March 09, 2008
Freaks and Geeks Revisited
The dealer who sold him the trunk contends that Langmuir knew they were extremely valuable prints when he bought them in 2002 for just $3,500. The dealer says he got conned, and has sued.
(Langmuir and his once-in-a-lifetime find were the subjects of my column two weeks ago.)
The photographs and other artifacts from the life of Richard "Charlie" Lucas -- a deceased, black sideshow performer and Times Square emcee -- are to go to auction in New York next month. They are expected to sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, says the New York Times.
Does Langmuir get to pocket all that dough?
No, no, says the dealer, a 50-year-old Nigerian named Bayo Ogunsanya.
"I feel victimized," says Ogunsanya, according to an AP report. Ogunsanya filed suit Wednesday in a federal court in Brooklyn. He wants a court to block the auction, nullify or sweeten the terms of the sale and award him unspecified damages.
A lawyer for buyer Robert Langmuir called Ogunsanya's suit a nice try by an old pro.
"Mr. Ogunsanya is a professional who seems to have had a case of seller's remorse and is trying to wring a few dollars out of my client," said the attorney, Peter Meltzer.
Ogunsanya had purchased the unclaimed trunk from a Brooklyn storage shed. Langmuir bought the photos in pieces, having spent a few years tracking down the set and proving that 29 of the photographs were shot and printed by Arbus, the late photographer.
The trunk turned out to have been the effects of "Charlie" Lucas, a former sword-swallower, nail-walker and African wildman. He finished his career as an emcee at the Times Square emporium called Hubert's Dime Museum & Flea Circus, whose performers Arbus photographed sometime before 1963, as she was developing her disturbing style.
January 10, 2007
The Grifters Clinic
Not just Thomas Jefferson University, writes Richard Carreno in the latest Broad Street Review:
As with any Hitchcock thriller, the plot must be thickened beyond a single mere villain. Joining Jefferson as grifters are the acquisitive National Gallery of Art in Washington, Christie's auction house in New York, and— too perfect to be true!— a bumbling billionairess from Arkansas, the Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton. The caper's fall guys? Two of the nation’s premier art institutions, the Art Museum and the Pennsylvania Academy. The patsy in chief? The City of Philadelphia.
By Carreno's lights, Walton was the easy mark - "at Wal-Mart she functions as a retailer of velveteern Elvis portraits" - and Christie's consultants earned their fees "by devising an ingenious alternative plan." Instead of an auction or straight sale, as we all know by now, Jeff got Walton and the National Gallery to offer $68 million, but the deal was off if a local buyer could match the amount. Enter, the Art Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy, the city and assorted art lovers.
Carreno, editor of the Junto blog, and a Center City resident who's taught at Harvard and Cambridge, has taken some heat for his piece in the letters column. Patrick D. Hazard, writing from Weimar, Germany, sniffed a bit of elitism in Carreno's take:
Richard Carreño really nails the scammy Jefferson/Christie's Gross Clinic caper (see “The auctioneer’s song”). But I also deplore the cracker-baiting of Carreño’s sneering at Alice Walton. Noah's Ark, indeed. Were the millions of Mellon, Rockefeller, or Getty amassed more cleanly than Sam Walton's? Have no Philly eggheads ever visited Bentonville?
In my Appalachian lit phase, I spent weeks in Arkansas and its adjacent states. Except for their birthright racism, I found those locals more attractive humans than most Ivy snobs. And the presumption that Ozarkies are contemptible slobs ignores the Southern literary renaissance as well as great architects like Sam Mockbee and E. Fay Jones.
One sad side story of the Gross affair is the stupid snobbery of the Philly clerisy. Albert Barnes had them down straight. And they haven't improved much since.
November 16, 2006
The Sixth Square
With the pending sale of Thomas Eakins' "The Gross Clinic," WHYY seizes the moment to launch a new blog, the smartly named Sixth Square.
It's part of a full-press the public station is mounting to bring attention to Thomas Jefferson University's $68 million deal to sell the painting to the National Gallery and Wal-Mart heirs who are building a museum in Arkansas. Philadelphia has 45 days to meet the price.
The Sixth Sense writes:
From the moment of its conception in 1875, this 8 by 7 foot canvas was meant to be a great and defining work for Philadelphia—and for the nation. The artist knew it when he wrote that “it was far better than anything I have ever done.” A critic knew it when he declared: “This portrait of Dr. Gross is a great work—we know of nothing greater that has ever been executed in America.” After exhibition at three World’s Fairs: Philadelphia in 1876; Chicago in 1893; and Saint Louis in 1904, The Gross Clinic has resided at Jefferson Medical College (now Thomas Jefferson University). On occasion it was lent, but until 2006 outright sale was simply out of the question.
Now that is the question. After 130 years, the University has negotiated a sale for this “Holy Grail of American Painting.” And as the question looms, it poses a watershed moment for America’s most historic and artistic city. The challenge to Philadelphians’ hearts and minds goes directly to its spirit and identity—its sense of purpose and place. But most of all, it is a challenge to Philadelphia’s ability to secure $68 million in days that numbered 45 when the deal was first announced.
Very nice. The grump in me asks, Is Philadelphia really the country's most historic and artistic city?
November 15, 2006
Let It Go?
Welcome to Phillyville keeps hammering away at Thomas Jefferson University, linking what other bloggers are saying about its decision to cashier Thomas Eakin's masterwork, "The Gross Clinic," for $68 million, and ship it off to the National Gallery of Art and a new museum planned by Wal-Mart heirs in Arkansas. Jefferson says it could use the money.
