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Tales from the Art Crypt: The Painters, the Museums, the Curators, the Collectors, the Auctions, the Art

Tales from the Art Crypt: The Painters, the Museums, the Curators, the Collectors, the Auctions, the Art

by Richard A. Feigen
From one of today's most influential art collectors and dealers: a lively, revealing, sometimes blasphemous, always knowing look into the world of art.

Richard Feigen's fifty years in the art world have given him a unique perspective on its inhabitants and habits. He writes about the painters he has known and represented (among them James Rosenquist,


From one of today's most influential art collectors and dealers: a lively, revealing, sometimes blasphemous, always knowing look into the world of art.

Richard Feigen's fifty years in the art world have given him a unique perspective on its inhabitants and habits. He writes about the painters he has known and represented (among them James Rosenquist, Jasper Johns, Jean Dubuffet, and Joseph Cornell), and about others whose work he has collected. He writes about his galleries in Chicago and New York City, and about his fellow dealers, including Julien Levy and Leo Castelli.

He talks about the "eye" that allows a dealer to recognize a fine painting. He discusses the great art-owning families, art historians, scholars, and conservators. He recounts the story of the debacle at the Barnes Foundation that resulted in the undoing of Albert Barnes's vision for his museum, and reveals the fate of the artworks that belonged to Gertrude Stein. He dissects the art boom of the 1980s and its effects, and takes on the commercialism plaguing American museums today: blockbuster exhibitions and the replacement of great directors with "professional administrators."

Feigen has given us an intimate, engrossing portrait of the great art game as it has been played in the twentieth century.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Veteran art dealer Feigen offers up some salty tales from his decades of wheeling and dealing in the vicious and malicious world of the international art market. Feigen represented a number of artists, notably Francis Bacon, before they were considered salable, let alone successful, and was present during some heavy-duty deals in recent decades. His short chapters read like occasional essays, presented without any special order or continuity and containing accounts of meetings with artists from Mir to Matta that have the convincing ring of someone who delights in minutiae and idiosyncrasy. (Sometimes the negotiations are described in such detail that they'll confound those not themselves involved in running art galleries.) On the downside, Feigen has a weakness for some of the lesser art produced in Chicago (where he was born), and makes too confident pronouncements on complex attribution questions involving artists like Poussin. (Sometimes he seems to prefer asserting the scandalous over the provable, as when he claims that the Italian Renaissance artist Sodoma "possibly" had sex with a zooful of pet animals.) These are relatively minor points, however, considering Feigen's willingness to tell all (or much) of what he knows, and his clear and disarming manner of doing so. Given the vast smoke screens raised by legendary dealers like Duveen about their sometimes dubious activities, this frank, detailed account by a mover and shaker in today's booming art market is sure to be discussed over many a downtown dinner. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
New York based art dealer Feigen offers an intimate and gossipy glimpse into the sometimes tawdry world of art. In his over 40-year career, Feigen mingled at the highest levels of the art world, buying from and selling to well-known collectors and major museums. In addition to the stories (some only now made public) behind the sales of individual works, Feigen digresses into fascinating portraits of some of the most influential collections of the last 50 years. These glimpses into the lives of such people as Rose and Morton Neumann, Mary and Leigh Block, and others bring to life the often-overlooked names on museum wall labels. Feigen also expresses his less-than-sanguine view of the museum world, asserting that commercialism and showmanship have surpassed connoisseurship as the requisite for directors and top curators. Recommended for collections with an interest in the art world. Martin R. Kalfatovic, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, DC Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Internet Book Watch
The painters, museums and curators of art are revealed in Tales from the Art Cryptwill appeal to a wide audience, from leisure browsers to students of art collecting and art history. Tales from the Art Crypt provides a lively examination of the art world reflecting the author's fifty years in the art field and including insights on painters he's known, represented, or collected.
—Internet Book Watch
E.V. Thaw
The New Republic
Terry Teachout
.. . involving and revealing . . . [covers] an exceptionally wide variety of topics . . . Feigen's own defects of taste do not diminish the force of his assault on the nihilistic egalitarianism that now runs rampant in the art world.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
An anecdotal, perversely entertaining, but sometimes disjointed memoir by the prominent art dealer and collector. If Feigen has a thesis, it is a nostalgic one. "Things in the art world are not as they always had been," he declares. Throughout, he pauses periodically to consider such subjects as Americans' lack of concern for their own history, race relations (he alludes to the OJ trial), the Vietnam War (he hated it), 1968 Chicago cops, the power of the press, and philistines like Jesse Helms. But these tiny tirades are merely acidic asides in the long, caustic monologue he delivers about the world of art and artists and museums and collectors that he has inhabited for a half-century—and in which he has thrived (he once sold for million a painting he had bought for $16,000). Feigen is disgusted by the new commercialism in museums—they are "mutating into pleasure palaces" that insist on "blockbuster" shows at the expense of education; he deplores the "new breed" of museum directors (with "administrative skills") who know neither art nor taste. Most interesting are his backstage accounts of the various negotiations that he has conducted—including what he terms "the biggest deal I ever blew" (a proposed sale to Iran of a precious Persian manuscript)—and a truly engrossing tale of his ultimately futile efforts to keep together the priceless collection of Gertrude Stein. With patent glee, Feigen hurls slings and arrows at the outrageousness around him, using expressions like "ruthless buccaneer," "scoundrel," and "social climbers." He calls the Kennedy Center"monstrouslyugly" and declares (from an encounter in 1961) that Marc Chagall "hadn't had a new idea since 1917." Along the way are some charming stories, including one of Miró's using crayons purloined from a child to draw figures for a fan. Outsiders will learn much about the art world's fast lane; insiders will smile—or smart—at Feigen's characterizations of them. (76 photos)

