Category Archives: Art

uncovered heartbreak in their grandfather’s envelope designs

Then Brenda Fitch was two, her paternal grandfather sent her a letter with a prediction. “I know,” he wrote, “that your dear Dada and Mamma are keeping a book of envelopes for you, and I have no doubt when you reach the age of 21 you will consider them interesting.”

Frederick Tolhurst, Brenda’s grandfather, was an amateur artist and the envelopes that he was referring to were illustrated by him with colourful, child-friendly designs. And he was correct: later in her life, Brenda would indeed find them fascinating. But it wasn’t until she was 74 that she discovered the heartbreaking truth behind her grandfather’s hobby.

Frederick died when Brenda was four; but as she and her younger sister, Sandra Britton, grew up, they were aware of the family collection of envelopes addressed to their father, Reginald, and his sister, Vera. “The thing we never thought about,” says Brenda, “was why he had sent them so many letters.”

Reginald died in 1984, aged 79, but Vera lived to be 104. “When she was 100, she told me the most extraordinary thing out of the blue,” Brenda says. “She was in a nursing home in Tunbridge Wells. One day, while talking about what we should do with her things after her death, she suddenly said: ‘My mother left us when I was seven.’ She could still remember the day her mother went; she remembered standing on the doorstep crying, and watching her mother walk off down the road carrying a suitcase. It was obviously still very painful all these years on.”

All Brenda, who lives in Warwickshire, and Sandra, in Cheltenham, knew about their grandmother, Edith, was that she had died before they were born. “We didn’t know there was anything unusual in our family story,” says Brenda. They decided to do some detective work to find out about Edith and Frederick’s marriage – and the tale they unravelled centred on a love affair that tore the family apart

Frederick Tolhurst and Edith Nash, were married in 1905, and seemingly lived happily for several years in Stockwell, south London. Reginald was born the following year, and Vera in 1908. But a few years later, when Reginald was nine and Vera seven, Edith had an affair with a man called Samuel Sharpe, and later decided to follow him to Uruguay, where he was working. “In those days, divorce was an utter disgrace, and the story made it into the newspapers,” says Brenda..

One account of what happened, in the People’s Journal in 1919, after Edith boarded a ship to South America earlier that year, quotes a letter from Samuel to Frederick that read: “I intend neither to ask nor expect forgiveness from you for what I’ve done.” Samuel and Edith seem to have been very much in love; in the press clipping, Edith is reported to have said she was leaving because Samuel “was the only man who discovered that she had a soul”. She bore her husband no ill feeling, and was going because this was the only way to secure her future happiness.

Frederick, according to the newspaper report, pleaded with Edith to return, but she was adamant she was leaving. Edith sailed on 26 September 1919.

Being a lone father was a lot more difficult 100 years ago. “There was no expectation that a man on his own could work and care for his children, the way there would be today,” says Brenda. Instead, the children were sent to live with relations: Reginald to Bournemouth, and Vera to Hornchurch, Essex. “It must have been terrible for them,” says Sandra. “They were all separated from one another. It must have been incredibly tough.”

Frederick visited the children whenever he could: but mostly they kept in touch by post. And on envelopes he posted on a regular basis to his children were colourful and imaginative illustrations featuring ducks, children, a doll’s house, flowers, cars and a London bus. “It must have been exciting to receive such interesting-looking envelopes,” says Sandra.

 Vera and Reginald Tolhurst.

Many of the letters themselves have not survived; but the envelopes, she says, convey a sense of the kind of man her grandfather was. “He obviously cared about his children a great deal, and missed them very much. I get the impression he was a bit of a workaholic, and perhaps that’s why Edith ended up in the relationship with Samuel. He worked as a printer, so he was perhaps a friend of Frederick’s before he became Edith’s lover.”

Frederick continued to write to Reginald and Vera throughout their childhood; and when Brenda’s arrival in 1938 marked the start of a new generation, he decided to continue the tradition. The letter in which he made the prediction about her interest in them was written on 28 May 1940, a few months into the second world war; its envelope features bomber planes and parachutes in a leaden sky, and what look like the barrels of guns on the ground below. “Not a happy-looking envelope,” he writes in the letter, “but in days to come, you will hear of people talking about the war at times, and they will mention those things on the envelope.”

 A decorated envelope sent to Reginald Tolhurst.

