Cult of Personality

The art world thrives on charisma. Here’s a look at a few of the artists and dealers who have made their mark by putting themselves front and center.

Moments after a press conference for “Jeff Koons on the Roof,” this year’s outdoor sculpture exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, a clutch of reporters made a tight circle around the artist. Clean-shaven, dressed in a metallic gray business suit and gracious to a fault, Koons hardly batted an eye as he linked the three bright and shiny chromium works on the roof—monumental replications of a child’s drawing, a wrapped candy and a balloon toy from his 1994–2000 “Celebration” series—to contemporary, early Christian, and Greek and Roman sculptures inside the museum. The reporters didn’t just hang on every word. They clamored for autographs. And they got them. “This is going right next to my Mickey Mantle,” announced a lumbering photographer, holding his prize aloft.

Only one other artist today excites this kind of hero worship: Damien Hirst. Koons and he both create provocative work. But that alone can’t explain their star power.

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Is it mere celebrity that imbues them with the sort of aura that makes people seek out their company—and happily pay whatever their dealers demand? How is it that a handful of those dealers manage to attract—some might say manufacture— such supernovas? Do artists who have crossed into the cultural mainstream share a character trait that grants them not just social status but lasting success? Does their charisma affect their art profoundly enough to alter its place in history?

If there is no easy answer to these questions, it seems safe to say that however well received an artist’s work is, the legend around its maker and, sometimes, his dealer is often what gives them staying power. Julian Schnabel’s broken-plate paintings put him on the map in the 1980s, but it was his arrogance—he claimed that Giotto and van Gogh were his peers—that made him famous.

Of course, many successful artists make challenging, button-pushing work without spawning a cult following—Paul McCarthy and Marc Quinn, for instance. Perhaps it’s because their material is too dark to excite much curiosity about their lives, or because they simply decline to influence public perception of their oeuvre. Nevertheless, it is hard to dismiss the impact of personality on something as subjective as the valuation of art.

Lisa Phillips, director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, in New York, believes that an artist’s importance is determined by his or her work alone. “That’s what will survive over time,” she points out. “Dan Flavin had zero charisma, but he was a great artist. Russell Crowe, the actor, is not charismatic, but his fame attracts a crowd. They’re different things.” On the other hand, she says, “Leo Castelli had great charisma. He was the number one dealer in New York, the top guy with the best stable of artists, a consummate gentleman who was very accepting and incredibly charming. And the genuine excitement he stirred up for the art came partly through the strength of his personality.”

The New York dealer Mary Boone saw her own fame rise in the 1980s along with that of gallery artists like Ross Bleckner, Eric Fischl and Schnabel, especially after she collaborated with Castelli on a precedent-setting two-gallery show for Schnabel. “Leo used to tell me that his strength as a dealer was as a mythmaker,” she recalls. “I think he felt the art sold itself. It was people he made desirable.”

Perhaps that is why collectors today see gallerists as glorified salesmen, marketers of cultural merchandise rather than connoisseurs whose success with both clients and artists turns as much on their own charm as on their powers of persuasion. Joseph Duveen, early 20th-century New York’s leading purveyor of European painting, who handled clients like J. P. Morgan, remains the epitome of a dealer who built his business as a monument to himself, going to any length to sell a painting for an extravagant price, retaining (or bribing) scholars and conservators to promote average pictures as masterworks. The avant-garde gallerists Betty Parsons and Peggy Guggenheim, Abstract Expressionism’s early champions, were bona fide characters who continue to be identified with the artists whose careers they shaped, the most celebrated being Jackson Pollock, whom they both represented, at different times and in very different ways.

Dealers of Castelli’s ilk, erudite and with experience in areas other than art—Castelli started as a banker—guided collections as well as careers. Another of these larger-than-life figures was Sidney Janis, the trendsetting 57th Street, New York, dealer and onetime vaudevillian who in the 1950s and ’60s promoted such American Abstract Expressionists as Rothko, de Kooning and Gorky, along with European modernists like Picasso, Mondrian and Klee. He was also one of the first anywhere to show Pop art.

“Sidney Janis was graduate school for me,” says the New York collector Barbara Jakobson, reminiscing about her initiation in art in the 1950s, when Janis inculcated her with his passion for it even though she was not yet prepared to become a client. “I was in my early 20s and he loved to teach,” she says. “Few art dealers now have time to spend with the merely curious.”

