Monthly Archives: December 2011

Good-bye, Hello

It’s been an incredible year. We moved back to our home state, started the business, figured out the ins-and-outs of working from home and created some photographs and art pieces we’re darn proud of. We have lots in store for next year along with more fine art from -N- which can be seen at Many people are surprised that we differentiate the two but it allows for more adventurous exploration on his part to create works that are meant for collector and museum consideration. It’s also a strong reference for his graduate school candidacy, (which I’m too superstitious to talk about).

Here are some of the highlights of the past year. There really is beauty all around us.

Icelandic architecture

Installation by Neighborhood Kid


Natural printmaking

Man-made and natural: complementary colors


We hope that where ever you are tomorrow night, you’re safe, warm and with those you love.

Happy New Year!


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Looking Ahead: 2012 Art Exhibits and a Moment for John Chamberlain

We’re taking a few days to break and enjoy the food, company and warmth of the holiday. We wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah. Here are a few highlights current and upcoming to look forward to this winter.

Freelancing photo journalist and innovator Weegee (1899-1968) has a show opening at International Center of Photography in New York opening this February. His current exhibit, Naked Hollywood, at Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles runs through February 27th.

Weegee Liz ca. 1950 International Center of Photography, Bequest of Wilma Wilcox, 1993, © Weegee/International Center of Photography/Getty Images

Beauty and the Book, an exhibit of 19th and 20th century decorative art folios begins at The Art Institute of Chiacago on February 28th.

Kondakov, Nikodim Pavlovich. 1892.via The Art Institute of Chicago

The curiosities and unanswered of the 1960s movement Fluxus is explored at University of Michigan Museum of Art this February.  (February’s turning out to be a busy month)!

Flux Year Box 2, 1966, five-compartment wooden box containing work by various artists. Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, George Maciunas Memorial Collection: Purchased through the William S. Rubin Fund; GM.987.44.2.

On a more serious end note, I want to take a moment of pause to ponder the works of John Chamberlain, who passed away yesterday at the age of 84. His larger-than-life metalworks and mixed media pieces made of discarded car parts awed us with their intimidating scale and gnarled presence.

John Chamberlain, May 2011 via New York Times

Flores Awning, photograph, 1990

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Edible Art: Sweet potato and beef soup with harvest blend

-N- and I love to cook. If we had cable again, the only thing we would watch regularly is Top Chef. This morning I made french toast – just for myself. Cooking is another art form that allows exploration, discovery and we’re always looking for new things to try. A staple this cold season has been homemade soup. It’s so easy to incorporate flavors, color and tons of nutritional value.  I felt stirred to post this entry with its great colors and textures, it’s almost like building a composition for a painting. Here’s my stab at culinary art. 

I don’t believe that the base of soup should be new. Meaning, I’ll bake an entire chicken for dinner one night and the next day I’ll strip it of most of the meat and put the whole chicken in the pot for the base. Last night, we had two thick rib eye steaks and sweet potato and russet potato. Since I would’ve had a heart attack had I eaten the whole thing I saved it along with the leftover potatoes and stashed them in the fridge. Soup for us is comforting deliciousness and getting the combination of starch, protein and spice isn’t always quite right. But today’s soup made me smile as I scooped my second serving. I’m definitely adding this to my repertoire. Try my recipe for Sweet Potato and Beef Soup.

Prep time: 20 min.

Cook time: At least 45 min.


1/4 red onion, chopped fine

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 sweet potato and 1 russet potato cooked or uncooked, cubed small (any combination works but I highly recommend the contrast of the sweet)

4-6 ounces of cooked steak, cubed

1 cup Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend – a mixture of red quinoa, lentils, cous cous, orzo

1/2 cup frozen peas (or any small colorful vege, corn would be great too)

beef or chicken bouillon cubes (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Put a large pot over medium heat and warm a small pat of butter or olive oil in it. As it starts to sizzle, drop in onions, garlic, frozen peas and cubed beef. Stir for a couple minutes until onions begin to sweat and become translucent. Add 2-3 quarts of water depending on your pot size. At this point, you can add a bouillon cube or two for taste. (I find that if you cook soup long enough for the flavors to marry, you don’t need these. They work great, though, if you’re in a pinch and can’t cook the soup that long). If you’re using uncooked potatoes, drop them in now. Bring the soup to a rolling boil and mix in the Harvest Blend, lower to a simmer and cook for at least 30 minutes. If you’re using cooked potatoes, drop them in after the soup has simmered for at least 30 minutes as to not break the starch down further. Add salt and pepper to taste. I would suggest grinding fresh pepper and sprinkling parmesan shavings if you have it. Serve immediately with crusty bread. Bon apetit! Let me know what you think!