Some of Frederick’s envelopes can now be seen in an exhibition called Writing Home, at the newly opened Postal Museum in London. Emma Harper, the museum’s exhibitions officer, says they are a wonderful example of art mail. “Picture postcards only became popular in Edwardian times, and Frederick Tolhurst was continuing that tradition,” she says. “The images are very eclectic and extremely well thought out – it’s clear that he thought long and hard about what his children would be interested in. Together, they represent a kind of social history of the mid-20th century, from the jazz age, which is referenced in an illustration of a cropped-haired flapper driving a convertible, to the guns and planes of the second world war.

“These days we communicate by emails and texts, but these envelopes show how the mail was a social tool. And it’s also extremely creative.”

Art Adviser His Gilded Touch

Claim to Fame Mr. Van Hagen is a dashing, shaggy-haired art adviser and curator known for his gilded touch and a roaming exhibition called “What’s Up,” which showcases 50 young contemporary artists. It helps that handling Picassos is in his blood. His mother is Susanne Van Hagen, the well-heeled art connoisseur. “I have been in the arts since I was a little kid,” he said, recounting visits to Sotheby’s and Christie’s by age 6. Together they operate LVH Art, a mother-and-son art advisory that places expensive works in even more expensive homes.

Big Break After years of playing behind-the-scenes matchmaker for artists and collectors, Mr. Van Hagen decided to curate his first “What’s Up” show last year. “I wanted to know what’s up today,” he said. “What are the artists my friends should be looking at now?” The show was a hit: 85 percent of the works sold.

Latest Project The first stateside “What’s Up” was staged in May in New York to coincide with Frieze New York, held in a three-story building in the Chelsea gallery district. To create “a dialogue” between young and more establishment artists, he paired John Chamberlain sculptures with those of Ernesto Burgos. “I’m not as well known in New York,” he said. “So it was important to have the right space in a prime location.”

Next Thing He hopes to take “What’s Up” to Los Angeles, Buenos Aires and Hong Kong. “I don’t believe in the gallery model,” he said. “Things are changing so quickly and people are getting bored of going to one gallery after another.” Instead, he wants to try his hand at virtual exhibitions. “Today it’s very tricky to buy art online, and I don’t think it’s working as it should,” he said. “A dream of mine would be to become the go-to guy in that space.”

Like Mother, Like Son Working with his mother comes with advantages and disadvantages. “My mother loves young people and has more energy than I do,” he said. “At art fairs, she gets along with all of my friends, and I get along with all of hers. Although, of course, sometimes it can be irritating when your mother wants to go out later than you at a party. I’m like, ‘Mom, it’s time to go home.’”

The arts monster

It’s hard to look with fresh eyes at the most loutish artist of the 19th century, whose lush, hypersaturated paintings of Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands reflect not just gross personal conduct but imperial inequities, too. More than three decades of scholarship, especially by feminist art historians and specialists in Oceanic art, have done essential work to crack the myths that Gauguin spun about himself and that stuck to his art for most of the last century.

So the principal feat of “Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist,” a resounding, rollickingly diverse exhibition that opened in June and runs for another month at the Art Institute of Chicago, is that it gives us an unfamiliar Gauguin, rethought and reassessed on better terms than genius versus monster. It does so by taking a much broader view of his art, and putting his Polynesian years in partial shadow. Much more than the 2010-11 retrospective at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and Tate Modern in London, this show understands Gauguin’s sojourns in French Polynesia as just a few stops — and maybe not the most important stops — of a decades-long quest for unknown places, unknown styles, unknown images.

It looks not just past Polynesia but past painting, too. Most of the highlights of this show’s nearly 250 works are ceramics, carved wood objects and other crafts, often arrayed in round glass cases that permit awed circumambulation. This Gauguin is a frenzied multimedia experimenter whose deepest need was not a mythic purity in the South Seas but an artistic language no one had yet spoken. (The show has been curated by Gloria Groom, the Art Institute’s chairwoman of European painting and sculpture, and travels to the Grand Palais in Paris in October.)

He never trained as an artist. Gauguin was born in 1848, spent his early years in Peru and enlisted in the French merchant marine while still a teenager. From age 17 to 23 he was on the seas, and he probably picked up from fellow sailors the practice of whittling flotsam into small wood figurines. We see him here in a drawing by Camille Pissarro, chiseling a piece of laurel into a 9½-inch sculpture of a woman promenading. In the same case is the statuette itself; the ruches of her dress are rendered via deep, uneven gashes, an early taste of his assumed savagery.