How about the world’s most powerful dealer in contemporary art today, Larry Gagosian, who claims all artists are naturally magnetic? Some say Gagosian is charming only as long as it takes to sign a check. Jakobson demurs, calling him “completely extraordinary … very intelligent and well-read.” While admitting that he can also be distant, she says that “what makes you decide to invest these people with magical power has to do with their sense of authority. A lot of the most successful have no charisma whatever. But they must be willing to act in loco parentis by taking on the artists, [who can be] narcissistic and more demanding than one’s children. They have to be incredibly good liars and say they love everything their artists do. And they have to be able to suffer fools instead of telling them to go home and write a check.”

Other old-school collectors grumble that high-powered gallerists today never sit still long enough to regale their clients with art stories the way Castelli and Janis did. But the brisk pace may be imposed by the new collectors, many of whom have time neither for leisurely conversation nor for prepurchase deliberation. Those who want top pieces snap them up quickly, particularly at art fairs, where discussions are not just brief but also impersonal.

Yet stories keep surfacing about dealers with a Rasputin-like influence on the people around them. One of these was Alexander Iolas. A significant force in Surrealism, Iolas had galleries in Paris, New York, Geneva and Milan before he retired to Athens, where the British-born collector Pauline Karpidas, who has spent most of her adult life in Greece, met him in 1975.

“He was like the Countess of Graumont,” says Karpidas, “trailing this Fortuny cape. I first found him having his hair dyed in the sink by his housekeeper. With the flick of a finger encircled by a 48-carat-diamond ring, he pulls a turban around his head like Marlene Dietrich as Catherine the Great and starts winding a diamond necklace around the turban. I was totally enamored. And he says, ‘Darling, do you have any idea what it takes to form a collection?’ Long story short, it took 10 years. But the fun we had!”

Karpidas played Eliza Doolittle to Iolas’s Henry Higgins. He not only started her collecting contemporary art but also introduced her to another aspiring patron, Dominique de Menil, and, later, to Charles Saatchi, as well as to Andy Warhol, who did her portrait. “If you’re going to collect a certain period, you have to buy in depth, and that’s where mentors come in,” says Karpidas, who includes among her tutors both Castelli and Robert Fraser, the rocking British Pop-art dealer who introduced Yoko Ono and John Lennon. “But the one who gave me real entrée into the world of art was Iolas. ‘You will always think of me,’ he said, ‘because I taught you how to focus.’ ”

The Swiss dealer Thomas Ammann is another whom many in the art world still regard with awe as well as affection. Famously discreet, he would never reveal the names of his blue-chip clients, although Giovanni Agnelli, Gustavo Cisneros and Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kaszon are all linked with him. By the time he died, in 1993, Ammann had made a place for the early work of such modern masters as Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol and Brice Marden in European and American collections. (His sister Doris Ammann runs Thomas Ammann Fine Art today as a prominent secondary-market shop.)

The writer Bob Colacello met Ammann in the 1970s while working at Interview with Warhol. “[Ammann] was the first person I knew to have Belgian slippers—the first to put soles on them so he could wear them outside,” Colacello recalls. “He was always smiling. Five minutes in his presence, and I was relaxed and cool and happy.”

Ammann easily persuaded many to pay high prices for artists he represented in Europe— Twombly and Marden among them. “If you were discovered by Thomas,” Colacello says, citing Ross Bleckner and Eric Fischl, “that was a huge boost. People wanted to do what Thomas was doing. He bought Clementes, so others did too.”

Such dealers could affect artists as much as they did the public. According to the New York painter Donald Baechler, the late Neapolitan gallerist Lucio Amelio was simply magical. “He had a stentorian voice and spoke many languages,” Baechler says. “He acted in Lina Wertmüller films and wanted people to believe he was a CIA agent. He’d fly you to Paris on the Concorde and throw lavish dinners for 40 and then not pay you for a painting. Then you realized that the painting had paid for the trip.” But it was well worth the missed check: Amelio’s high profile in the ’80s helped young American artists like Baechler, Keith Haring and George Condo replicate their domestic success in Europe.

