Tales from the Art
Crypt, Richard Feigen, a veteran of nearly 50 years as an art dealer, offers not a conventional memoir but rather a series of highly polished anecdotes adding up to an illuminating dissection of art-world practice and politics.
The opening chapter, aptly titled "Detective Stories," makes attributing an old master painting or unearthing a forgotten portrait of Thomas Jefferson as exciting as a murder mystery.
Feigen's acid comments on the provincialism of his hometown, Chicago, explain his relocation to New York in the mid-1960s.
His depictions of fellow dealers like Leo Castelli and Sam Salz are amusingly candid without seeming mean-spirited; affectionate portrayals of collectors such as Morton and Rose Neumann are equally vivid.
Also memorable is a juicy account of his stint on the board of the Barnes Foundation, whose decision to deaccession works and permit a traveling exhibit of fragile paintings he deplores.
Feigen, who has studied and sold everything from surrealist works and pop art to 17th-century Italian paintings, displays an infectious zest for art as both aesthetic pursuit and business.
His comments on the conflicts between museum directors and their newly revenue-conscious boards of trustees explain much about the increasing commercialization of once scholarly institutions. His delightful book fulfills the mission museums once took for granted: to entertain and educate.
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Tales from the Art Crypt: The Painters, the Museums, the Curators, the
Collectors, the Auctions, the Art
by Richard Feigen, Alfred Knopf publisher.
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