Feature Story: Christen Wilson and Her Role in 2×2 Charity Auction

Originally published in Patron magazine.      Photography by Maxine Helfman

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If you conjure a notion of what a cinematographer’s agent who hails from Los Angeles looks like, chances are you might imagine someone remarkably similar to Christen Wilson. She’s slight, blonde, immaculately pulled together, and has eyes so deeply blue that they call to mind Mediterranean waters. During our conversation in her home—which could easily duel with A-list Manhattan galleries for dibs on art cachet—she exudes an infectious enthusiasm for contemporary art. While she’s the mother of three and wife of fellow art collector and entrepreneur Derek Wilson, she makes plenty of time to devote herself to an array of philanthropic endeavors on an international scale. She also moves from topics regarding art in Zurich, London, Berlin, New York, and Los Angeles to architects, galleries, and museums in the Dallas area with remarkable ease. Thus, she’s an extraordinary combination of world traveler/art aficionado and beguiling conversationalist.

She’s looking forward to her new role in the upcoming TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art charity event and she’s bringing with her an impressive amountof experience working for laudable causes. Wilson currently serves on the International Council for the Tate Modern in London as well as the North American Acquisitions Committee for the Tate. In May 2013, she was named Co-Chair for the Tate Artists Dinner in New York and is a member of The Vogue 100 list. As if that’s not enough, she is also Chairman for the Nasher Sculpture Center Program Advisory Committee. Thus, amfAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research) and the arts are currently resting in competent—not to mention meticulously manicured—hands.

Wilson is nothing if not an indefatigable fundraiser. Says she: “This anniversary event for TWO X TWO makes it particularly exciting. It’s a chance to set higher goals and raise millions more dollars for these very special causes.” In case you think there is an error in denoting multiple millions of dollars for amfAR and the DMA arts cause, rest assured that she didn’t misspeak. The Dallas effort has led the nation in fundraising for this particular venue for years. In fact, the only rivals that top the city in North Texas are places like, well, Cannes, the glitzy venue for the internationally renowned film festival. Apparently, when the celebrities opt to show off their cash they’re the only folks who manage to fill coffers more plentifully than Texans. That being said, the event in Dallas has already garnered contributions in excess of $40 million since its inception 14 years ago. Now it’s gaining momentum with yearly donations topping a staggering $5 million mark. No doubt the upcoming 15th anniversary promises even more jawdropping contributions for what is perhaps the single most glamorous charity hosted in a city known for its high-stakes penchant for giving to causes worthy of serious funding.

Sponsors for the event include a host of showy brands. However, it should be noted that the chichi logos and enterprises are met with equally impressive VIP guests. Past events have been attended by a variety of luminaries including Sharon Stone, Sigourney Weaver, Shirley MacLaine, Liza Minnelli, Dita Von Teese, and Patti LaBelle.

The roster of artists who have been honored at the event is just as distinguished. Among other heavyweights, they include Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Julian Schnabel, April Gornik, Joel Shapiro, Cecily Brown, Christopher Wool, and Peter Doig. Wilson notes that Howard Rachofsky named Luc Tuymans as the recipient of the 2013 amfAR Award of Excellence for Artistic Contributions for the Fight Against AIDS. The artist, based in Belgium, is one of the most prominent contemporary painters. His work is a staple in leading public and private collections throughout the world and, since the ‘70s, Tuyman’s signature muted canvases have been described as “stripped down to minimal signifiers (that) often involve a secondary, introspective narrative.” He draws upon a confluence of Flemish Old Master paintings and contemporary mass media and uses pre-existing imagery that he subsequently morphs into his own brand of deeply unsettling work. Tuyman will be joined by a number of other artists including Nathan Carter, Kathryn Andrews, and Alexander Kroll, as well as others yet to be announced.

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Wilson is clearly enthusiastic about the artwork that’s going to be on hand for the event. She unequivocally states, “My favorite part of TWO x TWO is the art auction. It is world-class, and the work that the artists give for the auction is solid. I have never seen another charity art auction that compares to it!” This is a statement that carries unusual heft, since she’s witnessed plenty of other events at a broad array of venues. In fact, Wilson takes her cues from the best of the best when it comes to art advisors. Namely, Beatrix Ruf, director and curator of the Kunsthalle Zürich and Mark Godfrey, curator for the Tate Modern, are two people for whom she “has great respect.”

