Month: March 2014

Dinner at the Chelsea Arts Club with Bolivian Artist Gaston Ugalde

Gaston Ugalde and Tracey Citron

Gaston Ugalde and the Art Detective’s Muse

Last Tuesday I was invited to dinner at the Chelsea Arts Club with a group of friends. I love the Chelsea Arts Club and as I’m not a member it’s always a treat to be invited by someone who is. This particular occasion was extra special because Bolivian artist Gaston Ugalde was joining us. I’d heard more about Ugalde the man than I knew about his art. Known as the “Andy Warhol of the Andes” and the “enfant terrible” of the Bolivian art scene, he’d certainly tweaked my curiosity and I just knew I was going to like him. 53058275c7269mago-1 Before arriving at the CAC for pre-dinner drinks, I checked out his website. It struck me as no big deal but I found his photographic series of the Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest salt desert in southwest Bolivia – breathtakingly beautiful, imaginative and inspiring, so much so that I now have a really strong desire to go there. I also enjoyed reading this article in ArtPulse magazine by Claire Breukel who gives great background info on Bolivian culture and puts his work in a socio-economic context. As I found out, initially appearing simple and amusing, Ugalde’s art expresses very in-depth and complicated situations.

South of the Border by Gaston Ugalde

South of the Border, 2010, coca leaves collage, 55” x 40.”

Take for example his series of collages made from coca leaves including portraits of Latin American politicians such as the current president’s Evo Morales, (commissioned by the president, it now hangs in the presidential palace) the Coco Cola sign, American flag and dollar and maps of North and South America. On one hand, coca leaves are considered cultural patrimony in Bolivia and have been used for centuries by indigenous tribes for their medicinal powers, brewed as tea, chewed or used in religious rituals. The artist uses them often in spiritual rituals, Bolivia’s president Evo Morales used to produce them, they’re part of the fabric of Bolivian life. Once refined however, they become the raw material of cocaine giving Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in South America, a thriving drug trade. It’s not just in Bolivia of course, it’s the reality for all of South America as Ugalde suggests in  South of the Border and as Breukel comments, ‘a continent in the midst of financial crisis, unified by its ability to thrive on the global market through its lucrative drug trade.’

Returning to Chelsea, there’s a few reasons why I enjoy going to the CAC: 1) there’s no pounding music so you don’t have to shout to be heard, 2) there’s lots of comfy armchairs, and 3) the general atmosphere is conducive to all levels of eccentricity from full blown to just a faint possibility of, so falling somewhere along that richter scale, I feel very relaxed there.

It was just coming up to 8 PM when I buzzed on the intercom and waited for the door to click open. Inside, I found le gang drinking wine by the billiards table. Someone pointed out Gaston and Roberto Calzadilla the Ambassador of Bolivia to the UK. They were  both deep in conversation so I nestled into an armchair and chit chatted with friends as our host refilled our wine glasses.

Gaston Ugalde and Frankie Poulain at the Chelsea Arts Club

Gaston Ugalde and Frankie Poulain at the Chelsea Arts Club

The first thing I noticed about Gaston when he sat down beside us was that he was wearing sunglasses which were covered by his long shaggy hair so I couldn’t see his eyes. Later, after dinner (we ate in the heated marquee outside where I sneaked in this photo – you’re not allowed take photos at the CAC) he described himself as a hippy, inspired by the likes of Jack Kerouac and the beat generation writers and that these days he prefers using ayahuasca as opposed to coca leaves in spiritual rituals. There’s no doubt he’s a free spirit in that ‘crazy jazz’ Kerouac way but I think he’s much more than that. He came across as sincere, playful and very grounded. When I asked him if he felt Bolivian, the answer was an resounding YES. Of course he does – his strong sense of identity is clearly rooted in his work.  Bit of a DUH question I put down to too much wine and too little knowledge about his art at least at that point.

Since then I’ve done a bit more research. He was born in La Paz in 1946. Since 1972 he’s had 81 solo-shows and over 160 collective exhibitions, been invited to the Venice Biennale twice – 2001 and 2009 – and in 2002 received the prestigious Konex Award from the Konex Foundation, one of Argentina’s leading cultural organisations. He has a studio just outside the centre of  La Paz in the bohemian neighborhood of Sopocachi and I believe he’s represented by his son who is based in Florida.

