Sunday, November 13, 2016

How Millennials Are Changing Corporate Art Collections

Google’s Dublin office. Photo via Google.
For centuries after Siena’s Monte dei Paschi bank founded the first corporate art collection in 1472, the direction of these programs was primarily dictated by the personal passions of the boss. Even in the 1960s, when companies like Chase Manhattan and IBM began to fill their offices with works by Barbara KrugerSam Francis, and Eric Fischl, corporate collections were still primarily offshoots of the CEO’s artistic tastes.
Throughout the following decades, as interest in corporate collecting swelled, things began to change—instead of the boss’s pet project, a company’s trove of art became a public relations tool that communicated prestige and good taste to clients. Since the early 2000s, corporate collecting has shifted its focus inward once again. This time, however, the art is meant to serve the workers by enhancing the office environment and reflecting company values. And for employers hoping to cater to younger recruits, the focus is increasingly on a millennial-friendly ethos of social responsibility.
According to a 2014 Brookings report, 63% of millennials want their employers to contribute to meaningful social or ethical causes. By comparison, about half the members of older generations share this stipulation. As millennials begin to dominate the workforce, the report notes that these proclivities “are already changing consumer markets and forcing corporations to change their workplace practices.”
Enter ArtLifting, a Boston-based company founded in 2013 by siblings Liz and Spencer Powers. The initiative was spurred by a problem that Liz discovered while working with art programs in homeless shelters—once completed, there was nowhere for the work to go. Today, the startup offers an online platform for artists living with homelessness or disability to sell their work to a global audience. When Liz presented at the offices of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), ArtLifting’s combination of high-quality art and community outreach had a clear appeal as a way to build the company’s collection.
“It sounded like a great fit for a company like BCG, which tries to be socially responsible,” said Karen Hood, office manager for the company’s Center for Knowledge & Analytics in Boston. “We wanted to support them and see how we could partner with them. Large companies oftentimes work with generous budgets and want to be able to spend responsibly and have an impact.” Hood is in the process of buying several works from ArtLifting artists and commissioning one more for a recently completed office build-out.
Artist Scott Benner with his work at Google’s Cambridge office. Photo courtesy of ArtLifting.
ArtLifting’s mission also resonated with Google—so much so that the two companies announced a partnership last month, Art@Google. The program’s inaugural show opened on October 13th, repurposing an event space on the internet giant’s Cambridge campus to serve as a gallery. The first exhibition showcases the delicate pen-and-ink drawings of Scott Benner, a Boston-based artist who developed Horner’s syndrome in 2012 and subsequently lost his job and home. He began selling his art on ArtLifting in 2014 and has since found housing; for this show, Google acquired nine of Benner’s works. Google plans to feature two additional local ArtLifting artists in Cambridge next year with the hope of expanding the program to its other campuses across the country.
“Our mission with Google is to create amazing work environments and experiences that help Googlers perform at their best every day,” said Google real estate project executive John Moran, who worked with ArtLifting to develop the Art@Google program. “We look to find ways to enhance the campus and create experiences that make this an interesting place to work.” According to studies, a focus on experiences rather than consumer goods is another hallmark of the millennial workforce—and Google, with its median age of 29, employs a lot of them.
Shirley Reiff Howarth, who has been studying corporate art collections since 1983 as the founder and editor of the International Directory of Corporate Art Collections, notes that over the past decade there has also been a growing interest across corporations in creating community-oriented programs like Art@Google. “The big focus change I’m seeing is that corporate collecting seems to be moving away from just buying a lot of unrelated art and hanging it on the walls,” she said. “Instead, companies are moving into integrated programs that try to educate the employees and build a context, perhaps by collecting on thematic grounds. And they’re partnering with local arts communities.”
Although Howarth says this trend is currently more prominent outside the U.S.—particularly in places like Europe, South Africa, and Asia—as millennials enter the workforce in increasing numbers, companies like BCG and Google are at the forefront of a practice that promises to be increasingly common.
Local artists work on a mural in Google’s Toronto, Canada office. Photo via Google.
“We saw in this an opportunity to use art as a way of engaging the community, to get them exposed to an organization that we thought was doing something interesting in this particular community,” Moran said. “It’s about highlighting something that was started here in the Boston area, bringing it into the campus to expand that exposure to our Google community and to see what comes of that.”
Google has been ranked the best company to work for by Fortune seven times in the last decade; BCG has also ranked consistently in the top three. “That just illustrates the point that our clients are buying artwork both because they find it beautiful and because their employees, clients, and customers understand that art is more than just decoration,” said Spencer, ArtLifting’s co-founder and CEO. “It can provide a moral boost. For these companies who are trying to recruit the best and brightest, and they’ve found that ArtLifting art helps them do that. Our artwork isn’t just art—it has a compelling story behind it.”
Hood agrees. Her previous purchases for the BCG office included works by up-and-coming artists, but Hood said she “barely knew anything” about their background. With ArtLifting, however, the artists’ stories are foregrounded in a way that improves the office environment.
“I didn’t feel that my purchasing the artwork was helping them other than their bottom line. I feel like the pieces we’re selecting now really impact someone else’s life,” Hood said. “It feels good to look at something that’s pleasing to the eye, but also pleasing to the soul.”

