Found at Auction, The Unseen Photographs of a Legend That Never Was 2/17/13

Read about the amazing and emotional story of Vivian Maier and see a clip of the soon to be released documentary at this link.

Picture this: quite possibly the most important street photographer of the 20th century was a 1950s children’s nanny who kept to herself and never showed a single one of her photographs to anyone. Decades later in 2007, a Chicago real estate agent and historical hobbyist, John Maloof purchased a box of never-seen, never-developed film negatives of an unknown ‘amateur’ photographer for $380 at his local auction house.

Brooklyn Museum Finds Some Problematic Gifts Can’t Be Returned 1/16/13

The Brooklyn Museum seemed to have garnered a bonanza in 1932 when it received a large bequest from the estate of Col. Michael Friedsam, president of the elegant retail emporium B. Altman.

But eight decades later that cache of Dutch and Renaissance paintings, Chinese porcelain, jewelry and furniture has become something of a burden. A quarter of the 926 works have turned out to be fakes, misattributions or of poor quality, and the museum potentially faces a hefty bill to store the 229 pieces it no longer wants.

The obvious solution — to deaccession (to sell or give away) the relatively worthless items — has been blocked, however, by clauses in Colonel Friedsam’s will that require the museum to obtain permission from the estate’s executors. The holdup? The last executor died in 1962, said Francesca Lisk, the Brooklyn Museum’s general counsel.

“Most of the works are wonderful, and many are on display,” Ms. Lisk said. “But over the years it has been revealed many are not of museum quality.”

The Brooklyn Museum, aided by the New York State attorney general’s office, has been working to get around this roadblock. But one final hurdle has been set by a Manhattan Surrogate Court judge. Noting that the will specified that the art should go to the colonel’s brother-in-law and two friends if the collection was not kept together, Judge Nora Anderson told the museum in December 2011 that it must search for these three men’s descendants before she would rule. The museum has yet to begin looking as it confers with the attorney general’s office on how to proceed.

James Fanelli reported the museum’s conundrum last week in, a New York news site.

The problem of what to do with the unwanted items has arisen as the Brooklyn Museum tries to reclaim gallery space that has long been devoted to storage. When the museum accepted the Friedsam collection in the early 1930s, its sprawling Beaux-Arts building on the edge of Prospect Park had vast spaces to fill.

As officials explain in their court filing, the opposite problem now plagues the museum, which at one point had as many as 1.5 million objects, some of them inauthentic, trivial or no longer in keeping with its mission — like three battle-axes from Mr. Friedsam. The Brooklyn Museum, like many other institutions, regularly reviews its collection, taking new information, techniques and inventory into account.

If it is unable to reduce the number of works kept behind the scenes, the museum may have to rent additional storage space, which could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Ms. Lisk said.

Shoving items willy-nilly into a closet is not an option. There are strict and often costly standards dictated by the Association of American Museums on how to conserve and store art.

Colonel Friedsam, a beloved civic leader and philanthropist, left the bulk of his estate, valued at $20 million in the ’30s, to public institutions. He did not specifically mention the Brooklyn Museum in his will, preferring that his vast collection of art, jewelry, rugs, furniture, ceramics, armaments and more find a permanent home at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But according to an agreement that the executors worked out in 1931, the Met essentially was allowed to cherry pick its favorites — a total of 472 items, according to Harold Holzer, a Met spokesman.

Mr. Holzer said that in the ’30s and ’40s the Met deaccessioned some items — 23 went back to the executors, who sent them to the Brooklyn Museum, and 7 others were also returned to the executors — though he said he was unaware that any had been identified as fakes.

At the moment 88 works from the Friedsam collection are on display at the Met.

In Brooklyn, 25 Friedsam items are currently being exhibited. Whether any fakes from the collection had previously been displayed is unclear. Kevin Stayton, chief curator at the Brooklyn Museum, said in an e-mail, “At this point, it is not possible to reconstruct a positive timeline of exactly what was on view when in the early decades.”

The Met’s acquisitions from the estate, which included paintings by Rembrandt, Titian, Rubens, van Dyck, Velázquez and El Greco, was appraised in 1933 at $2.5 million; the Brooklyn Museum’s was valued at $130,000.

Just weeks after that appraisal, however, Brooklyn’s windfall shrank when thieves broke into the building and made off with eight uninsured Friedsam paintings, including a van Dyck and a Fra Angelico. (Mr. Stayton said he did not know if any had been recovered.)

Brooklyn did hang onto a painting attributed to El Greco, titled “Elderly Gentleman.” But as court papers reveal, that, alas, turned out not to be genuine.

Front Row Death at Fashion Week

New York lost one of its beloved truest originals on Wednesday 2/16/12, when 95-year-old socialite Zelda Kaplan died, collapsing in the front row of a runway show during Fashion Week.

Kaplan appeared to faint and slumped in the lap of Ruth Finley, publisher of the Fashion Calendar, just as the show was starting, the Associated Pressreports. Security carried her out of the tent, and she was given CPR by paramedics on the scene before being rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Just minutes before her collapse, the arts-scene icon was posing for photographers at the Joanna Mastroianni fashion show at Lincoln Center, showing off her vibrant, red African print ensemble. Kaplan was known not only for being an inspiration in the fashion scene, but also for being a “club kid” at heart, often partying into the morning hours at some of New York’s most exclusive nightlife haunts.

Designer Richie Rich told the New York Post, “Passing away in the front row was how it was meant to be. Zelda loves fashion so she died for fashion. She would have wanted to go out in style. Zelda always said, “live, live, live and have fun’…I hope the angels are holding her right now.”

Kaplan has said many things about having fun and making the most of life (see below), and was revered for her young spirit. In addition to being a nightlife and fashion fixture, the twice-divorced Kaplan was known for her philanthropy, spending much of her 60s and 70s in Africa, championing women’s rights with local tribal government leaders. She was also a ballroom dancer and instructor, as well as a women’s golf pro in Miami in her twenties.

Some words of wisdom on life and aging young, from “New York’s oldest and most beloved night owl”:

“I think one of the things that keeps me healthy is that I’m not introspective at all. The secret is being interested in things outside of oneself.”—New York, 2003

“I’m a curious person […] I want to keep learning until it’s over. And when it’s over, it’s over.”—New York Times, 2003

“I wish more people would have [clothes] made for them. But so many Americans want to look like everybody else […] I hate to wear what everybody else is wearing […] I don’t think people should be happy to be a clone.” –New York Post, 2010

“Many people turn a certain age and “check out,” but that is not me. In my 90s, I am not able to travel as much, so I must read everything I can at home to remain aware of global change, which provides me great knowledge to empower people through daily conversations, and through my charitable efforts.”—New York, 2010

“I want to be an example for young people so they aren’t afraid of growing old and a lesson to old people that you can be productive. You don’t have to sit around and wait for death.”—New York Times, 2003
Read more: