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Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Many Sidedness of Beauford Delaney's Art: Commentary

Last week, I published "The Many Sidedness of Beauford Delaney's Art," an article by Dr. Catherine St. John that discusses Beauford's art in the context of the recent solo exposition Beauford Delaney: Internal Light at the Jim Levis Gallery. Today, I bring you comments on that article by Sylvain Briet - an art expert and the brother of the late Philippe Briet, a French gallery owner and publisher who was passionate about the work of Beauford Delaney. The Briet brothers operated the Philippe Briet Gallery in SoHo, Manhattan in the late 1980s and mounted two retrospectives of Beauford's works.


My remarks are not about Catherine Saint John's vision of the art of Beauford Delaney, which is by far more interesting than many writings published for decades. I believe in her talent in understanding Beauford's work, as my late brother did. She is a true friend and my comments are not meant to give her discrédit (discredit). But there are some points that needed some éclaircissement (clarification, explanation), as we say in French:

Catherine St. John (CSJ) wrote "...artists living abroad were more apt to explore diversity in an environment where a traditional art market was absent." I wonder why she says that, since by the early 1950s numerous art magazines were active in France, such as La Gazette des Beaux-Arts (1859-2002), Cimaise (1953 to present), L'Œil (January 1955 to present), Connaissance des Arts (1952 to present), Jardin des Arts (1954 to present), Cahiers d'Art (1926-1960), and XXe Siècle (1938-1974). There were also hundreds of galleries already in Paris. When I checked in an issue of Cimaise dating from 1956, I was able to see ads for American, Italian and English galleries. There's even a section with the articles translated into English.

The famous auction house Hôtel Drouot was inaugurated in Paris in 1852 and is still a flourishing business. The auctioneer House of Paris was created in 1801. Sotheby's had its first sale in the U.S. in 1955 and opened an office in Paris in 1967. Christie's in New York didn't have its first auction before 1977, and its first in Paris in 2002. And of course, until 1964 and that now famous Venice Biennal that awarded Rauschenberg, all the art American people were interested in was coming from Europe, and particularly France. So there was a strong art market when Beauford arrived in France.

The thing about Beauford was that he was in his own mental world, creating, and not interested in the art business. Also, he didn't have a partner to take care of his business. When he didn't give his works as presents to friends, he sold them for survival and to be able to produce more works. If he had had a close friend for promoting his art, his life would have been totally different.

CSJ's reference to the traditional art market was derived from an article on Gerhard Richter in Art Journal "that took into consideration a wider continental art market." One sure point is that we can't write generalities on a specific subject. And knowing the French and American culture is "indispensable" in understanding the time when Beauford Delaney was living! So, when it is written "where a traditional art market was absent," this is absolutely wrong. The image below provides evidence:

An auction in Paris including paintings and jewels, in April 1748
Image courtesy of Sylvain Briet

On another note, CSJ uses the expression "modest in size" about Beauford Delaney's paintings. As if the painter was not able to buy and then to create paintings on a larger scale, and as if this would be such a disadvantage in his career. There is nothing in them that makes them modest anyway, because size has nothing to do with quality. Dürer has never done paintings 7 meters long as did Cy Tombly and Rauschenberg. Neither did Van Gogh or Vermeer. Some people need to show big work to be seen!!!

"Modest" has a negative connotation. And the abstract paintings, the yellow ones we exhibited in New York, were not small.

I think that to imagine that Beauford was not able to buy large canvases is a false problem. I believe that he was comfortable creating works that were adapted to his natural gestures and movements and in concert with the development of his ideas. These works need not have been gigantic.

CSJ also mentions that "Untitled: Abstract in Black, Calligraphic Lines with Red, Diptych, probably completed in 1956, was inspired by an invitation from painter Larry Calcagno to join him on a trip to Ibiza, Spain." More precisely, the work was completed in Ibiza in August 1956, during a trip with painter Larry Calcagno. The name of the island is featured on the work.

It is interesting to see that the Jim Levis Gallery has put the works together, when apparently Beauford decided to make two works from the original one, signing each part. When put exactly next to each other, one can verify that Beauford reframed each part, eliminating some surface, whether on the top (work on the left) or on the bottom (work on the right).

Composite image of Untitled: Abstract in Black, Calligraphic Lines with Red, Diptych by Sylvain Briet
© Estate of Beauford Delaney,
by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esquire,
Court Appointed Administrator

If some criticism could be made regarding the Jim Levis installation of the exhibition, it is that there is no pertinence in having the portraits presented in between abstract works.

Beauford Delaney: Internal Light
Levis Fine Art
Image courtesy of Levis Fine Art

It is as though Levis didn't believe in the portraits by themselves and thought that displaying an abstract painting next to a portrait would help people to see or to understand and be more likely to purchase the portrait! It is not a proper way to present the paintings to serve the artist.

1 comment:

About Beauford Delaney said...

Jim Levis of Levis Fine Art Gallery asked that I post this comment in response to the article above:

The Beauford Delaney “ Internal Light” exhibition was curated and hung to provide equal voice to both Delaney’s portraits as well as his abstractions. This exhibition received accolades from a number of prominent collectors as well as curators from major museums. I enjoyed the essay by Catherine St. John, and will refer to it in future scholarship and publications.