The following Thursday, we all trotted down to “The International Exhibition of Andean Quinoa” at Bolivar Hall in the centre of London where the Bolivian Embassy hosted an evening of talks, traditional music, food and wine. It’s a collaborative project between Gaston whose art is on show and as far as I understand, the Bolivian government to promote Quinoa which has been grown in the Andes for over 7,000 years but only recently recognised as a superfood. In fact the UN proclaimed 2013 the international year of Quinoa and since then its price has sky rocketed. Could this be Bolivia’s answer towards a healthy financial solution? It’s a whole other story and there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.

The hall was so packed it was hard to see Gaston’s work but I did manage to get a photo with him and one of his creations as you can see at the top of this post. He even lifted his sunglasses and gave me a twinkle of his eye. Goody bags were handed out on the way out. I was dead chuffed to find mine included recipe cards using Quinoa as I’m a big fan of the stuff.

I knew I was going to like Gaston Ugalde, in fact I’d go as far as saying he’s a kindred spirit but I can imagine that most people who meet him feel the same way – it’s the free spirit energy. In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing more of his work in real life and a trip to Bolivia is surely on the cards.

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Bernard Buffet at Bainbridges Auctions Today

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Yesterday, in a very hungover state after an evening at the Chelsea Arts Club, I hauled arse out to Bainbridges Auctions (famous for selling that Chinese vase for £43 million in 2010 – must write about it) to view their auction today.

Lot 9 is this really gorgeous lithograph by Bernard Buffet entitled ‘La Bouyere’. It has an estimate of £60/90.  It’s signed E. A. (which stands for artist’s proof) in the left hand corner and his signature is on the right. There’s a label on the back with all the info including the name ‘The Mark Gallery’ and the date ‘March 1973’. I did a little research last night – didn’t find this particular lithograph listed anywhere which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – and could even be a good thing. And I also found a Mark Gallery dealing in mainly Russian icons although the website says, ‘Russian Icons, Modern Lithographs and etchings’. So that’s possibly a good sign too.

Bernard Buffet

In any case, I’m annoyed I didn’t leave a bid on it yesterday while I was there as I can’t make it down today and they don’t do online bidding or take phone bids unless it’s over a certain amount of money. So short notice I know, but all yours (and everyone else’s who’s gonna be there to bid), if you can make it down there. The auction starts at 11 am.

I took the Central Line to get there. It took about 45 minutes from Oxford Circus to West Ruislip. When you come out of West Ruislip, with your back to the station turn right and it’s a 3 minute walk down the road on your right hand side. If you’re lucky, the guy selling catalogues will also be playing tunes on a piano that’s also in the sale. Update: It was sold for £150.

Top Picks at The Affordable Art Fair London March 13-16

It’s a March sunny London weekend and there’s a lot you could do from having a picnic on Hampstead Heath, to rummaging in a market, to hanging out on the Southbank. Or  here’s another suggestion: Take the tube to Sloane Square, have breaky or lunch in Colbert, leaving Colbert turn right and immediate right again where you’ll find a shuttle bus waiting for you . Get on – it will deliver you straight to the door of the Affordable Art Fair at Battersea Park. P.S. Don’t worry if the wait in Colbert is too long, there’s a cafe and champagne bar at the fair.

My top picks at The Affordable Art Fair  running in London this weekend:

Ring-a-zing-zing by Lucie Bennett

Ring-a-zing-zing by Lucie Bennett 2013, 79 x 108 cms, screenprint on paper, edition of 75, £950

Over the past ten years, Lucie Bennett has become well known for her Glicee prints (prints made from digitally-created imagery) and silkscreen prints. As Carys Lake-Edwards of Eyestorm online gallery writes, “She first came into the limelight back in 2004 when her work featured in the first British series of The Apprentice where the contestants hosted a solo show of her paintings in London’s most established gallery row, Cork Street. Since then her work has continuously drawn worldwide interest from new potential art buyers and established collectors alike.” She explains why Bennett’s prints are investment pieces which you can read about here.