Here's what some bloggers wrote:
The Illadelph: "There are entire blocks in Washington Square West that are routinely devoid of activity on account of Jefferson’s nightmarish planning abilities and urban vision. (Kudos to them for the recent completion of their latest big project, the massive Chestnut Street parking garage. Excellent use of real estate. Really. A bang-up job all around. Those pretty banners hanging on the side totally make all those variances it got for hundreds of extra spaces et al. totally worth it — they look fantastic.)"
The Writing on the Wall: "Alice Walton continues to pillage the rest of the country to bring American art back to Arkansas."
Appalachian Greens: "Well, Ms. Walton. As long as you're throwing around your blood money, making taxpayers fund the health care of your workers so that you personally can be worth $18 billion, why don't you just buy the Liberty Bell too? It would look so pretty in front of the Crystal Bridges Museum! And hey. There's a statue standing in the New York harbor that you could ship on down to Bentonville, too. Just think of it! When your sorry corps of middle managers come for their yearly Group Think, they can punch the Liberty Bell! Pose by the Statue of Liberty!"
Matthew the Younger: "For the uninitiated, citizens of the Philadelphia art community of the 19th and early 20th century rank among some of the least-forward thinking, dumbest folk to ever populate the planet. We all of course know how they poo-pooed Dr. Barnes and how as a result, the PMA might have missed out on inheriting his collection. Oh well, it's just a tiny survey of a barely remembered group of artists."
Working Sculptor: "The City of Philadelphia should use eminent domain to protect the right of the public to have the Gross Clinic, by Eakins, stay in it's place of origin."
Eakin's piece - which Andrew Wyeth called "my favorite American painting" in an interview with the Inquirer's Stephan Salisbury - was painted in 1875 when the Philadelphia artist was 31.
Salisbury: The eight-foot-high canvas depicts Dr. Samuel Gross, a renowned surgeon and educator at Jefferson, demonstrating the bloody removal of diseased bone from a patient's thigh. The dark amphitheater, packed with Jefferson students, including Eakins himself, the anguished figure of the patient's mother, the monumental figure of Gross, bloodied fingers clasping a scalpel and poised in mid-gesture - all combine to create an unforgettable image.
Jefferson alumni bought it from the artist for $200 and donated it to the university in 1878.
Here's a minority opinion. Call me a cretin, but I can't get that worked up about it. Yes, that painting says Philadelphia more than any other painting I can think of, except the other Eakins' piece that most people can picture - his rower on the Schuykill.
If $68 million can be raised by Dec. 26 "The Gross Clinic" can stay where it is -- inside a hospital that doesn't get that many walk-in art lovers.
That's a bit of coin. It's more than the yearly earnings of the newspaper company, according to the last investment-bankers report I read before our sale this summer.
If someone around here has that much money, there are some more important things you could do with it.
You could buy for health insurance for 42,500 Pennsylvania children who don't have coverage.
You could hire 850 rookie cops to attack the murder spree we have around here.
Let it go. We've got bigger problems. Although it makes me wonder what we could get for that boxer standing outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
October 19, 2006
Philly's Bold Design
Frank Gehry, the architect hired to design a vast underground gallery for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is the man responsible for this extrordinary space, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
The Jack the Ripper's London effect is dry ice. I remember shooting this in mid-2001, as I was reporting a story on Black Pesetas, the hoarded currency that Spainards were spending furiously as the conversion to the Euro approached. I was helping people spent them. My wallet had just been picked.
September 27, 2006
And the award for best Photoshopped illustration of a 500-year-old breaking news story goes to Coffee House Studio for this:
Mona Lisa's half smile might have something to do with the fact that she had just had her second son when she sat for Leonardo da Vinci, French and Canadian art experts said Tuesday.
Coffee House Studio, a Lehigh Valley-based blog written by Rainbow Demon, posts a Reuter's article, which reports:
The discovery was made by a team of Canadian scientists who used special infrared and three-dimensional technology to peer through hitherto impenetrable paint layers on the work, which now sits in the Louvre museum in Paris.
What they saw was a thin, transparent gauze veil that was common in early 16th century among women who were pregnant or had just given birth, Bruno Mottin, of the French Museums' Center for Research and Restoration, said at a news conference Tuesday.
This would date the painting to around 1503, when the proud Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine merchant, gave birth to her second son, which could account for the curious smile.
There was a second finding. The new technology shows that contrary to popular thought, Mona Lisa wore her hair in a bonnet, and did not allow it to hang freely, which during the Renaissance was typical of young girls and women of easy virtue.
This clearing of her reputation could also explain that slight lip curl.
January 05, 2006
Art in Motion
By getting arrested (photographing the demolition of Convention Hall on private property), delivering feminine hygiene products to the ladies of the post-Katrina Gulf Coast, and making it into the Whitney Biennial 2006 (for her slides), Philadelphia artist Zoe Strauss wins the 2005 Trifecta Award from the mavens at Artblog.
The omnipresent dynamo (they call her that) also has found time to maintain a blog and a "real" Web site. Her blog by itself is a treat, but careful at work with some of the photos. The Mummer's drinking Jack Black are not a problem. The one coping a feel shouldn't offend spying co-workers. But the penis tattoo is just wrong; it hurts to look at, even if it's a tasteful orange and black Harley Davidson logo. (Which reminds me of an old joke, but I digress.)
This is the first year that Libby Rosof and Roberta Fallon at Artblog have handed out awards, which they're calling the Libertas. They cite other good bloggers and up-and-coming artists, whack the Inky and the City Paper for a cutting space for arts coverage, and recognize such specialties as Best Meat Cleaver Art in the city (at Barry Le Va's retrospective at the ICA.)
And they award a laurel to Hermann Nitsch (pictured) - he of the blood-and-guts ritual victimization - for Best Santa look-alike making Satanic cult art.
As they put it, "Yuck."