Today’s primary-market brokers in contemporary art tend to be of the same generation as their artists, at least when starting out. The aristocratic Jay Jopling was as young as Hirst, the Chapman brothers and Gary Hume when he presented their early works in 1993 at Jay Jopling/White Cube, the immensely profitable London gallery that began as a project space. With his upper-crust accent and ability to hold the floor, Jopling is a commanding personality. “Jay has power, and power itself can be charismatic,” says Hume. “But look at what he was like before, and you see he always had it. He built White Cube from nothing, and you can’t do that without some sort of engagement.”

There is no one way to decode charisma, much less distinguish it from the glow that comes from success. “I think it’s chemistry and attitude,” says Lucy Mitchell-Innes, a British-born dealer who began her career in New York at Sotheby’s in 1983, when Schnabel’s first plate painting came up for sale. “Julian called me,” she says, describing a scenario that would be unthinkable now, “and told me we couldn’t put that painting in an auction. ‘I’ll swap you,’ he said. ‘I’ll show you another one just as good, and then I’ll buy the first and you can still have a great painting.’ Well, he did keep that painting, and we sold the other for a record price. He made that happen by sheer personality.” On the other hand, she says, Chris Martin, the Brooklyn-based abstract painter, “has a following like a religious sect, but that’s because of his work. If an artist’s work doesn’t hold up, charisma won’t help, even if it does raise the tide of public perception.”

Obviously, the art world is full of competing personalities and compelling eccentrics whose public images make their work more tantalizing. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. Take Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose aura derived in part from his distinctive dreadlocks and an engaging smile. Yet he was often brusque and confrontational. “There was no separation between what went into his paintings and what you connected with in his persona,” says the dealer Jeffrey Deitch, a former consultant who has played a significant role in the careers of many artists, including Koons and Cecily Brown. With his round glasses and crisp suits, Deitch is no slouch at calling attention to himself. But he puts Basquiat in another category altogether. “A conversation with Jean was not a passive experience. He really did embody his artistic vision. ‘OK,’ he would say, ‘let’s lock horns.’ It was electric to be in his presence.”

The artist Matthew Barney, whom many regard as a visionary, can go into a gallery unnoticed, yet he exercises a fascination on art world denizens. It probably helps that he married a rock star, Björk, and has retained the matinee-idol looks that made him a successful J. Crew model while in college and the star of his own video and film productions. In person, though, he is anything but ostentatious and seems driven by his work.

Time is the final arbiter of greatness, but the unprecedented prices commanded by artworks of late have given the personalities behind them such great fame that it is getting hard to say which matters more: the artist or the art. At times, it seems as if the oeuvre is merely a by-product of the charm. “Whether or not Damien Hirst is a good artist, he will have made a mark that history will record,” says the painter Sean Landers, whose ironic, self-aggrandizing canvases obsess on his nearly paralyzing anxiety over making art in today’s market. “Damien was a celebrity from that first show in London, ‘Freeze,’ in 1988, when Charles Saatchi bought the shark,” Landers says. “And he knew how to parlay that early success. Early successes of mine made me think they just hadn’t found out what a fraud I was.”

Hume, who took part in “Freeze,” says Hirst’s self-confidence is part of his attraction. “He finds doubt laughable,” Hume says. “So if you get involved with him, you can laugh and you can be naughty, and that’s a liberation. He disempowers the powerful. And that’s fun.” Hirst’s wealth and renown are now so enormous that it may be decades before history can determine if he is as great an artist as he is a market phenomenon. The same may be said for Richard Prince, who does not go out of his way to court the public but grants considerable access to his inner life through his writing.

The question is, how often does a work sell on the strength of an artist’s personality alone? “Most collectors are unaffected by artists’ personalities,” says Boone. “They only care about the art.” But Donald Baechler has observed just the opposite. Through his friendship with such collectors of his art as Yoko Ono, Baechler has been bumping up against celebrity ever since his paintings of dripping ice-cream cones and long-stemmed roses hit the market in the early 1980s. “I met George Condo then, and it seemed to me people were taken with him before they were with the paintings. Everyone was charmed by him. [The sculptor] Walter De Maria, on the other hand, was notorious for not showing up at his openings. It was always a puzzle how he got to be so famous without bothering to be there.”

