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When it comes to exploring Picasso, it would seem there is little left for curators to discover, despite his prodigious output. Right now, there are two major gallery exhibitions, at Gagosian and at Pace, as well as a show of Cubist works including Picasso from the Leonard Lauder collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But what few people realize is that Picasso’s sculpture is still relatively uncharted territory. The last show devoted to it in this country took place in 1967 at the Museum of Modern Art. B

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After ten years, Frieze London continues to be a hit with patrons and dealers alike. A mix of established and fledgling galleries, Frieze attracted nearly 55,000 visitors during its five-day run. Major sales included Paul McCarthy’s White Snow Head (2012) for $1.3 million, Damien Hirst’s Destruction Dreamscape (2012) for $807,650, and Jenny Holzer’s installation Blast (2012) for $525,000. New to the fair, Stevenson Gallery was pleasantly surprised when The Outset/Frieze Art Fair Fund to Benefit the Tate Collection acquired Nicholas Hlobo’s Balindile I (2012).

Stefan Ratibor, Director of Gagosian, said, “We had a terrific fair. Both Frieze and Frieze Masters were quite brilliant.” Victoria Miro of Victoria Miro Gallery added, “I can only say positive things. We’ve had success with all our artists and the market has been surprisingly strong. The fair is truly contemporary with many cutting-edge pieces.”

This year marked the debut of Frieze Focus, a section of the fair devoted to galleries less than ten years old. Focus participant, Mihaela Luteo of Plan B said, “The positioning of Focus has been really very good in cultivating positive reactions. This section gives us the possibility of building our profile in the perfect context. We wanted to introduce artists that may not be so well known and have sold most of the work we brought with us.”

A decade after its debut, Frieze London remains at the forefront of the Contemporary art scene. Frieze's dedication to innovation, risk-taking, and new talent can be thanked for that.

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The freewheeling artistic style of Bob Dylan, who has drawn on a variety of sources in creating his music and has previously raised questions of attribution in his work, is once again stirring debate — this time over an exhibition of his paintings at the Gagosian Gallery on the Upper East Side.

When the gallery announced the exhibition, called “The Asia Series,” this month, it said the collection of paintings and other artwork would provide “a visual journal” of Mr. Dylan’s travels “in Japan, China, Vietnam and Korea,” with “firsthand depictions of people, street scenes, architecture and landscape.”

But since the exhibition opened on Sept. 20, some fans and Dylanologists have raised questions about whether some of these paintings are based on Mr. Dylan’s own experiences and observations, or on photographs that are widely available and that he did not take.

A wide-ranging discussion at the Bob Dylan fan Web site Expecting Rain has pointed out similarities between several works in “The Asia Series” and existing or even well-known photographs — for example, between a painting by Mr. Dylan depicting two men and a Henri Cartier-Bresson photograph of two men, one a eunuch who served in the court of the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi.

Observers have pointed out that a painting by Mr. Dylan called “Opium,” which is used to illustrate a Web page for the “Asia Series” exhibition on the Gagosian site, appears to be closely modeled on a picture by Léon Busy, an early-20th-century photographer.

Separately, Michael Gray, in a post on his blog, Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, points out that a painting by Mr. Dylan depicting three young men playing a sidewalk board game is nearly identical to a photograph taken by Dmitri Kessel.

Mr. Gray, an author who has written extensively about Mr. Dylan’s work and its artistic influences, writes on his blog:

“The most striking thing is that Dylan has not merely used a photograph to inspire a painting: he has taken the photographer’s shot composition and copied it exactly. He hasn’t painted the group from any kind of different angle, or changed what he puts along the top edge, or either side edge, or the bottom edge of the picture. He’s replicated everything as closely as possible. That may be a (very self-enriching) game he’s playing with his followers, but it’s not a very imaginative approach to painting. It may not be plagiarism but it’s surely copying rather a lot.”

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Bob Dylan’s career as a painter is soured by the fact that many people first encountered his brushwork on the cover of his worst album, 1970’s Self Portrait; it features, appropriately, a self-portrait. His head appears to be floating in the pale blue ether and his nose and mouth are exaggerated blobs resting on his face. The lines are otherwise hard-edged and coarse, adding to the painting’s dubiously caricaturelike style, which borders on incompetence. The word “worst” is not used lightly.

In his 2004 autobiography, Chronicles, Mr. Dylan himself admitted, in so many words, how powerful a failure Self Portrait was. His description of recording the album could just as easily pass for an account of painting its cover: “I just threw everything I could think of at the wall and whatever stuck, released it, and then went back and scooped up everything that didn’t stick and released that too.”

