Even if you've been only half awake throughout this past year, you could not hide from the grim reality of the financial woes that made life for so many of us extremely unsettling and worrisome. And definitely the art world was not immune to this dramatic downward spiral. Museums were forced to face the tough economic reality by paring down scheduled exhibitions, cutting back staff, and putting a freeze on new hires. Disappointing sales at art auctions and various art fairs reinforced the sense of doom and gloom on the international art scene, and a number of galleries were forced to close their doors. But, as Mark Twain once said, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."
I'm cautiously optimistic that the same can be said about the Art world, which, based on recent news here and abroad, is actually far from dead. A few weeks ago, at a Christie's auction, a new record was set for the highest price ever paid for a painting by Rembrandt -- a portrait of a man which sold for $33 million. At the same sale, a drawing by Raphael – a sketch for one of his frescoes at the Vatican – was sold for an astonishing price: $48 million. Yes, you heard it right, $48 million, for a small but gorgeous drawing on paper.
Collectors and dealers returning from Miami/Basel reported better-than-anticipated sales there, and the good news here in Los Angeles is that local dealers are also starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The Culver City art district continues to expand. Blum & Poe, which put Culver City on the art map when they moved there in 2003, recently relocated just across the street to an even bigger and more dramatic space. Suzanne Vielmetter, the doyenne of the Culver City art scene, also is ready to welcome visitors into her new and much larger space, which is scheduled to open in mid-January. And Angles Gallery, which for a quarter of a century has been a major presence on Main Street in Santa Monica, is packing up and moving to – you guessed it – to Culver City, and interestingly enough, into the space formerly occupied by Blum & Poe.
This past year also proved to be the most painful year in the 30-year history of LA's Museum of Contemporary Art, which virtually ran out of money and almost went belly-up. Once again, Eli Broad came to the rescue, saving the museum from financial ruin, much as he did a decade ago with the faltering Disney Hall project. And now, only a few months later, MOCA's revamped Board of Trustees is reporting that the museum has raised more than $60 million. But what's especially heartwarming is the groundbreaking exhibition, MOCA's First Thirty Years," occupying both the main building on Grand Avenue and the Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo. For the first time here in LA, we can see the true depth and scope of MOCA's permanent collection, which has rightfully earned the museum an international reputation. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the excellent job done by chief curator Paul Schimmel, who masterminded this new presentation with surprising and dramatic juxtapositions, infusing the exhibition with particular vigor and élan.
I'm also glad to report on the Hammer Museum's just-unveiled, much-improved presentation of its permanent collection of Old Master artworks assembled by Dr. Armand Hammer. In the past decade, with most of the museum's energy focused on contemporary art, this collection was shown with a slight air of indifference to less than optimum effect. Not any longer. Instead of white, the gallery walls are painted with rich, strong colors, and that combined with new and improved lighting, makes the paintings spring to life as never before. I bet that somewhere, Dr. Hammer is smiling down upon his museum. And on that happy note, let me wish you a very Happy New Year.
Banner image: Paul Cézanne's Boy Resting (detail), c. 1887; Oil on canvas; The Armand Hammer Collection