 The statuette was in the 1881 exhibition of the Impressionists, a group that Gauguin wheedled his way into as a collector. At first he was only an amateur artist, holding onto a day job as a stockbroker’s assistant. Yet by 1885 his commitment to art was so total that he had abandoned his family in Denmark and returned to Paris alone. His painting, initially under the influence of Pissarro and other Impressionists, grew bolder and more flamboyant, but he found even greater freedom in objects. He carved a pear-wood sarcophagus, incised with Degas-vintage ballerinas and laughing faces borrowed from Japanese netsuke. He also learned the rudiments of ceramics and started crafting vases, bowls and other containers. Sometimes these were functional, more often they were just decorative, but almost always they were grotesque. Ceramics also started to appear in the paintings, as you can see in this show’s cogent pairings: a still life of oranges in a stoneware bowl, painted in 1888, hangs in front of the bowl itself, its handle gripped by a bathing girl.

Mon Dieu, these ceramics — or “monstrosities,” as he aptly called them. The vases and jugs are wobbly, asymmetric, gloriously uncouth. They hammer the distinction between sculpture and craft into powder. They also easily conflate European, Japanese, Southeast Asian and Mesoamerican motifs, which Gauguin would have studied/stolen from new photographic reproductions as well as colonial expositions. One stoneware vase is shaped like an askew tree stump, with a pair of women’s heads growing from its top. An astounding vase from 1887-88 depicts the Greek myth of Leda and the swan; Gauguin renders the scene around the vessel with a proto-Cubist multiplicity of perspectives, and crafts the vase’s handle out of the cob’s beak and neck. Of course, Leda’s encounter with the swan should properly be called a rape; sexual violence is everywhere in Gauguin’s art, and the ceramics as much as the paintings are imbued with sexual overtones. Several are signed “PGo,” a phonetic initialism that recalls sailors’ slang for a penis.

Ms. Groom, the curator, has done her best work in the first half of the show, which she has staged mostly in a single large gallery that allows for cunning juxtapositions. Gauguin’s ceramics and woodcarvings appear alongside related French, pre-Columbian and Oceanic objects; others sit by later works by the artist that translate the applied arts into paint. “Te Rerioa” (“The Dream”), one of the finest of Gauguin’s later Tahitian pictures, appears through a cutout wall behind a polychrome cabinet that employed similar colored passages a decade earlier. Bathers and Breton women appear grafted onto jugs and braziers, only to recur in similarly outlined form on paper or canvas. Again and again, the bold contours and patches of solid pigment that characterize Gauguin’s mature painting — a style sometimes called cloisonnism, after the jewelry and metalwork technique — appear first in stoneware and oak, and had no need of Polynesian daydreams.

This show therefore pushes the clock back on Gauguin, and maintains that it was in France, rather than the South Seas, where he made his most important breakthroughs. The radically bright fields of color and disappearance of depth that characterize Gauguin’s Polynesian paintings are already visible in his 1888 masterwork “Vision of the Sermon,” whose po-faced, white-capped Bretonnes watch Jacob wrestle with the angel on a field of solid, blazing red. “The Yellow Christ,” painted the next year, stages the Crucifixion on a hillside far more golden than any Breton landscape — a brilliant yellow that he would reuse in his equally illusory Tahitian painting “Parahi Te Marae” (“The Sacred Mountain”).

Thus, when he got to Papeete, in 1891, Gauguin had already spent years distancing himself from direct depiction of waking life. The fantasy world he constructed in his Polynesian paintings — where the French colonial regime was absent, and where young, dark-skinned women seem to do nothing but laze around in the nude — was only the next step in an abandonment of both faithful representation and Impressionist sense-memories.

The Art Institute’s show neither condemns nor excuses Gauguin’s behavior in the South Pacific, and mural-size blowups of French colonial photography make no bones about the regime that undergirded it all. It has only a few of Gauguin’s most important Tahitian pictures, including “Te Rerioa,” the Art Institute’s “Mahana No Atua” (“Day of the God”) and “Manao Tupapau” (“Spirit of the Dead Watching”), a violet-saturated odalisque depicting a 13-year-old girl euphemistically called Gauguin’s “mistress.” There are also some terrible later hot-colored nudes, little better than pinups. But in Gauguin’s Pacific phase, too, it’s the decorative arts, as well as woodblock prints sometimes carved on Polynesian wood, that reveal his unconstrained experiment and his readiness to seek stranger shores.

The influential graphic designer

Alan Peckolick, who overcame a failed art school career to emerge as a leading designer of some the world’s most distinctive logos, died on Aug. 3 in Danbury, Conn. He was 76.

