Friday, February 21, 2014

The Art Set: Giants of Art

Installation photograph, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, November 24, 2013-July 27, 2014, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Calder Foundation, New York, Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, photo © Fredrik Nilsen.
The Art Set: Giants of Art
by Charlie Scheips

During my last week in Los Angeles in January, I traveled down the hill to the LA County Museum (LACMA) for the spectacular Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic exhibition. The show is up in LA until July 27 at LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion, the newest addition to the Museum’s sprawling campus.

Before taking in the Calder show, I had a coffee with LACMA’s Senior Curator of Costumes and Textiles Sharon Takeda and her Assistant Curator Clarissa Esguerra. I was curious if the Museum might have any of the evening dresses that will be featured in the book I will publish with Abrams this fall entitled: Elsie de Wolfe’s Paris: Frivolity Before the Storm.
Charles James
Woman's 'Ribbon' Evening
Dress and Cape, 1937
Silk satin
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Costume Council Fund
Photo © 2014 Museum Associates/ LACMA
Although I was unable to locate anything for my purpose they did make me aware of an amazing early Charles James cape and evening dress in their collection that will be featured in the upcoming Charles James: Beyond Fashion that opens May 8th at the Metropolitan Museum.
James made a similar ensemble for Anglo-Irish heiress and enamel artist Marit Guinness Aschan.
Afterwards, I met up with Jonathan Wilkinson and we took in the Calder exhibition. Alexander Calder has always been one of my favorite artists since as long as I can remember. There are nearly 50 of his mobiles, stabiles and maquette’s for large-scale sculptures and I think every one of them is a masterpiece!

LACMA’s Senior Curator Stephanie Barron (who had been up to David Hockney’s studio the week before to sit for a portrait) organized the brilliant show and Frank Gehry designed the stunning exhibition. The Calder Foundation, run by his grandson AlexanderSandy” Rower, was a major collaborator with the Museum. It's worth a trip to LA just to see the show but the show will travel to the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts opening on September 6 and continuing through the new year.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Installation photograph, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, November 24, 2013-July 27, 2014, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Calder Foundation, New York, Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, photo © Fredrik Nilsen.
When I was growing up in Connecticut in the 1970s Alexander Calder was still alive (he died in 1976) and living and working in Roxbury, Connecticut. Even after his death, you could see various large Calder’s in production at the Waterbury Iron Works that was visible from the I84 highway.

Alexander Calder in front of his Stegosaurus.
In 1973 I saw Calder in person for the first and only time when he traveled to Hartford to dedicate his huge 50-foot-tall Stegosaurus that still sits in a plaza between the Wadsworth Atheneum and City Hall on Main Street.

He was a great friend with the Atheneum’s legendary director A. Everett “Chick” Austin. Julien Levy, the great New York art dealer, described the fun-loving Calder as “a big, dancing Teutonic bear with his rib-crushing hug and steam roller dancing.”

Levy gave Calder a show in 1932 but was frustrated that the electric motors that animated the artist’s early kinetic sculptures kept blowing fuses. Afterwards Pierre Matisse was Calder’s New York dealer.

In 1934, at the raucous post-premier party for the Wadsworth Atheneum produced Virgil Thomson/Gertrude Stein opera Four Saints in Three Acts that took place at Chick and Helen Austin’s famous Modern-meets-Palladian house (now owned by the Atheneum) on Scarborough Street, Levy and Calder had an oft-told episode.

Levy (who made the only film of that historic performance) was praising the composer and when Thomson complained that some of the musicians had missed a few cues, Levy pushed Thomson on the shoulder saying “Oh Virgil, don’t split hairs!” Thomson then lost his balance and fell backwards, smashing an antique golden bamboo ballroom chair into splinters. Calder, who was standing nearby, assuming Levy was drunk, grabbed Levy and carried him upstairs so he could sober up. Apparently it was only a misunderstanding and Levy rejoined the party shortly after.
The Austin House, now owned by the Atheneum.
The stairs have a story, too.
It was because there was such joy and humor in Calder’s work that critics underestimated him for decades. He is one of the 20th century’s giant artists and there is no one like him. If one of the signs of a great artist is their ability to make memorable works, then Calder ranks with Picasso and Matisse in my book.

