Art Letter

July 2010 Archives

7/16/10 The Art of Bronzeville

Last month, my wife, Amy, and I did the grand 3rd Friday Night Tour of the Bronzeville Art District.  It was an outstanding evening and it's happening again tonight. Maybe I should refrain from being totally honest here, but I felt like I was in another country - and I loved it.

There are 6 stops on the tour. The museums, galleries and art centers are waiting for you.  One had the best chocolate chip cookies I've had this year.  There are 3 trolleys that run between pairs of institutions - so we opted to drive ourselves, using our navigator - otherwise, with the trolleys you would likely only take in 2, though feasibly you could get in a second set - but certainly not all 6.

I'm pretty sure we did not pick the most efficient route, but that's part of the fun - just like when we're in another city - a fair amount of exploring, discovery, awareness and reward - no cookie cutter, homogenized sameness from gallery to gallery like I often see.   We started at
Little Black Pearl. (One can draw a straight line, via Theaster Gates, from Little Black Pearl to the Whitney Biennial.)  Little Black Pearl has classes and beautiful exhibits, where the art is for sale and the prices are accessible.

Maybe we should have started at
The DuSable Museum, for an overview. This is a charming, underfunded museum that addresses the grand vision of African-American history and culture. Its done a good job with what it's got, but it's a big subject that deserves to be covered in depth. If only the DuSable Museum had more money!

We all know I go to a helluva lot of art exhibits in Chicago.  We know I am egalitarian and want art to be accessible. We know that I encourage people to broaden their horizons and seek culture where they normally wouldn't.  And I am guilty of insufficiently following my own advice.  The reason this tour is so wonderful is because there's so much to see, so much to experience and because I was so ignorant.  Inexcusably, this was my first visit to the DuSable Museum in the 30 years I've lived here. I'd been to 3 of the 6 venues before, but doing it all in one night got me in touch with a a part of town I've under-appreciated, an aesthetic as strong as any, but inadequately embraced by me, and  whole lot of wonderful, gracious people eager to share their culture and values with a growing audience.

Faie African Art Gallery was an unexpected gem.  I'm sorry, but I've only seen white people selling African art before.  Seems rather detached.  It's a much richer experience to have a Black woman who viscerally understands the culture and the art discuss it with you.  Worth a trip all by itself - and the cookies were exceptional.

Blanc Gallery is beautiful and in an attractive building. I'm not sure I have the place figured out. The space is nice. The art is good. Yet the feeling remains that the gallery is primarily rented out for functions and the art is secondary.  Blanc Gallery is still worth a quick visit because of the elegance of the facility and its outdoor courtyard.

I can count the very few Chicago cultural institutions that have been around for 70 years on one hand.
The South Side Community Art Center is one of them. It is proud, beautiful and very full of art. SSCAC conveys care; care to showcase its community and care to teach and inspire. Staying afloat is obviously tough here, but the value and love is palpable. Charles White, Gordon Parks and Archibald Motley are alumni.

There are many outstanding African-American artists exhibiting in Bronzeville. Many go on to significant careers, at about which point white people begin to appreciate them. But we are damned late.  It is stupid to wait for it to come to us when we can go right there. There is some great art at prices that are a digit less than they will be when they leap the white divide.

One of the most generous and affective leaders of Bronzeville is
André Guichard of Guichard Gallery. His constant encouragement to get me and everyone else to Bronzeville is paying off. I bet the tours were his idea and he deserves massive credit for weekly generating a video showcase of Bronzeville collectors. I believe he has identified 100 worthy participants.

Those of us in the artworld pretend to be open minded, up for new experiences, inclusive, and say we value art of all cultures. But maybe we aren't what we think we are. Artists of color are always looking at the white mainstream, yet invariably remain true to the life experiences in their art.  On the other hand, us white folks are pretty much ignorant. We stick to our path until it is a rut.

It's time our attitude and our behavior grows up - and participating in the Bronzeville Art District Tour - ever third Friday of the month, through October - is a very good way to start!

Thank you,
Paul Klein

You Bought It, You (Don't?) Own It!

Whenever we buy a work of art, we wrestle with its value and price before we make the purchase. But in short order we disengage from the monetary issues, often not looking at the financial asset we have.

One of the most overlooked financial complications of collecting, or even buying art, is whether or not we actually own the piece we've acquired. Tainted provenance -- or even worse -- is a real problem in the art world.

Part of the art world's appeal is attributable to the free spirited, unregulated, highly-volatile megabucks that whirl within it and the buyers and sellers who love the art -- and the action. Which of course means it is rife with dealers under pressure, incapable of keeping their word (think Larry Salendar), dealers who are fully reputable and don't know they are selling "dirty" goods (think artwork stolen by the Nazis and now back on the market), as well as crooks. (I know several former disreputable dealers who "went away" and are now back and are, as far as I can tell, still engaged in shady practices.)

What we are talking about are art crimes, which constitutes the third largest category of crime in the world.

The good news is that we, as collectors, have tools at our disposal to protect ourselves. Recent court decisions have returned works of art to former owners even after the statute of limitations has expired.

The Internet offers databases that allow the cross-referencing of art auctions and databases of stolen artworks -- tools that make it easier for theft victims to mount court challenges.

The ownership history of artworks has become an increasingly sensitive issue for collectors and the folks they buy from. Just because you paid for it does not necessarily mean you own it. Collectors who don't proceed with due diligence can put their art at risk, especially if they sell the artwork to someone else.

Of the 300,000 or so stolen, missing or looted artworks listed in the Art Loss Register, an international database, more than 15% were created after 1945 - that's 45,000 works of art, created since WWII that are out there in the world, and if acquired by one of us would make our life miserable.