The cause was brain damage sustained after a fall, his wife, Jessica Weber, said. He had Parkinson’s disease.

A protégé and partner of the influential graphic designer Herb Lubalin, whose acolytes also included the art director George Lois and the photographer Art Kane, Mr. Peckolick was a virtuoso man of letters.

His typography distinguished familiar logos, like GM’s (just the two initials underscored by a muscular solid bar), and the typefaces for company names, including Pfizer, Revlon and Mercedes-Benz, and institutions like New York University and the City College of New Yor

 A poster featuring blue block lettering and the word “free” in bright red announcing late-night museum openings in New York City, sponsored by Mobil, is in the permanent collection of the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany.

“Basically, for me, if a word was a beautiful word, it wasn’t the sound of the word that intrigued me but the look of the word,” Mr. Peckolick (pronounced PECK-oh-lick) told The Huffington Post in 2015. “I saw each letterform as a piece of design. Cat is not ‘cat’ — it’s c-a-t. That’s what led to the beginning of the expressive topography.”

Seymour Chwast, a fellow designer and illustrator, said in an email that Mr. Peckolick “was totally dedicated to design, its history, its function and what it might offer in the future.”

Eventually fed up with being a rainmaker for the advertising agencies he worked for, diverting his creative his energies to courting clients, Mr. Peckolick took up painting. As an artist, he was captivated by weathered billboards and their faded evocations of a vanishing cityscape.

“Signage has been covered so often by photography that as a subject it is a commonplace,” Grace Glueck of The New York Times wrote in reviewing an exhibition of his work at a SoHo gallery in 2002, “but Mr. Peckolick, good at the colors and textures of erosion, nicely captures the sense of time past that gives these brief messages their nostalgic appeal.”

Alan Jay Peckolick was born on Oct. 3, 1940, in the Bronx to Charles Peckolick, a letter carrier (actual letters, not the kind his son would work with) and the former Belle Binenbaum.

“I never knew anything about design or graphics or any of those fancy words,” Mr. Peckolick recalled in 2015. “But I used to draw. I used to draw everything. When my mother used to send me out to get groceries, by the time I was back there were little drawings on the grocery bags.”

He graduated from Elmont Memorial High School on Long Island, just across the Queens border, after which, he said: “My mother put together a portfolio which was made of anything I drew on — handkerchiefs, scraps, whatever — and put it literally into a brown paper bag. She sent me out into the world to go to places like Cooper Union and the School of Visual Arts. Both schools, he said, “immediately saw there was no talent here, and they rejected me.”

Pratt Institute in Brooklyn accepted him, in the illustration department. But three months later, he was told to leave because his work was not improving. A schoolmate discovered him in a coffee shop, dejected

Mr. Peckolick graduated from Pratt in 1964 and opened his own office. In 1972 he joined Lubalin, Smith & Carnase (the firm later became Pushpin Lubalin Peckolick Associates). Through his mentor, Mr. Lubalin, Mr. Peckolick recalled, “I discovered other people like Saul Bass, Lou Dorfsman, George Lois — people who could think as well as design.”

A John Currin Painting

Despite Mr. Currin’s reputation for eroticism, his portrait of Ms. Lawrence is demure. She appears wearing a simple tan chemise and a Miu Miu patterned fur hat, holding a purple and green purse. “To be in a situation of producing a cover for this famous magazine, I’m a little scared,” Mr. Currin said in an interview. “I do worry about decorum.”

The other three covers will feature photographs of Ms. Lawrence, by Annie Leibovitz, Bruce Weber and the duo Inez and Vinoodh. This is the actress’s third appearance on Vogue’s cover. (She has also been on the cover of the British edition.)

The painting puts Mr. Currin’s many influences on full display. Ms. Lawrence is depicted in a Mannerist pose, unnatural but elegant. Perspective is minimized and a rococo palette competes with a hint of Dutch old master sobriety. The hat provides the element of the absurd that Mr. Currin is known for. And all of this is filtered through a pictorial style that evokes classic magazine illustrations from the 1930s and 1940s.

“One of the reasons I thought John would be good for the cover was that fashion was a huge influence on his work early on,” said Dodie Kazanjian, a contributing editor at Vogue who often writes about art.

Mr. Currin deviated from his normal method for the portrait of Ms. Lawrence. He doesn’t usually worry about likenesses, he said, unless he is painting his wife or children. But for the portrait of Ms. Lawrence, he had to be faithful to a very well known face. “It has to look like her,” he said.