—Abigail Cain

A Brief History of the Frames Market


A Brief History of the Frames Market

Photo of Diego Salazar’s Long Island City gallery by Abigail Cain.
The walls of Diego Salazar’s Long Island City gallery offer a mesmerizing lesson in frame history: sumptuously carved and gilded 17th-century French frames hang alongside their more austere Dutch relatives, with a sizable collection of gleaming 19th-century American examples housed in an adjoining room. Of the hundreds of frames on display, only a handful contain artworks—and, in fact, Salazar often negotiates with gallerists to purchase a particularly stunning frame sans painting.
A longtime collector and dealer of period frames, Salazar gestures to one designed by notable Beaux-Arts architect Stanford White hanging in his American gallery. “This frame was meant to be seen in candlelight,” he says, pointing out the wire mesh and the delicately patterned shadow it casts. Salazar bought it 15 years ago at auction for almost $50,000. “If I ever sell it, I could get $300,000 for it,” he says. “But I’ll never sell it.”
Considering the current price tag, it might be hard to believe that just three decades ago dealers were simply giving these frames away. Pioneering New York frame dealer Eli Wilner founded his business in 1983 and remembers major galleries like Knoedler, Kenneth Lux, and Hammer calling and offering him their unwanted frames for free. “I picked up my collection for nothing,” he said. “Literally nothing. And then, obviously, over the years I’ve had to pay for frames. But the first five years or so, they were just gifted to me. All I had to do was pick them up.”
Up to that point, frames were intended to reflect the tastes of the institution or the private collector. “Often paintings were reframed when they changed collectors because that’s the only way a collector can really put their mark on a piece of art,” Gene Karraker, conservator of frames at the J. Paul Getty Museum, noted. “And, if it’s a private collector, to ensure it matches the decor.” According to Wilner, in the past this reframing process happened every 30 years. “It’s almost a law,” he said. “Every generation there is a new sensibility about framing.”
Napoleon offers a particularly spectacular historical example—after assuming power in 1799, he ordered all the major works in the Louvre reframed. But 20th-century institutions also felt empowered to replace frames, a practice called “downframing” that was particularly prevalent in the 1980s. The Museum of Modern Art in New York put its antique frames in storage and replaced them with modern ones during that decade; in 1978, the Guggenheim transferred the museum’s Thannhauser collection to white shadow frames preferred by the director Thomas M. Messer.
Photos of Eli Wilner Gallery courtesy of Eli Wilner.
Many point to the work of German art historian Claus Grimm in the 1970s, particularly his study The Book of Picture Frames (1979), as the beginning of a modern scholarly interest in frames. But the topic gained real momentum in the mid-’80s and early ’90s with a string of frame-centric exhibitions: the Rijksmuseum in 1984, the Art Institute of Chicago in 1986, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1990, and the National Portrait Gallery in 1996. By 1994, when Karraker first started working at the Getty, curators were already dedicated to matching each work with an appropriate period frame.
“Even at that point, the reasoning by the curators and the conservators is that when reframing was done, they wanted to fit the period of the frame with the period of the painting—either by country, by region, by date,” he recalled. “If there was a particular frame that an artist was known to use, that would influence the choice as well.”
The market for period frames grew as collectors started to follow suit. “Framing is now an international topic,” Wilner explained. “It comes up in seminars, it comes up in books, it comes up in discussions. So if you’re a buyer right now of a Rembrandt or a Frederick Church or a Norman Rockwell or a Hopper—yes, you’re very interested in how he would have framed it. You could choose not to follow what he or she did, but you want to know: How was it presented in their lifetime? It’s integral to the conversation. You can’t show me an institution or collector who’s serious that’s not addressing that.”