You might say that seeing the Calder show in these fantastic installation shots from LACMA is a bit of a spoiler, but nothing can reproduce the experience of seeing them in person.

If I lived in LA right now I would visit the show on a weekly basis.
Installation photograph, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, November 24, 2013-July 27, 2014, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Calder Foundation, New York, Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, photo © Fredrik Nilsen.
Installation photograph, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, November 24, 2013-July 27, 2014, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Calder Foundation, New York, Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, photo © Fredrik Nilsen.
Installation photograph, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, November 24, 2013-July 27, 2014, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Calder Foundation, New York, Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, photo © Fredrik Nilsen.
Installation photograph, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, November 24, 2013-July 27, 2014, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Calder Foundation, New York, Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, photo © Fredrik Nilsen.
Installation photograph, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, November 24, 2013-July 27, 2014, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Calder Foundation, New York, Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, photo © Fredrik Nilsen.
Installation photographs, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, November 24, 2013-July 27, 2014, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Calder Foundation, New York, Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, photo © Fredrik Nilsen.
Installation photograph, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, November 24, 2013-July 27, 2014, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Calder Foundation, New York, Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, photo © Fredrik Nilsen.
Installation photograph, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, November 24, 2013-July 27, 2014, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Calder Foundation, New York, Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, photo © Fredrik Nilsen.
Installation photograph, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, November 24, 2013-July 27, 2014, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Calder Foundation, New York, Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, photo © Fredrik Nilsen.
Installation photograph, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, November 24, 2013-July 27, 2014, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Calder Foundation, New York, Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, photo © Fredrik Nilsen.
My last night in LA we had an amusing dinner at David Hockney’s with Carrie Fisher. Carrie brought along her pal writer Bruce Wagner, and joining us was Disney’s special events VP Diane Connors and Hockney assistants Jonathan Wilkinson and Jean-Pierre Goncalves de Lima.

Carrie is truly a funny person — spontaneously funny in a way that you start losing control. She’s set to star again as Princess Leia in Star Wars Episode VII that is going into production sometime soon. After dinner, French born multi-talented Jean-Pierre, (whom we call “JP”) pulled out his accordion and gave us an impromptu concert of classics by masters like Astor Piazzolla.
Carrie Fisher and David Hockney.
Diane Connors.
If I had known the weather I was coming back to in New York I think I would have refused to leave LA. The drive down Nichols Canyon and over to Crescent Heights toward LAX made me nostalgic for the days when I called LA my home.

One of the benefits of the trip, besides being painted by David Hockney, was the twelve cartons of cigarettes I brought back so I don’t have to pay the $10 per pack more in New York.

The one event I was looking forward to was the dinner that Larry Gagosian hosted to mark the 90th birthday of legendary art historian John Richardson — who is without a doubt our greatest living raconteur.

I first met John in Los Angeles around 1987 when I volunteered to pick him up after a luncheon at Caroline Graham’s house in Santa Monica and bring up to Hockney’s house in the Hollywood Hills. I knew that John had first known Pablo Picasso during his ten-year stormy relationship with the collector Douglas Cooper in the 1950s (entertainingly chronicled in Richardson’s 1999 book The Sorcerer's Apprentice Picasso, Provence, And Douglas Cooper) and I was excited to have the opportunity to take the 45-minute drive with him.

After I moved back to New York in the early 1990s I got the chance to get to know John better and always relish our visits together — usually at his palatial art-filled apartment on lower Fifth Avenue or frequent chatty phone calls. (He’s now Sir John since his 2012 induction as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire). His multi-volume Picasso biography is so good I usually re-read it about once a year. And since he joined the Gagosian Gallery empire six years ago, his exhibitions (in London and New York) on various aspects of Picasso have been among the best (and hugely popular) shows on the planet!
John Richardson and Pablo Picasso in the 1950s. Douglas Cooper is also in the original photo which is the cover of John's book, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."
For the dinner Gagosian took over ABC Kitchen on 18th Street. I got there just as the party was starting and saw John and Gagosian’s Virginia Coleman still fine tuning the placement of the more than one hundred guests.

