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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Anatomy of an Art Exposition - Part 2

Last week, I brought you Sue Canterbury’s story of how she came to know Beauford’s work and decided to create the 2004-2005 one-show Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris. This week’s posting brings you many of the behind-the-scenes details of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) show.



ArtsMIA Web page for Beauford’s show

Les Amis: How much space was devoted to the show?

Sue Canterbury: It was originally intended for a smaller gallery but, as luck would have it, the large special exhibition galleries became available due to alterations in the museum’s exhibition schedule (about a year before the show) and Delaney became the main event at the MIA in the fall of 2004.

Les Amis: How was it decided which paintings would be included in the show?

Sue Canterbury: I'm the person who made the selection. While the "From New York to Paris" transition was the heart of the show, I felt it was necessary to “bookend” the works I had rediscovered between what had preceded and followed them so people would be able to witness the stylistic developments and transitions in Beauford’s art. With the early Paris works restored to his history, it no longer seemed as if one was dealing with two artists but with an artist whose late abstracted figurative works of New York were not that far removed from the early, fully abstract works that would follow once he was in Paris.

Les Amis: What is the process for requesting loans of paintings (and perhaps documents or other items) for a show?

Sue Canterbury: Loans generally need to be place at least a year out from a show. Sometimes the odd thing can be slipped in later, but as the catalogue has to be written and edited far in advance, loans need to be in place as soon as possible. Dealers (Michael Rosenfeld, Patrick Albano, etc.), as well as Sylvain Briet, were helpful in passing on loan requests to private collectors.

Les Amis: How were the persons who wrote essays for the catalog selected?

Sue Canterbury: Ann Gibson had already written about Beauford on a couple occasions. I liked her work and was interested in her covering the New York figurative years. I was interested in having Michael Plante cover the late Paris years. I wanted to cover Delaney's transitional works of 1953-1960 as that period was key to the inquiry I wanted to make. I wanted to involve Sylvain Briet on the project because he and Philippe had uncovered and amassed an incredible amount of information. After Philippe’s untimely death, Sylvain had continued to compile what I consider the most thorough chronology of Beauford's life, work, exhibition history, etc.

Les Amis: Who decided what would be on the cover of the catalog?

Sue Canterbury: I'm guilty! That's a detail of a very special painting. It is the painting that was given to the Institute by Jacques and Solange du Closel. Until proven otherwise, it is the first known fully abstract expressionist work from Paris. It is also one of three paintings he did on 'canvas' made from the raincoat that Billy and Irene Rose gave him before he sailed from New York. Unfortunately, I don't know where the other two are or even if they still exist.


ArtsMIA Catalog Cover

Les Amis: How is mounting a retrospective different than mounting a group exhibit?

Sue Canterbury: Well, it allows you to concentrate on one artist and one story. I should mention however, that Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris was not a retrospective. I didn't cover the Knoxville or Boston years. Again, my interest was in the lost works of early Paris. I just added New York at the front, and post-1960 works at the end to give people a clear picture of his stylistic development.

Les Amis: What, if anything, was different about mounting the Delaney one-man show compared to other expositions that you have worked on?

Sue Canterbury: Because Delaney died only in 1979, there were still many people present who had known him. It gave immediacy to the project that is generally lacking when working on art or artists or much earlier periods or centuries. Thus, I was hearing all about Delaney directly from individuals who had known him well and cared deeply for him. The project took me on quite the ride. In New York, I visited with the artist Paul Jenkins, who called up Al Hirschfeld and asked if he had time to meet me. There I was the next day discussing Beauford and the exhibition. Or, there’s the time I arrived in Paris on a courier trip and, in hopes of finding Sylvain Briet had attempted to contact him prior to leaving Minneapolis. I had left my contact info of where I would be in Paris not knowing if he would get the message. The day I arrived I received a call from Sylvain in my Paris hotel room, with him asking me if I could catch a train to Normandy the next day to come and meet him. And, off I went.

Les Amis: Who decided which partner museums the show would travel to?