'Oh Yeah' by Jennifer Ward

‘Oh Yeah’ by Jennifer Ward 2013, oil on paper 97 x 73cm, £1100

A stomach full of anxiety churns underneath a bikini perfect bod – it’s a double edged sword being beautiful in Jennifer Ward‘s world. The artist expresses her mixed-up feelings in big brush strokes and strong colours.  Rufus Knight-Webb, director of Knight Webb Gallery will happily chat to you about the artist and pull out more of her works to show you. Worth having a peek I think.

Beetle Rider by Tessa Farmer

On the left: Beetle Rider by Tessa Farmer, an edition of 12, £550, on the right Captured Bee, one off £1250.

Enter into the world of giant size insects and minuscule skeletons made from insect wings by Tessa Farmer. Intricate and playful – by 3.00 pm yesterday there was only one left of ‘Beetle Rider’ out of an edition of 12 – maybe gone now too. Go to the bo.lee gallery stand for more info.

Polar Bear and Dog by Herve Maury

Polar Bear and Dog by Herve Maury, mixed media, £1,350

Hervé Maury expresses the tender side of life. He’s represented by Glasgow based gallery Tracey McNee Fine Art.

Marilyn Monroe in Misfits by Olivier Camen

Marilyn Monroe in Misfits by Olivier Camen Mixed media on canvas 81x100cm £3,200

Marilyn, Marilyn, Marilyn – you just keep giving and giving and giving – inspiration that is. French artist Olivier Camen  used to work in cinema and – I hope I have this right – his grandfather taught him how to be seamster. He gave up working in the movies to work full time as an artist combining his knowledge of film and fabric. He’s represented here by Bernard Chauchet Contemporary Art who concentrate on French artists.

Father and Son II by Ishai Rimmer

Father and Son II by Ishai Rimmer, Oil on Canvas, 100 x 120 cms, 2012, £900

Last but not least, Father and Son II by Ishai Rimmer at the jotta stand. It’s not one for my livingroom wall personally, but I feel compelled to mention it as it captures such a strong bond between father and son and a life time’s worth of unacknowledged feelings between two men – well that’s just how it struck me.

I could go on and on but as I said the sun is shinning here in London and I’m dying to get out and about. Just to remind you, works start from £40 and go up to £4,000. There’s something for everyone and well worth a visit especially if you’re in the mood to make a purchase.

Rachel Deacon at the Catto Gallery

Got in, dumped heavy bag, poured glass of vino, opened packet of salted roasted cashews, switched on lapper.

Incantation by Rachel Deacon

Incantation by Rachel Deacon. Inspired by an extract from “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The day had sped by. After my 10.00 am Nia dance class I trawled the charity shops in Musewell Hill for eBay booty, schlepped it all home, changed out of my dance clothes, ran out again for a lunch date in Sloane Square, viewed the weekly sale in Lot’s Road Auctions then got the bus and tube back to Chalk Farm during rush hour. And suddenly it was 7 pm.

“Right,” I thought after checking my email, ebay and fb, I’ll just finish this glass of vino, redo my make-up, then head up to this private viewing in Hampstead.

The Catto gallery in Hampstead is literally two stops away on the Northern Line from where I live. Last Thursday evening there was a private view of artist Rachel Deacon. Looking at the invite, her work reminded me of the great Tamara de Lempicka’s but to be honest, the last thing I wanted to do was go out again.

It took effort but I plodded into the bathroom and started to cleanse my face and reapply my make-up. I always get a new lease of life when I do my make-up and more to the point, in those last few seconds, as I finish putting on my lipstick, I see myself as being rather beautiful. It has to be red lipstick though – pink, brown, wine, neutral – none of them work in the same way. The feeling only lasts a couple of seconds but it’s very uplifting and has an air of secrecy about it.

Velvet Treason by Rachel Deacon

Velvet Treason by Rachel Deacon inspired by an extract from The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene. “It was like having a box of chocolates shut in the bedroom drawer. Until the box was empty it occupied the mind too much.”

I was reminded of this very same feeling when I arrived at the Catto Gallery.