They’ve exerted considerable influence over her own formidable collection and continue to assist her when it comes to adorning her walls with what can only be described as a thoroughly delectable collection of stellar art. She admires Godfrey’s dedication with regard to “learning about an artist” and subsequently notes that she likes to do the same. “We seem to like a lot of the same artists and love to share information. It makes it fun and engaging!” Meanwhile, she states that she admires Ruf “as a curator and a woman. She’s a genius at spotting talent and her ‘eye’ in the art world intrigues me. Beatrix is unique and someone to learn from, which I do by simply watching her and listening. She’s thoroughly honest about what she likes — and what she doesn’t.”

In fact, when it comes to choosing pieces for her own collection, Wilson is likely to turn to a varied and impressive roster of high-octane talent that runs the gamut in terms of subject matter, media, and stylistic quirks. Her list of favorites reads like a who’s who of contemporary art. Among them are Phyllida Barlow, Adam McEwan, Alex Israel, Eddie Peake, Matthew Brannon, Valentin Carron, Rebecca Warren, Rachel Harrison, Helen Marten, Kathryn Andrews, Wade Guyton, Aaron Curry, Christopher Wool, and Nate Lowman. While the list may be somewhat long, all I can say is: You should see her home. The artwork is periodically ferried out so that a fresh cache of work can be ushered in.

With regard to galleries in Dallas, Wilson is optimistic. “I believe there will be more Dallas galleries opening as a younger population of collectors grow,” she says. And she’s very clear on what is sometimes deemed a touchy question: Why do serious collectors go abroad for work instead of buying from local galleries? Her response is both direct and completely logical. “When you collect something, you will go anywhere to find it. We recently bought something from a Tokyo gallery that represents a Los Angeles artist that we collect. Similarly, we recently purchased a favorite New York artist from a Paris gallery. My point is: artists choose their gallery and, to me, the location of the gallery isn’t important. What I focus on is the work I’m getting.”

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that she has a graphite work by Adam McEwan in her dining area. Fittingly, it’s a water fountain, a deeply smudged metaphor for life-affirming waters that offers a marvelous counterpoise to a sparkling aqua pool a few yards away. Her home is a crazily gorgeous blend of art and design in an ambiance of welcoming graciousness. In fact, if you get a full tour, you’ll even experience a remarkably complex fragrance. As it turns out, it emanates from an oil secured from her favorite Parisian home away from home, Hôtel Costes—which, fittingly, shares space in the same arrondissement as the Louvre.

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Put candidly, it’s likely that this year’s TWO x TWO event will blow past former high-water marks for cash. Wilson notes that she has unflagging admiration for Cindy and Howard Rachofsky and that it was “a great honor to be asked to chair TWO x TWO.” Well, no doubt. But I think they’ve latched their (bejeweled) wagon to a star this year in the form of a petite blonde. I can’t imagine a better cause for funding—or a better reason to celebrate a city that, if Wilson is any indication, is becoming more and more interesting. She’s raising the bar for funding while simultaneously ratcheting up the amiability factor. Wilson is exactly what Dallas needs. She’s utterly sophisticated without being stuffy. Zurich will just have to wait for her return while we bask in the unalloyed pleasure of her remarkable—and very gracious—company.

Review: James Evans — Afterimage

[Originally published in Visual Art Source}

Wedding Day Panoramic

 

James Evans’ photography, now on show at Afterimage, is work emerging from someone working in a small Texas town situated forty miles from Big Bend National Park, but it’s anything but provencial. His images exert an unexpected torque that makes it clear he’s definitely not producing mere “pretty pictures.” For instance, Wedding Day Panoramic is a linear landscape composed of three distinct striations:  reddish, dusty ground; a sky so deeply penetrated by a shade of bluish aqua that it seemingly becomes an aperture exposing another realm; and a thoroughly ominous storm cloud that exudes almost Biblical import — especially since a rainbow punctuates the image with a long, broad arc. Wedding Day Panoramic is thoroughly “Western” — but there’s plenty more at work. It’s enigmatic and, surprisingly, quite strange in ways that lob it into a realm far beyond mere documentation or a desire to display “real” landscapes. It’s too unnerving and too well done to be a slick postcard image of a world that you might mistakenly think you already know.

