Upper East Side galleries like the kind Knoedler was are a dying breed. Gone are the days when American paintings commanded more attention than contemporary art, or when people could see a dozen solid shows walking down Madison Avenue from 79th Street to 70th Street. Real estate prices, the internet, changing collector habits and so forth have all played a role in this process, as has the general tendency in New York City towards change. New York changes completely every twenty years—the energy of each generation transforms our great city in such a way as to make it unrecognizable to the last.
Gone as well (I think) are the days when a collector will buy a secondary market Post War work of art for seven figures which has no documentation whatsoever, with only the assurance from a respected dealer that it is authentic. While the above factors can also be blamed for this, the activities on the Upper East Side that have been discussed at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Manhattan this week are probably more of a factor.
I was reminded of the fact that galleries used to be different by two witnesses who appeared in court this morning at the Knoedler trial. The first was Jaime Andrade. People like him were a fixture of uptown galleries back in the day. It would be impossible to say exactly what they did, but they were usually the first person a visitor would see at the gallery…not sitting at the front desk, but perhaps opening the door, carrying something heavy…just somehow there whenever anyone dropped by. Galleries then, as now, typically hired attractive young women to staff the front desk but these jobs have always been a stepping stone for ambitious recent college graduates who would not be accustom to the various passersby. By contrast, men like Andrade had decades on the job and thus knew everybody who might enter the premises from the Rockefellers to the homeless. They had been to client’s homes to install works, and to artist’s studios. They went to the post office to add funds to the franking machine, they hung the shows and they made it in through blizzards. In short, they were the institutional memory of these galleries, an integral part of day-to-day operations who added character to the shop.
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