Art Letter

April 2009 Archives

4/30/09 Lots of Art to See

There's a fabulous amount of good art at ArtChicago and NEXT, opening tonight at the Merchandise Mart.  If one pays close attention one realizes that there are quite a few galleries who we've seen before who are not in attendance, but without a doubt the quality of art to be seen remains high.  And now, more than just being a high-end show, there are galleries who who haven't made the cut before who are presenting art worth seeing. Add to that the savvy job the Mart folks have done in bringing in adjunct exhibits and you've got well over an afternoon's worth of stimulating and/or satisfying art viewing. For another informed opinion look at this article on Sharkforum.

ArtChicago has some interesting panel discussions planned; one on the
problems of the Rose Art Museum which should include talking about Coaccessioning - but it probably won't.

Take your time: Olafur Eliasson show opening at the Museum of Contemporary Art is spectacular, all about perception, and an open-ended look at how simple materials, well-conceived, can render amazement. Just go!   (Pictures follow those of the art fair.)

Below are pictures of the
Take your time: Olafur Eliasson show at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Thank you,
Paul Klein


I've spoken before about the satisfaction of watching an artist grow, mature and prosper.  We need to revisit that theme, while realizing that the exhibitions the galleries are mounting now, in anticipation of ArtChicago 2 weeks hence, are a gift to the artist, if they are the benefactor of a one-person exhibition. Some galleries pursue the egalitarian approach and present a group show. I did that frequently when I had a gallery, but now I rather feel it lacks gumption.  If you believe in an artist you should be willing to take a stance and present a strong one-person exhibition.

That's what we have presently, with two solid and significant exhibitions opening tonight.

Richard Hunt has spent a lifetime and a career making art in Chicago.  Next month he receives the lifetime achievement award from the International Sculpture Center, doing Magdalena Abakanowicz, Louise Bourgeois, Mark di Suvero, Claes Oldenburg and about a dozen others who have been so honored. He was the first African-American artist to have a major solo exhibition at MoMA (in 1971), yet in Chicago he's been a mostly overlooked talent, despite his art being highly visible from Midway Airport to Jonquil Park.  Chicago's treated Richard more as a token than a talent.  That's wrong and unfortunate. The work in the exhibit at David Weinberg shows the accomplishments of an artist in his 70's who can readily make metal bend at will.  The predominantly bronze art - welded, not made from molds - soars with pride, confidence and determination.  There's a powerful story here and a universal truth, a spirit that will not be contained.  It's nice to see the work well presented. I left educated, impressed and a bit sad that I, for one, hadn't opened my eyes a helluva lot earlier. Richard Hunt is damned good.

Zolla/Lieberman, Cheonae Kim (Chun -A) makes math intuitive and beautiful. Masterful color combinations, this is formal art at its best.  Fascinating juxtapositions, intrinsic balance, smooth rhythms, Kim's art bridges music and math visually.  You can hear (see) the beat, and cruise across the riffs and inherent syncopations. This is wonderful abstract art.  Kim - who I used to represent - sees many of these pieces as portraits.  I don't. it is always somewhere between informative and curious to hear what an artist thinks their work is about. (I don't assume that what an artist thinks about their art is necessarily 'the truth.' there is always room for another opinion.) I've observed Kim's art for well over a decade,  This is her best show so far. Solid growth which alludes to where she's been, without being controlled by it.  And it's damned nice to see her gallery give her a one-person exhibition during to forthcoming ArtChicago - which may just surprise us with its quality programing.

I am perpetually intrigued and challenged by
Sabrina Raaf's work, who I also used to represent before I closed Klein Art Works 5 years ago.  Raaf makes interactive sculpture that warmly engages us while getting us to ponder bigger questions. Sometimes her devices monitor the carbon dioxide in a space (the more people the more carbon dioxide) and draws corresponding lines on the wall. Or in the case of the extra large, multi-ton piece at McCormick West, Raaf's device monitors the sound in the space.  The more sound, the more the lights flash on the 60 foot hanging element and the more the glass curtain wall flaps on the 18-video-moniotr display, commenting on the never resolved debate about the "Windy City" moniker being based on the wind here or the hot air from Chicago politicians lobbying for the Colombian Exposition.  If you come to tonight's opening dusk is the best time.