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How to Bid at Auction, the Fun Way (part 2)

Last week I did an introduction on bidding at auction and why you’d want to choose this competitive route for acquiring art. Today’s post is about which method to bid; whether you want to be present in the room, on the phone, on the computer or  leave an absentee bid.


Every method starts out pretty similarly. You fill out registration with your shipping information and method of payment. You’ll request or purchase an auction catalog which will include all the lots in the sale. (Seasoned and favored clients will receive catalogs for free at high end auction houses). From there start the differences. An absentee bid is perfect for you if you want a chance to win the item but not think about it again until after the auction is over. Or, you simply can’t be present in any other form to bid. For this, you’re filling in the highest amount you’re willing to pay in hopes that no other bidder tops the price via the room, phone or internet. It’s possible that another person’s absentee bid could be higher than yours, but you wouldn’t know this.

If you don’t want anyone to know that you’re bidding on an item, it’s easy to follow the activity in close to real time via the internet. It’s not quite as exciting and there’s always the risk of a delay, but for the most part, the auctioneer gives good consideration to online bidders.

Phone bidding is for those that want to be in on the action but can’t be present or want to stay somewhat anonymous. Auctions are held in many cities and will garner bids regionally, nationally and at times, internationally. Some collectors are on the phone themselves, others use a dealer or employee to bid on works for them. About three to five lots prior to yours, you’ll receive a phone call from an auction representative that will confirm the lot(s) you’re bidding on. Once they come to your lot, he/she should be telling you all the activity of the bidding including what increments the auctioneer is working the room at. (It’s solely up to the auctioneer’s discretion whether increments get larger, stay the same, or if things are dreadfully dreary, get smaller to encourage bidding). With phone  and online bidding, the anonymity also gives you the opportunity to follow the sale without having to bid.

The row of auction reps taking bids via phone.

By far the most exciting and nerve racking is the art of bidding in person. Once you’ve registered, you’ll be given a paddle with a number on it. You can simply sit with this paddle and never bid. Or, as you browse through your auction booklet you can see the lots that you’re interested in and see what order things fall into place. Consider that each lot usually takes about 1-3 minutes. Sometimes things are “bought in” or unsold or will go much longer as a battle for the item plays out.  That’s when things get really good as bidders do battle for the coveted item via phone, internet, or in the room. Many seasoned collectors will not use the paddle once they’ve shown it once. A good auctioneer will remember where bids have come from in the room and a wink, slight nod or tilt of the head will tell him/her that you’re still in the game.

As the bidding slows down, the auctioneer will say the infamous phrase, “Going once, going twice and SOLD to the lady in green, bidder paddle 323/to phone bidder/to the online bidder,” as they slam the hammer to close the lot.

An engaging auctioneer, such as Sotheby's Head of Contemporary Art Tobias Meyer, will drive sales and put on an incredible show.

If you’re lucky enough to win a piece, Congrats! It’s a great feeling to win something in competitive fashion. There will be an invoice billed to you that day or sent to you.There’s usually a couple weeks before items are crated or boxed and ready to ship if you’re out of town. You also have the option to pick things up yourself.

Although the theme of my posts has been about art, auctions are a competitive and exciting market to acquire objects at a price that you’re willing to pay. Many times you can get what you want for a steal but it can also become an expensive status-building social scene. Either way, the auction culture is one that’s exhilarating, educational and full of surprises. If you ever want to go to auction or just go to a preview, give me a call. I’d love to. Happy bidding!


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Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Project | Neighborhood: The Way It Should Be

I met Theaster at an arts meeting five years ago. I was feeling a bit detached from Chicago’s contemporary art scene (with only dealing deceased artists). He was incredibly vibrant and open about his work, or rather, his stance on how he was creating his work. At that time he was weaving a multi-disciplinary dinner event that involved his ceramics (which the meals were served on), conversation between two unlikely paired groups (which were recorded with mics hanging over the dinner platform) and sumptuous meals prepared by a chef. Topics were doled out previously through a formal invitation to the Plate Convergences, a ritual gathering originating from Shoji and May Yamaguchi. (Hint: You must read for the full story). I was taken with this culturally rich vehicle for employing sound, sight, taste and touch – an installation performance based on real, palpable experience. I wondered why more people weren’t buzzing about his work. Then the storm came.