Even auction houses eventually joined in. “In the last 20 years, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the two powerhouses, have done a lot in terms of borrowing frames for exhibitions and highlighting them with labels,” Wilner continued. “Now, next to their $50 million painting, there’s a description of the frame. So that is an ongoing subtle but clear educational process.” It’s also an effective way for dealers to sell antique frames—Salazar said he regularly lends frames to auction houses. “It’s advertising, in a way,” he noted. “In fact, I just sold a frame that I lent for a Botticelli.”
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the rapidly growing market for period frames encouraged steadily rising prices. Now, “an antique frame can range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the period and the style and the size,” Karraker said. “They’re not cheap.” This is due in part to the scarcity of original frames, which were often scrapped when styles changed. Wilner noted that during the Great Depression, for example, people would melt frames down for gold content—one reason that antique American frames are among the most expensive styles today.
Photo of Diego Salazar’s Long Island City gallery by Abigail Cain.
Despite higher prices overall, the value of a frame remains tied to the value of artwork from the corresponding period—and while modern and contemporary art has seen soaring prices over the last decade, older works have not had the same luck. According to the Mei Moses World All Art Index, between 2002 and 2012 post-war and contemporary art gained a compounded annualized rate of return of 11.6 percent. In the same period, Old Master paintings gained just 3.3 percent and American paintings only 1 percent. The recession hit the frame market particularly hard, according to Wilner. “The year 2008 was a horrible time for the industry and the 19th century got really hurt. Both European and American painting values plummeted,” he said.
Salazar has seen the number of antique frame sellers in the United States dwindling, down to around 9,000 from an original count of 20,000. “People just don’t want antiques anymore,” he noted. Although he follows industry developments, Salazar no longer supports himself through frame sales—instead, he uses real estate investments to fund what he describes as a “passion” rather than a business.
Wilner said the frame market has recovered somewhat since a particularly low point in 2013. “Thankfully, there’s renewed interest,” he said. But he says the industry is increasingly focused on lower price points, like works in the $20,000 to $100,000 range. “The buyers want to dress up their paintings to make them look like million-dollar objects, and they’re using the framing to do it. So it’s an interesting renaissance in framing interest, but not for the greatest masterpieces—more for the lesser works by great artists that want to look more interesting.”
“It’s almost like what was happening in the 1980s when I really began to encourage collectors and museums to reframe, but we were reframing masterpieces back then,” Wilner continued. “That same energy is being taken to the next level of paintings now. But I’m not sure masterpieces are around, maybe that’s the reason. Who would sell a masterpiece in this market if they didn’t have to?”
Wilner is already considering the legacy of his inventory, with ambitions to found a museum devoted entirely to period frames. Salazar has the same plan for his roughly 1,000-piece collection. And watching the dealer stroll through his Queens gallery, stopping momentarily to single out a frame once owned by Napoleon’s brother, it’s not difficult to imagine his collection in a museum—each frame finally recognized as a work of art in its own right.