Sue Canterbury: Complex. I called several museums that I felt might be interested and sent out exhibition proposals. Knoxville, as his hometown, seemed a no-brainer. Greenville County Museum in South Carolina, on the other hand, hadn't been in my plans but they wanted the show AND they had the fantastic Washington Square work that I wanted to borrow.  Philadelphia had a history with Beauford. He had been there and had painted portraits of individuals there. Of course, Richard Gibson was also from Philly. Additionally, Philadelphia is always keen to get good exhibitions and materials on African-American artists.

Les Amis: How was it decided how long the show would be exhibited at each museum?

Sue Canterbury: The duration of exhibitions is pretty standard. Most museums will run their shows on a 10- or 12-week schedule. Due to the recent economic downturn, however, some museums have been prolonging the length of their shows when possible.

Les Amis: Was there much need for collaboration among these museums regarding presentation of the works, etc., or were they simply packed up and shipped from one place to the next?

Sue Canterbury: There can be collaboration. It depends on the situation. Generally, label text copy (what you read on the label next to the painting), and didactic panel copy (a large panel of text that gives the visitor an overview of the works in that gallery) are provided as part of the rental contract in a traveling show and are sent to the next venue for each institution to produce according to their own practices or protocols. The venues generally try to follow the intellectual concept (respect for which is also part of the rental contract), but a hang also is heavily influenced by the space and architectural demands of each museum’s exhibition galleries.

The one thing that was consistent at all four venues was the special pedestal that housed the raincoat painting. It allowed people to look at the back of the work so they could see the double-stitched seam and the top-stitched pocket, etc.


Pedestal for raincoat painting
Display at Knoxville Museum of Art
Photo courtesy of Sue Canterbury

Untitled (raincoat painting) by Beauford Delaney
(1954) Oil on raincoat fragment
Photo courtesy of Sue Canterbury


Untitled (raincoat painting - rear) by Beauford Delaney
(1954) Oil on raincoat fragment
Photo courtesy of Sue Canterbury


Les Amis: How was the show financed?

Sue Canterbury: While museums set budgets, they're always desperate for alternate funding sources. In my case, The MIA applied for grants from the Henry Luce Foundation and the Judith Rothschild Foundation. (The Rothschild Foundation stipulates that any artist project they fund depends on the artist having died after 1978. Beauford just made it...1979.)

Les Amis: Are expositions expected to make money for the institutions exhibiting them?

Sue Canterbury: That is a dream to which most museums aspire but rarely see fulfilled. Generally, exhibitions don't make a profit or even break even. An institution generally hopes simply to defray expenses with tickets at the door, etc. In this exhibition's case, the Luce and Rothschild grants took a big bite out the projected budget expenses. Also, the rental fees paid by each of the travel venues were very helpful.

Les Amis: Was Beauford’s show profitable?

Sue Canterbury: Ultimately not, in the financial sense. Minneapolis will never have the amazing number of visitors that one sees at the Orsay, the Met, or the National Gallery. Its numbers are thought good if they are in the range of 60,000. Anything above that is pretty outstanding. Delaney pulled in about 22,000 visitors. However, when I realized that 22,000 people paid to see a show about an artist they had never heard of before, I actually felt rather good about the final count. (I still have people comment to me about the Delaney exhibition having been their favorite—and they aren’t even aware thatI was the curator of the exhibition. That makes me feel good. Also, the exhibition was awarded best exhibition of the year by a local magazine.)

On another level, the exhibition built an important bridge to the local African-American community. On yet another, very meaningful level, we also received the raincoat painting as a gift from the Du Closel's in appreciation of our doing the show on Beauford. People love that painting and the story. Another measure of success, I should add, is that the catalogue sold out completely. It's out of print. I recall that Philadelphia had to ask for additional catalogues beyond the number allotted in their contract.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Anatomy of an Art Exposition - Part 1

Sue Canterbury was the curator of the magnificent exhibit entitled Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris that originated at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (November 21, 2004 – February 20, 2005) and was subsequently presented by the Knoxville Museum of Art (April 8 – June 25, 2005), the Greenville County Museum of Art (August 3 – October 2, 2005), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (November 12, 2005 – January 28, 2006).