Yamaguchi slabs, wood fired, 2007

Having just returned from Art Basel Miami a couple weeks ago, Theaster flew immediately to Seattle to install his next project. As the recipient of the Joyce Award last year,  he directed and performed with a full choir in the Milwaukee Art Museum exhibit To Speculate Darkly: Theaster Gates and Dave the Potter. Exploring the legacy of a potter named Dave Drake, he created a world and voice for a ceramacist who previously didn’t have one. He’s also been chosen for the Whitney Biennale and is represented by Chicago and Berlin based Kavi Gupta Gallery.

Over the years Theaster’s continued to be a gracious host and artist, generous with his time and explanation of his current vision. His art and living experience are one in the same, something that -N- and I find to be integral to creating work. In 2009 -N- photographed the incredible donation of 14,000 books by Prairie Avenue Books to The Dorchester Project in the south side Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood. Particularly important in that donation was the focused inventory of art, architecture, design and photography literature. Volunteers helped to move it all to the live/work/design building at Dorchester and 69th Streets, updated with renewable and salvaged materials. (8,000 LPs were also donated from the former Dr. Wax Records, and 60,000 glass lantern slides came from the University of Chicago Art History Department). Today, the Dorchester Project houses an artist’s residency space in the attic (with a top-of-the-line tub!), a full library, a listening station and future opportunity for a communal kitchen where culinary artists can share their skills with the community. At Dorchester you can have dinner, watch a film series or take an art class. There’s always something happening for the children and people in the community which begets more happenings.

Studio space using salvaged materials

His name is synonymous with a movement of empowerment, activity and responsibility which he modestly cites as “everyday activity.” Check out the video “Try A Little Tenderness” to understand the Dorchester Project, a neighborhood encompassing initiative to share music, literature, space, design, architecture, gardening, experience, art – just share. 

Congratulations, Theaster, on all your success. And more importantly, we celebrate that the rest of us are engaging in the possibilities that you saw first.


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How to Bid At Auction (the fun way) – part 1

Liz Taylor’s jewelry brought a pretty penny to Christie’s, breaking records left and right earlier this week (and they continue until December 16th). Auctions are probably one of the most entertaining cultural past times I’ve ever taken part in. Not only is the excitement of seeing who’s going to outbid who, scintillating, the people-watching is phenomenal. Auctions unlike purchasing items in a gallery or retail store, are meant to be the barometer of the market, a test of what’s to come. Generally speaking, bidding is meant to be competitive and fall under prices paid in the retail market. Their are exceptions, of course. The first are items that have social and cultural importance such as Liz Taylor’s belongings. It matters what the provenance is (the lineage of who has owned the item or work) and celebrities can bring top dollar depending on who owned it and/or who purchased it for them.

This pearl, diamond and ruby necklace by Cartier ultimately sold for $11,842,500. It's estimate was for $2-$3 million.


I’ve broken down the major parts of buying at auction and highlighted key terms in bold. If you have a question, feel free to email me.

Not every city will have a Christie’s or Sotheby’s but there will some form of auction in your area whether they have a brick and mortar location or are a seasonal pop-up event. You can get just about anything at auction but I’m going to speak solely about bidding for art. First of all, I suggest bringing a friend. If for nothing more than someone one to roll eyes with and make small hand gestures, it’s a great social event and having someone to talk to about it later is priceless.

My first experience at an auction was ten years ago when I read about it in the paper. I drove to the Hilton, registered my credit card with a paddle number and foolishly won a carved, wood side table with slots for wine. It didn’t matter that I didn’t drink wine or that I hadn’t inspected it closely. I had won it and the feeling was sublime – until I had to lug it out to the car myself. (This is where bringing a friend comes in handy). Had I inspected it more closely, I would have noticed that the dovetail joints had come apart on one of the lower legs. Normally, you could take a rubber mallet and pop it back in place but this wood was so warped from moisture damage that it would have been impossible. Lesson learned.

Here are the major steps for research prior to the auction.

1. Get a condition report

2. Inspect the item firsthand and/or attend the preview

3. Understand the estimate and nail down your financial limit including fees (shipping too)

4. Decide if you’re going to bid through absentee bid, phone, online or be present in the room.

First and foremost, inspect the goods in your lot, the number assigned to your piece(s). Request a condition report. For art, this is common practice. No matter the price point, the piece should have been inspected by a specialist and a report, no matter how short, should have been produced. It will give you the current condition of the piece starting all the way from “excellent” to “good”. Very rarely do reports tell you that it’s a bad buy! If you’re in the area and can do so, go to the preview and drink the champagne! Usually this will occur a few days before the auction and all the pieces will be available to see. Specialists should be on hand to answer any questions you may have.