While this is the first painted September cover, Vogue has a long history of commissioning artwork from contemporary artists.

Salvador Dalí contributed four covers showcasing his trademark style from the 1930s to the 1970s. Giorgio de Chirico created a slyly subversive coverfor the November 1935 issue that endowed a traditional fashion still life with a hint of Surrealist menace. Andy Warhol, a natural choice for a fashion magazine, created an image of Caroline of Monaco for the December 1983 issue of the French edition.

Mr. Currin said that the idea of “reciprocity” informed his decision to paint for Vogue. Early in his career he painted well known figures, including the actress Bea Arthur, and borrowed from fashion magazines to challenge himself. “It was a way to make conventional oil paintings that didn’t quite work in the right way,” he said. Painting a somewhat traditional portrait for a major fashion magazine was his way of approaching the same problem from the opposite direction.

The paintings will be interpreted in London

 The paintings will be interpreted by curators from museums in London, Amsterdam, Munich, Philadelphia and Tokyo, who will deliver a sequence of live 15-minute commentaries while standing with the works in the museums.

Ahead of the curatorial events, the museums will also use their own Facebook pages, starting on Thursday, to simulate the experience of viewing all five paintings in a gallery, allowing the audience to compare and examine them as if they were in a three-dimensional environment.

 Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” (1888), at the National Gallery in London.CreditNational Gallery, London

The virtual gallery will include narration by van Gogh’s great-grand-nephew, Willem van Gogh, who will share memories of the paintings, which were created in 1888-9 for a visit by the artist Paul Gauguin to van Gogh’s house in Arles, France.

The Facebook Live event is being led by the National Gallery in London, which in 2014 brought together its own version of “Sunflowers,” and that of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, for the first time in 65 years.

Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” (1888), at the Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Museum of Art, Tokyo.CreditSeiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Museum of Art, Tokyo

Jennifer Thompson, curator of the Facebook Live event at the Philadelphia Museum of Art — which houses the only version of “Sunflowers” in the United States — said she believed it was the first time that art museums in different countries had used social media to highlight works that are unlikely to be seen together in one physical space.

 “Sunflowers” (1889), from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.CreditVan Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

She said that the “Sunflower” paintings were among the public favorites at all the participating museums, and that the event was an opportunity to highlight van Gogh’s choice of color and texture and his love of nature.

Each curator will talk about a different aspect of the paintings, Ms. Thompson said. For example, she will focus on van Gogh’s repetition of subject, while her colleague from the Neue Pinakothek in Munich will talk about his use of color.

 “Sunflowers” (1888 or 1889), from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. CreditPhiladelphia Museum of Art

Ms. Thompson said she would distinguish the Philadelphia and Munich versions of the paintings — which both have turquoise backgrounds — from later versions in the other three museums, which have yellow backgrounds.

The Facebook Live event will begin with the London presentation, starting at 12:50 p.m. Eastern time, and conclude with that of the Tokyo curator (from the Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art), starting at 2:10 p.m. Eastern time.

Sell Someone Their First Piece of Art

Selling art is never easy. Even people who already collect art are reluctant to make first purchases from artists who they know little or nothing about. Selling to people who don’t collect art and know little or nothing about you is more difficult yet. But once someone decides to buy their first piece of art from you, selling them additional pieces is ever so much easier.

Reasons why people who like art don’t buy it often have to do with how much they know about art, how confident they are about understanding what they’re looking at, how unsure they are about their tastes in art, or how concerned they are about the opinions of others. Many worry that other people will make fun of their tastes or that their friends or associates won’t approve of what they buy. To complicate matters, even though they might like certain works of art, they’re not sure how well done they are, whether they’re worth the asking prices, or whether the artists are established enough in their careers to warrant those prices. Your job is to make people who admire your art feel comfortable both with you as an artist as well as someone who understands their concerns, and in so doing, to alleviate as many of their “fears” about owning your art as possible. The following tips will help you to accomplish those goals and to sell art.