—Abigail Cain

Writing | The Wonder and Whimsy of Shakespeare’s Wordplay


The Wonder and Whimsy of Shakespeare’s Wordplay

Illustration © notkoo/Shutterstock

Editor's Note:

David Peterson received his MA in Linguistics from the University of California, San Diego, in 2005, and cofounded the Language Creation Society in 2007. He has created languages for HBO’s Game of Thrones, among others. He is also the author of Living Language Dothraki and The Art of Language Invention. For Signature, David revels in a few Shakespearean words that showcase the creativity of his wordplay, from “relume” to “massy.”
When I think about reading Shakespeare — or, better, seeing his work performed live — my most cherished bits are those in which Shakespeare makes up a word all his own simply to fit the meter, or as a way of calling to mind some specific shade of meaning often glossed over when a synonymous yet more common term is used.

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The Art of Language Invention

He’s quite famous for his penchant for neoligizing. Shakespeare’s been credited with inventing as many as 1,700 words that went on to enjoy regular use in English. Likely he wasn’t the originator of many of these so much as the popularizer, but he had a wonderful facility with what linguists call derivational morphology: adding prefixes and suffixes to words to form new ones. Here are some of my favorites in context.
…but once put out thy light,
Thou cunning’st pattern of excelling nature,
I know not where is that Promethean heat
That can thy light relume.
What a gorgeous word for “reilluminate”: a disyllabic iamb forged from a Latinate root and the prefix re- specifically to get the meter right. Perhaps the whole thing could have been reworked to allow for “reilluminate,” but why bother when this coinage does the trick?
Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of
the brain awe a man from the career of his humour?
No, the world must be peopled.
Is “people” a noun? Sure. But why can’t it be more? Why can it not verb?
the elements,
Of whom your swords are temper’d, may as well
Wound the loud winds, or with bemock’d-at stabs
Kill the still-closing waters, as diminish
One dowle that’s in my plume: my fellow-ministers
Are like invulnerable. If you could hurt,
Your swords are now too massy for your strengths
And will not be uplifted.
“Massy” is a word one wouldn’t use everyday for “heavy,” and while we know “uplifted” as an adjective, it’s rare to see it as a verb. And “bemock’d-at”? What a treasure!
These types of word-formation strategies are precisely what we see today in words like comentate, conversate, hate-watch, or ship. (Alas! I knew as slow their tea they sipp’d / That such a pair as this must sure be shipp’d!) It’s the type of wordplay that Shakespeare reveled in that we now decry. And to what end? There’s a word for a language that doesn’t change: Dead."There's a word for a language that doesn't change: Dead."TWEET THIS QUOTE
We should encourage English users both young and old and from every walk of life to engage in word formation as Shakespeare did — to try things out and enverbulate their language. As users we all get a vote as to what we like and what we don’t (and, indeed, even though I just used it, I’m not sold on “enverbulate”), but there’s no harm in making new proposals, be they short and sweet like bae, or long and convoluted like meme-ification.
If Shakespeare were alive today, he wouldn’t be deterred by the little red underline that tags misspellings — in fact, he’d probably turn it off. And who knows? The next Shakespeare may actually be alive today, and I guarantee you they’re not paying any attention to those who tell them what they can and cannot say.
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7 Books That Explore the Boundaries of Language


7 Books That Explore the Boundaries of Language

The Tower of Babel by Tobias ver Haecht and Jan Brueghel the Elder
The film “Arrival,” based on Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life,” follows a group of scientists as they attempt to determine a way to communicate with aliens who have recently made their presence known on Earth. It’s the stuff of classic science fiction, but in Chiang’s hands, it turns into a meditation on memory, loss, and perception — while diving headfirst into the kind of satisfying big ideas that its genre does so well. In Chiang’s story, explorations of language prompt readers to question time and causality, leading in turn to a greater understanding of what makes us human.