I wonder if Samantha remembered she had to pay the "stiff" on that ring.

The estimate that’s included with the item means that’s the fair range the house thinks it will sell for. A few words of caution, however when you’re looking at the estimate. Sometimes, a reserve, a price that the seller has been promised a minimum on, has been worked into the price. If it doesn’t hit this number, they don’t have to sell it. As the buyer, you don’t have the knowledge of a reserve but as you get more experienced at it, you might be able to gauge when a reserve has been set in place. This can account for what some may see as a high estimate from time to time. If an estimate seems low, the house may have set the number so that the seller will be tickled when it sells for many times more. This practice is not necessarily illegal but a nuanced practice that are unfair to both the seller and buyer.

Once you’ve decided which piece(s) you’re going to bid on, read the fine print carefully. Every piece will have a buyer’s fee or premium (or what my ex-employer called the “stiff” – great name). This is the amount that the auction house gets for brokering the sale. Most will have different price points at which the percentages will change. I’ve included Christie’s buyer’s premium list here as an example. As you can see, it’s quite a consideration when bidding and many forget to include the “stiff.” On top of this fee, consider the shipping fee which you should get an estimate on prior to bidding. Even if you purchase a $300 vase, the crate or Strongbox they use to ship it will most likely cost more than the item itself.

I’ve bid at auction in the room, on the phone and have even been on the other side taking bids over the phone for collectors during an art auction. It’s an exhilarating experience and if you can, I recommend going to live auction at least once. That said, not all auctioneers are compelling to watch. They can have off days too where they hold the bidding too long if the prices aren’t coming in well or the pieces aren’t selling, in which case they’ll refer to this as “bought in“.

If you decide to do an absentee bid, you’re going to fill out the form with your credit card or bank information and leave the maximum number you’re willing to shell out for the piece. If you go with a phone bid, you’ll have registered in advance and will receive a call about 4 to 5 lots before your piece. For an online bid, you’re actively on the house’s website and watching the bids in real time. And the golden experience of them all, is being in the room itself when the bidding is going on. Most will not have the excitement of an evening Contemporary sale at Sotheby’s but it’s still a great learning experience. You don’t have to have a paddle to sit in unless it’s a big sought-after ticket so go in and enjoy the people watching with a friend!

Later this week I’ll go into the intricacies of how to bid with each method. Happy bidding and good luck!


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Hit the streets.

This is a very busy time of year for everyone. However, that’s no excuse.

Stay focused. Get out there and get inspired. Show the world how you see it.

Sketch, if that’s what you do, or paint or sculpt. It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you do.


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Our First Contest: Photo Giveaway

We love giving presents for the holidays. And what better way to celebrate than with a piece of art?

When you “like” our Facebook page and leave a comment telling us which photo you like and why, you’re in the running for a signed, editioned photograph from Nick Azzaro. If you share it on your Facebook wall, leave it in the comment section of our page and we’ll give you another entry. Easy as pie!

Which one do you like best? A moment caught of Chicago’s sky or the cost of Capri, Italy? Enter by Saturday, Dec. 17th at noon and we’ll announce the winner (picked by random) that night. Good luck!

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Give It Away

Sorry for the lack of a post today. We’re brewing up a giveaway for our loyal and new clients and readers. Check back tomorrow for the all the details. Happy Monday.



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1% of the 1%: What Collecting Means to Each of Us

For five years I dealt American paintings and prints that the majority of us can’t afford. We’re talking tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars for art work. I’ve handled everything from William Merritt Chase to Alexander Calder to Robert Rauschenberg. The point of my sharing this isn’t so that you can gawk at the list (although sometimes I still do), but to let you know that there are different stakes in every level of collecting.

Recently, I’ve run into a couple of experiences where people wanted to sell or trade in their works. Unfortunately, it’s difficult enough to sell a painting that has a known name, much less a contemporary unknown. When I say “known”, I mean an artist that has been traded, sold, dealt as a commodity. Yes, it sounds crude because in many ways, it is. There’s no real intrinsic value to a painting (besides the intangible and invaluable sense of enjoyment one gets out of it, but you and I live in a real world, not a fantasy one), so each work by an artist must be treated as such. Until it’s been sought after or fought over, it’s not going to bring you a return. Plain and simple.