  •  Do what you have to do to convince people that buying your art is OK. Talk about other collectors who own it, about what kinds of people these collectors are, about how long they’ve been buying your art, and how regularly they buy or (how regularly you sell). Potential buyers tend to look for signs that an artist is a going concern, that they’re creating and selling art on a regular basis.
  • Talk about how you sell your art and under what circumstances people buy it. Tell stories about how different collectors bought their first pieces from you, what they like about your art, what attracted them to it. Talk about the piece you sold most recently, for example, and how much you sold it for.
  • Point out what makes your art unique or different or special. Distinguishing yourself or your art from that of other artists is an important part of the process. Potential buyers like to feel they’re getting something special, something they won’t be able to find anywhere else.
  • Talk about how you price your art, what subject matters, mediums or compositions collectors like the most, and how many sales you’ve made in various price ranges during the past few months
  •  Explain your price structure in terms that ordinary everyday “non-art” people can understand. Talk about how long your art takes to make, or how much time or effort or skill is involved in perfecting certain details. Point out any labor-intensive aspects of your art that may not be immediately evident or easily understood such as layers, glazes, special techniques or effects, and so on. These days especially, people like to see value in what they buy.
  • Suggest that you have art for sale in a variety of price ranges.
  • Have a resume on hand or talk about shows that you’ve had, venues that have exhibited your art, any awards you’ve won, and other honors or distinctions you’ve received during your career. People like to hear names or references that they recognize, respect, and understand. Even if your exhibition experience is limited to non-art venues like restaurants, coffee shops, open studios and the like, people still appreciate hearing that you exhibit your art on a regular basis.
  •  Show photographs or digital images of how different collectors display your art in their living or working environments, or if you don’t have lots of collectors, display and photograph your art in various enviroments on your own. People who don’t own art often have difficulty imagining how they would display it if they bought it, where they’d put it, or how it might improve the appearance of their homes or offices.
  •  Make yourself available to deliver your art to collectors and help them hang or otherwise display it.
  •  Offer to take a selection of your art, say half a dozen pieces or so, to someone’s home or office so that they can see how it looks in their own environments. Make clear that they’re under no obligation to buy.
  •  Offer to let people keep a piece or two of your art for trial periods of a week or two in order to see how they like it. Make sure that you get some form of deposit, credit card number, approval agreement, or some other form of security, of course, but make sure that anyone who wants to can have the opportunity to live with your art.
  •  Ask people why they like certain pieces and don’t like others. Try to get ideas of what they think would happen or who would say what if they bought and displayed particular pieces of your art. Minimize any concerns they might have by giving examples of people who now own your art, but expressed similar concerns before they made their first purchases.
  •  Ask people what they want in their art, what art means to them, what they expect to get out of it, and why they want to own it. At all times, let them lead, and follow up with easy-to-understand answers or anecdotes taken from your own career experiences.
  • Don’t get into elevated art discussions that people can’t understand, or try to describe your art with detailed explanations that they don’t ask for or might find confusing. Don’t overload them with information that’s difficult to digest. Talk on their level. You never want to intimidate someone who’s already in unfamiliar territory regarding your art.

The more experienced you get at making people feel at ease around your art and good about owning it, the more you’re going to sell. A surprising number of people who don’t currently own art would really love to buy some, but need a little gentle encouragement in advance. Convincing individuals to make their first art purchases is no different than convincing them to do anything else for the first time in their lives. The moment they feel comfortable and confident, the go ahead and do it.

Art and Museums in NYC

‘JAPANESE BAMBOO ART: THE ABBEY COLLECTION’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (through Feb. 4). This fabulous show celebrates Diane and Arthur Abbey’s gift of some 70 bamboo baskets and sculptures, which nearly doubles the Met’s already outstanding holdings in this genre and brings them into the 20th and 21st centuries. The curator has embedded this trove within what is essentially a second exhibition that traces bamboo’s presence through folding screens, ink paintings, porcelain, netsuke, kimonos and more. (Roberta Smith)

‘ETTORE SOTTSASS: DESIGN RADICAL’ at the Met Breuer (through Oct. 8). No surprise here: The first big New York survey of this many-styled Italian design guru’s 60-year career has a combative air. You may argue your way through the show, and also take issue with some of its contextual artworks — the exhibition is nearly half non-Sottsass — but it is an invigorating, illuminating experience. (Smith)
212-731-1675, metmuseum.orge

‘EUGEN GABRITSCHEVSKY: THEATER OF THE IMPERCEPTIBLE’ at the American Folk Art Museum (closes on Aug. 20). Eugen Gabritschevsky was well on his way to a successful career as a geneticist when a series of nervous breakdowns left him, in his late 30s, institutionalized. Unable to continue his research, he turned to his other childhood passion — drawing. The quality of the more than 3,000 gouaches he produced over the next five decades is mixed, but at its best, Gabritschevsky’s work presents a series of mesmerizing dispatches from some archetypal dream world. (Will Heinrich)