The art world has its share of personalities who exhibit De Maria’s kind of inverse magnetism. Their diffidence, in fact, makes them as fascinating as uninhibited types. The New York dealer Matthew Marks, for example, may find it difficult to extend himself socially, but it doesn’t matter; with a roster that includes Ellsworth Kelly, Nan Goldin and Andreas Gursky, he has no trouble attracting clients to his four exhibition spaces. Then there’s the collector Charles Saatchi, whose discerning appetite for young art becomes more voracious each year. Saatchi hides behind exhibitions in his gallery and on his Web site, thus seeming to be everywhere at once, buying up the many while seen by the few.

Warhol was one of the past century’s most charismatic figures, a bewigged enigma who attracted crowds of the curious and paparazzi wherever he went. He galvanized not just artists and musicians but collectors and socialites, and his influence has only grown over time. Yet he spoke in monosyllables and revealed very little of himself. Like Koons, he disarmed through flattery, although in a different way. “Despite his fame,” says Colacello, “Andy would still ask for advice—should he use this wallpaper or not?—and he was accessible. You weren’t going to run into Jasper Johns or Cy Twombly in a nightclub. And even if you did, you wouldn’t hear, ‘Oh, hi! You should come up to the Factory and be on the cover of Interview.’”

For Mary Boone, “the underwhelming can become amazing, as in Ileana Sonnabend. Everyone always called her the Sphinx.” Jakobson remembers the sedentary, tent-dressed Sonnabend, who died last year, as “an enormous coquette—one of the sexiest women I’ve ever known. She could flirt with a doorknob. She had glinty eyes and a little giggle and was very passive. She drew people to her without even moving from her chair.”

Amy Cappellazzo also stood in awe of Sonnabend. “Ileana was sovereign. She was powerful,” says the Christie’s postwar and contemporary-art dynamo, adding, “[The Museum of Modern Art’s associate director] Kathy Halbreich is also immensely sovereign … in the sense that you own yourself and your destiny in the most profound way.”

The upbeat Capellazzo’s sunny temperament and appreciation of art and the value that the auction market can add to it have persuaded many a collector to consign a piece. She seems to work at making herself appealing to both men and women. But, she says, “for women, power is about being demure and charming. How does a woman have it and not look like she’s just showing her female charms to make a deal? It’s challenging for me as well.”

Perhaps for this reason, most of the women whom the art world generally finds magnetic are directors of museums—not just Halbreich and Phillips but also Ann Philbin, of UCLA’s Hammer, and the Studio Museum in Harlem’s Thelma Golden. “Philbin has turned the Hammer into a major force, and she’s done it with an enthusiastic personality, not fame, money or power,” says the collector Marty Eisenberg, a vice president of Bed, Bath and Beyond. “Golden is a stunner who turns heads. She’s utterly brilliant, has a killer smile, is fashion forward, and her programming has elevated African-American art to a place that it has never been before.” In other words, money and charm are both assets. But in the art world today, the first is merely desirable; the other is a necessity.
By Linda Yablonsky

René Magritte's The Eternally Obvious

NYC - Metropolitan Museum of Art: René Magritte's The Eternally Obvious by wallyg.
The Eternally Obvious
René Magritte (Belgian, 1898-1967)
Oil on canvas laid on board; Overall (installed size, 5 framed panels): 72 x 16 in. (182.9 x 40.6 cm)

Magritte painted the body of a naked blonde model, cut from the canvas the body's five choicest bits, surrounded them in gold frames, and reassembled the figure with blank spaces in between on a sheet of glass. This work is a variant of the artist's famous, same-titled prototype from 1930 for which his wife Georgette posed. In that earlier work, Georgette's face is seen in three-quarter view, she stands in a contrapposto stance, and her body is not as rigidly aligned frontally as in this later work, for which the artist chose a younger model with firmer breasts. Magritte plays tricks with our perception in these "picture-objects," whose famethat of the earlier versioncoincided with its role in the cult of the Surrealist object in the 1930s. Although the body is truncated, we automatically fill in the missing areas and see a "complete" nude woman, never mind that her arms and hands are missing.

The artist's dealer in New York, Alexander Iolas, wanted to show this work in an exhibition at his gallery in 1948. Concerned that the painting would not pass inspection by U.S. Customs, Iolas ordered Magritte to omit the pubic hair. Another artist from the Iolas gallery, Bernard Pfriem, restored the hair in his studio on Prince Street in New York.

