Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chapman Kelley's Memoirs - Chapter 4

     My art students Cynthia Stewart and Marilyn Corrigan were among my tennis partners.  In 1961 Marilyn brought her daughter Mary to model for me.  The resulting painting was called "Mary and Daisies" which was accepted by the 157th Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture, which is this country’s oldest (since 1807) and most prestigious exhibition.  The show was held at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  The exhibition was always juried by three artists who were among the best known and respected of the time. "Mary and Daisies" appeared in La Revue Moderne, a French art publication.  Best of all, this activity drew the attention of New York's Janet Nessler Gallery who offered to have my first solo show in New York in March of 1963. Having my work exhibited in the PAFA's 1962 exhibition of former students was most likely another factor in influencing Nessler's decision to show my work.  

     Another Nessler Gallery exhibition was of Ben Kamihira's work.  He was a student at the PAFA and our years there overlapped in 1951.  I considered Ben to be a great artist.  He was the best artist to emerge from the PAFA since 1950.  I successfully exhibited his works at Atelier Chapman Kelley and even sold one, "Wedding Dress," to the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts.  I own some of Kamihira's lithographs and an early painting. 

     Later when I first visited the Greenwich, Connecticut home of the great collectors of America art Olga and Joe Hirshhorn, Joe asked me who I was showing next at ACK.  When I told him it would be Ben Kamihira, Joe said "great, great artist, deserves more public recognition--a real painter's painter."  Joe told me he wanted to buy more of Kamihira's work.  I remarked that it was my understanding that he already owned six or eight pieces.  He reiterated that he wanted to buy more and he did so.  Joe Hirshhorn was a true collector and cared for artists in many ways.  He never sold their work, preferring to hold it as part of his private collection.

     In 1961 and early 1962 my work was exhibited at the Centennial Museum (since renamed Art Museum of South Texas).  The show was enormously successful.  Museum director Kathleen Gallander was literally selling paintings off the walls; it was as if we were in a commercial gallery setting. As a result I was asked to teach at the museum in the summer of 1962 which suited my schedule regarding my second New York show.  We rented a house in Port Aransas and took the family.  Painter Noel Mahaffey came along to help with the classes and earned money to supplement his Dallas Museum of Fine Art scholarship given to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art.  While in Port Aransas I met another Hawn family, Patsy Singer and Bonny Wyatt (wife of Oscar) who was soon to be divorced and marry John Swearingen, the most powerful oil executive of his generation.  The Swearingens became very important to me through the years and in 1982 invited me to Chicago to create my Chicago Wildflower Works I (1984 - 2004). More will be said later about the Swearingens.

     In the whirlwind of preparing for my New York show I had to set some priorities.  In order not to compromise my painting time I had Perry Nichols fill in for me as substitute teacher for the studio classes. I was unaware, until just before we boarded the jet in Dallas, that for my opening exhibition at the Nessler Gallery a large group of friends, fans and students from Dallas were attending it.  So we boarded the plane amidst television cameras and an anonymously sent cake.  Luxury retailer Stanley Marcus took on a leadership role.  The Dallas Morning News sent their art critic to cover the entire trip.  People from many other cities joined in the trip.  Painter Elaine de Kooning helped to coordinate as we set up 10 days or so of museum, gallery and studio visits. 

     Janet Nessler had submitted "Emplacement Dune" to the National Academy of Design Exhibition and it won the S.J. Wallace Truman Prize for artists under 35, so we took our formal wear for that opening.  I was a bit embarrassed because I thought the National Academy was stuffy and old-fashioned for the most part and I was, along with painters such as Larry Rivers, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, trying to find new things to do with figuration in light of the great success of the Abstract Expressionists who were too strong to even leave their second generation any room to expand without looking too easy and imitative. "Emplacement Dune" was then invited to the Artists West of the Mississippi Exhibition at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. 

     American painter and draftsman Edwin Dickenson had seen "Emplacement Dune" at the National Academy of Design Exhibition in New York; hence this much-traveled painting was invited back to New York to the American Academy of Arts and Letters for their Childe Hassam Purchase Competition.  The AAAL membership consists of a prestigious group of artists and writers who annually brought works together which they had seen during the year.  The AAAL purchased work to be donated to museums.  I think the folks at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center must have requested "Emplacement Dune" because when it won the Childe Hassam Purchase Competition, the painting was given to the Center.  Members of the AAAL who made the decision for my work to win include: Edward Hopper, Jacques Lipchitz, Peter Blume, Robert Lowell, Malcolm Cowley, Marianne Moore, Lewis Mumford, Lillian Hellman, and of course Edwin Dickenson.  Certainly it was the greatest honor I had received.

     In 1963 New York art exhibits were affected by a six month printer's strike; word of mouth was the method of communication.  Nonetheless, my work, which was included in a 34 painting exhibit, actually sold out! The sales generated a Life Magazine article, "Sold Out Art," about the few shows that had prospered despite the press strike.  Most of the "sold out art" artists were of the Pop Art movement such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jim Dine, Tom Wesselman, George Segal and others.  And a few of us oddballs were included like Pablo Picasso and myself--not bad eh?

     During the trip for my exhibiton we visited East Coast museums, galleries and studios. New York gallery owner Sidney Janis lectured us about the Jim Dine exhibit.  We were to see to it that no one sat in the Jim Dine "chair" because it was part of the art exhibit.  Some of the studios we visited were those of Elaine de Kooning, Abstract Expressionist sculptor Herbert Ferber, Ray Parker, Bob Mallory, and Nell Blaine.

     Wildenstein Gallery stayed open for cocktails and a grand tour was conducted by its vice president, and soon to be president, Louis Goldenberg. Linda Hayes and I had spotted a painting in Goldenberg's office; in 2010 Linda told me she wished she could own the small half-draped nude in a landscape by Corot. I told her that I too coveted it.  If I had known of the prosperity that would soon be mine I would now own that charming painting!  Goldenberg was so impressed with the group of attendees that he asked me to meet with him the next morning.  Bob Hayes--who grew the largest Chevrolet enterprise and Avis rental car business in the U.S.--and I learned the purpose of the meeting.  It was to give me unrestricted access to offer for sale the entire available inventory of the Wildenstein Gallery--wow! 

     I had learned some art dealer lessons in my short association with Houston based art dealer Meredith Long and so I set my terms:
(1.) that my clients would not negotiate prices, my gallery was one price fits all. 
(2.) that since my gallery offered only set prices without discounts, except to museums using their own money, it would continue so with Wildenstein stock, the quoted prices would be the same that Wildenstein would expect to sell to, for example, American philanthropist and thoroughbred racehorse breeder and owner Paul Mellon
(3.) that I would pay my own expenses
(4.) I would settle for a small commission that a house salesman would receive, the affect on the sales price would be minuscule 
(5.) that my clients would remain my clients through all future sales going through Wildenstein Gallery

     This relationship continued and was reiterated by Goldenberg.  This set the scene for years later when Bill Clements and his son Gill went to Louis Goldenberg to pay for their first purchases including a beautiful Mary Cassatt "The Reading Lesson" c. 1901.  Bill acknowledged that I had met with him and family regularly across several years sharing with them the fine works that I was placing in other prime collections in the Dallas - Ft. Worth area.  Goldenberg told Clements that we were to continue selling on the same basis with him as my client and of the many services I could provide and at the same time he would be assured the best choice possible and the best price without haggling.  Also, if Bill was in New York and I happened to be unavailable, Lois Goldenberg was authorized to personally show Bill artwork and any pieces shipped to Dallas for consideration would be via Atelier Chapman Kelley.

     These were terms that I set with the best New York galleries and private dealers in New York.  They all wanted the Dallas collectors.  Some of them, such as Wildenstein, Knoedler & Company, Larry Rubin, Ivan Karp, and some private dealers honored their commitment.  Other galleries such as Forum, who I sued related to a Ben Kamihira work, (they represented Kamihira after Nessler Gallery closed), endeavored to "cut us out" once they had met our clients--just a greedy way to charge my clients more cash and was the result of short-term thinking.  Also guilty were Coe Kerr Gallery, Andre Emmerich Gallery and especially Marlboro Gallery for whom I had sold much artwork.  I learned of Marlboro's perfidy at the same time as their illegal dealings with the Rothko Estate made national headlines.  I immediately dropped them as a business partner.  Naturally, most of the great artists' estates removed Marlboro Gallery as their representative.  The new breed of outlaw art marketers seem to like to present themselves as plundering brigands; they rebuilt Marlboro in their image.

