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Pretty tools!

November 15, 2010

As I face the horrors of having to adjust the radiator pipes, put up shelves and do otherwise practical things around the apartment I have decided to rebel against the large, ugly tools from my corner hardware store. After a quick search online I found that there are so many tool sets these days that not only reduce the number of tools you have to have (see the multipurpose hammer above) but also are pretty! I am so tempted to get the Victoria & Albert Museum kitchen drawer toolset by Wild & Wolf but practicality tells me I should probably get the Barbara K tool kit designed by a former CEO of a New York City construction company and single mother, Barbara Kavovit. I don’t think a lone screwdriver will do the job but this comprehensive kit should get the job(s) done! (Now, just to figure out how to actually use everything…)

Clockwise from Top:


Sketching Ancient Villages in Anhui, China

October 28, 2010

Xidi and Hong Cun Villages in Anhui

Xidi and Hong Cun Villages in Anhui Province in Southern China are both ancient villages from the Ming and Qing Dynasties (15th to 17th century) that have been remarkably well preserved.  A result of the flourishing trading economy of the time, the lavish mansions in the area were financed by money sent home by merchants who would work far away on the coast. A stone window shaped like a falling leaf in Xidi Village describes the thinking of the time: like a leaf eventually falls to the ground to lay by the tree’s roots, every family member who leaves returns home. Since the male members of the family were often away on business, they built their homes with tiny windows on the outer walls (to protect against bandits, who were always seeking plunder) and beautiful courtyards open to the sky on the interior, to let light and rain water in. The grey tile roofs and stone details characterize Anhui architecture, not to mention the ornate wood carvings on beams and staircases. One of the best preserved homes in Hong Cun village cost millions of dollars in today’s dollars and included gold on all the beams of the living areas. On my recent trip I discovered that not only are the villages themselves beautiful, but driving between them you pass through lush tea fields and bamboo groves, a beautiful bright green against the contrasting white of the village homes.

The villages were made UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2000. Even before then, they were known around China for their picturesque rooftops and reflecting ponds and were very popular with artists. A recent exhibit in Shanghai of artists’ Moleskin notebooks reveals just how well suited they are for an afternoon of sketching. The exhibit, “Detour” will be on display until Nov. 20 at Bund 18. 4/F, 18 Zhongshan East Rd., Shanghai.


Li Shoubai’s sketches on the inside of a Moleskine notebook.

The Century Association

September 22, 2010

This weekend I am lucky enough to be attending a private curatorial tour of The Century Association, a New York club of authors, artists, and “amateurs of letters and the fine arts” renowned since 1847 for its art collection (and distinguished list of  100 original members, which it was named for). A few of the club’s more notable past members include artists of the Hudson River School (including Thomas Cole and Thomas Doughty) as well as artists Asher Durand, Winslow Homer and architect Stanford White (whose firm, Mckim, Mead & White, designed the clubhouse, which is located at 7 West 43rd Street), not to mention poets such as William Bryant. A neat list of some original members and their occupations and what they were known for (designing the UN headquarters, NYTimes publisher, US Secretary of State, “quarks and strangeness” and so on) is available here. Today, the club has more than 2,000 members and its main activity is conversation (according to its very mysterious website).

The collection I will have a sneak peak at includes paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints and photographs. Some of the better known represented artists include: Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John Singer Sargent, Robert Motherwell and the artists listed above.

The art of the con strikes again! $1.3 million painting found in bushes on UES…

September 16, 2010

I couldn’t resist writing about this though it’s already all over the internet. Apparently, a drunken art courier lost Jean Baptiste Camille Corot’s “Portrait of a Girl” one night after taking it to a viewing. How one loses a painting is mystifying to me but I guess these things happen (sounds like someone will be out of a job after this). The story gets more twisted after one finds out that not only was the painting discovered in the bushes by a doorman on the UES, but also that one of the co-owners of the painting is Thomas Doyle, a proven art thief. Doyle has been convicted of stealing a Degas sculpture out from under the nose of an older gentleman on claims that he was taking it to be authenticated. He later sold it for $225,000 to an antiques dealer. On top of that, he has also served time for   $200,000 jewelry theft in Tennessee.