The Pierre and Maria-Gaetana Matisse Collection, 2002 (2002.456.12a-f)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's permanent collection contains more than two million works of art from around the world. It opened its doors on February 20, 1872, housed in a building located at 681 Fifth Avenue in New York City. Under their guidance of John Taylor Johnston and George Palmer Putnam, the Met's holdings, initially consisting of a Roman stone sarcophagus and 174 mostly European paintings, quickly outgrew the available space. In 1873, occasioned by the Met's purchase of the Cesnola Collection of Cypriot antiquities, the museum decamped from Fifth Avenue and took up residence at the Douglas Mansion on West 14th Street. However, these new accommodations were temporary; after negotiations with the city of New York, the Met acquired land on the east side of Central Park, where it built its permanent home, a red-brick Gothic Revival stone "mausoleum" designed by American architects Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mold. As of 2006, the Met measures almost a quarter mile long and occupies more than two million square feet, more than 20 times the size of the original 1880 building.

In 2007, the Metropolitan Museum of Art was ranked #17 on the AIA 150 America's Favorite Architecture list.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1967. The interior was designated in 1977.

Danse Macabre

Danse Macabre
The Rockefeller and the Ballet Boys
Another spectacular will contest is dividing the dinner parties of tony America. The recently deceased was Margaret Strong, a plain-Jane Rockefeller who always attracted effete men. Her first husband was the ballet-mad Marquis de Cuevas. Her second was nearly forty years her junior: Raymundo de Larrain, who gave her a wheelchair and new teeth for the wedding. And then, according to her children, milked her out of $30 million. On the eve of the trial, the author investigates a society redolent of black orchids.
by Dominick Dunne
February 1987

There is no one, not even his severest detractor, and let me tell you at the outset of this tale that he has a great many severe detractors, who will not concede that Raymundo de Larrain, who sometimes uses the questionable title of the Marquis de Larrain, is, or at least was, before he took the road to riches by marrying a Rockefeller heiress nearly forty years his senior, a man of considerable talent, who, if he had persevered in his artistic pursuits, might have made a name for himself on his own merit. Instead his name, long a fixture in the international social columns, is today at the center of the latest in a rash of contested-will controversies in which wildly rich American families go to court to slug it out publicly for millions of dollars left to upstart spouses the same age as or, in this case, younger than the disinherited adult children.

The most interesting person in this story is the late possessor of the now disputed millions, Margaret Strong de Cuevas de Larrain, who died in Madrid on December 2, 1985, at the age of eighty-eight, and the key name to keep in mind is the magical one of Rockefeller. Margaret de Larrain had two children, Elizabeth and John, from her first marriage, to the Marquis George de Cuevas. The children do not know the whereabouts of her remains, or even whether she was, as a member of the family put it, incinerated in Madrid. What they do know is that during the eight years of their octogenarian mother’s marriage to Raymundo de Larrain, her enormous real-estate holdings, which included adjoining town houses in New York, an apartment in Paris, a country house in France, a villa in Tuscany, and a resort home in Palm Beach, were given away or sold, although she had been known throughout her life to hate parting with any of her belongings, even the most insubstantial things. At the time of her second marriage, in 1977, she had assets of approximately $30 million (some estimates go as high as $60 million), including 350,00 shares of Exxon stock in a custodian account at the Chase Manhattan Bank. The location of the Exxon shares is currently unknown, and the documents presented by her widower show that his late wife’s assets amount to only $400,000. Although these sums may seem modest in terms of today’s billion-dollar fortunes, Margaret, at the time of her inheritance, was considered one of the richest women in the world. There are two wills in question: a 1968 will leaving the fortune to the children and a 1980 will leaving it to the widower. In the upcoming court case, the children, who are fifty-eight and fifty-six years old, are charging that the will submitted by de Larrain, who is fifty-two, represents “a massive fraud on an aging, physically ill, trusting lady.”

