Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


October 27, 2007 - 7:51am -- Carol Diehl
Yesterday, on 57th Street, I witnessed an exchange between a gallery director who had never heard of a Barcelona chair and a collector couple from out-of-town who didn’t know the names of the artists whose work they own (“We also have quite a few prints…one’s by a Schwartz maybe? We bought them from that gallery down the street, I can’t remember the name…” “PaceWildenstein?” “Yes, that’s it.”).

The paintings the couple was considering, to be flanked by the aforesaid Barcelona chairs in a 15' x 30' hallway, were priced from $35,000 to $65,000. The gallery director introduced the artist by saying, “He died last January. He’s not exactly famous but pretty well-known.”

She might have said, “This artist, who died last January, was prominent in the sixties and seventies and has been rediscovered after a recent show about that era at the National Academy Museum…” but then why am I quibbling?

“This is a horizontal painting?”
“Yes, but you can hang it vertically if you want.”


Submitted by A. (not verified) on
You are right. I didn't know what a Barcelona chair is- and I am sure I still have many things to learn (especially where design is concerned. Furniture has always bored me). Luckily the internet provides the opportunity to learn new things very quickly. And you are also correct about the way I introduced Dan's work. Sometimes I freeze up- I'm not sure why. I should have introduced him the way you suggested. I will quibble with the last line, however. They did ask me if they could hang it vertically and I said yes. As much as I disagree with hanging paintings in ways the artist did not intend, I cannot tell clients "no"! I'm sorry you came away with a bad impression of me. I wish I could correct that, but it seems not! Enjoy VSC on your return visit. It is one of my favorite places.

Thank you for your comment—definitely a surprise! But what was most surprising was the courage, candor, and lack of defensiveness in the way you responded. Those are rare qualities, especially in the art world, and go a long way toward reversing my initial impression of you.
There are three issues at hand here, the first being that of cultural literacy. Architecture, design, and art are intertwined, and it’s important to at least know the basics—if your clients (or an eavesdropper!) find that you’re not knowledgeable in those areas they may assume that your knowledge of your field is limited also.
Next, to what extent is the gallery responsible for educating its clients? Really, it’s just good business (as the Syms clothing chain slogan says, “An educated consumer is our best customer”). By discussing not only the background of the artist but pointing out, as a docent would, the aesthetic qualities of the painting, you’ll not only make the experience more exciting for your clients, but they’ll begin to develop an eye and with your help, learn to see art as more than a design problem. I’m guessing, since you’ve been to the Vermont Studio Center (VSC), that you have a background as an artist and have experienced critiques, all of which should be great training for being able to describe what an artwork is about.
Lastly is the issue of displaying the work as the artist intended. True, the owners can do whatever they want. However part of educating your clients should be to make them aware of the artist’s intention, as well as pointing out how the elements in the painting function with different orientations. You’re also saving them from potential embarrassment should the painting appear in Architectural Digest, say, upside down. The question of the artist’s original intention is an interesting one, and I’m curious to know how far it holds (what about that painting in Architectural Digest?) and what other artists and dealers think about it. I now see that, as a painter, I’ve saved myself a lot of trouble by using notations, and now images, which make the orientation absolutely clear!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Paintings have to be hung as the artist intended them to be hung otherwise said artist could go nuts seeing a painting hung the wrong way. Would you print Shakespeare with the words completely out of place? (it's hard enough) Or hear Mozart backwards? I actually can't imagine any dealer telling a client that they can hang a painting sideways or any other ways then the artist intented. And I am really sorry for the artist who is dead and has no say in the matter.

Well, I have much less patience for you, art dealer, than Carol does. Get with it, (if you don't you will probably be out of business soon anyway). I actually think artists have a legal right to insist on integrity in the handling of their work. I know of a case in which a collector cut off a chunk of a painting in order that it might fit better in a stairwell. The artist won a lawsuit, reclaiming the work as well as money for damages. It is also possible for artists to ask collectors to sign responsibility agreements as a condition of purchase. Better for them to avoid naive mercenary dealers in the first place.......

While there are many and varied temporal concerns that each party brings to the artist - dealer - collector relationship, all have a responsibility, if it is art they are dealing with, to act in a way that will value and protect art in the long term.
Cutting pictures down to size, and treating them as decorative objects does not "fill the bill."
A friend and gallery owner Mary-Claire Barton once told me that clients contemplating the purchase of a too large landscape announced that they would just have the problematic ten or so inches trimmed from the picture so that it would fit neatly into their space in mind, at which point Mary-Claire informed them that they were no longer eligible to purchase that, or any other painting in her gallery, and ordered them out. Imparting, when needed, the appreciation that art is really not like every other commodity we deal with is a part of what the dealer, as mediator between artist and collector, should bring to the table. Seriously.

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