Picasso in Exile

Why bother visiting Paris, you might ask, as long as the Picasso Museum remains closed?  Good question.  But my family and I decided to go anyway, unwilling to wait another year.  Our Picasso treasure hunt therefore required a little extra work, since you couldn’t very well go to just one place and be greeted by Picasso’s many persons and things.  Our first Picasso sighting was just a fortunate accident–while strolling near our flat, my wife Casey spotted a wonderful, if bird-stained, bronze of Dora Maar in a small garden in the shadow of the gothic Church of St. Germain des Prés (located at its eponymous square):


Tête de femme, aka
Monument à Guillaume Apollinaire

This wartime sculpture (1941) was chosen by committee to honor Guillaume Apollinaire, the famous French poet and prominent member of “La Bande au Picasso” (Picasso’s wolf pack) dating from his early Bateau Lavoir days in Paris.  Apollinaire had died in 1918 of a head-wound incurred in during WWI.  A decade later, his widow and others anointed Picasso to create a suitable monument to honor him.  The problem was that they rejected one submission after another, until finally Picasso presented them with this handsome but rather bland sculpture, at least in comparison to the more radical pieces he had previously proposed.  After decades of haggling, the committee in its infinite wisdom finally accepted this portrait of Dora Maar.  To provide a sense of the value of this Picasso that we randomly stumbled upon, another cast of this sculpture (there are a total of four) fetched a bit over $29M at Sotheby’s NY in 2007. The value of these pieces is presumably well known, as the bronze at St. Germain was once stolen from the site and subsequently recovered two years later. I trust it is now more firmly anchored to its limestone base….

Venturing across the river, we took in the Picassos at the Beaubourg (Centre Pompidou) and a few of the galleries on both sides.  For the most part, that was it for our adventures with Picassos in Paris, other than one lovely drawing discovery that will hopefully soon be available (pending authentication by Maya or Claude).  The rest of our Picasso adventures would more accurately be described as misadventures, beginning with UNESCO.  Having not come even close to satisfying my thirst for Picassos, this trip we finally got around to going to the UNESCO headquarters near Napolean’s Tomb to see the huge Fall of Icarus mural:


La Chute d’Icare
The Fall of Icarus

Curiously, there were no signs of recognition on the part of a number of attendants.  No one seemed to know that, at over 10 meters, one of the largest Picassos ever was on their premises.  Finally, one of them delivered the news that such viewings have to be arranged in advance.  It was our last day in Paris, so we were out of luck, but maybe you’d fare better with a bit of preplanning.  Or just wait till the Musée Picasso reopens next year.  Or see its generous loan to the de Young Museum in San Francisco this summer!

Scam, or Not? You be the judge….

To add to the ever-increasing list of art scams comes this story, which distinguishes itself with its novel, dramatic flair.  I should say “possible” art scams, since this one remains unproved.  As you know, usually I write only about Picasso, but this tale seemed so unusual that it grabbed my attention.  How about I lay bare the story and you could be the judge?

About a month ago, on a fine spring morning, two friends of mine, a well-heeled Bay Area couple on a jaunt to NY, stumbled into a Chelsea gallery, where an installation of works on paper by a Japanese artist was being hung.  They fell in love with two of the artworks, each measuring around 2 x 1.5 ft., asked for the prices ($2500 each), negotiated a combined price of $4000, and paid.  Since the show was in the midst of installation, they inquired whether the artist was around because they wanted to meet him.  The gallery owner said that artist had stepped out but would call them upon his returned.  Having received the call, they reappeared at the gallery, only to be beset by the artist’s distraught wife, who cried that the price of each work was actually $25,000.  The gallery owner said that the art belonged to the purchasers, but hopefully my friends would do “the right thing”.  They said they’d think about it.  A day or two later, they phoned the gallery and offered a total payment of $8000.  The owner said he would consider the offer and later accepted it.

In the meantime, my friends Googled the artist and found nothing.  This was apparently his first show, or at least his first show in the US.  My interest was piqued because $25,000 seemed an unusually high sum for an undistinguished work on paper of this size by an unknown artist in an obscure gallery.