Deacon’s women are not, as I initially assumed, anything like Tamara de Lempicka’s characters.  Their unrealistic beauty is curious and comforting and heightens the dynamics of their situations. Beyond their red lips is the mysterious, magical universe of female love, sex, friendship and power struggles.

As the artist told me, all her characters come to her while she’s reading poetry or prose and each painting is created with a specific poem, story or extract in mind which she shares with the public.

The Letter by Rachel Deacon

The Letter inspired by a poem by Dorothy Parkter: By the time you swear you’re his / Shivering and sighing./ And he vows his passion is / Infinite, undying. / Lady make note of this / One of you is lying.

Although women take centre stage on canvas, men are often the driving forces behind the scenes. The quote that goes with the painting above entitled Incantation comes from “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It goes as follows, ”To him she seemed so beautiful, so seductive, so different from ordinary people, that he could not understand why no one was as disturbed as he by the clicking of her heels on the paving stones, why no one else’s heart was wild with the breeze stirred by the sighs of her veils, why everyone did not go mad with the movements of her braid, the flight of her hands, the gold of her laugher. He had not missed a single on elf her gestures, not one of the indications of her character, but he did not dare approach her for fear of destroying the spell.” How beautiful.

The Fall of the Waves by Rachel Deacon

The Fall of the Waves by Rachel Deacon

There are also moments of love between parents and children or friends. I don’t know the quote that goes with The Fall of the Waves, but it reflects the artist’s bygone days, hanging out on beach with her buddy, something she doesn’t have time to do anymore but remembers fondly.  It made me feel nostalgic too.

Duck pancake rolls were passed around and glasses topped up with champagne constantly. I chatted with some fellow London art scene lovers. If it hadn’t been for my red lipstick, I probably wouldn’t have gone but it would have been a pity to miss.  Beauty, sexual energy, femininity, femaleness – it was inspiring to enter into Rachel Deacon’s world. I honestly think I don’t go there enough myself and it felt good to be reminded that there’s so much more to tap into other than a few fleeting seconds as I put on my red lipstick.

Rachel Deacon’s show runs at the Catto Gallery in Hampstead until the 26th March.

The Pearl Bracelet by Rachel Deacon

The Pearl Bracelet inspired by an extract from L.M. Montgomery Anne Avonlea”After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”

Art Detective Charley Hill featured in Garage magazine

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Sandwiched between interviews with founder of Net-A-Porter.com Natalie Massenet and fashion doyen Sonia Rykiel, the A.D. recounts three famous cases of art theft and speaks about his experiences as an art detective in the latest edition of Garage.

Garage is a biannual glossy art and fashion magazine headed by Dasha Zhukova, girlfriend of Russian oligarch and Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich. It features the vanguard of international art, fashionistas and arty photo shoots. It’s the in-crowd in print.

Charley’s feature spans pages 150 – 157. He fits in as he does in real life – he doesn’t – but his inimitable voice rings through loud and clear and  his knowledge of the art world, the characters that inhabit it and his own trials and tribulations make for an entertaining and intriguing read.

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The magazine isn’t online as yet and if you can’t get your hands on a copy don’t worry; here’s the gist of it along with some of my own musings. All text in quote marks comes directly from Garage.

Case 1: the A.D. recounts the largest art heist in history and what I call one of the Holy Grails of stolen art – the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum Heist in Boston, 1990. (The other one is Caravaggio’s Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence stolen from the 1969 from the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo in 1969)

The entire heist is estimated to be worth around $500 million although in reality it’s impossible to give it a monetary value because 1) from the present owner’s point of view it’s worthless – who’s going to buy famous stolen art? And 2) if – or should I say when – recovered, all the art works will be returned to the Isabella Gardner Museum. However, giving them a hypothetical market value is also unrealistic as there really is no limit to what art collectors are paying for art these days.

Who did it and where the loot is now remains a mystery. The A.D. gives three current strands of enquiry including his own. He writes: “My strand of enquiry leads to Ireland as well, although I admit it may be as speculative as the FBI’s ideas. The robbery at the Gardner Museum was inspired, if that is the right word, by Martin Cahill’s art thefts in Ireland including the great heist at Sir Alfred and Lady Beit’s home, Russborough.”