     Janet Nessler arranged two exhibitions for my work in San Francisco and Carmel, California.  She rented Mark Rothko's house and studio at 250 Bradford St. Provincetown, Massachusetts, for the summer from mid-May to mid-September to assure enough of my work for a follow up show in 1964.  Our neighbors included Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler (she died December 27, 2011), critically acclaimed writer, playwright, photographer and inventor Abe Burrows, sculptor and printmaker Boris Margo and German-born American abstract painter Friedal Dzubas.

     It was quite an experience for my sons Cole and Kevin, as we visited Provincetown both earlier and later in the season than most of the summer residents.  The boys got to know the lobstermen's sons.  Together they caught, farmed and ate raw mussels.  We could buy those 8 to 12 pound lobsters that the "trade" kept for themselves--warding off the public by saying that they were tough and not tender--which was not true.

     So it was in Rothko's Provincetown studio that I developed my most conspicuous figurative and nonfigurative combinations--figures, nudes, sea, poplars and fields of wildflowers; those dominated my work until it led to my Wildflower Works concept in 1976.

     Mildred Hawn came to visit which was fun.  Linda and Bob Hayes came over and we made a remarkable find--Venezuelan sculptor Alberto Collie and his first magnetic floating sculpture.  By financing Collie's work in Dallas, Atelier Chapman Kelley had his first solo exhibit. In a different show, long lines formed at ACK to view a single Collie floating sculpture that we had purchased in Provincetown.  ACK arranged his first New York show at the Lee Nordness Gallery, the dealer of the moment because of his having assembled the S.C. Johnson Collection that travelled the world.  Alberto's New York show was so significant that in 1964 Time Magazine wrote about it in, "Sculpture: Merlin with Magnets."   Collie, an important new artist and genius, garnered recognition at the São Paulo Art Biennial and the Carnegie International.  (Today in 2011, the Carnegie International is the oldest exhibition of international contemporary art in North America.)  Collie studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Bob Hayes arranged a scholarship for Collie enabling him to attend Harvard University's Graduate School of Design.  Soon after that Alberto was recruited to work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Working in a basement under tight security he created a free-floating version of his work only to discover that the moored sculpture was more beautiful.

     In hindsight we had a truly amazing time in Provincetown.  I managed to have a couple of visits with "legendary teacher, incendiary painter and catalyst of the Abstract Expressionists movement," Hans Hofmann.  Amazingly, his artwork crater was able to skillfully crate 20 or so relatively wet canvases of my work to ship to Dallas!  Princess Cecil Blaffer "Titi" von Fürstenberg, a patron of the arts and a member of a family that combined two great Texas oil fortunes, of the Blaffer-Hudson family of Houston, visted with us.  At summer's end we had a large "open" party and found that I had scandalized all of Provincetown by working so diligently on my paintings.  But isn't success in life making the most of opportunities? And what opportunities I have had!

     When we got back from Provincetown we began to frame my paintings for the New York show and on Friday, November 22, 1963 we took a break to go to the corner of Maple and Cedar Springs to catch a glimpse of our Commander-in-Chief's motorcade.  We watched the four-door convertible limousine roll by, with its top down, carrying a smiling President Kennedy a scant few yards away from us.

     We had a small gathering at our house on Brown St.  We were there to view paintings being shipped to New York.  Margaret and Gene McDermott showed up.  It was indeed a portentous event. 

Next installment of memoirs to include :
Chapter 5
art collector Jim Clark's "Henri Fantin-Latours"
the beginning of the McDermott Collection
the unfortunate career of former Dallas Museum of Art director Merrill C. Reuppel
Dallas Museum of Contemporary Art merges with the Dallas Museum of Fine Art
Texas Annual Art Exhibition
art school of the Dallas Museum of Art

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