Seems like he’s not as crafty as John Drewe, but entertaining nevertheless. You can read about the theft and the subsequent legal mix ups here and the discovery of the painting here. How exciting! Apparently, the doorman kept the painting (in his bathroom no less!) until he realized how much it was worth. What I would give to live with a painting like that for a few days… Lucky guy!

“Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art” By Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo

September 13, 2010

Provenance weaves the complex tale of expert con man John Drewe and his talented accomplice, John Myatt, as they pulled off the most intricate fraud in the modern art world. Not only did they manage to convince curators and auction houses that the hundreds of fakes by countless different artists they manufactured were real,  they also managed to rewrite art history, to the point where we may never know what is  truly  authentic again.

John Drewe fashioned himself as a nuclear physics professor, Mossad agent, British Aerospace board member, MI5 spy, amateur art collector and son of the creator of the atom bomb. His story would change to suit the circumstance at hand and even his best childhood friend (whose name he used in his forged provenances) lost track of him and came to believe the web of stories that Drewe so effortlessly put forth.  Very little is known about Drewe and there is a 15 year period in his life where there are absolutely no tax, employment or records of any kind. Few of us could claim such talent! Though his whole life can be said to be a con story, the one he got caught for began in 1986, when Drewe called Myatt after seeing an ad for reproductions of famous paintings and requested a Matisse. It began innocently enough, as Myatt, who had a failed career as an artist and musician was desperate for money and talented at creating look-a-like paintings. With his wife gone and two young children to care for, Myatt was scraping by, selling portraits of people’s dogs and the occasional “Picasso”. Drewe was willing to pay him regularly for good quality copies and Myatt was impressed enough with his supposed credentials (not to mention that Drewe pulled up to Myatt’s farmhouse in a Bentley every time) that he went along with the game… until he caught on and realized Drewe was forging artist’s signatures on his canvases. By then it was too late, the cash coming in was just too compelling compared to his salary as elementary school art teacher. (Then again, Drewe made over a million pounds selling Myatt’s works while Myatt saw only a fraction of the proceeds.)

Not only did Drewe sell over 200 of Myatt’s fakes into the market via a complicated network of art runners, he also talked his way into the archives of the Tate and the Victoria & Albert, and inserted  photos of Myatt’s paintings into exhibition catalogs and gallery notes to add another layer of authenticity and create a provenance for works that did not exist. It must have been more than a full time job to not only gather authentic handwritten notes from the time period but to recreate histories for works of art over several decades that were fairly bullet proof.

The story of how they perpetuated this shady business for a decade and their eventual discovery by a dedicated team of detectives and art experts at Scotland Yard is enthralling. I hate to think that only 60 of the over 200 works purportedly by Chagall, Matisse, Giacometti, Le Corbusier and others were recovered. While this is a story of the complicated behind-the-scenes work of authentication that can consume art experts, it is equally a psychological portrait of one of the most intriguing characters in recent history. I’m not sure I can even imagine that John Drewe is a real person, he seems so much like a shape-changing fairy tale goblin. A better combination of detective story and well-researched portrayal of the modern art market would be hard to find. The authors pull together each thread of the story seamlessly and I finished it much too fast!

New York Enclaves

August 15, 2010

152 East 38th Street  — who would’ve known that this beautiful Federal Revival house would be tucked away between Lexington and Third Avenue amid a quiet stretch of brownstones. The house dates to the 1840’s (according to the New York Landmarks Preservation plaque, installed in 1989) and was originally a gatehouse to an estate belonging to a member of President Van Buren’s family. The house was sold to the publisher Cass Canfield (president of Harper & Row)  in 1929 who remodeled the house. A NYTimes article (which reads rather like a complicated family tree) provides an extensive overview of the history of the home’s ownership and reveals that there is a roof garden on top of the brick house in the back, which brings visitors right under the treetops in a quiet oasis. How beautiful!

Summer’s Bounty

August 9, 2010

When trying to think of an explanation as to why I haven’t been around there isn’t much to say beyond the truth that the sweetness of summer is mighty distracting and makes one want to spend as much time away from the computer as possible. I know there has been debate about the veracity of the “local” claims made by farmer’s markets, but I still can’t resist the charm of an old fashioned roadside fruit stand. More pictures to come soon…