ArtsMIA Web page for Beauford’s show

As a novice to the art world, I was curious to learn how this latest one-man exposition of Beauford’s work was conceived of and put together. Sue graciously explained this to me, beginning with how she discovered Beauford’s work:

I arrived at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in the summer of 1998. Sometime during my first year, I met Burt and Patricia Reinfrank. If I recall correctly how things unfolded, they had contacted my boss and I (my boss having arrived about 9 months before I ) with an interest in lending Jazz Quartet (1945) by Delaney for display in our permanent galleries. (It's worth noting that before meeting them, I had never heard of Beauford Delaney.)

Jazz Quartet
Beauford Delaney
(1946) Oil on canvas
Courtesy of Burt and Patricia Reinfrank
As I learned more through them, Burt floated the idea of an exhibition. I was intrigued by the idea for the following reasons: 1) Delaney was an artist with an interesting body of work but of whom I had never heard; 2) I was particularly engaged by what I saw as his (then) two bodies work--the New York figurative and the ca. 1960 and after abstract expressionist works. I felt as though I was viewing the work of two different artists. Where was the stylistic bridge between the New York and Paris works? The link was absent in all the literature I had seen thus far.
That last bit (#2) was what particularly intrigued me. I always have to find a hook to any project I choose to undertake. The quest to uncover new connections is what drives my passion about something. I'm not interested in covering material already treated by other exhibitions.
Sue went on to say that while curators can sometimes be assigned projects, they much prefer to choose their own. It is the curator's job to make a compelling case for a proposed project to colleagues and the museum director. Once a presentation of the proposal is made, and if the project is approved, then the framework of budgets and schedules can be put in place so all phases will come together in a timely manner.

Sue chose to do the Delaney exposition because of her rapidly growing passion for Beauford’s work. It was her responsibility to 1) craft the concept; 2) locate the objects in order to develop an object checklist for the exhibition; 3) find new information through research of old catalogues, books, magazines, etc) and, in the case of Beauford by talking to people who actually had known him, etc.; and 4) arrange for the conservation of several objects. An example is the Richard Gibson portrait, the conservation of which was performed by a London conservator. Many works were in need of cleaning or required framing. Two works were in extremely rough shape and needed major intervention. Sue feels very gratified that these works were saved for posterity.

The budget for the exhibition was very slim and, consequently, a great deal of Sue’s research had to be piggy-backed onto courier trips to New York, London, and Paris. (An institution that borrows paintings from another institution for an exhibition pays for a courier to accompany the work to its facility.). Sue would often tack on a few extra days to extend the time available for research, interviews, and visits with collectors.

Next week: The behind-the-scenes details of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) show.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Roy Freeman Remembers Beauford

Roy Freeman is an artist, writer, and caregiver for autistic adults.  The son of artists Don and Lydia Cooley Freeman, he left home at the age of sixteen to "seek his fortune" in the world—he dabbled in painting, music, and dance in San Francisco, lived with the Mazatec Indians in Mexico, and had many additional life experiences prior to settling down in Switzerland to study nature at the age of nineteen. He became a geophysicist, and worked in academia for many years before leaving this field to pursue his current activities.

Both of Roy's parents knew Beauford well, and Roy remembers how frequently they spoke of him. In quickly perusing some of Don Freeman's correspondence, Roy found several mentions of Beauford.  He told me that Don and Lydia visited Beauford in Paris in 1970-1971, but that he has found no written anecdotes about the trip.

Roy had his own encounter with Beauford in Paris at the age of 19, which he describes as follows:

Of course the real meeting with Beauford was when I was in Paris in 1969 with my wife at the time. We called him up at the suggestion of Don and Lydia, and Beauford immediately invited us over. He was living in a small apartment, which functioned also as his artist studio. At the time I had very long hair and we were really surfing hippies. I was nervous at how Beauford would take us in. To my deep relief, Beauford accepted us just as we were. He was an incredibly gentle, open human being. I realized at once that I was in the world of a real artist. I could hardly believe the welcome and being with this wonderful man. He showed us around his apartment and showed the paintings he was doing at the time—very abstract. Before we left, I gave him a copy of a small book I had published privately—Mountains Converse—and he offered us one of his paintings. I could hardly believe his openness and generosity, but it was indeed genuine and real. I will never forget this meeting!
Soullis Toucas
(Beauford's gift to Roy Freeman)
Oil on canvas
Image courtesy of Roy Freeman

Roy graciously shared with me his knowledge of his father's relationship with Beauford in a recent interview.  Below are a number of excerpts from this wonderful exchange.