Although Margaret Strong de Cuevas de Larrain was a reluctant news figure for five decades, the facts of her birth, her fortune, and the kind of men she married denied her the privacy she craved. However, her children, Elizabeth, known as Bessie, and John, have so successfully guarded their privacy, as well as that of their children, that they are practically anonymous in the social world in which they were raised. John de Cuevas, who has been described as almost a hermit, has never used the title of marquis. He is now divorced from his second wife, Sylvia Iolas de Cuevas, the niece of the art dealer Alexander Iolas, who was a friend of his father’s. His only child is a daughter from that marriage, now in her twenties. He maintains homes in St. James, Long Island, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he teaches scientific writing at Harvard. Bessie de Cuevas, a sculptor whose work resembles that of Archipenko, lives in New York City and East Hampton, Long Island. She is also divorced, and has one daughter, twenty-two, by her second husband, Joel Carmichael, the editor of Midstream, a Zionist magazine so reactionary that it recently published an article accusing the pope of being soft on Marxism. Friends of Bessie de Cuevas told me that she was never bothered by the short financial reins her mother kept her on, because she did not fall prey to fortune hunters the way her sister heiresses, like Sunny von Bülow, did.

Margaret Strong de Cuevas de Larrain, the twice-titled American heiress, grew up very much like a character in a Henry James novel. In fact, Henry James, as well as William James, visited her father’s villa outside Florence when she was young. Margaret was the only child of Bessie Rockefeller, the eldest of John D. Rockefeller’s five children, and Charles Augustus Strong, a philospher and psychologist, whose father, Augustus Hopkins Strong, a Baptist clergyman and theologian, had been a great friend of old Rockefeller’s. A mark of the brilliance of Margaret’s father was that, while at Harvard, he competed with fellow student George Santayana for a scholarship at a German university and won. He then shared the scholarship with Santayana, who remained his lifelong friend. Margaret was born in New York, but the family moved shortly thereafter to Paris. When Margaret was nine her mother died, and Strong, who never remarried, built his villa in Fiesole, outside Florence. There, in a dour and austere atomosphere, surrounded by intellectuals and philosophers, he raised his daughter and wrote scholarly books. His world provided very little amusement for a child and no frivolity.

Each year Margaret returned to the United States to see her grandfather, with whom she maintained a good relationship, and to visit her Rockefeller cousins. Old John D. was amused by his serious and foreign granddaughter, who spoke several languages and went to school in England. Later, she was one of only three women attending Cambridge University, where she studied chemistry. Never, even as a young girl, could she have been considered attractive. She was big, bulky, and shy, and until the age of twenty-right she always wore variations of the same modest sailor dress.

Her father was eager for her to marry, and toward that end Margaret went to Paris to live, although she had few prospects in sight. Following the Russian Revolution there was an influx of Russian émigrés into Paris, and Margaret Strong developed a fascination for them that remained with her all her life. She was most excited to meet the tall and elegant Prince Felix Yusupov, the assassin of Rasputin, who was said to have used his beautiful wife, Princess Irina, as a lure to attract the womanizing Rasputin to his palace on the night of the murder. In Paris, Prince Yusupov had taken to wearing pink rouge and green eye shadow, and he supported himself by heading up a house of couture called Irfé, a combination of the first syllables of his and his wife’s names. Into this hothouse of fashion, one day in 1927, walked the thirty-year-old prim, studious, and unfashionable Rockefeller heiress. At that time Prince Yusupov had working for him an epicene and penniless young Chilean named George de Cuevas, who was, according to friends who remember him from that period, “extremely amusing and lively.” He spoke with a strong Spanish accent and expressed himself in a wildly camp manner hitherto totally unknown to the sheltered young lady. The story goes that at first Margaret mistook George de Cuevas for the prince. “What do you do at the couture?” she asked. “I’m the saleslady,” he replied. The plain, timid heiress was enchanted with him, and promptly fell in love, thereby establishing what would be a lifelong predilection for flamboyant, effete men. The improbable pair were married in 1928.

From then on Margaret abandoned almost all intellectual activity. She stepped out of the pages of a Henry James novel into the pages of a Ronald Firbank novel. If her father had been the dominant figure of her maidenhood, George de Cuevas was the controlling force of her adult existence. Their life became more and more frivolous, capricious, and eccentric. Through her husband she discovered an exotic new world that centered on the arts, especially the ballet, for which George had a deep and abiding passion. Their beautiful apartment on the Quai Voltaire, filled with pets and bibelots and opulent furnishings, became a gathering place for the haute bohème of Paris, as did their country house in St.-Germain-en-Laye, where their daughter, Bessie, was born in 1929. Their son, John, was born two years later. Along the way the title of marquis was granted by, or purchased from, the King of Spain. The Chilean son of a Spanish father, George de Cuevas is listed in some dance manuals as the eighth Marquis de Piedrablanca de Guana de Cuevas, but the wife of a Spanish grandee, who wished not to be identified, told me that the title was laughed at in Spain. Nonetheless, the Marquis and Marquesa de Cuevas remained a highly visible couple on the international and artistic scenes for the next thirty years.

