Selling the Crown Jewels: Norman Rockwell

by Stephen J. Goldberg Esq.

Norman Rockwell, Shuffleton’s Barbershop, 1950

Although I’m not a big fan of Norman Rockwell’s artwork, a painting of his caught my eye after becoming the centerpiece of a controversy that has rocked the art world. Rockwell, the longtime cover illustrator of the Saturday Evening Post working from the 1920s to the 1960s, was known for producing images of daily American life­—rosy-cheeked folks in church or kids playing baseball—a cornpone vision of America ensconced safely behind white picket fences. The Rockwell artwork at issue, Shuffleton’s Barbershop (1950), is part of the fine art collection of the little-known Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, which announced in July 2017, that it would auction the painting. Rockwell meticulously reproduced the myriad details of Shuffleton’s barbershop, but what fixates the eye is the back room of the shop in which an elderly group of men are playing musical instruments bathed in a rich inner light matching the glow from a wood-burning stove. The painting would fit into the oeuvre of a Dutch master, perhaps Jan Steen.
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Inside the Glass Menagerie

by Stephen J. Goldberg Esq. ·

Dale Chihuly, Red Reeds on Logs, 2017

Does anyone really believe that Michelangelo or Rubens painted all their works—every single stroke? Of course they didn’t. They had assistants working on their art to varying degrees, which is why numerous Old Master works are “attributed to” or “studio of.” Andy Warhol called his studio “The Factory” and very rarely was involved in the silkscreen process for the works. Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst each employ over 100 assistants in their art practices. Koons and Warhol proudly proclaimed themselves “idea men.”
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Art Brief: All in the Family

by Stephen J. Goldberg Esq.

Façade of Marciano Foundation on Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, courtesy of Marciano Art Foundation.

In the past two years two art museums endowed by Los Angeles billionaires have opened. Eli Broad opened The Broad museum in 2015 and the owners of Guess Jeans, the Marciano Brothers, opened the Marciano Art Foundation in May of this year. While this is a huge boost to the contemporary art profile of Los Angeles, museumgoers should be aware that there’s more to this than the altruistic instincts of the Broads and the Marcianos. These institutions were set up as nonprofit artistic foundations which were designed to shelter their founders from estate, capital gains, and sales taxes on the art, stocks and bonds they donate to or acquire for their foundations. That said, there is little doubt that these two new institutions serve an artistic and educational purpose for the public good and are worthy endeavors.
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A New Law That’s Bad for the Art Business

An edition of how many? Salvador Dalí, Swans Reflecting Elephants, 1937

by Stephen J. Goldberg Esq.

Sometimes legislation in Sacramento is rushed through with unintended consequences, an unfortunate example being a newly expanded law posing problems for art dealers. This 2016 amendment to California Civil Code Section 1739.7 was intended to broaden a law that provided sports memorabilia collectors protections from unscrupulous dealers who sold supposedly “autographed” items that often turned out to be phony. The recent amendment was intended to bring under the law’s protections buyers of collectibles from dealers in entertainment memorabilia, also subject to widespread fraud. However, the text of the amendment, in effect since January 1, 2017, was not limited to sports and entertainment memorabilia, making its draconian provisions applicable to art dealers, book dealers and vendors of other collectibles.
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Ivanka Dearest

by Stephen J. Goldberg Esq.

Ivanka Trump with her Richard Prince piece.

President Trump’s proposed plan for a $54 billion increase in the defense budget would be paid for by drastically cutting many agency budgets, including the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) with its relatively modest annual budget of approximately $150 million (the cost of a single top-of-the-line fighter jet). This is a dream come true for conservative Republicans who have tried repeatedly to kill the NEA since the Reagan years, viewing it as either a waste of money or a source of funding for artists and art institutions perceived to be on the liberal end of the political spectrum. This is the first time that Republicans control both the presidency and Congress since the NEA was created, making this the most serious threat yet to the agency (the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are also slated for elimination). Continue reading

Freeport Shenanigans: Secret, Secure, Unseen

by Stephen J. Goldberg Esq.

Pablo Picasso, Les Noces de Pierrette, 1905

The greatest collection of art in the world may not be at the Met or the Louvre any longer. The secret vaults of the wealthiest collectors in the world may hold much more art than the top art museums, with the vast majority of it locked away in so-called freeports in Geneva, Singapore, Monaco and Luxembourg. In 2015 Newark, Delaware, was designated as a freeport and now Wall Street titans don’t even have to travel overseas to visit their art collections. These freeports are places where goods can be shipped custom-duty-free. The most important freeport is in Geneva where an estimated 1.2 million works of art are stored. The Geneva warehouses offer fireproof state-of-the-art facilities with impeccable security. Continue reading

The Naked City Sexual Politics, West Hollywood Style

by Stephen J. Goldberg Esq. ·

Mason_GlassCeiling_sml_BM-

The City of West Hollywood is well known as one of the most liberal cities in America, so it’s more than a little ironic that the city officials have been accused of censoring the artistic work of photographer Brooke Mason who curated shows of women’s artwork at three venues in that city in conjunction with Women’s History Month this March. The controversy reveals a double standard by the city when it comes to the display of male and female nudity.

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Why Art? DIEM Panel

DIEM: Talks Design symposium on November 13, 2015, curated by Mallery Roberts Morgan with KCRW’s Frances Anderton.
New York, Paris, London, LA, Berlin, Hong Kong… in major capitals the big story is art. Why? Is it pure commerce, a new form of spirituality or a branch of interior design? And how much of today’s “art” is any good? How much can the market bear? Panelists will ruminate on what art means to society today.

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Sacked and Pillaged; Simchowitz vs. Mahama

by Stephen J. Goldberg Esq.

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Ibrahim Mahama’s massive jute-sack installation for the 2015 Venice Biennale.

Stefan Simchowitz is a controversial figure in the art world. He doesn’t own an art gallery yet maintains a large network of art collectors. He eloquently expounds upon art theory but is not associated with an art institution. He provides advice and monetary support to numerous artists whom he claims to have discovered but isn’t a conventional art patron. He doesn’t like to be called an art dealer, but that is basically how he operates. The New York Times Magazine did a profile of Simchowitz early last year, in which they named him the “Patron Satan” of the art world. Simchowitz, who infamously appeared clad only in briefs in a photo accompanying the Times piece, told me that the article is “a work of fiction” typical of the Times’ “bias” against the Los Angeles art scene.

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Keeping it Real

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ART BRIEF: KEEPING IT REAL

January 5, 2016 · in Columns, January_2016

Last year I was invited to view a controversial painting that the owner claimed to be a genuine Rothko he bought at a small LA auction many years ago. The painting was not officially included in the Rothko catalogue raisonné despite the fact that the owner discovered photos in the Rothko archive which seemed to prove its authenticity as an early work; his attempts to persuade the catalog’s author, David Anfam, were in vain. Rothko is a favorite artist and I’ve seen many of his works over the years at art museums and Rothko retrospectives, but it was difficult for me be sure that this painting was authentic. To my eyes it looked like a Rothko, but without inclusion in the Rothko catalog, it was not authenticated. Perhaps in the past it would have been possible to find an appraiser who would go out on limb, but today’s art world makes it more difficult to take a chance.

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