La Brea. Right on La Brea to . . . ." People on foot cope in a city organized around cars.

The "play" section includes pictures of iconic L.A. recreation -- surfing, cycling, hiking -- as well as theater (playacting), music along Central Avenue (playing jazz) and, unexpectedly, masturbation (a porn actress with her hand down her pants). The effect of these juxtapositions is to sharpen attention -- no mean feat in a world where photographs are as ubiquitous in daily experience as nature used to be.

Perhaps that helps to explain the quirky installation design by accomplished architects Kevin Daly and Chris Genik, which takes some getting used to. In addition to a conventional hanging of framed pictures on sky blue walls, they've built metal display stands that are biomorphic -- abstractions evoking organic plants. Each "stem" is topped by a framed photograph, like a rather ugly industrial flower.

More than 40% of the show comes from the Huntington's own collections, a vast archive numbering some 500,000 images. Huntington curator Jennifer Watts and independent curator Claudia Bohn-Spector have also borrowed works from 50 other public and private collections. Whether these photographs together evince a distinct Los Angeles style of visual expression is difficult to say. But "This Side of Paradise" is certainly a very good read.

By Christopher Knight
For The Los Angeles Times

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'Philip-Lorca diCorcia' at LACMA

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

At a time when museums seem to be all about packing crowds into blockbuster exhibitions and expanding their facilities with spectacular buildings by star architects, it's refreshing to come across "Philip-Lorca diCorcia." This quiet little show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art efficiently surveys the New York photographer's heart-wrenching pictures of ordinary people doing their damnedest to keep their dreams alive in circumstances so difficult that less seasoned folks -- or reality-toughened citizens -- might see them as desperate, even hopeless.


Tucked away in a modest ground-floor gallery off the corridor that links the recently opened Broad Contemporary Art Museum to the handsomely refurbished galleries of the Ahmanson Building, the sharply focused show (up until Sept. 14) introduces new viewers to DiCorcia's unsentimental vision of life in the big city.

It also reacquaints old fans with the 54-year-old photographer's uncanny talent for making strangers (and their strangeness) intimate -- without transforming them into two-bit players in clichéd fantasies.

Organized by Charlotte Cotton, LACMA's curator of photography, the comfortably sized exhibition consists of 30 Chromogenic prints from four bodies of work that DiCorcia made from 1990 to 2004, along with an installation of 1,000 Polaroids that he completed in 2007.

"Hustlers," his best-known series, is the most well-represented, with 14 large and small shots of mostly young men strutting their stuff along Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. Made from 1990 to 1992 and funded with a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, DiCorcia's breakout series features men posing for their portraits in motel rooms, parking lots and laundromats, outside fast-food restaurants, gas stations and boarded-up buildings, and simply sitting at bus stops or on street corners, usually at dusk.

The guys are fantastic for their individuality. Although many are clearly pretending to be someone they've seen in the movies, most can't be bothered with such silly fantasies and stand, matter-of-factly, for the camera. Not one elicits pity. Or begs for sympathy. Or for anything at all. A here-I-stand, this-is-it groundedness suffuses the strongest. It's an attractive quality.

DiCorcia has labeled each portrait with the man's name and age, the city he came to L.A. from and the amount of money he was paid for the picture (from $20 to $50). The bare-bones info speaks volumes, but it's no match for the riveting intensity and haunting complexity of the pictures.

Different dreams

It's obvious that these guys, who range in age from 18 to 38, did not come to Hollywood with the goal of being street prostitutes -- that their dream life in California didn't exactly pan out. Some appear to have grown accustomed, and pretty comfortable, with themselves -- or at least they are able to keep up appearances as well as their neighbors back home. Others look like strangers in their own skin, so vulnerable, scared and forlorn that the damage seems irreparable. And some are so green that they don't seem to have a clue about what's going on -- or any idea of what might come next.

To make "Hustlers," DiCorcia selected a setting and set up his camera and lights. While an assistant guarded the equipment, he set out to find a sitter.

To make his next two series, "Streetwork" (1993-98) and "Heads" (2001-03), DiCorcia set up his tripod along downtown sidewalks, hid his flash mechanism as best he could and waited, like a hunter, for the right passersby to come along.

Shot in L.A., London, Paris and Naples, Italy, the five pieces from "Streetwork" reveal DiCorcia's passion for people-watching and his fascination with the interior lives of anonymous city dwellers. In his wide-ranging pictures -- of journeymen, businessmen, homeless men and retired men -- the proverbial man in the street takes on great specificity, uniqueness, individuality.

Stolen portraits

For "Heads," all shot in New York, DiCorcia used a long-distance lens to zoom in on the faces of people whose portraits he stole. The six here -- "Head #1," "#7," "#11," "#13," "#23" and "#24" -- cover a wider range of the public, including an angelic girl, smiling to herself for reasons only she knows, and a uniformed security guard, sapped of his vitality and with only enough strength to convey the quiet consternation of putting up with a job that drains the life out of you.

Set against black backgrounds, the individuals seem to be illuminated by divine light. Yet their appeal is democratic, energized by pedestrian evenhandedness and Everyman accessibility. In both series, DiCorcia's best images seem surreptitious, not like scripted scenes from movies but like Garry Winogrand photographs of the inimitable beauty of everyday happenstance.

Staged series

In contrast, DiCorcia's fourth series, "Lucky 13" from 2004, is staged. The five largest images depict pole dancers Hannah, Asia, Tennille, Amber and Heema. Each of the scantily clad women appears high above a strip-club stage, suspended, often upside down, like a circus acrobat in midflight.

But DiCorcia's portraits are not action shots. Their stillness, which begins with the women's impassive expressions and is amplified by the empty interiors of the clubs, is unsettling. It's made even stranger by the no-nonsense, just-doing-my-job integrity the women convey. All of the pictures' perversity resides in their compositions, which recall specimens, such as colorful butterflies, pushpinned within display cases for the study and delectation of collectors.

The installation of 1,000 Polaroids, set on shallow metal shelves in an alcove, functions like a walk-in sketchbook. It gives visitors an idea of the everyday objects that strike DiCorcia's fancy. They're remarkably ordinary -- clocks, plates, lamps, trees, lakes, train tracks, tourist sites and balloons -- and not nearly as gripping as his big pictures of ordinary folks whose body language tells tales filled with enough twists and turns to tie one's emotions in knots.

By David Pagel
For The Los Angeles Times

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