Steve Wynn’s restored Picasso, “Le Rêve, at Acquavella Galleries, New York, with Steve Cohen’s Picasso, “Femme Nu Couchée,” on right
After I wrote harshly about museums’ lending works to commercial gallery shows in general and to Acquavella’s just-opened Picasso show in particular, the gallery’s diplomatic director, Michael Findlay, graciously invited me to peruse the show with him as my guide.
Sometimes, like a cigar, a worthwhile exhibition is just that, a worthwhile exhibition.
So yesterday I DID visit the Marie-Thérèse Walter focus show, with Michael at my unrestored but very careful elbow, and it IS a worthwhile exhibition. Steve Wynn‘s Picasso, “Le Rêve” (above), DOES look almost pristine, notwithstanding its owner’s accidental elbow-jab to Marie-Thérèse’s left forearm. And if the NY Post is to be believed, Wynn actually hit the jackpot by slapping Picasso’s hapless mistress: He reportedly got a big insurance settlement for the damage and still gets to keep (or to sell) the valuable painting.
But even though nothing in Acquavella’s show is for sale and despite Findlay’s assurances that Wynn no longer dreams of selling “The Dream,” the whole enterprise still makes me queasy.
There, in the same room with Wynn’s battered trophy, is the Guggenheim’s iconic “Woman with Yellow Hair,” at left below, on loan from the museum’s Justin Thannhauser Collection. That masterpiece-laden benefaction had long been subject to conditions (relaxed in recent years) that its works were not to leave the Guggenheim’s premises, even for museum exhibitions (let alone for commercial gallery displays):
Guggenheim/Thannhauser Picasso, “Woman with Yellow Hair,” left, chockablock with “Nude on a Black Armchair,” private collection, courtesy Richard Gray Gallery
Also in the room with Wynn’s Picasso, which the casino mogul had intended (before the accident) to sell to hedge-fund mogul Steve Cohen, is “Femme Nu Couchée,” which Cohen does own. In the next room, Cohen’s “Le Repos” is installed face-to-face with the Museum of Modern Art’s famous “La Baigneuse,” of much higher quality than its garish, privately owned roommate. Upstairs is a whole room devoted to photographs of Picasso and/or Marie-Thérèse, including one (reproduced in the show’s catalogue) in which the nattily dressed artist poses beside Cohen’s “Repos.”
What’s wrong with this picture? It’s true, as Findlay noted, that galleries perform many services for museums—lending them works, helping them with acquisitions and assisting them in locating art that can be borrowed from private collections for public exhibition. But that doesn’t make it appropriate for museums to lend their masterworks and luster to a commercial gallery’s walls, even if the works on display aren’t up for sale. Findlay couldn’t (or wouldn’t) tell me what Acquavella’s next show will be; this one closes on Nov. 29.
Michael, your show is a must-see and you did nothing wrong by borrowing important Picassos from willing lenders (which, in addition to the museums listed in my previous above-linked post, also include the Morgan, which contributed a drawing from its Thaw Collection.). The institutional lenders are the parties that should have exhibited discretion instead of their artworks.
Do we really need another Berry-Hill or Salander O’Reilly mess to convince museums of the inadvisability of dispatching works to business establishments that may ultimately turn out to be less solid than they seemed? I’m not in any way suggesting that there’s anything amiss at Acquavella; it’s the principle that counts—keeping the proper arm’s-length distance between for-profits and non-profits.
(Speaking of which, Chanel’s Hell-in-a-Handbag show has just opened in New York’s Central Park, bagging an appropriately scathing review from the NY Times‘ Nicolai Ouroussoff. He accused it of “dismantling the boundary between the civic realm and corporate interests.” Did I ever say anything negative about Nicolai?)
Come to think of it, with so many artworks not selling, it’s probably a perfect time for Acquavella to have conjured up a non-selling show.