When World War II broke out, they moved to the United States. Margaret, already a collector of real estate, began to add to her holdings. She bought a town house on East Sixty-eighth Street in New York, a mansion in Palm Beach, and a weekend place in Bernardsville, New Jersey. She also acquired a house in Riverdale, New York, which they never lived in but visited, and one in New Mexico to be used in the event the United States was invaded. In New York, Margaret always kept a rented limousine, and sometimes two, all day every day in front of her house in case she wanted to go out.

François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne Animal, vegetable, mineral

Animal, vegetable, mineral
Go to Paris for one of this spring’s most enjoyable exhibitions

Apr 8th 2010 |

A SCULPTED grasshopper that measures six feet (1.85 metres) in length stands at the entrance to the private apartments at Windsor Castle. Made of brass, steel and Sèvres porcelain, it was a gift to Queen Elizabeth from President Georges Pompidou after her state visit to France in 1972. It was an arresting, witty and practical offering: lift up the creature’s back and the interior serves as a wine cooler. The grasshopper was made in Paris by François-Xavier Lalanne, who, since the 1960s, had exhibited with his wife, Claude, as the Lalannes.

Unlike Claes Oldenburg and his wife, Coosje van Bruggen, the Lalannes did not collaborate so much as co-create. These independent artisan-artists made their pieces out of metal, but he hammered and riveted while she moulded. In their choice of subject matter they were polar opposites. He favoured animals; she vegetation. Nevertheless, as a 150-piece retrospective in Paris demonstrates, seen together their works produce an echoing harmony. At once punchy and dreamlike, this is a hugely attractive show.

Visitors are greeted by a bronze rabbit, 11 feet long with ears blown back as if by the wind. Its feet, however, are hooves and its tail is that of a bird. The large bronze cat also combines elements of several creatures. When young, Mr Lalanne worked as a guard at the Louvre, where he studied its Egyptian collection. The influence of Hindu deities is also clear. Among his other works on view are a rocking-chair bird, a series of life-sized rhinos and a gorilla whose chest opens to reveal a safe. Many of Mrs Lalanne’s pieces are fashioned from sinuous vines and leaves twisted into candelabra, garden benches, jewellery and gates. Their debt to Surrealism and Art Nouveau is obvious. So is their droll, devil-may-care inventiveness.

Mr Lalanne died in December 2008. His widow chose Peter Marino, an architect-decorator and longtime friend and Lalanne collector, to design this exhibition. The result is a mixture of intimate and public spaces; cosy rooms and sweeping, contemporary-gallery-style vistas. Some walls are covered in ivy. Part of the vast central court is a turquoise reflecting pool which has no water, but is filled with frogs and graceful waterfowl. It is backed by sand dunes on which two shaggy camels rest. Elsewhere in the court a flock of life-sized sheep straggle across a field of AstroTurf. It was sheep on rollers that launched the Lalannes’ career. In 1966 Mr Lalanne sent a herd of 24 woolly ones to the Salon de la Jeune Peinture. Each could be sat on; together they became banquettes or beds. They were hailed as three-dimensional Magrittes. The Lalannes were on the art map.

Alexander Iolas, champion of the Surrealists, became their dealer and introduced the Lalannes to America. A year after the Salon, the Art Institute of Chicago gave them a show, and Life magazine a four-page spread. “Baby” Jane Holzer, known as one of Andy Warhol’s “superstars”, asked Mr Lalanne to make one of his rhinos in leather. That beast, which breaks into a set of comfy-looking chairs, was shown in the early 1970s at the influential Castelli gallery in New York. It is one of the works on loan to the Paris show.

