old master drawings
I am very pleased to announce some exciting changes at New York Arts—or, rather, the restoration of a program included in our initial mission statement. There it said that New York Arts would "no longer be only a critical arts journal, but a sponsor of exhibitions, concerts, and other performances." This began with an invitational event combining a showing of old master drawings and a concert of baroque music (Bach, Handel, Telemann, et. al.) played by Paula Robison, Kenneth Cooper and others in the Fabbri Mansion (House of the Redeemer) on the Upper East Side. There followed another multi-disciplinary event, a reading of poems by W. B. Yeats, Lloyd Schwartz, Senior Editor at New York Arts, one of America's outstanding poets, who has done extensive research on Yeats, with traditional Irish music for flute and fiddle in conjunction with an exhibition of Michael Miller’s views of the Irish landscape, monuments, and people at the Centerpoint Gallery in Chelsea. Back at the Fabbri Mansion, there was an admirable recital by Stephen Porter on the mansion's Grotrian-Steinweg (ca. 1900), entitled "Late Style," with works by Debussy, Beethoven, Chopin, and Schubert.
Knowing the Salon du Dessin at first hand, and contemplating its 2012 iteration, I find myself thinking back on on the world of master drawings as it was when I first entered it in 1980 and how it has changed over the years. Attended by over 13,000 people in 2010, the Salon is a large, public event which spans five days. It brings together the larger part of the world's curators, scholars, collectors, and dealers in the field in a busy, but rarely overcrowded public space, the Palais de la Bourse. One can survey the available stock at the dealers' stands, attend conferences, lectures, and guided tours, visit exhibitions at the Bourse and at Paris museums, as well as satellite enterprises around the Hôtel Drouot, where drawings can be had at auction, and further afield. There is a wealth of opportunities to learn about drawings, as well as to collect them. In 1980, no one thought that a fair of this size might ever exist in the field, and in its early years, during the 1990s, no one ever thought it would grow to these dimensions.
Whenever a work of art changes hands there is always a story behind it. When a collection appears on the market an entire lifetime emerges, or, in the case of figures like Robert Lebel (1901-1986), a chapter in history. In the catalogue to the sale of his old master drawings, Sotheby's manages to condense Lebel's extraordinary range of interests and experience into a single paragraph. To say that he "defied classification" is not an exaggeration. An art historian and collector, he wrote essays, novels, as well as the first biography of Marcel Duchamp. He was a friend of André Breton, Max Ernst, and Jacques Lacan. During the Second World War the circle went into exile in New York, where Matta, Tanguy, and Claude Lévi-Strauss joined them. At this time Lebel acquired as special interest in American Indian art, especially Eskimo art. His pioneering collection of Eskimo masks was sold at the Hôtel Drouot in 2006. Now Sotheby's has dispersed his important collection of old master and 19th-century drawings.