Richard Feigen, who long ago retired the trophy as America’s handsomest art dealer, held a rare vernissage at his East 69th Street aerie last week. The occasion was "Sublime Convergence," a group show bizarrely mingling quattrocento gold-ground masterpieces -- provided with the assistance of the respected Moretti Fine Art in Firenze -- with small Ab Ex masterworks borrowed from uptown boites such as PaceWildenstein.
Present at the opening were Old Masters grandee Otto Naumann and longtime Bruce Springsteen manager Jon Landau, who told us "I’m primarily interested in Dutch painting," as bobbing heads speculated on the purpose of the show: Richard Feigen, regal and graying, is approaching his mid-70s. Was the presence of young Moretti, representing his father and greeting his visitors with the help of an ornate black cane, an indication that Feigen, the longtime hustler grandee of Madison Avenue, about to take on a permanent partner?
Frances Beatty Adler, Feigen’s longtime consigliera, carefully consulted with potential buyers. Drinks flowed like doubloons in the tummies of the invited until everyone, but, hopefully, your correspondent, was too sated to ask, "Why?"
The juxtapositions of paintings, in a dimly lit room, are supremely irrational. There is a crude blue, endearing Rothko, a stern red Newman zip, the whitest, and thus best, Pousette-Dart you could want, and a blue Reinhardt.
Interspersed were saints by Taddeo di Bartolo, Taddeo Gaddi and Jacopo Franchi, a 15th-century Madonna and Child by the Master of the Straus Madonna, and a gemlike Paolo Veneziano saint in a bishop’s mitre. The raison d’etre for the whole enterprise appeared to be Lorenzo Monaco’s St. Peter Seated on a Bench, a picture of quattrocento authority in gold and blue that would divine any Park Avenue duplex, if not the Met.
As always with a journey into Feigen, the back room had its delights: a Ray Johnson profile of Warhol conjoined with Arman and an orange Tanguy which effectively complemented Frances Beatty Adler’s dress. A lumpy Bonnard nude with landscapes looked like a Cézanne, and a minimal Cornell box of a marble cherub is worth more to this eye than the Monaco.
But what does such a show tell us of a venerable galleriste in the time of the hedgers? That material is scarce? Uptown tradition reduced to acts of desperation? Connoisseurship, with all its raffish conceits and deceits, permanently on the rocks? Bravo to Richard Feigen, for nothing if not his venerable sex appeal. Aby Rosen, Stephen Cohen, Daniel Loeb and other hedge fund collectors have taken, temporarily, the "play" out of "playboy."
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).