This seems all the more plausible when you realize that Evans’ most interesting work moves along the margins of a thoroughly surreal sensibility. Much of it, in fact, will rock you back on your heels. Don’t Let Us Get Sick is a case in point. It depicts a thorny segment of dried flora that floats against a cloudy background. It’s spiny and rough and emanates a “prick-you-until-you-bleed” sensibility. It’s unnerving and riveting. Hawk, too, is equally unsettling. The image is framed to show a bird of prey exiting the upper-right edge of the photograph with its legs oddly dangling toward a fence post and sagging wire. There’s something about the shape of the flapping wings and taloned feet that’s chill inducing. This is “Lonesome Dove” with a dose of Hitchcock thrown in for good measure. “Good” is the operative term.

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BEHIND ENEMY LINES: Feature Story in Patron Magazine

 BEHIND ENEMY LINES

Robert Edsel’s Book Goes Hollywood

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 Tales of heroes used to be commonplace. They were the very foundation of material that, until recently, educated generations of Americans. Fortunately, Robert Edsel has taken matters in hand and is moving us forward by vivifying the past. He has lauded the achievements of “the greatest generation” by delivering a riveting, yet overlooked, story to the literary world. And, fortunately for us all, it doesn’t end there.

His work, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, will be in cinemas in December of this year. Actor George Clooney is joining Edsel in his quest to tell the story of how the masterworks of Western art were saved by the Monuments Men during a widespread onslaught of Nazi pillaging. However, both mean are collaborating to remind the public of what constitutes excellence. They’re urging an appreciation of one particular and concerted threat to culture—but they are also suggesting that we should carry on, in our own ways, with that same struggle. After all, culture is much like a garden. If left untended, its inevitable fate is ruin.

Both Edsel and Clooney are pulling out stops to make the world a better place. They understand the extraordinary role of artwork in that endeavor and, thus, their fascination with the Monuments Men. Consequently, in the end, this isn’t a Hollywood tale. It’s a challenge dellivered to us via books and film that makes cowards of us all if we fail to claim it for our own.

 

 

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Robert Edsel’s Dallas residence is tucked away in a manicured enclave that seems vaguely Italianate by virtue of its impeccably planned landscaping. This particular visitor was met by a housekeeper who was constantly in touch with the proprietor of the premises via cell phone. She has an air of protectiveness regarding both her employer and his residence, which is sumptuously appointed with small yet strikingly gorgeous paintings of the Old Master variety. Coffee table books include topics relating to monastics and illuminated manuscripts. This, one must conclude, is a place occupied by someone both highly intelligent and deeply contemplative.

In fact, after meeting Edsel, it’s clear that it would be a miscalculation to sum him up with the aid of a singular lens—or, to be candid, via one profile piece. He’s multifaceted and his presence exudes cascading layers of mystery, all of which are trumped by an unusually high level of concentration, a palpable fullness of ambition and a willingness to put all of the above to work in the service of creating what can only be characterized as a new persona for America. No small feat. But if anyone is up to the task, it’s Edsel.

Silver-haired and lean, he is a former nationally ranked tennis player who pioneered horizontal oil drilling via his brainchild, Gemini Enterprises. He subsequently sold the company and moved to Florence. There, he took on the task of writing a series of nonfiction works about the protection of Western art during the rise of Nazism and the pillaging of Europe at the hands of Hitler and his doting acolytes.

Edsel’s passion for both art and architecture has evolved into a second career that has all the earmarks of becoming his primary life’s work. He has labored assiduously to turn a missing chapter in history into a spellbinding tale of how the sum of Western art was rescued by a small cadre of dedicated individuals dubbed the Monuments Men. When he speaks of his work, his face doesn’t soften; his gaze, in fact, becomes more direct and he deploys the word “guardian” with unusual resonance. Says he: “This is going to change the world.” By “this” he means his book and its concomitant notion that all of us are protectors, guardians, of art and culture. He adds, “After all, art can’t protect itself.” He speaks as if the great works of European museums are our shared children. And he has a point. They’re the repositories of the past—and the future.