Fresh air, popping buds, more green - this is the time to go out and see some art!
Paul Klein

Our Collections Need Our Attention - Lessons Learned

I've learned a lot that's relevant to collectors and artists since opening the Chicago office of the Briddge Group, who some of you probably know as the country's leading Art Succession Planners, while working closely with its founder, Michael Mendelsohn.

Maybe I should define Art Succession Planning first. While it may be confused with estate planning, planning for art, antiques and other collectibles focuses on the collector's legacy and a fair and equal distribution to heirs. Though included, it is not driven by how much we can save on taxes. Almost all of us collect something. We are all proud of what we collect, be it art, first edition books, barb wire or fire engines. To many of us collectors, our collections have more meaning, more satisfaction and more pride than anything else we've done with the exception of being a parent. When we get to be a certain age we make plans for our assets with wills, life insurance polices and estate planning. One of the things I've learned is that most people, as prideful as they are of their collection, do not make any plans for what happens to their collection. That is what Art Succession Planners are for.

Okay, so here's what I've learned: (I'm going to direct this mostly to collectors, but artists and others can readily extrapolate.)

People Are Well Intended: That's a nice way of saying people can be lazy. One of the most important things a collector or an artist can do is to have their Art Succession Planning team create an accurate record of everything in the collection; when the item was purchased, how much was paid for it, how it was acquired, its history, how you feel about it, and how much it is worth at the moment. And then this should be updated periodically. We may know 90% of this in our heads, but when we're gone . . . what do our heirs know? All by itself, this historical reference catalog will boost the value of the collection now and in the future.

People Procrastinate - Frequently until It Is Too Late: I'm seeing this way too often. I doubt any of us look forward to dying. We put off making plans continually. Because life is short and art is long we very rarely address what to do with our collection. Look at the consequences. We die. Our collection hasn't been planned for. Our kids call one of our attorneys. And they say "Put it up at auction." There's no time to do much else. The government says our heirs have 9 months to settle the estate. I bet most of us are conditioned to think that's just fine. But, do the math. Let's deal with round numbers. Say your collection is worth one million dollars and the estate tax deductions have been used up. Your heirs put your collection up at auction. By the time they are paid they will likely have given up 80% of the collection's value. (At least 30% goes to the auction house in commissions, fees, insurance, photography and shipping. Then the IRS steps in. They get 45%. And the state - up to 7%.) That's of the total value; not the net proceeds. Assuming everything sold, the $1,000,000 collection nets the heirs less than $200,000! And of course, everything doesn't sell. This is dreadful.

Collectors Typically Want the Integrity of their Collection Maintained: Of the collectors I've worked with, most know they've created something special, something that reflects who they are and what they believe. That's special and constitutes a legacy; a legacy that could enable our heirs to understand more about us - through our collection. We want our vision perpetuated. I understand that. If we think we've made a difference it's meaningful that those who come after us know about it. Creating a family art legacy makes that happen. And though making a gift a collection and endowing a museum is a beautiful thing, it doesn't happen by itself, especially if the act of dying without a plan distributes the collection to the winds.

Most Heirs (Kids) Have No Interest in the Collection beyond How Much Money it Can Get Them: I love the story the Briddge Group's President and Founder, Michael Mendelsohn tells about his daughter: Marni is my youngest child so she grew up living with our collection. She experienced the excitement as we acquired new things and our rooms were increasingly dominated by folk art. She was there when we had art-related events in our home to raise funds for charities. We have taken her to museum openings and to shows at major museums that included our things. Marni is the one of our three children who had our collection as an active force in her life. Several years ago, I asked Marni if she could choose any five things from our collection, what would she take. She went around the house, and about a half-hour later, came back with a list of five of the most important pieces. And then she said that she chose these pieces because she'd make the most money when she sold them.