‘THE JAZZ AGE: AMERICAN STYLE IN THE 1920s’ at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (closes on Aug. 20). While handsomely and mostly filled with Art Deco, this exhibition has banished those words — Art Deco, that is — in an attempt to show how American design was shaped by numerous European influences and to acknowledge the importance of jazz, the African-American invention that was this country’s first original modernism. Still, for better and for worse, it can’t evade the happy-few obliviousness of Deco’s relentless high-end glamour. (Smith)


It’s a big city and there’s lots to do. See picks chosen by Times editors and critics for theater, pop & rock music, classical music, comedy, dance, movies, art and events for children

‘MAKING SPACE: WOMEN ARTISTS AND POSTWAR ABSTRACTION’ at the Museum of Modern Art (closes on Aug. 13). The work in this show, dating from the end of World War II to the beginning of second-wave feminism, is all abstract and all by women. And although the exhibition starts in what feels like honorable-mention mode — Lee Krasner is here, for instance, but not in the museum’s permanent galleries of Abstract Expressionism — it doesn’t stay there. Instead, it goes for difference and stays with it, introducing us to artists of diverse geographic and ethnic backgrounds whom we may not know, or have an institutional context for. Among them are such luminaries, present and past, as Etel Adnan, Ruth Asawa, Lina Bo Bardi, Bela Kolarova, Anne Ryan and Lenore Tawney. (Holland Cotter)

Museums Can Make Art a Tough Give

In 1988, William Jordan saw a portrait in a catalog from a London auction house. The work was attributed to Justus Sustermans, a Flemish painter in the Medici court in Florence. But as an art historian, Mr. Jordan was sure it was actually a work by the 17th-century master Diego Velázquez.

He bought the painting for 1,000 pounds — much less than a Velázquez would have cost — and had it shipped to his home in Dallas, where it was cleaned and reframed. And there it hung for nearly 30 years.

Last year, his hunch was validated. The Prado Museum in Madrid, which owns a third of all of Velázquez’s works, said Mr. Jordan’s painting was the real thing.

Mr. Jordan then did something many art collectors dream of doing: He donated the work, worth an estimated $6 million, to the Prado, where it was quickly put into a show of Velázquez’s work. In addition to the exhibition, which runs through the fall, Mr. Jordan received a catalog filled with scholarly essays on the work and accompanying photos. And to top it off, he will be eligible for a tax deduction because the donation was made not to a foreign museum but to the American Friends of the Prado Museum, a United States-based charity.

If this seems like the way collectors typically sail through donations of art, think again. Mr. Jordan’s tale sounds like some supercharged episode of “Antiques Roadshow,” but most collectors struggle to donate their art, even valuable art, to museums.

Or as Evan Beard, national art services executive for U.S. Trust, put it: “If you have a Picasso worth $6 million or $7 million, every museum in the country will say thank you, thank you, thank you.” For other works, particularly collections of mixed quality, there is likely to be a negotiation.

It’s a lot easier to donate art when the museum asks for it first. “My clients who have donated to museums have had really long-term relationships with the museums,” said Nilani Trent, an art adviser in Manhattan. “They’ve been part of the museum for many, many years. Usually, the museum has approached them and said, ‘This is a weak part of our collection.’”

Stephanie Ingrassia, who is a trustee of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, which named a contemporary art gallery after her and her husband, Tim, made her first donation to the museum in 2007. It was a work by a well-known feminist artist, Ana Mendieta, called “Untitled (Guanaroca [First Woman]).”

The process was fairly painless because the museum did not have a piece of art by such a significant artist, Ms. Ingrassia said.

“It’s a piece that I loved, but my family didn’t really understand,” she said of the work, which is a photo of a vagina carved in sand. “It was very well received. It’s often on view.”

Since then, Ms. Ingrassia, 52, has donated about 10 works, and contributed money with other trustees toward additional pieces. But she said her interest — contemporary art — dovetailed with an area where the museum was expanding.

Other donations have a more difficult time getting approval. “We’re being very careful with what comes into the collection,” Ms. Ingrassia said. “We used to be a place where Grandma’s furniture ended up.”

Being turned down is a reality, though, for any collector. Ms. Trent has been trying to help a client donate his art to museums so that he can change the nature of his collection. His offers have been rejected.

“It’s not that they’re bad,” she said. “It’s that they don’t fill a hole.”

If a museum is on the fence about a donation or collection, it might ask for additional money in the form of an endowment to accept the art.

“The first thing people are surprised with is when the museum comes back and says, ‘I’ll take your painting if you give us an added endowment to care for the work of art,’” Mr. Beard said. “Usually, a museum will want one or two specific items in your collection to fill gaps, and they look at everything else as cost because they’re going to have to store it.”

