Monthly Archives: February, 2019

Letters The Parakeet and the Mermaid, 1952
Collaged gouache on paper, 337 x 768.5 cm
by Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

You don’t need an economics degree to understand the pricing strategies of art galleries. One of my former dealers — no longer in the business — noticed that a very high percentage of gallery visitors just came in and went out. Painting sales were so infrequent he had to do something about it. Thinking price was the problem, he introduced a lot of cheaper items into the gallery — ceramics, souvenirs, knick knacks. The number of sales rose but total dollar values declined. The few “anxious wallets” who did come in simply satisfied their need with less expensive items. This situation is called “Collapsing Floor Syndrome.”

Letters Yalitza Aparicio (center) plays Cleo, the nanny inspired by Director Alfonso Cuarón's own childhood nanny, Libo.

“You have a first image,” said Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón, when describing his inspiration for his new film, Roma. “You just know that it is always going to be there. You don’t question that.” In Roma, almost every scene is meticulously composed and timed in a wide-angle tableau of human drama and staggering beauty. Drawn exclusively from Cuarón’s childhood memories, the film is shot from the perspective of his beloved nanny, Libo, and tells the story of her inner and outer life as an indigenous Mixtec domestic worker in 1970s Mexico City.

Letters An Aspect Above Lake McArthur (2014) 
11 x 14 inches, acrylic on canvas
by Robert Genn (1936-2014)

Last week, the most frequent questions jingling my inbox concerned artist’s websites. Fact is, most of them don’t work very well and artists often don’t know why. Some of course contain art that is substandard and any amount of smoke and mirrors won’t make them the dream machines that their owners desire. Having said that, many artist sites are wrongheaded and poorly done. I know this because over a period of several years I’ve had some pretty smart people fine-tuning my own site with an eye to troubleshooting and making it effective.

Letters Untitled (Winsor), 1966 
oil on canvas 
by Robert Ryman

Robert Ryman was a 22-year-old aspiring jazz musician who moved to New York City in 1953 and took a day job as a vacation-relief security guard at the Museum of Modern Art. There, he encountered the newly acquired Number 10, 1950 by Mark Rothko, part of the museum’s collecting spree of abstract expressionist paintings.

Letters Pies, Pies, Pies (1961), 
20 x 30 inches, oil on canvas
by Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)

“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there,” said the jazz artist Miles Davis. His thought is one of the keys to avoiding the boringly ordinary — “the borinary.” Many works of art are what I call “one-two.” That is, they engage the mind and sensibilities only so far. Putting a half-filled wine glass into a landscape foreground, for example, turns borinary — for better or for worse — into a bit of a conversation piece. It becomes a “one-two-three.”

Letters Uncanny X-Men #275
by Jim Lee, with inks by Scott Williams and colors by Glynis Oliver and Joe Rosas, 1991

In 1986, Jim Lee was preparing to graduate from Princeton with a psychology degree and considered going to medical school. As a kid growing up in suburban St. Louis after his parents emigrated from Seoul, South Korea, Jim learned to speak English while escaping to comic books to relieve the anxiety of feeling like an outsider. Upon his graduation from Princeton and longing to return to his love of art, Jim decided to enroll in a drawing class. When something ignited inside him, he asked his parents for a year to postpone his studies while he tried to break into the comic book industry.

Letters Las Meninas, 1656 
108.7 x 125.2 inches
oil on canvas
by Diego Velasquez (1599 - 1660)

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus of Rhodes, stood near the harbour. It was constructed by Chares of Lindos over an eight-year period starting in 292 BC. Felled by an earthquake after only 56 years, as a pile of bronze shards and stone rubble it commanded just as much attention (a thumb, it was said, was larger than a man). Sold for scrap 800 years later, it took 900 camels to carry the remnants away.

Letters Noah Purifoy, No Contest (Bicycles,) 1991

If you drive for about a hundred miles due east out of Los Angeles, you’ll reach the Mojave Desert and the edge of one of its National Parks, Joshua Tree. There, among a dusty network of roads to nowhere, a ten-acre plot sprouts with assemblages made from the detritus of 20th Century America. Repurposed and redesigned to tell new stories, they cut, wind-worn and bleached, into a cerulean, high desert sky.