The Vast Majority of Collectors Have Not Spoken with their Children about What They Want Done with their Collection: Often we assume, incorrectly, that our kids are going to want our stuff. If they do, we should find ways to transfer it to them while we are alive, thereby avoiding significant estate taxes. But think about the items your parents left, or will leave, you. How much of that, beyond the sentimental memento do we want to keep and display? So if the kids are interested in the value, but not the item, aren't we, and they, better off maintaining the integrity of the collection while using it as a means to get them the asset they want, without reducing the collection's value through poor or non-existent planning?

Our Advisors invariably Do Not Ask What We Collect: Estate Planning attorneys do wonderful things for us and our kids. It's about preserving wealth and passing it on to the next generation(s). In this structured age of digital technology they tend to work from forms. They have intake questionnaires. They sometimes ask if we collect anything, and invariably collectors get humble here, don't know the value of their collection and throw out an insufficient number reflecting their collection's worth. The Estate Planner then enters that number in the blank marked 'other' and moves on. All this information does, in this unfortunately too typical a scenario, is to add to the bottom line, but does nothing to honor the significance of the collection or its nature as a special asset. We'd be a whole lot better off if our various advisors and Art Succession Planning team were integrated and showed us the array of intelligent options the future of our art holdings can afford us.

Collectors Normally Have No Idea What their Collection Is Worth: As a collector, and former art dealer, I know from myself, and from others, that we rapidly forget how much we paid for something. Over time, unless we are in buy or sell mode regarding a specific artist, we don't know how much the stuff we have is worth. Most of the time that's just fine. Our collections are not about how much money they are worth; it's about the emotional, spiritual or other attributes we attribute to it; until of course that collection's value is, for the moment, more important than anything else - and then it is too late to plan accordingly to protect the collection from the tax man.

Often Collectors Do Not Realize the Consequences of "Quietly" Passing Art to the Next Generation: I have a painting a friend gave me just before he died 30 years ago. It was valuable then and is very valuable now. I have no paper trail, no receipt, and no evidence that it wasn't stolen. Furthermore, no death taxes were ever paid on this painting. Those, of course, are still due. There is no statue of limitations on avoided estate taxes. Damned nice painting, but this could clearly be a problem some day. It is better to be upfront and honest, give the government its due and not burden our heirs with fuzzy legalities.

Many Collectors Do Not Know or Question if their Title Is Free and Clear: If it happened to Steven Spielberg it could happen to me. (From the Associated Press) "Russian Schoolroom," a (Norman) Rockwell painting stolen from a gallery in the St. Louis suburb of Clayton, Mo., more than three decades ago, was found in Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Spielberg's art collection, the FBI announced Friday. Spielberg purchased the painting in 1989 from a legitimate dealer and didn't know it was stolen until his staff spotted its image last week on an FBI Web site listing stolen works of art, the bureau said in a statement. Do you know if title to your art is really yours?

Collectors Often Do Not Keep Good Records: In a recent article, the Briddge Group's President, Michael Mendelsohn, wrote. A collector died having kept no documentation of his extensive collection of Russian impressionists. At the time of his death, the collection was put into a storage facility and the collector's son and daughter were each given a key to the unit. They were told to wait two years before removing any art from the facility. About 20 months later, the daughter went to the storage facility to have the art appraised. When she entered the storage unit it was completely empty. She called her brother inquiring about the paintings and he said to her "What paintings?" She asked the probate attorney and he said "What artwork? I have no records of any artwork." Other than her key she had no proof that any art was ever in the storage unit. Worse yet, she may end up paying penalties for artwork fraudulently transferred if she blows the whistle on her brother.

Collectors Don't Have an Art Trustee: Aren't these the important things in our lives; our spouse, kids, assets and our collection? We have advisors or trustees for those who can't adequately fend for themselves, like our minor aged children and our investment portfolios. What about the art, or our collection? Who is there to see that our interests are preserved, that the core integrity of the collection is preserved and protected?