By the 1980s Mr Iolas’s gallery had closed; minimalism and conceptualism were in vogue in America. It was not until 2007 that a dealer named Paul Kasmin began to represent them in New York. Their work was snapped up by a new generation of young collectors. Two years later, he organised a display of Lalanne sculptures along the traffic islands on Park Avenue, including Mrs Lalanne’s bronze of a big, big apple.

The artists’ greatest admirers have been in France. A room in the retrospective spotlights Yves Saint Laurent’s acquisitions. Among them are a modernist bar by Mr Lalanne and a group of mirrors by his widow. At Christie’s Yves Saint Laurent/Pierre Bergé sale last year the Lalanne bar sold for more than $3.5m, over ten times the top estimate, and the ensemble of 15 mirrors for nearly $2.5m, twice the estimate. The whopping prices and global coverage of the sale introduced the Lalannes to a new audience. Ben Brown, their London dealer, reports that his biggest problem now is not finding buyers, but works to sell.

The Lalannes have always occupied the borderland between high and decorative art. Some critics feel they did not break new ground; others the opposite, that they drew serious attention to this terrain. Rob Wynne, a New York artist who is represented by the same Paris dealer, will surely not be the only one to see the influence of the Lalannes on artists, such as Barry Flanagan, a Welsh sculptor known for his giant bronze hares, or the famous fish lamps made by Frank Gehry. In the Lalannes’ world the down-to-earth and the funny merge with the fantastical and baroque.

Obra Prima do Dia (Semana René Magritte) Pintura – Lola de Valence (1948)

Obra Prima do Dia (Semana René Magritte)
Pintura – Lola de Valence (1948)

Na França as críticas ferrenhas ao surrealismo belga continuavam. As relações de Magritte com Paris seriam sempre difíceis. Ele parecia não se incomodar com isso, mas não ser reconhecido em Paris, devia pesar.

Magritte encontrou um bom marchand em Alexander Iolas, um grego responsável pelo sucesso de muitos artistas. No entanto, quando Iolas conseguiu que ele fosse convidado para uma individual em Paris, em 1948, Magritte não se impressionou, nem se curvou.

A exposição, na Galerie du Faubourg, criou polêmica. O estilo empregado nas telas era próximo do fovismo e foi chamado pelo pintor de “vache”, literalmente “vaca’. Em francês a palavra servia e ainda serve para muitos usos: tirando o nome do animal, pode ser uma expressão de indignação “La vache!”; se referir a uma mulher gorda; a uma pessoa sem caráter e má; à pessoa preguiçosa. Um amor mais físico que emocional, é um ‘amour-vache”.

E surgiu o que ficou conhecido como “période vache”, no estilo “potache”, ou seja, com a inconseqüência e o pacholismo próprio dos estudantes. As telas, sobre o vulgar e o rude, inteiramente diferentes do estilo contido e elegante de seus outros quadros, mais o texto de apresentação, em termos pouco usuais, cheios de gíria, assinado pelo poeta Louis Scutenaire, foram o estopim de um bom escândalo.

Anos mais tarde ambos, Magritte e Scutenaire confessariam que a intenção era mesmo agredir e chocar. Como belgas, estavam cansados de ser chamados de camponeses toscos e quiseram se vingar do que consideravam arrogância e pedantismo dos franceses.

Na década de 60, quando catalogou suas obras, Magritte se referiu ao período “vache” como ao seu estilo fauve e chamou as telas dessa época de “as pinturas daquele maldito período”. Ele parecia não querer se lembrar direito do que foi e porque criou o estilo “vache” (de um texto de Bernard Marcadé, curador e crítico de arte francês)

“Lola de Valence” é uma tela “vache”, uma ironia com o quadro de Édouard Manet (1862) que imortalizou a dançarina espanhola Lola Melea e com uma quadra de Charles Baudelaire em homenagem à beleza dela:

“Entre tant de beautés que partout on peut voir,

Je comprends bien, amis, que le désir balance;

Mais on voit scintiller en Lola de Valence

Le charme inattendu d'un bijou rose et noir.”

(Numa tradução inteiramente livre: “Entre tantas belezas que vemos por aí, compreendo bem, amigos, que o desejo hesite; mas vemos cintilar em Lola de Valence o encanto inesperado de uma jóia rosa e negra”).

Pode-se compreender como os franceses ficaram ofendidos com a gozação a seu poeta e a seu pintor...