Being asked for money after offering works of art may sound ungrateful. But museums are bound to maintain — and not sell off — their collections, and storing all the pieces they cannot show can cost thousands of dollars a year.

Yet Mr. Beard said the request for a significant sum could also be a signal to collectors that they should look elsewhere. “Is it better to go for a midsize regional museum where your works will be a focus,” he asked, “or an encyclopedic museum where your works will see the light of day every five years?”

Of course, museums are not the only place to donate art. Collectors can donate to charities where the art may be displayed or sold to finance projects. Jane Wilton, general counsel of the New York Community Trust, said the organization was given hundreds of works by Joaquín Torres-García in 1992.

The collector who donated the art wanted it to be used to pay for research into AIDS and H.I.V. And it did, though it took the community trust nearly 15 years to sell it all.

Institutions may push back on gifts for another reason: fear of provenance or authenticity. Antiquities are particularly fraught, given patrimony laws that protect artifacts.

“You may have some great Egyptian artifacts and you’d love to have them in the museum when you die, because who else is going to take them?” Mr. Schindler said. “But if you don’t have good proof that they came out of the ground before 1970, good luck.”

And there is the risk that cherished works of art are not real. Ms. Wilton said one such piece hangs in her office as a reminder to be diligent in evaluating bequests. “It’s supposed to be by Winslow Homer,” she said. “It turned out to be a Homer Simpson.”

One big benefit is whether the institution provides a tax deduction. If the work goes to a museum, the donor gets the full deduction. If it goes to a nonprofit where art is not central to the mission, the donor is eligible only for the value of the piece when it was purchased.

In 2014, a group of Spanish-art enthusiasts set up the American Friends of the Prado Museum, which promotes the museum in the United States. But it has the added benefit of ensuring that donors get a tax deduction for their gift, which they are technically donating to an American nonprofit organization that in turn lends it to the Prado. (The Louvre and the Vatican Library have similar 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations in the United States.)

Mr. Jordan, who was the deputy director of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth when he bought the Velázquez, is not, by his own admission, a wealthy man. But he said he had known every director of the Prado since the 1970s and wanted the museum have the piece.

“The museum has had a long relationship with Bill Jordan,” said Miguel Falomir, director of the Prado. “He’s not just a collector. He’s a scholar. He’s collaborated with us. He’s created exhibitions. He’s an old friend of the museum.”

Stolen de Kooning Resurfaces

They knew it was a cool painting. But Buck Burns and David Van Auker hadn’t thought it a masterpiece until visitors to their New Mexico furniture and antiques shop began asking about the work that they had bought as part of an estate.

It turned out it was indeed an important work, a painting by Willem de Kooning stolen 31 years ago from the University of Arizona Museum of Artand lost until Mr. Van Auker positioned it in a public place — lying on the floor of their shop in Silver City.

“Woman-Ochre”— one of a number of Abstract Expressionist paintings that Mr. de Kooning did of women in the 1950s — was stolen on the day after Thanksgiving in 1985. There was no surveillance video, but investigators pieced together a rough narrative of the theft that began with a man and a woman following a staff member into the museum around 9 a.m.

The woman distracted the staff member, while the man cut the painting from its frame with sharp blade. In less than 15 minutes, the two departed with the painting.

 Mr. Burns said that when he first saw it, he just thought it was “cool and unique.” Then visitors began asking if it was a de Kooning, and they looked online, found an article about the still-missing work, and compared photos to the painting in their shop.
 From left, Buck Burns, Rick Johnson and David Van Auker, the owners of the New Mexico furniture and antiques shop where Willem de Kooning’s “Woman-Ochre” had been on display.CreditChrist Chavez for The New York Times

They immediately decided they had to return it, Mr. Burns said. “For us, it was the equivalent of finding a lost wallet and returning it. It was a no-brainer.” On Aug. 3, Mr. Van Auker phoned the museum. Later, he called the F.B.I.

“It snowballed very quickly from there,” the museum’s interim director, Meg Hagyard said. “I was expecting a marathon, but instead it was a sprint.” She said the museum is very confident, based on its analysis, that this work is the original painting.

“The best way I can think to describe it is that it’s sort of like Cinderella’s glass slipper,” Ms. Hagyard said. “We had the original frame and remnants, and we were able to match the painting with that. It fits like a glove with the canvas.” There was also evidence of previous conservation work that had been done.