Some notes on provenance and Stanford’s Hopper

Connie Wolf, museum director and Alexander Nemerov, scholar and professor, with Cantor's new Hopper, photo by L.A. Cicero, via Stanford News Service

Connie Wolf, museum director and Alexander Nemerov, scholar and professor, with Cantor’s new Hopper, photo by L.A. Cicero, via Stanford News Service


The Cantor Museum at Stanford announced its acquisition of an important painting, the 1913 Edward Hopper oil “New York Corner” also known as “Corner Saloon”. The press release lists 13 funds, couples, people, entities or anonymousi who helped the museum get this piece. I heard about it from Steven Winn of the Chron, who described the transaction in companion with a new Edward Ruscha show coming to the DeYoung, in July, 2016, a coming attraction.

I don’t follow the art market as closely as some but I venture that the typical Edward Hopper creates more interest (and principle) than the typical Edward Ruscha. I doubt I had heard of Ruscha until this recent phase, the one that started with my dating Terry Acebo Davis, the arts commissioner and artist. In our seven years together, we’ve gone to more gallery shows together that rock concerts (and I’m a concert promoter and artist manager, by trade, or at least that’s what I still tell the IRS).

Terry has a terrific art library. We pulled a catalog “Edward Hopper: The Art and the Artist” by Gail Levin, that pertains to a show from 1981 that traveled to the Whitney and the SFMoMA, among other stops. She believes she saw the show, but does not recall exactly where. Maybe while traveling.

And I admit we had to look it up to get the exact name of Hopper’s most iconic piece, “Nighthawks” which is in the Art Institute of Chicago, from 1942 and is somewhat large, 33 1/4 x 60 1/8 to be exacting.

Hopper was born in 1882 in Nyack New York and died in 1967.

One thing that is notable is that the Stanford press release shows a picture of Connie Wolf, the Cantor director (as of 2012 or so) and Alex Nemerov, the incoming head of the art department and the new work. Nemerov is quoted saying how great this is for the university and how, for example, students will be encouraged to go to Cantor and write papers on this Hopper. In contrast, I recall noting Jenny Bilfield, the head of Stanford Lively Arts, lunching with Loren Schoenberg a visiting Mingus scholar in the Cantor Cafe (the Cool Cafe, run by Jessie Ziff Cool, of Flea Street fame, but also on the wall is somethign about the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Leland, she’s a Pearson Leland, the parents of my old friend Mark Leland, with whom I shared some of my earliest drug and alcohol experiences; when our parents were out, we would steal alcohol and crank Van Halen and Sammy Hagar quite loudly, and use our tennis rackets as proto-air-guitars, if you excuse the digression). I ran into the Cantor gift shop, managed then my Arlene Gutowski, and bought a copy of Peter Selz’ book on Nathan Oliveira. I wanted to emphasize, to the visiting East Coast scholar — he cut his teeth on early Led Zep I mean he was Bennie Goodman’s assistant, or was the head of that archive, at Yale; I in comparison did an 18-month term as a personal manager for a former Mingus sideman and writer). I wanted Loren to reap that righteous riff about Oliveira, Frank Lobdell, David Park, Elmer Bischoff and their various relationships to jazz (especially West Coast, and Stan Getz) and each other. Cantor actually did or does encourage this with little cards posted on the second floor pointing out the jazziness of some of those pieces, and more. This group, the Bay Area Abstract Figuratives, influenced each other and were influenced by jazz and influenced a generation of painters, not merely their students. I think that’s an important Stanford / Cantor / regional>national timely story, that is untertold.

The Hopper we acquired — and I say “we” even though I was not one of the 13 funders, but I did meet Connie a few times since she arrived and paid $65 for the basic membership — I think it’s about the ninth or tenth museum I’ve been a member of, past or present, I collect those little cards, at least -I saw “we” as in the community of people hereabouts in this time and space continuum althought I am not even a Stanford affiliate — Terry is an employee via her day job– is great news. My first reaction and my previous post, on Plastic Alto “Stanford Donors Rally — $20 M — behind fictional poor” was kind of snarky and I was contrasting, albeit elliptically and in a bit of a stretch — the idea of there being funds for great art but maybe not funds to help a community of poor, the residents of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park, buy themselves out from their evil landlord — there’s a $16 M pledge, from the county and the City, from money earmarked for BMR housing below market rate but it might take $20 million or more to force a deal. I was, I admit, sort of shaming Stanford, for their (and note the switch from “our”) bit of “let them eat cake” — it occured to me that my point would make perhaps more sense if they had announced a purchase of a maybe Wayne Thiebaud, who literally and artistically depicts cakes. But then I started thinking I was being a cynic, and a bit of an ass: maybe the purchase, by these 13 donors is actually a sign that either they or a different set of donors would give to the cause of economic diversity, and BV would indeed be saved. And for the record, I am a commenter and kibbitzer on BV but not actually part of the effort, or Friends of Buena Vista. I’ve stood up in public a half dozen times, if that counts. And no where else in the world is anybody mentioning Buena Vista and Edward Hopper in the same breadth.

One thing we noticed — Terry and I, this time, not Stanford and I– is that according to the catalog by Gail Levin as of 1981 at least the Hopper was in the Museum of Modern Art of New York, via “Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Fund”. So the basic provenance question, if its not impolite to ask is: How did the painting get from the MOMA to Cantor? And, does it glorify the piece of besmirch it, that it was once part of the MOMA?

One clue is the fact that San Francisco art dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel is credited as being the one who brokered the deal wherein Cantor was able to purchase this work.

It also turns out that in 2012 or 2013 he brokered a similar deal in which the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, SFMOMA acquired a piece called “Intermission”. “Intermission” is also in the 1981 Whitney show: according to the notes, at that time it was lent to the show from a private collection of Mr. and Mrs. Morris P. Pelavin. The piece is 40 x 60 inches and a later or late Hopper, 1963.