Les Amis: Your father, Don Freeman, knew Beauford Delaney. Was this because they were both artists and met in conjunction with the WPA (Works Progress Administration) project? Or did they meet under other circumstances?

Roy Freeman: I am not sure how Don and Beauford met. The lived very close to one another in New York and knew each other as artists with the WPA project in the late 1920s and 30s. Don and Lydia befriended people who were real individuals - particularly those perhaps less well understood by others.


Opening image of Beauford in Don Freeman's Newsstand #1
Image courtesy of Roy Freeman


Les Amis: Did your mother, Lydia Cooley Freeman, know Beauford as well?

Roy Freeman: Lydia knew Beauford as well as Don, they were all together in New York art scene in the 1930s and 40s.

Les Amis: Did they socialize with Beauford, or only meet in the context of work?

Roy Freeman: They definitely socialized with Beauford, knew him personally, and visited him often—especially when they lived near each other (see Don's NEWSSTAND articles!)

Les Amis: Why did your parents consider Beauford to be so special?

Roy Freeman: Most of all because of Beauford's gentleness and vulnerability.  He lived genuinely and was true to who he was. This was certainly excruciating for him at times; he had a very difficult life as you know.

First page of Don’s article on Beauford in Newsstand #5
Image courtesy of Roy Freeman

Les Amis: Why do you consider him to be so?

Roy Freeman: For me it was Beauford's authenticity. He remained true to himself, and maintained his kindness of heart, despite all he had been through. His gentleness and his openness were immense and real. Unfortunately, this is a rarity in the world...almost a miracle.

Les Amis: Do you know Beauford’s art?

Roy Freeman: I do not know his earlier work too well. I knew the abstract work he was painting when we saw him in Paris.

Les Amis: Is there a particular style of his that you prefer (figurative versus abstract works, portraits)?

Roy Freeman: I do not know his whole opus well enough. I also have no preference—his figurative work is as amazing as his abstract work. I myself am quite at home in the abstract work. At the time I saw him in Paris, it was really strong. When he offered us a painting of his, I took a purely abstract, yellow-green-orange painting which had no figuration at all. It was radically full of springtime and life!

Second page of Don’s article on Beauford in Newsstand #5
Image courtesy of Roy Freeman

Les Amis: Did your family own any of Beauford’s work? If so, please describe the pieces.

Roy Freeman: In the artwork from my parents that I have, I do not know of anything from Beauford.

Les Amis: Any final thoughts?

Roy Freeman: It was a gift to have known Beauford, even if it was just in these short contacts. Along with the artist spirits of my father and mother, the meeting with Beauford has given me a tolerance and openness to accepting life and people as how they are. I try to give back what these people, with all their problems, have given me: a spirit to live who you are in this world that does not always accept you. And somehow, miraculously, perhaps with the help of an even greater spirit, remaining true to having an open heart to yourself and others.  Thank you, Beauford!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Beauford's Works at Christie's Paris -- The Auction

Christie's Paris
© Discover Paris!

The auction of the Darthea Speyer collection at Christie's Paris took place on Wednesday, 7 July 2010. Six Delaney paintings were among the 432 works sold.

I was fortunate enough to be able to see Beauford's works at Christie's before the auction. The photo below shows the portraits as they were displayed in the Salon Matignon IV.

Beauford's Portraits at Christie's Paris
© Discover Paris!

The two abstractions were harder to photograph due to their placement in the hallway outside Salon Matignon IV, where there was terrible glare as well as unavoidable reflections. 

 Untitled
(not dated) Pastel on paper
© Discover Paris!

Untitled (dedicated to Darthea Speyer)
(1961) Ink, inkwash, and aquarelle on paper
© Discover Paris!


The ink, inkwash, and aquarelle painting is dated 1961, not 1981 as reported in the catalog. In last week's posting, I noted that either a mistake had been made in the catalog's notation (Beauford died in 1979), or he was unaware of the year when he created the painting (he had suffered a severe mental crisis several weeks prior to painting it). The former is true - the label text posted next to the painting at Christie's had been corrected by hand.

