In Tales from the Art Crypt
, Richard Feigen, a veteran of nearly 50 years as an art dealer, offers not a conventional memoir but rather a series of highly polished anecdotes adding up to an illuminating dissection of art-world practice and politics. The opening chapter, aptly titled "Detective Stories," makes attributing an old master painting or unearthing a forgotten portrait of Thomas Jefferson as exciting as a murder mystery. Feigen's acid comments on the provincialism of his hometown, Chicago, explain his relocation to New York in the mid-1960s. His depictions of fellow dealers like Leo Castelli and Sam Salz are amusingly candid without seeming mean-spirited; affectionate portrayals of collectors such as Morton and Rose Neumann are equally vivid. Also memorable is a juicy account of his stint on the board of the Barnes Foundation, whose decision to deaccession works and permit a traveling exhibit of fragile paintings he deplores. Feigen, who has studied and sold everything from surrealist works and pop art to 17th-century Italian paintings, displays an infectious zest for art as both aesthetic pursuit and business. His comments on the conflicts between museum directors and their newly revenue-conscious boards of trustees explain much about the increasing commercialization of once scholarly institutions. His delightful book fulfills the mission museums once took for granted: to entertain and educate. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers 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)
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