Among the other early arrivals were Rosamond Bernier Russell and Betsy Baker. At 97, Rosamond is amazing — I was in the Knickerbocker Club a couple weeks ago and noticed she had given a talk there last month. And I am going to hear her speak again next month.
Sir John Richardson and Virginia Coleman making last minute seating arrangements.
John Richardson's table. He sat in the middle across from Larry Gagosian.
The ambiance was beautiful at ABC Kitchen.
The all-male "Art" table.
Among John’s wide array of guests were two drag queens: towering sequined-sheathed and tiara-topped Dallas and Milan, who came dressed in a nurse costume with a large red cross on her “bust” and cap. That’s my idea of “first aid.”

It was a dinner filled with legends of one type of another and if they were too young for legend status they were all bold-faced names from one of John’s many worlds. During the cocktails I chatted with Ariel de Ravenal here from Paris to work on the book she will soon publish on her great friend the late Loulou de la Falaise. I also got a chance to visit with photographer and artist David Dawson, and Mark Holborn visiting from London and British artist Keith Milow who now lives in Amsterdam as well as John’s assistant Rob Grover.

For anyone interested in the First World War, you must get a copy of Mark’s book The Great War that features hundreds of never before published photographs drawn from the collection of the Imperial War Museums in London.
John Richardson with Milan — his "nurse" for the evening.
Rosamond Bernier Russell and Betsy Baker surrounded by Milan, John Richardson, and Dallas.
Before we all sat down for dinner I spotted Random House’s Shelley Wanger (who accompanied John to London when he was awarded the KBE), Annette de la Renta, Mercedes Bass, Helen and Brice Marden (who had organized our friend Rene Ricard’s funeral that very day), Rachel Mauro, Barry Diller, Nancy and Henry Kissinger, Bernard Picasso and Almine Rech, Charlie Rose, Diana Widmaier Picasso, Duane Hampton, Charles Stuckey, Françoise Gilot, Shirley Lord, Ashton Hawkins, Boaz Mazor, Metropolitan Museum Director Thomas Campbell and dozens of others who all have at least one thing in common — John Richardson.
Fran Lebowitz, Barry Diller, and Shelley Wanger. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.
Elizabeth de Cuevas and Dr. Gaetano Barile. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Nilko Andreas. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.
John Silberman and Brice Marden. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.
I snuck outside for a cigarette with Keith Milow, Nicki Haslam and Fran Lebowitz. When we were called to table I found myself at the “stag” all-male art table John had put together. With me were artists Jack Pierson, and Peter McGough, Keith Milow, David Dawson, the Met’s Greek and Roman curator Carlos Picon and Jeffrey Kepler, Johnnie Moore and Kosei Hara. John made a circle of the tables saying hellos to everyone and boasting how the whole thing was “so much fun!”
John made sure to say hello to everyone — here flanked by Kosei Hara and Jack Pierson.
Our generous host Larry Gagosian.
Charlie and John Richardson.
Keith Milow, Duane Hampton, and Boaz Mazor.
Larry Gagosian gave a brief toast to John saying “who wouldn’t host a birthday dinner for John Richardson: “If I could have a quarter of these people at one of my openings I would be thrilled!” John thanked Larry for giving “an 84-year-old a job,” and announced they will put on another blockbuster Picasso show in November. John also thanked his doctors Timothy Dutta and Gaetano Barile and credited them from saving him from blindness.
Francoise Gilot and John Richardson. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.
Happy Birthday John Richardson! Like all of John’s myriad friends around the globe I am lucky to be even a tiny part of his extraordinary life. John is one of the giants of the “art world” in the best sense of that overused concept. Not only do we marvel at his erudition and amazingly clear and elegant prose but also (when one is lucky enough to know him) for the many entre nous or titillating stories he is apt to deliver like firecrackers over a meal or a cocktail. I always keep them “off the record” so I’ll get the chance to hear more!