Signature for Untitled (dedicated to Darthea Speyer)
(1961) Ink, inkwash, and aquarelle on paper
© Discover Paris!

Label for Untitled (dedicated to Darthea Speyer)
(1961) Ink, inkwash, and aquarelle on paper
© Discover Paris!

In last week's posting and in the one called Beauford at Galerie Darthea Speyer, I reported that the Beauford Delaney paintings held by Galerie Darthea Speyer would be donated to the Smithsonian.  I now have clarification on this issue - Mme Emmanuelle Gelzer-Remy, a former employee of the gallery, has informed me that only the gallery's documents related to Beauford have been donated to the Smithsonian Institution Archives.  The paintings were held by Christie's, until today's sale.

 Salle James Christie (auction room) at Christie's Paris
© Discover Paris!


As for the auction itself, Beauford's works went very quickly.  It was apparent that people were prepared to bid on them ahead of time, because most of the bids came in by phone or Internet.  Beauford's untitled pastel commanded the greatest price – 10,000 euros / ~$12,500.  His portrait of Jean Genet sold for 8,500 euros / ~$10,625.  The ink, ink wash, and aquarelle went for 7,000 euros / ~$8,750, and the other portraits sold for 6500 euros to 7500 euros (~$8125 to $9375).  The sale of all six pieces took only ten minutes!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Beauford's Works at Christie's Paris

In July, Christie's Paris is auctioning an incredible selection of art works and personal items owned by Darthea Speyer.  The Darthea Speyer Gallery closed its doors permanently at the beginning of this year, and the Christie's auction is part of the total liquidation of the gallery's collection.

Beauford and Darthea
Invitation card for 1973 exhibit at Galerie Darthea Speyer
Courtesy of Galerie Darthea Speyer

Among the collection are six paintings by Beauford.  See pages 38-39 of Christie's e-catalog for a listing of these works.  Two of them are abstractions and the remaining four are portraits.  The price range for the abstractions is $2700 to $5300, while the range for the portraits is $11,000 to $20,000.  The portrait of Vassili Pikoula (see below)—displayed at the American Cultural Center in 1961, the Darthea Speyer Gallery in 1973 and 1992, the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1978, and the First American Triennal at Maubeuge in 1993—is the most expensive of the portraits available for purchase.


  Courtesy of Galerie Darthea Speyer

The astute observer will notice that there is an anomaly in the catalog listing for Entry 262, a vividly colored ink, ink wash, and aquarelle abstraction.  The dedication indicated for this painting—"Beauford Delaney Mallorca 1981 for miss Darthea Speyer"—is dated two years after Beauford's death!  In fact, Beauford visited Majorca in the summer of 1961, the year that he suffered a severe mental breakdown while on his way to Greece.  He was to have enjoyed an artistic "sabbatical" there, which had been arranged by Darthea Speyer.  After several days of hospitalization, Speyer arranged for Beauford to return to France. His dear friends Charley and Gita Boggs then took him to Spain to help him recover from that breakdown.  Either the person who provided the information for the Entry 262 misread Beauford's dedication, or Beauford himself was not aware of what year it was when he created this painting.

When I spoke with a representative of the Speyer Gallery in January of this year, I was told that the gallery would donate its collection of Delaneys to the Smithsonian Institute.  At the time of this writing, I do not know if some of these Delaneys were in fact donated so that the paintings on auction at Christie's represent the remainder of the Speyer collection, or if none of the Delaneys were donated to the Smithsonian.

The Christie's auction will be held on July 7, 2010 at 2 PM.  The entire Speyer collection will be on public display on the following dates:

Saturday, July 3 – 10 AM to 6 PM
Monday, July 5 – 10 AM to 6 PM
Tuesday, July 6 – 10 AM to 6 PM
Wednesday, July 7 – 10 AM to 12 Noon

For those living in Paris, or visiting during the first week of July, this represents a rare opportunity to see Beauford's works in person—an occasion not to be missed!

Christie's
9, avenue Matignon
75008 Paris
Tel: 33(0)1 40 76 85 85