Let’s say you attend an art fair on the street. Each artist brings their blood, sweat, tears and hope that you will support them for their talent and craft. But you’re also going to be buying at a premium. Consider the convenience, the ambiance and excitement of the fair. Take the set up time, the booth fee, the hotel, gas and food. These are all percentages that add up in the artist’s mind and are offered to you, as the patron, to support someone’s lifestyle. It’s not an easy feat and an incredibly humbling career choice.

If you buy a contemporary piece of art work, you better buy it because you love it. That’s what I always tell people. Bottom line: love it or move on. Because unless you just bought it from the next Gerard Richter and you just don’t know it yet, purchasing low to middle end art is not a good investment for return.


A still from (Untitled) with Adam Goldberg

Many wealthy people collect art. It’s a rite of passage that tells people that you not only have a lot of money but that you have enough culture and taste to know what to do with it. It’s also a commodity for them that can be folded into their investment portfolios.

Let’s say you have money to burn. In a time when a movie like (Untitled) is more reality than farce, you have to ask yourself, how much of this art game do you know and how much do you really want to get into? Once you buy an original piece from an artist (NOT barter, trade, get a break from a friend but actually buy it outright), it’s hard to stop. You start surfing for more pieces like it by the same artist or others like him/her. You set a financial limit and break it immediately. You start to think about framing and make considerations about the hue of the matte that you never thought you would. You attend art fairs where they serve champagne like water and dealers’ faces brighten when they see you enter the booth. They call you by first name and tactfully insert your children’s/pet’s names as if they’ve been thinking about you during your absence. It’s a relationship building exercise at every level of this game and you have to think about how much you want to be told/coerced into buying pieces. Because like it or not, you don’t make many of the decisions at this point. You’ve probably been tainted a bit by rules and criticisms and you might have a room of things you don’t even hang or look at or think about.

COLLECTING FOR 1% of the 1% (or really 10% of the top 1% according to the New York Times)

This is a wholly different game. These types of collectors collect installation, video, sponsor performance art that you may not even think is art. Art Basel Miami took place last week and just closed out its 10th year. There was a New York Times article about Eli Broad and his philanthropy, collecting and activity in the artworld over the last forty years or so. But the most valuable part of the piece was this line:

“And like many representatives of the 0.001 percent here, the Broads showed little sign of easing up on their longtime habit of getting and spending, or of easing up, period.”

Besides the fact that during this recovery of the Great Recession many of the elite rich are still collecting, the percentage of the elite rich that collect at this level is even more minute. “.001” That’s probably the most succinct and accurate representation of collecting at this level I’ve ever seen printed. Those that have the knowledge and the means to collect at that level are not walking among us unless you’re standing outside Sant Ambroeus on Madison. It’s a quick-paced game and dealers have to keep up appearances at this level in order to appeal to the next buyer. That being said, if you won the lottery tomorrow, you still probably wouldn’t be able to walk into any high end gallery in New York City and buy a painting. Dealers want the provenance, the list of where the piece has been, to be renowned, pedigree, preferably celebrity. Longtime British dealer, Charles Saatchi, recently commented on Basel in a scathing article in The Guardian. I highly recommend it as required reading.

“Being an art buyer these days is comprehensively and indisputably vulgar. It is the sport of the Eurotrashy, Hedge-fundy, Hamptonites; of trendy oligarchs and oiligarchs; and of art dealers with masturbatory levels of self-regard. They were found nestling together in their super yachts in Venice for this year’s spectacular art biennale. Venice is now firmly on the calendar of this new art world, alongside St Barts at Christmas and St Tropez in August, in a giddy round of glamour-filled socialising, from one swanky party to another.

Do any of these people actually enjoy looking at art? Or do they simply enjoy having easily recognised, big-brand name pictures, bought ostentatiously in auction rooms at eye-catching prices, to decorate their several homes, floating and otherwise, in an instant demonstration of drop-dead coolth and wealth. Their pleasure is to be found in having their lovely friends measuring the weight of their baubles, and being awestruck.”

Installation by Martin Boyce, 2011 recipient of the Turner Prize

I had to keep from giggling out loud too many times while I was reading because there was so much truth in it. There’s little rhyme or reason to the artworld and yet I still hold on to the Utopian fantasy of a just vetting system. That shows will introduce content and concept that will blow my mind instead of confuse and frustrate out of lack of representation. (Check out the finalists for this year’s Turner Prize and comment back on your choice).

Perhaps supporting the local art fair isn’t such a bad thing after all. At least you get to choose what you buy.

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