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Stories of Your Life and Others

Those questions of humanity and communication are essential to understanding ourselves. A number of books have memorably explored the evolution, effects, and permutations of language — from historical investigations into the development of language to speculative visions of what ill effects it might cause. But there’s also an inherent challenge in this, in that these books are ostensibly being written using the same tools that they seek to explore. And so the range of literary explorations of the nature of language can take a host of forms across genres.
Here is a look at seven that, through both fiction and nonfiction, can expand our knowledge of what language can do.
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
“Story of Your Life” may be the story in this collection that deals most explicitly with language, but its larger themes of knowledge and the unexpected consequences knowledge can bring run throughout the book. Several of the stories explore permutations of now-discredited scientific theories, while others take age-old stories (the Tower of Babel, for instance) and reimagine them from a new perspective. “Story of Your Life” sets the tone for the book as a whole, taking into account essential questions of the human condition while also investigating the headiest of linguistic concepts.
Landmarks by Robert MacfarlaneLandmarks by Robert Macfarlane
While some books that explore the minutiae of language trace its evolution in the here and now, Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks takes a very different approach. In this book, he travels to remote corners of Britain, documenting words (some of them archaic, some not) that describe deeply specific phenomena related to the natural world. One of the overarching themes of the book is a kind of lament for the knowledge and specificity that is lost as these words fall out of use. To that end, he includes pages upon pages listing some of the terms in question. It’s both a fascinating exploration of language and space and an enlightening one — perhaps some of the words in here will help you reach a greater understanding of the world around you.
In Other Words by Jhumpa LahiriIn Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri
The list of writers who have created memorable works in multiple languages is small but notable: Vladimir Nabokov (English and Russian), Samuel Beckett (English and French), and Ananda Devi (French and English) all come to mind. Jhumpa Lahiri joined their company with In Other Words, a book about her process of learning Italian that’s also written in Italian. (Ann Goldstein handled the translation into English.) How does one express oneself in a new language? How does working with the stuff of a different language affect one’s understanding of grammar, of structure, of the act of creation? These are some of the questions Lahiri memorably explores in this work.
The Flame Alphabet by Ben MarcusThe Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus
In the hands of a master surrealist like Ben Marcus, the effects of language can be the stuff of chilling, visceral fiction. Such is the case in The Flame Alphabet, in which a plague is spread through language, causing physical changes in those who hear it, and rendering the sounds of the voices of children toxic to those over a certain age. The way that language can affect us can be the stuff of beauty or revelation, but it can also lead to horrors — such is the ground covered by this strange and compelling book.
A Heart So White by Javier MaríasA Heart So White by Javier Marías
Translation is a running theme in novels by the great Spanish writer Javier Marías. This is also true of his nonfiction: his book Dark Back of Time deals in part with the discontinuity between the real-life model of one of the settings of his novels and the perceptions readers had of it after reading his fiction. The central characters in A Heart So White are a pair of translators, who meet through their shared profession and gradually start a relationship. Questions of nuance and ambiguity, which are central to any understanding of language, run deeply in this novel. Reading this book about translation in translation adds one more layer to the proceedings.
Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, The Code of Beauty by Vikram ChandraGeek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, The Code of Beauty by Vikram Chandra
If you have any background in writing code in one of any number of computing languages, you may well have found yourself looking at that language’s relationship to the one you read and speak. Such is the case with Vikram Chandra’s Geek Sublime, which draws from his experience as both a writer and coder, and explores the surprising things that literature can learn from the languages powering our computers, phones, websites, and applications — and vice versa.
Embassytown by China MiévilleEmbassytown by China Miéville
China Miéville’s fiction uses fantastical locations, creatures, and concepts to explore core questions of morality, society, and government. Embassytown is set in the future, in a world occupied by beings from a number of different planets. It, too, uses science fiction to tear into the stuff from which languages are made: the name of this novel’s protagonist was, long before this book opens, used as a word in an alien species’ language. This is one of many high-concept treatments of language in a book meticulously constructed around the permutations of language, from the aesthetically striking to the potentially deadly.