Give a celebrity a canvas and you often end up with a disaster. Artwork by stars gives rise to a paradox: audiences would likely not care about the work if it hadn’t come from the hand of someone famous, but the final conclusion is typically “Don’t quit your day job.” As always, Mr. Dylan is a different kind of beast. His first exhibition of paintings in New York, “The Asia Series,” opened this week at the uptown branch of Gagosian, the largest gallery in the world. On view right now at Gagosian’s other locations are solo shows by the likes of Richard Serra, Andy Warhol, Dan Colen and Robert Rauschenberg. Mr. Dylan is no Rauschenberg, but the pairing of the singer with Gagosian makes sense, in a kind of Warholian sense of celebrity. It is a union of two men—roughly the same age—who are at a point in their careers where they can do anything they want with little risk to their reputations. Mr. Dylan can paint scenes, heavily influenced by Gauguin’s Tahiti works, of his misadventures in Japan, Korea, China and Vietnam that cast his subjects as radically other, and Larry Gagosian can show them.

Opium, for instance, which Mr. Dylan painted in 2009, is quite simply perverse. A young woman lounges in a cluttered bedroom, eyes shut in a loopy opiate haze. Scattered about the scene are a fan, a vase with what appears to be bamboo, containers of makeup and a large pipe. The woman rests angelically, framed in a come-hither pose that is directed entirely at the male artist. The Gagosian exhibition is being touted as “a visual journal of his travels” and comprises “firsthand depictions of people, street scenes, architecture and landscape.” Presumably, Mr. Dylan was in this opium den, gazing at this young woman, approaching her but never arriving for the sake of his art. Whether or not that is true does not matter. For years, people believed Mr. Dylan grew up in a traveling circus and hoboed his way across the country in freight train boxcars because he lied to a publicist at Columbia Records back in the ’60s.

Perversity and possible inauthenticity aside, Opium is not a bad painting, but one wonders how much of its interest rests on the person making it rather than on the quality of the work itself. It is not just a depiction of a young woman on drugs, it is a depiction of a young woman on drugs made by the man who wrote “Like a Rolling Stone.” It is all the more tempting to draw connections between Mr. Dylan the singer and Mr. Dylan the painter because the styles overlap—he is, at once, effortless and portentous. Opium showcases the same strange interplay of universality and narcissism that is also at stake in much of his music, especially the later songs. The oversexualized image recalls the opening line of Mr. Dylan’s 2006 Modern Times album, a line so specifically about Mr. Dylan himself that it somehow taps into an identifiable desire: “I was thinking ’bout Alicia Keys/I couldn’t keep from crying/she was born in Hell’s Kitchen/I was living down the line.” Few people could get away with such a lyric. No matter what one thinks of Alicia Keys, he manages to turn the humorous sexual pining of a dirty old man into a gloomy commentary on the inevitability of age and impotency. But would we care if that line was sung by, say, Paul Simon? Looking at his artwork, it is hard not to consider the very real possibility that we forgive Mr. Dylan a certain level of mediocrity because when he is good he is so much better than anyone else.

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Friday, 09 September 2011 03:34

Gagosian Planning Bob Dylan Painting Show?

You may not have noticed, but Gagosian Gallery now lists Bob Dylan as a represented artist on its website. What does that mean? Well, if you believe Facebook, the megadealer has a show of Dylan's art in the works, and has already been selling his paintings. A recent post to a Facebook page promoting Dylan’s artwork shared three images of paintings accompanied by the caption (with typos included):

“Here's a treat. Dylan has recently been quietly added to the Gagosian website. These are three previosuly onseen images of new paintings on canvas. Words has it Larry Gagosian has already been selling works for a forthcoming exhibitions by Dylan, but of course I'm not going to confirm that right?”

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You have an interesting face. I would like to do your portrait. I have a feeling we will do great things together.--Pablo Picasso

Following the critical and popular success of Picasso: Mosqueteros in New York in 2009 and Picasso: The Mediterranean Years in London in 2010, Gagosian Gallery is pleased to present the next chapter in an ongoing exploration of Picasso’s principal themes. Picasso and Marie-Thérèse: L’amour fou brings together the paintings, drawings, sculptures, and prints inspired by one of Picasso’s most ideal models and enduring passions. The exhibition is curated by the eminent Picasso biographer, John Richardson, together with Marie-Thérèse’s granddaughter, art historian Diana Widmaier Picasso, who is currently preparing a catalogue raisonné of Picasso’s sculptures.

In 1927, on a street in Paris, Picasso encountered the unassuming girl, just shy of eighteen years old, who would become his lover and one of modern art’s most famous muses. “I am Picasso” he announced. The name meant nothing to Marie-Thérèse so he took her to a bookshop to show her a monograph of his paintings and asked if he could see her again. Flattered and curious, she agreed, and thus began a secret love affair that would establish Marie-Thérèse as the primary inspiration for Picasso’s most daring aesthetic experiments in the decade to come.