In the decades I was an art dealer there was more than one occasion where a client made a layaway purchase, made the payments and never ever picked up the artwork, and as far as I knew flat out disappeared. Who owns that art? (I'm still storing some six years after closing.) Or what about important artists who consign work to a gallery and then forget about it? (Do you really think all artists have fastidious records?) The question is: Who owns this treasure? What if a dealer sells you a drawing by a major living artist who was never paid, who died, and over time the $10,000 purchase becomes worth a quarter of a million and the artist's heir, now in college, decides to track all of Mom or Dad's sales, and your piece is undocumented? (I see some variation of this almost weekly.) What if an heir does their homework and decides to track down the missing art and knocks on your door? Of course you are innocent(?), but what are you going to do, and what is the impact on you? Or what if the art you acquire was not a victim of shoddy record-keeping, but was actually stolen? Add the wrinkle that the reputable gallery you bought it from didn't even know. What does this mean to you?

For a collector who has acquired a work of art, having the right to ownership disputed can come as both an emotional and financial shock. Even if the collector has secured a warranty of clear legal title from the seller at the time of purchase, he may not be able to rely on it, says Lawrence Shindell, the CEO of ARIS Corp. The upstream seller may no longer be in business, for instance, or may not have assets to stand behind the prior warranty, or may be hard to pursue if he is located in a foreign country where the warranty is hard to enforce.

Meanwhile, if the collector has become a seller of the work and hasn't sought a third-party risk transfer solution, i.e. title insurance, and if the upstream seller isn't around to recover money from, the collector himself can become liable to his or her downstream buyer if the ownership of the work is successfully challenged and the buyer then loses his money. The buyer can then sue the collector for damages, including the price he paid for the work -- as well as possible appreciation -- and for his legal expenses.

The Chubb Insurance Group has coverage that reimburses legal fees up to $100,000 incurred in a title dispute for scheduled works of art. Unfortunately, this benefit does not extend to the actual value of the work if the owner is required by the courts to forfeit the piece. Courts in the U.S. will generally "balance the equities," meaning that the due diligence the buyer performed to avoid possession of stolen art will be measured against the steps the former owner made to recover the art. Nonetheless, the burden of discovery will usually weigh more heavily on the purchaser, who, it is assumed, has the sophistication and resources to authenticate the history of a purchase.

"If you wind up on the losing side of an ownership challenge," says Jonathan Ziss, a partner at the law firm of Margolis Edelstein and a founder of Art Title Advisors, "the result can be perfectly awful: the loss of a valuable asset, the destruction of an estate plan and the loss of a charitable donation or bequest tax deduction, perhaps years after the time for filing an amended [tax] return has timed out."

Fortunately, there are resources available to help collectors with their investigations into an artwork's provenance. In their understandable enthusiasm to acquire beautiful works of art, collectors should not lose sight of this sometimes challenging, but fundamental imperative.

Paul Klein works with
The Briddge Group, the art succession planning firm and writes and speaks frequently on the subject.

7/09/10 Hot Art for Hot Days

Summer art in Chicago is changing. It used to be that galleries got lazy in the summer, trotted out new artists to see how folks responded or presented a show of best (leftover) hits from the past year.

No longer. There's a wealth of good shows and good art covering all of Chicago - more than even I can get to.

Let's start with two of the shows opening at the
Cultural Center tonight.  In Jason Peot's art, which I used to exhibit at Klein Art Works and included at McCormick Place West, there is a powerful mix of cerebral content and difficult execution - all of which he does himself (or with the help of his buddy Perry Pollock). In this work, Peot is addressing the 25 most populous cities in the US.  In the small pieces an intersection marks a city's geographical location by its longitude and latitude and a line extends horizontally and laterally from the single point.  In the larger work, a randomized overhead map of the US includes the largest cities in the country and reflects their density of population by the number of wood slats within a specific rectangle.  As much as very specific information informs and even determines the structure of Peot's art, what is most important is that it is damned beautiful.

In the Cultural Center's Michigan Avenue Gallery space adjacent to Jason Peot, is the work of
Jackie Kazarian who I also used to represent. She's a lifelong Chicagoan who is moving to Washington, Dc where her husband has already relocated while waiting for the kids to finish the school year - which they've now done.  (I'm always intrigued about how art influences children and how that child and influence grow up. When Jackie was a kid she went to the Art Institute and saw our famous Seurat At home, she got out her pencils, pressed the eraser to an ink pad and made drawings by spinning the eraser on paper. Though there are no longer, when I first showed her paintings there were a lot of dots. 

Her current work addresses art history, her imminent and sad departure from Chicago and her take on the state of the world today.  Look for abstracted iconographic Chicago imagery, references to
Velazquez and other literal allusions that belie the paintings' ostensible abstractness.

In River North,
Hammer has a particularly strong group photography exhibit that includes wonderful items of curiosity like Mole & Thomas' photographs of GI's in artistic formation to render portraits, portraits of Lee Godie (collected by Cindy Sherman) and photographic commentary made from bones by Francois Robert. Good show!

In another group show, this time at
Packer Schopf, I came across the remarkable work of Catherine Jacobi in her rookie exhibition; strong, potent and fun.

There's some art I wished I'd covered earlier.
Tony Tasset's Eye, in the South Loop is fun, not particularly profound, but particularly present large and capable of inspiring an immense number of one-liners.  This is accessible art; the kind of stuff kids elate (nice typo) to that leads to thinking about art in ways they haven't.  Adults too. I like it!

Speaking of scale, one of my favorite works of art is an oversized bronze horse at
Zolla/Lieberman by the ever-so-gifted Deborah Butterfield who has broken new ground in her unique bronze sculptures by pushing the scale. This piece is remarkable.  I went back to see it again.  I don't do that often.

That's it for me.  Get out there.  I didn't even cover half of what's going on!

Paul Klein