Art World | Art Demystified: What Do Curators Actually Do?

Art Demystified: What Do Curators Actually Do?

The influence of curators, explained.
Hans Ulrich Obrist. Photo: Clint Spaulding/ Patrick McMullan.
What is the role of the curator in the contemporary art world? Often working behind the scenes in an opaque job, curators actually greatly influence the art we see in galleries and museums, and, as a result, help determine which art critics write about.
“Today, curating as a profession means at least four things,” the curator and co-director of London’s Serpentine Galleries, Hans Ulrich Obrist, wrote in the Guardian. “It means to preserve, in the sense of safeguarding the heritage of art. It means to be the selector of new work. It means to connect to art history. And it means displaying or arranging the work.”
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As such, curators are involved in nearly all facets of a museum’s functions, which the Dutch museologist Peter van Mensch defined as preservation, communication, and study. Curators also play a key role in the acquisition and selection process of institutions, deciding on how to allocate budgets and deciding which works are displayed.
Finally, curators decide how works are hung in galleries and how the viewing public experiences the exhibition, by researching how to show artworks in art historically coherent and entertaining way.
Francesco Bonami. Photo: courtesy Francesco Bonami.
Francesco Bonami. Photo: courtesy Francesco Bonami.
Speaking to artnet News, the outspoken Italian curator Franceso Bonami pointed out that in today’s market-driven contemporary art environment, curators retain the important task of highlighting art’s noncommercial dimension. Curators, he says, “validate some kind of intellectual content” because “art, no matter which crazy value it can demand, is still needed by society.”
Recommended: Curator Resigns Unexpectedly From Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis After Controversial Show
The dual capacity of acting as a tastemaker and validator has resulted in a small group of prominent “star curators” gaining influential positions in the contemporary art environment, where they can make or break an artist’s career. In some cases their celebrity can even eclipse that of the artists they work with.
Arguably the first curator to reach such status was Henry Geldzahler, whose 1969 exhibition “New York Painters and Sculptors of 1940-1970” at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art launched the careers of a group of emerging artists such as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, David Hockney, and James Rosenquist. According to the New York Times, Geldzahler was once dubbed “the most powerful and controversial art curator alive.”
Recommended: Art Demystified: How Are Art Fairs Changing the Art Market?
Despite having just been named in the artnet Titans list of powerful figures, Obrist insists that he primarily sees himself as a facilitator. “I’ve realised that the curator’s role is more that of enabler,” he said. “I’ve never thought of the curator as a creative rival to the artist. When I became a curator, I wanted to be helpful to artists. I think of my work as that of a catalyst—and sparring partner.”
Jamillah James. Courtesy of Paul Mpagi Sepuya.
Jamillah James. Courtesy of Paul Mpagi Sepuya.
Curators can take a more explicitly activist role as well. Jamillah James, recently appointed curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, describes her role that way in a recent interview with ArtSlant. “My commitment is still very much to giving voice to artists of color, women and queer-identified artists within institutions, and foregrounding their contributions in art historical discourse.”
“Using a curatorial platform for advocacy and activism is a responsibility and an honor I don’t take lightly,” she adds.
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The MoMA Fire That Destroyed a Coveted Monet Painting

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

Gone To Blazes

The MoMA Fire That Destroyed a Coveted Monet Painting

In 1958, a New York MoMA’s workman’s cigarette landed on some sawdust, sparking a massive fire that killed an electrician, as well as destroying a valuable Monet.