For background purposes: When Adolph Hitler mounted his attacks on strategic points in Europe, his raids were not solely military in nature. Even as he razed cities, he would leave areas intact due to his skewed but enthusiastic appreciation of art; he destroyed work he deemed vulgar while simultaneously collecting pieces for his own cache that he found to be especially laudable. Hitler’s madness issued in the unspeakable horrors that are already widely known and despised. In fact, Edsel observes that the atrocities were so revolting that they made General Patton, known to be impervious to emotion, retch.

However, few people know that Hitler also pushed for a covetous grab of much of the greatest art that the Western world has ever produced. While Hitler’s insatiable greed was met largely with defeat due to the efforts of the Monuments Men, the means by which they managed to stop his rampage reads like a thriller. Imagine, for instance, the miles-long corridors of The Louvre being emptied (again and again) and hidden in caverns and underground repositories. Plus, the same feat was done for all the great museums on the Continent. Much of the work was accomplished by curators and devoted citizens, sometimes sequestered for such long periods that they were reduced to starvation. However, whenever and wherever possible, the Monuments Men stepped in to aid in the retrieval and preservation of Europe’s great art.

This constitutes an instance of the oft-cited theory of “equal and opposite” reactions. While Hitler was avidly ravaging Europe, enormously intricate efforts were being undertaken to thwart him. It was a form of stellar maneuvering that’s emblematic of how America behaved under what was perhaps the most egregious threat the free world has ever encountered. One story that is especially poignant is the recovery of the Ghent Altarpiece by American forces —it was retrieved from a vast trove of precious works buried in a salt mine in Austria where it had been hidden by the Germans. They had hoped to keep it for their own and would have done so had it not been for the highly educated and fiercely innovative art experts who worked as army personnel, i.e. the Monuments Men. The process was described as follows: “The second door was solid iron, and took two keys to open. Inside, silently reading a book, was van Eyck’s Virgin Mary. Next to her, on four empty cardboard boxes, were seven more panels of the Ghent Altarpiece. ‘The miraculous jewels of the Crowned Virgin seemed to attract the light from our flickering acetylene lamps,’ Kirstein later wrote. ‘Calm and beautiful, the altarpiece was, quite simply, there.’”

 

 

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This is not just a story that begs to be told; it exposes a sensibility that should still be prevalent today. No one is more cognizant of this than Edsel himself. He understands that both current and coming generations will benefit from witnessing some of the more spectacular efforts of the “world’s greatest generation.” His task, ultimately, is one of education and conveying the importance of fighting fiercely for culture, for things that make us behave more nobly.

He has obviously succeeded amidst widespread acclaim. His reputation will no doubt be further enhanced by Clooney’s upcoming movie. But he has already reshaped the cultural landscape. Moreover, Edsel exhorts us to join him. In fact, on my desk is a copy of his book with a scrawling inscription urging me to spread the word about “these heroes of civilization.”

It should be noted that Edsel’s other books include Rescuing Da Vinci and the recently published Saving Italy. As the name suggests, the latter book is an impressive tome that focuses primarily the efforts made by scholar-soldiers to save Italian works such as The Last Supper from destruction. It’s a tale of spies, military maneuvers, and plots that twine to create what one critic termed a “barn-burner of a history.” Edsel is also the founder and president of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art. While, of course, it’s exciting to anticipate a movie about the Monuments Men, everyone should read Edsel’s book[s]. They’re all a rare combination of a page-turner and a heartfelt reminder of what we should be about—both individually and as a country.

In fact, the book ends with the story of a Jewish Monuments Man who was photographed with a Rembrandt painting. Edsel drives home a salient point. The soldier was a German Jew beholding a painting he had never had a right to see as a boy, despite the fact that it was displayed in a museum a scant three blocks from his family’s home. Both the story of his ultimate triumph and Edsel’s telling of it make us all better. It’s a “pay it forward” moment on a grand scale. The rest is up to us.

 

 

Observation — A Lack of Civility.

There is too much of this kind of lunacy going on.

I received this via email. I simply asked to be deleted from the “artist’s” email list.

[I get hundreds of emails from artists I do not know.]

I later posted it on my private FB page with an explanatory note that I felt it is a waste of time to review this kind of “art.”

Nonetheless, I was taken to task for not seeing the show before I opted out of reviewing it.

I have better things to do — pushing back my cuticles, for instance.

Or reading Melville. Or Homer.

Speaking of: WHO IS EDUCATING THESE PEOPLE?

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