It turns out, if you type variations of these terms into the search engines, you can suss out besides being a new media maven, Fraenkel had shown both of these works — “New York Corner (Corner Saloon)” 1913 and “Intermission” 1963 at a show in his Geary Street Gallery called “Edward Hopper and Friends” that featured a total of nine paintings and shown them in comparison to a group of photographs, to show the influence Hopper has had and continues to have on this other medium or a group of artists working in that medium, on photographers. We presume that the paintings, in 2009, were merely NFS and were used to lure people in and peddle the multiples. (And not to disparage the field, or the work or clients collectors of Fraenkel, some of his transactions run to 7 or maybe 8 figures, at least according to his own father, at the time).

Another clue to the story is the fact that Fraenkel’s big break had to do with making an investment in a cache of prints by Carlton Watkins and re-selling them at a profit. One article on his success claims that in the early 1980s he was working as an assistant in another gallery and saw an announcement, in the trash bin no less (!) about a sale of a group of Watkins; he borrowed from F&F and took the plunge and the rest is his story. Stanford recently had a big Carlton Watkins to do; I went to the opening and heard the speeches. Actually I recall catching Connie Wolf in a bit of a stretcher in that she misquoted Kenneth Baker, from his review. She said he said the catalog — we bought, we bit — was the deal of the century but he only said it was deal of the year. Connie Wolf who is a Stanford 1981 and therefore “forty-something” came to Cantor after a tenure at the Jewish Museum of SF, so she would presumably know Jeffrey Fraenkel from those circles. My guess is that the seeds of this June, 2015 deal on Hopper were somehow sewn in that Watkins 2013 dealio.

The article by Kenneth Baker on “Intermission” stated that the SFMOMA deaccessioned a lesser Hopper to make way for the superior piece. Maybe it’s looking the gift horse in the mouth but I am curious what Hopper or modern work might have made its way to New York’s MOMA after they shed “the Corner”. Or, were there any intermediate steps between MOMA and Fraenkel’s client/confederate. I presume over time Fraenkel earned the trust of the person who started by lending work to him and advanced to letting him help broker these two deals. I presume the person or entity that held in 2009 as many as 9 Hoppers also held or holds quite a few nice photographs as well, but that part is conjecture.

A red herring I presume is the fact that Stanford’s Alex Nemerov is the nephew of Diane Arbus, whose work is shown semi-exclusively by Fraenkel Gallery.

Disclosure: I have visited Fraenkel Gallery a handful of times. I believe I bought a Lee Friedlander book there, on New Orleans musicians perhaps. I recall visiting the gallery when it was on Grant and I was on a lunch date, circa 1990 with Elizabeth Hutchinson, who was between her bachelors from Yale and Masters from Stanford, and is now an expert on early photography and teaching at Columbia. If I own a half dozen photographs they are sub-collectible, although sometimes I cheaply frame my own work (And I’ve shot and posted 1,000 images here, beside literally and figuratively nearly 1,500 posts, not that means I’m making ModernBook).

Also: this is probably too goofy to mention but I recently tried to donate a lesser Laddie John Dill to Stanford, via a development officer I met as Terry and I stood between Cantor and Anderson, watching them take down the Richard Serra. The Anderson has a major Dill and my gesture was meant to help close that gap. I think I also threatened to buy something from “She Who Tells a Story” and donate it to Dartmouth. (I was just flirting).

I also remember reading about Cantor procuring a Noguchi for about $200,000 it was reported. This is again too far out of bounds but I am reading Timothy Egan on Edward Curtis and he reports that a treasure trove of Curtis’ are now in the hands of a pair of Silicon Valley investors or collectors.

The Hopper is set to be shown in July, they say.

edita: Gail Levin, who wrote the catalog I mention, from 1981 and or compiled a catalog raison for or of Hopper, was later fired by the Whitney in 1984, supposedly for moonlighting on a book about him. In 2006 her name popped up regarding the controversial Sanborn collection of Hopper works; the article also states that Hopper had left 2,500 works to the Whitney.

and1: New York Corner was shown in 2007 at the Boston MFA, according to a review by Holland Cotter of the Times. Who lent the painting to that show?

The Fraenkel Gallery is still selling a poster from its spring 2009 show “Edward Hopper and Company” ($100) but seems to be out of stock of the catalog, which might be illuminating here. Note that “Intermission” now at the SFMOMA is used in the poster. It lists works (for sale, I presume) by: Robert Adams, Diane Arbus, Harry Callahan, William Eggleston, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander and Stephen Shore.
hopperposterbyFraenkel

edit to add, the next day: Leah Garchik had a riff on this today:
In response to an e-mail, Connie Wolf, director of the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, described the particular appeal of the collection’s new acquisition, Edward Hopper’s 1913 painting “New York Corner (Corner Saloon).” The work, as Steven Winn said in Wednesday’s Chronicle, was bought in a private deal brokered by San Francisco gallerist Jeffrey Fraenkel, paid for with funds raised from many contributors.

“I think what was great about this work and how the many supporters felt about it,” Wolf said, “is that it is of New York City. Yet everyone loves having it here in California. There is no question, we all love NYC, but we live here because we love the area, the people, the ideas. Yet we value what is NYC, and so to have a little of that here with such a beautiful painting … well, that’s the best of both worlds.”

I’d be curious what about it caught her eye, what exactly she asked Connie…The bottom line, I’m not expert but I think it’s a good but not great Edward Hopper and I’d hate for Stanford to hype it just because they own it, and then make it doctrinaire about their students that this is the shit.

bop, bop

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About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
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