He believes that the original thieves are now long gone “went to meet our Maker,” as he puts it, but that the artworks are stashed in the land purported to have no snakes. He concludes, “The people who hold the artworks now are not the people who stole them. In my opinion, the reason why they are hidden away is because no one wants to get caught in possession, and those who now hold them are unsure what to do with them. As I see it, my task is to provide them with a few good ideas about how best to deliver those pictures, the finial and the beaker back to Boston.”

There’s also a reward of $5 million for finding them.

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Case 2: Recovering Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Charley speaks about recovering The Scream on the BBC World Service if you fancy a listen. However, something I hadn’t heard him say before was, “Munch was an artistic genius and a reprehensible creep. When he died, he was given a state funeral by Vidkun Quisling’s Nazi collaborationist government.” Does this mean he wasn’t a degenerate artist? I must ask the A.D.

Case 3: Lucian Freud’s portrait of Francis Bacon. I’m glad the A.D. brought this case up not only because I’d forgotten about it, but more importantly because there’s a real possibility that the present owner might actually read Garage and be moved to make amends.

The story is that Lucian Freud painted this portrait of Francis Bacon his “sometimes friend” as Charley says, in 1952 and the Tate Gallery bought it the same year. In 1988 the Tate lent it to a Freud retrospective at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin where it was pinched off the wall and smuggled out of the gallery. It’s an oil on copper affair, seemingly no bigger than a large postcard so sticking it under a coat or in a bag would have been easy. Many people including Freud himself speculated that a fan/student took it probably on the spur of the moment only later realizing the enormity of the theft. There’s a great article about this story in The Guardian.

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In 2001, in a plea to have it returned and in conjunction with an upcoming Freud retrospective at Tate Modern, Freud designed a wanted style poster showing a similar image of the one stolen and offering a reward of 300,000 deutsche marks. 2,500 copies were posted around Berlin but no one came forward. Has the painting vanished forever? I hope not.

The A.D. writes, “Now is a good time to recover the Bacon portrait, because an inferior painting, a triptych portrait of Freud by Bacon, recently sold for an eye-watering $142 million in New York. Because it is in institutional ownership, the Bacon portrait by Freud cannot have such a price tag. However, it can be put on display for us all to admire and contemplate. Recovering that portrait is in the public interest.

“Some poor soul is probably anxious about having the painting and keeping it hidden. Don’t suffer if you have it or know the person who does. If individuals paint these masterpieces, and individuals can steal them, then individuals can recover them. It’s something for us all to consider doing. We have a common bond of humanity and civilization that can embolden us.”

“Garage readers in Berlin can ask around. There may well be a reward comparable to the one advertised on the 2001 poster but that has yet to be decided. However, money is legally available for information leading to the recovery of the painting. Contact info@garagemag.com and we will work out a way to restore the painting to the Tate.”

The three cases are followed by an interview in which the A.D. discusses how he became an art detective, his relationship with the criminal world and the late art collector George Oritz who he describes as, “the most successful, unprosecuted, dishonest handler of stolen works of art, ever.”

Here’s two of my favourite questions and answers:

Garage: How do you maintain a successful relationship with the criminal world?

The AD: I no longer do undercover work. I did it as a police office because I was asked to. You’ve got to keep your lies to a minimum but you’ve got to present yourself as somebody people want you to be… which is the fashion world all over, I suppose. I’ll only ever lie if I absolutely have to. My patter is pretty much the same – I go as me, a retired police officer, and since I’m pushing 70, it’s easily done.  I’m as straight as I can be with people but with a reasonable amount of charm. I once had dinner with Judge Giovanni Falcone, the world’s most famous Mafia prosecutor, and I asked him, “How do you get the pentiti [Mafia informants] to talk to you?” He said, “When I tell somebody I’ll do something, I do it.” It riveted itself on my brain. Whatever I may think about people personally, I keep it to myself and just treat them as human beings, and that includes people you wouldn’t want to take home to meet your mother.

Garage: Your one of the most renowned people in your field. What marks you apart?

The AD: Bullshit. I’m a straight talker and paradoxically a big bullshitter. Also I tend not to be frightened of anybody other than myself – and I’m not all that frightened of myself either.

Garage Magazine

Garage Magazine