More than any other woman that Picasso desired and painted, Marie-Thérèse, with her statuesque body and strong, pure profile, fueled his imagination with a luminous dream of youth. Although her first appearances in his work were veiled references with her initials forming spare linear compositions, such as in the earliest work in the exhibition, Guitare à la main blanche (1927), the arrival of the blond goddess’s likeness in his art announced a new love in his life. In portrayals, Picasso would stretch her robust athletic form to new extremes, metamorphosing her in endlessly inventive ways. She became the catalyst for some of his most exceptional work, from groundbreaking paintings to an inspired return to sculpture in the 1930s, according her an almost mythic stature and earning her immortality as an art historical subject. Yet her true identity remained a secret from even Picasso’s closest friends. Even after Marie-Thérèse bore their daughter Maya in 1935, Picasso would continue to divide his time between his professional life as the most famous artist in the world, and his secret family life, spending Thursdays and weekends with her and Maya and amassing a trove of love letters and snapshots exchanged while they were apart.

The exhibition spans the years 1927 to 1940 and includes several works never before seen in the United States. The curators have assembled the group of more than eighty works to show a rarely articulated range of Marie-Thérèse’s influence within Picasso’s imagery, beyond recent headline-grabbing portraits. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with a new biographical essay by John Richardson, and Diana Widmaier Picasso’s revelatory essay exploring Picasso’s portraiture, which includes dozens of never before published photographs of Marie-Thérèse from the family archives. Elizabeth Cowling, Professor Emeritus of History of Art at Edinburgh University and co-curator of the historic exhibition “Matisse Picasso” (2002-03), has contributed an essay that examines the dissemination of images of Picasso’s sculptures through the art journals of the period.

To show Picasso’s work in a downtown contemporary art gallery creates a context that evokes the original challenges that his art presented in his own time while celebrating its enduring significance in our own. Under the direction of Valentina Castellani and installed in a dynamic transformation of the 21st Street gallery by architect Annabelle Selldorf, this unprecedented exhibition of the period will reveal Picasso’s secret muse and his l'amour fou Marie-Thérèse in a dramatic new light.

Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga, Spain in 1881 and died in France in 1973. Recent exhibitions of his work include “Picasso: Tradition and the Avant-Garde,” Museo Nacional del Prado and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (2006); "Picasso and American Art" at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2006) traveling to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2007); "Picasso et les Maîtres," Galeries nationales du Grand Palais (2008-09); “Picasso: Challenging the Past,” National Gallery, London (2009) and “Picasso at the Metropolitan Museum”, New York (2010).

For further information please contact the gallery at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 212.741.1717.

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Tuesday, 05 April 2011 04:54

The Gagosian Effect

Over Oscar weekend in late February, art dealer Larry Gagosian held a private lunch at the $15.5 million home he recently bought in the Holmby Hills section of Los Angeles. His glass-enclosed house had been decorated for the occasion by the artist Richard Prince, so its walls were lined with his portraits of beach beauties and pulp-novel nurses.

As guests including financier Ron Perelman and actress Renée Zellweger navigated the home's skylit hallways, Mr. Gagosian and his staff mingled with guests, discreetly passing a rolled-up sheet of paper between them like a baton. The sheet listed prices for nearly every artwork in sight.

With an unrelenting focus on selling, Mr. Gagosian, 65, has become the most powerful art dealer in the world. He represents the estates and careers of 77 of the world's top artists, including Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Cy Twombly, Richard Serra, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Ed Ruscha. Dealers who track how he prices his gallery shows estimate he sells upwards of $1 billion worth of art a year. Sotheby's, by comparison, auctioned off $870 million worth of contemporary art last year.

As the contemporary art market rebounds from the recession, Mr. Gagosian's art empire is exploding. In the last few years, he has opened new galleries in London, Paris, Rome, Geneva, Athens and Hong Kong, expanding his global art network to 11 galleries world-wide—the largest blue-chip franchise ever attempted in the industry.

Mr. Gagosian's position affords him a lifestyle on par with his billionaire clients, who include hedge-fund manager Steven Cohen, money manager Leon Black, Christie's owner Francois Pinault and billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad. He flies in a roughly $40 million Bombardier Global Express private jet and has a personal chef on call at his Madison Avenue headquarters. He has homes in New York, the Hamptons and St. Bart's in addition to his home in Los Angeles, speckled with his own collection of vintage photographs, Giacometti busts and canvases by Picasso and Andy Warhol.

Rapid global expansion has its risks. Mr. Gagosian now needs to supply about 60 distinct shows a year with fresh art. Collectors in Rome and Paris so far have shown little inclination to buy million-dollar contemporary art. And it was only two years ago that prices for some of Mr. Gagosian's trendiest artists, like Mr. Hirst, plummeted at auction. Contemporary art, the most volatile segment of the art market, remains subject to sudden, improbable leaps and jarring crashes.

There's also the question of a succession plan. The Los Angeles son of Armenian-American parents, Mr. Gagosian got his start peddling framed posters at a markup for $15 apiece. Since 1979 he has built his gallery empire largely on his own hard-charging deal-making abilities—he still conducts many of his biggest sales himself—and it's not clear who will eventually replace him as the head of his business. The dealer says he "lives in complete denial" about a successor. It's a critical issue, since Mr. Gagosian plays such a central role in elevating and maintaining the amount paid for his artists' work.

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