I haven’t yet described the obscurity of the gallery.  I’ll let you read my friend and fellow collector’s words, whom I sicced on them, or I should say, who graciously did me the favor of investigating.  Here’s his take (I’ve substituted Gallery X for the gallery’s name and Artist X for the artist’s name in his narrative):

“Most Chelsea galleries are closed weekends in the summer, as jet setters leave for the Hamptons.  (I believe a few galleries open outposts there.)  That said, the larger ones are open.  So I assumed between Gagosian being large and almost more of a museum, it would be open.  Apparently I was wrong.  Very upsetting.  Gallery X, however, was open, which was a bit surprising.  How your friends found this gallery is anyone’s guess.  It was tucked way back in a warehouse gallery building on the third floor.  I do not mean this all to sound snobbish (as I think most store fronts are likely to rob you) but this gallery was just very off the beaten path.  I went in and a white haired man, who felt like the proprietor (though I did not ask), seemed somewhat surprised when I asked about Artist X.  He said they “have shown his work” when I asked if they were his dealer, but he had no information on him.  Note he is not one of the artists on their website now.  He did not volunteer any information about the artist (or even bother trying to push me towards something else).  I gave him my email, and he may send me some stuff but who knows.  I looked around a bit at other art in the gallery.  None of it my thing but interestingly, all well under $5K for most pieces (and a lot close to $1K).  It would seem very odd for a gallery representing artists (there were maybe 10 on display) at that price point to then show an artist that much pricier, but maybe it was a special show.  But why would an artist of that level hold a special show at a gallery that is so far out of the way and has clients at a different (albeit not massively different) price point?  Anyway, certainly nothing conclusive but still a bit odd.  Let’s see if he sends me any pieces they have for sale.”

It’s been a week.   Still waiting for a price list from Gallery X.  I suppose it could still arrive.   In the meantime, what do you think: scam, or not?  Have you ever heard of such a thing?

WHAT’S NOT THERE

The Picasso Museum on wheels, currently at the de Young in San Francisco, is such a wonderful show (see “Picasso by the Bay” below) that it’s almost easier to discuss what’s not there than what is.  Well not quite, though each great Picasso, in addition to being loved and understood on its own merits, must be seen in the context of his entire oeuvre for full appreciation, given the added dimensions that the context inevitably provides.  I won’t again trot out the by now overused Picasso-ism about the movement of his thought interesting him (in his later years) more than the thought itself–there, I said it anyway. But nowhere is that movement better preserved, with the exception of the successive photos of Guernica and The Charnel House, courtesy of Dora Maar, than through the window of the progressive states of so many of his prints.  And every now and then, a certain Picasso, in this case a drypoint from 1933, veritably screams out for its context.  The case in point looks more or less like this:

,

interesting enough perhaps when seen in isolation, but nothing compared to when it’s in the company of its friends.  You see, this print is the XIVth  state of twenty!  (Or XIIIth.  I have to go take another peek at it, now that I’ve looked up all the states in the catalogue raisonné.)  The subject of this print went through so many phases, not the least of which is that she started out as a profile facing (our) left, then assumed a quarter face pose, then straight on, and finally ended up a quarter face turned the other way.  You’ll see a few of them (below), but for the whole set, you’d have to consult Baer Geiser, Vol. II, No. 288.  What’s so great about the progression is that, except for one major erasure between states 7 and 8, Picasso doesn’t cover his tracks, but leaves  a trail just clear enough to show us where he’s been. The technical term is pentimenti, but never mind.  I won’t even mention “palimpsests”.  Except to say that this may well be the most fascinating of all of his many palimpsests.  Oh, no, I did it again.  Anyway, it’s tragic that he didn’t print more, many more, than the unique impression of each of the states IV through VII, because they are all masterpieces.  He pretty much started over with state VIII for some unknown reason, and, from there, fooled around for a while without dropping any clues as to where he was headed or whether he could possibly save this progression from disaster, or so it might at first seem, all the way up through the penultimate state–well, there were already some hints of  masterpieces in the XVIIIth  and XIXth states, but, suddenly and almost without warning, voila! the XXth and final woman (ref. Bloch 250) emerges, as if from a cake, and becomes one of the most wonderful and intriguing of all of Picasso’s graphic works.  You really need Baer Geiser for a full appreciation of the continuum, but here are photos of some of the states, just to get you started:

From humble beginnings, State I:

comes the transfixing States V:

and VII:

Then he takes it all away by State VIII, and starts rebuilding slowly with State IX:

and brings it all back by the XXth and final state:

By the way, if you bought the catalogue, you won’t find this print illustrated within it.  You might also have noticed that there are many more illustrations there than exhibited artworks.  Although works in other mediums have remained constant (or nearly so) at all the exhibit venues, the print selections have varied greatly.  So it is with this state XIV or whichever, temporarily orphaned, but soon to rejoin its dark family berth once again in some hallowed print file in the Musée Picasso’s basement.  Pity.   Anyway, be sure to spot  this intermediate state if you make it there–it’s sojourn in San Francisco may well be its last sighting ever!