Product Details

Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
6.58(w) x 9.53(h) x 1.27(d)

Read an Excerpt


Arrows of barium nitrate pierce the black sky, tracings of invisible bullets aimed at the heart of what we have known as connoisseurship, the love and study of objects fashioned by man. Bit by bit, year by year, the ghostly missiles find their mark and the art crypt fills with casualties of the old order, museums, collectors, artists, those who already love art and those who could have. Anciens combattants, veterans of the culture wars, "elitists" who thus far dodged the bullets, still wander about in daylight hours as the legions of darkness sleep--hack political opportunists, affirmative culture activists, guardians of "family values," Bible-belting fundamentalists, strategic planners, management consultants, museum headhunters, box-office impresarios. The surviving veterans wander about, hoping for better days, lighting candles, trying not to curse the darkness, spinning vestigial myths from the crypt. . . .

At the dawn of the new millennium, things in the art world are not as they had always been. Dramatic changes started unfolding in the 1960s, triggered by Vietnam War inflation, the proliferation of money, the monetization of art, and the battle between the auction houses for hegemony in the marketplace.

During the last half of the century, there was still time for a ruthless buccaneer like Norton Simon to put together one of history's great collections, and for a scoundrel like Richard Glanton to break Albert Barnes's will and try to decimate his collection. Alice Toklas was still alive in the 1960s, clinging to the Picassos she had bought with Gertrude Stein in the early years of the century, and their paintings were still there in1968 to be sold outside the auction rooms. There was still great twentieth-century art around for eccentric acquisitors like Rose and Mort Neumann, and for social climbers like Mary and Leigh Block. Art dealing did not yet seem like a dying profession, and there were still gentlemen dealers like Julien Levy and master salesmen like Sam Salz. There were art discoveries to be made. Countries were not yet provoked by the press and soaring prices into patrimonial protectionism. Although the American government had never placed a premium on culture, the Christian Coalition had yet to sight it in its cross-hairs as some blasphemous and lascivious beast lusting after its children. The corporate culture had not yet turned the museums into box-office palaces and mail-order houses, and transformed their directors from connoisseurs who proclaimed to the public their love of objects into administrators and fund-raisers who lured the crowds and spilled no red ink.

What will become in the new millennium of the kind of museum we had known for the last hundred years? Will the changes be reversed; will museums go back to surprising and exciting and teaching the public? Should they? Is the old way "elitist"? Should museums, like the entertainment industry, give the public what it wants to see--van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Wyeth, Fabergé, more "multicultural" projects? Should finance and administration propel some young people into the museum field and others out? The questions are pressing.

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