11.12.16 5:01 AM ET

Shortly after noon on April 15, 1958, a group of electricians working on the second floor of the Museum of Modern Art decided to indulge in the day’s favorite lunchtime custom—a smoke. 
The workers had been hired to make repairs to the air-conditioning unit in a part of the building that housed the museum’s permanent collection. Nearly two decades before, MoMA had been one of the first major museums in the world to bring the modern marvel of AC to its galleries. But now, their system was sadly out of date, and the museum had undertaken a month-long project to install a new unit and make updates to the system. 
So, when the noon hour rolled around on this mid-April day, the electricians hired to do the job dropped their tools where they were and indulged in what was likely a much-needed break. Drop cloths covered the floor, open paint cans sat nearby, and it is believed a pile or two of sawdust were left where they had fallen. 
As to what happened next, ++The New York Times reported The New York Times reported that authorities believed a spark from one of the workmen’s cigarettes fluttered away and landed on the saw dust, which went up in flames, igniting the drop cloths followed by the highly flammable cans of paint.
With that one little spark, a deadly chain reaction was set in motion that would result in a destructive, three-alarm fire that raged through MoMA
The blaze, “brought traffic to a standstill in the Fifth Ave. area for almost four hours and left the modernistic glass facade of the museum, one of the city’s showplaces, a smashed and blackened network of broken windows and streaked stone,” reporter Judith Crist wrote in the next morning’s edition of the New York Herald Tribune.
It was an event that ended in tragedy. When the smoke cleared, one electrician—55-year-old Ruby Geller from Brooklyn—was dead. He had succumbed to smoke inhalation and was found lying face-down in a six-inch pool of water on the third floor. Five hundred museum visitors and employees had been evacuated from the scene, with three—in addition to 28 firemen—sustaining injuries. 
The human toll of the disaster was joined by the destruction of a priceless work of art. Five paintings, including a relatively small seven-foot Monet “Water Lilies,” had been damaged in the blaze. (A later account in The New York Times described the small Monet as having come “through the fire looking like a toasted marshmallow.”) But the worst loss was the total destruction of a giant, 18.5-foot Monet painting also titled “Water Lilies.”
Only three years earlier, MoMA had been proud to announce that it was the first public institution to acquire one of the larger pieces from Monet’s famous series. The artist, who was also an avid gardener, had moved into a new countryside home in Giverny, France, in 1883.
Soon after, he set about turning the surrounding property into his dream estate. He planted vibrant and lively flowers on the grounds, installed water lilies in the property’s pond, and created Japanese-style gardens.
“Suddenly I had the revelation of how magical my pond is. I took up my palette. Since that time I have scarcely had any other model,” Monet said.
And this remained the case for the last three decades of his life, during which time he painted nearly 250 different pieces inspired by his garden. Most now consider these paintings some of the artist’s greatest works. But in Monet’s day, his “Water Lilies” series wasn’t quite as popular; several of his contemporaries criticized the highly Impressionistic effect of the blurred scenes and colors as more representative of his failing eyesight than his exceptional artistic ability.
Monet was reported to have responded to this criticism with the wise resignation that, “ They will perhaps adapt themselves to it in time, but I came too soon.” 
The time of the “Water Lilies” arrived in the 1950s, when the art world began to take note of just how incredible this body of work was. MoMA was on the cutting edge and acquired the large painting in 1955; on its arrival, it was described as “shimmering like an Impressionist’s version of paradise.” The smaller Monet was purchased just one year later, two years before fire would strike the museum. 
When the fire broke out, many of the building’s occupants escaped through adjoining buildings, including an annex on one side that housed the museum’s offices and the Whitney Museum of American Art, which was located behind MoMA and had several shared doors. One group was stranded on the sixth-floor penthouse garden until firemen could clear the stairwells of a thick black smoke, while two women visitors were evacuated through a smashed window and guided down a ladder extending up from the street below. 
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Reports in the New York Herald Tribune praised most for acquitting themselves well in the emergency. Except for one unfortunate lady, that is, who had the distinction of panicking, breaking a window, and chucking her hat, purse, and shoes out onto the street below. Firemen rescued her soon after, and led her to an elevator just a short distance away that was still in operation. (From our comfort in the all-knowing future, we’ll refrain from commenting on the frightening use of elevators in this rescue story.)
Once safely on the ground, the building’s staff and visitors discovered that one of the storage rooms on the second floor that housed over 300 works of art was in danger. The fire department had intentionally used smaller hoses and nozzles in an attempt to keep the water damage to a minimum, but this room was flooding at a frightening rate. A group of survivors, including many of the museum’s female employees and Nelson Rockefeller, who was chairman of the board, decided to brave the suffocating heat and smoke once again and try to save the priceless works. 
“The volunteers, all of whom had been trapped for periods of up to one hour on various floors of the museum, waited only long enough to clear their lungs naturally or by pulling at an inhalator before making their way back into the smoke-filled building,” Paul Tobenkin reported in the New York Herald Tribune on April 16, 1958. 
“In groups of five or six, many with noses and mouths covered by handkerchiefs like bandits in a Western movie, the group took the elevator to the storage room. Here they formed a ‘bucket brigade’ operation, passing the paintings from hand to hand until they reached the elevator.” 
While these heroes rescued much of MoMA’s permanent collection, they could not save the large Monet, which had been hanging close to where the fire broke out. At the time it was destroyed, this “Water Lillies” was valued at $40,000, but had it survived, it would undoubtedly be worth a whole lot more. On June 24, 2008, Christie’s set a new record for the most expensive Monet ever sold—Water Lily Pond went for $80.5 million. 
But money is beside the point when it comes to an exceptional work of art that is now missing from history. It is an irreplaceable loss—for everyone except the MoMA that is. 
The museum received around $300,000 in insurance payouts for the damage done that mid-April day. The directors took the money and, a year later, ++they bought a new Monet from the artist’s son Michel. This time, they went with the now celebrated “Water Lilies” triptych. It is a stunning work, and one that some have quietly suggested may be even more exceptional than the original acquisition.