Most Collectors Don't Realize they Can Use Their Collection to Fulfill Their Philanthropic Interests: What if you could hone your collection and remove say the 15% that doesn't quite fit, or the 10% whose quality is not as good as the balance? Let's say you sell that material and use the proceeds to take out a life insurance policy that benefits the charity of your choice as a promised gift. Smart, eh? But even better, by working with your Art Succession Planning team and your financial planners there are myriad ways to do a lot better than that. Trusts, Charitable Remainder Gifts, Bargains Sales, all kinds of things.

In Conclusion: I've learned a lot about people, particular those who collect. Our collections are important and meaningful to us. They are a silent asset as well as a unique asset, entirely different from real estate or stocks and bonds. They even have their own tax rates. Obviously collections are special.

The world is too complicated a place for most to be able to figure out the best way to protect our investments, or assets and our children. That's why we have advisors to help. And that's why, those of us who have collections we care about, need to bring an Art Succession Planning team into our group of advisors.

And as prone as we all are to procrastinate, here's a gentle nudge to encourage you to take care of who and what you love.

Thank you,
Paul Klein


I was right. There is quite a bit more good art to see as we approach ArtChicago than there was last week.  There are numerous strong exhibitions opening tonight.

Let's start at the top and not just because it's on the 25th floor.
Richard Gray is presenting the sensitive and provocative work of Marc Swanson.  I like this expansion of aesthetics for the gallery. The art is slow, meditative, genuine, well-executed and thoughtful, dealing with issues of identity and internal conflict. Here it is about gay culture and identify from an accomplished artist who was raised in a family of hunters in northern New England before relocating to San Francisco. But that isn't quite the point. As humans, we all have internal conflicts. Seeing someone else conscientiously explore their dichotomies sheds light on all of own issues.  Besides beautiful, I found the show cathartic. That makes for a memorable exhibit.

In the same vein is the work of
Judith Brotman at ThreeWalls.  It too is strong, personal and full of dichotomies. While abstract, there are plenty of references to conflict, balance, compassion, and separation.  While thoughts of Richard Tuttle's and Eva Hesse's alchemic ability to transform materials comes to mind Brotman is her own person and contributes to my personal growth.

Beautiful is the operative word for
Geoffrey Todd Smith whose work opens at Western Exhibitions Sure, I looked for meaning and content for a moment, but there is not much of that here. The work is about form, spatial relationships, color, pattern and joy. The art is great the way it is, but I can't help seeing the potential for vast projects like plazas, or tile floors.  As much as I liked these pieces I wanted to see them really big.

Please don't assume that the order I'm discussing these exhibitions that open this evening has anything to do with which ones I liked best. At
Packer Schopf (nice new website) is the fabulous new work of Brian Dettmer.  I've been following his works for years.  It's really fun paying attention to Brian, especially for someone like me who thrives on the vicarious experience of anticipating what an artist is going to do next. More than once I've been sure that Brian has hit a deadend.  And then, shazam, he blows my socks off. Basically he digs into books (literally), selectively exposing some of the guts. And then, in a move I'd never expected, he began combining books, bending or manipulating them, like the master he has become. Exciting work.

In viewing
Sandra Bermudez' new work at Kasia Kay I first speculated that things we love the best have the most names. But then I remembered that the Inuit have 28 words for snow. One large wall installation is titled The Happy Pussy and uses well over a dozen of the more attractive euphemisms we employ - thus the happy.  The piece is light hearted, humorous, fun and deserves to be sold as a single unit. Fortunately The Happy Pussy is in an edition of 3.  I know I'm supposed to insert a punchline here, but I'm going to resist.

Last, but certainly not least, is
Rebecca Shore's exhibit at Corbett vs. Dempsey.  Before I closed my gallery 5 years ago I exhibited Rebecca's work.  In this new show she's made a breakthrough away from the grid that she used to employ and that, though strong, restrained her work.  Now she is looser, more confident and correspondingly strong. The work also seems more Chicago-centric with references to Ray Yoshida and Christina Ramberg. I'm impressed.

It's getting better. It's time to go out again.
Paul Klein