Stunning, Rare Images Collected by a Fashion-World Force

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Photographs from Carla Sozzani’s Personal Collection

Photographs from Carla Sozzani’s Personal Collection

CreditThe Estate of Lillian Bassman / Courtesy Staley-Wise Gallery, New York
As a longtime editor and the creator of 10 Corso Como, Milan’s high-end retail and dining complex, Carla Sozzani is a well-known figure in the fashion world; and as the founder of the gallery there that bears her name, she’s been a longtime force in the art world as well. What many don’t know is that she is also a passionate collector of photography. For more than 40 years, she has built a collection of over 650 works, mostly in black and white, representing more than 70 artists from the 19th century to today: big names like Helmut Newton, Alfred Stieglitz, August Sanders and Irving Penn, but also lesser-known photographers like Xanti Schawinsky, an experimental artist from the 1920s.
Starting this week in Paris, for the first time ever, the Galerie Azzedine Alaïa will be showing a selection from her collection, curated by the director of the Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris, Fabrice Hergott. Sozzani had never considered exhibiting the photographs — in fact, she never even really considered them a collection — but when Alaïa, a close friend, asked her to show them in his gallery, she thought it might offer the chance to revisit the works, and to see them with a new eye.
Together with Sozzani, Hergott made a final selection of more than 200 photographs spanning the entire breadth of the collection. They decided to hang the works alphabetically, rather than chronologically or thematically — which has revealed some unexpected juxtapositions. “Like every collection, this one is about obsessions,” Hergott says. “She knows every single piece, and very well — this is clearly a passion. She selects the unexpected, like a landscape by August Sander, known for his portraits.” Even for someone as well versed as Hergott, there were discoveries to be made in the collection, like the work of the surrealist Welsh photographer and set designer Angus McBean.
Sozzani’s long career in fashion, which began in 1968, is reflected as well, in photos of Dior at Granville and Coco Chanel at rue Cambon, as well as her own portrait by Dominique Issermann. And very appropriately for the venue, there’s also a portrait of Alaïa himself by William Klein. “This is really art,” Hergott says. “A fantastic image.”