Meredith Harper, the first job: gallery assistant. Step One!
STEVE MARTIN, A BRILLIANT COMEDIAN AND ACTOR, IS ALSO A PASSIONATE AND KNOWLEDGEABLE COLLECTOR OF MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY ART. RECENTLY, HE DONNED A CURATORIAL HAT AND ORGANIZED A SURVEY OF THE WORK OF CANADIAN LANDSCAPE ARTIST, LAWREN HARRIS, AT THE HAMMER MUSEUM IN LOS ANGELES. ONE OF THE MOST DIVERSIFIED PERFORMERS TODAY, STEVE MARTIN HAS AUTHORED SEVERAL NOVELLAS, ONE A TONGUE-IN-CHEEK EXPOSE OF THE WORLD OF CONTEMPORARY ART, AN OBJECT OF BEAUTY: A NOVEL, THE CHARACTERS IN THE NOVEL THINLY VEILED ART WORLD POWER DEALERS AND COLLECTORS.
Lacey Yeager is young, captivating, and ambitious enough to take the NYC art world by storm. Groomed at Sotheby’s and hungry to keep climbing the social and career ladders put before her, Lacey charms men and women, old and young, rich and even richer with her magnetic charisma and liveliness. Her ascension to the highest tiers of the city parallel the soaring heights–and, at times, the dark lows–of the art world and the country from the late 1990s through today.
HIGHLY ENTERTAINING, THE NOVEL IS A WORK OF FICTION. A POSITION IN THE ART WORLD, IN REALITY, REQUIRES ACADEMIC STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP, DEDICATION, AN INSATIABLE CURIOSITY ABOUT ART, AND MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, IMMENSE TACT AND SOCIAL SAVVY.
MEREDITH HARPER, FOUNDER AND PRINCIPAL OF HARPER FINE ART, CERTAINLY HAS THESE TRAITS AND MANY MORE THAT ACCOUNT FOR HER PROFESSIONAL PROGRESSION FROM GALLERY ASSISTANT TO CURATOR AND PRIVATE DEALER.
MEREDITH, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING YOUR PROFESSIONAL HISTORY AND EXPERTISE WITH THE LRFA BLOG.
YOUR FIRST AFFILIATION WAS WITH RICHARD L. FEIGEN & CO., AN OUTSTANDING GALLERY THAT REPRESENTS WORKS OF ART RANGING FROM FIRST-TIER OLD MASTER PAINTINGS TO POP. FEIGEN INAUGURATED HIS FIRST GALLERY IN CHICAGO IN 1957, EXHIBITING 20th CENTURY MASTERWORKS BY GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST AND SURREALIST ARTISTS. HE WAS ALSO AN EARLY CHAMPION OF SUCH ARTISTS AS FRANCIS BACON, JEAN DUBUFFET, JOSEPH CORNELL, AND POP MASTERS ROSENQUIST AND OLDENBURG, IN 1962 HE OPENED IN NY AND FOR OVER 50 YEARS, THE GALLERY HAS SOLD WORKS OF ART SPANNING SIX CENTUREIS TO OVER 110 MUSEUMS WORLDWIDE.
WHAT A WONDERFUL ENTREE INTO THE GALLERY WORLD. WHAT WERE YOUR AREAS OF FOCUS AT THE GALLERY?
This was my first job in the New York art world, and I was Frances Beatty’s assistant. We dealt with major, museum quality works of art and we were a very small staff, so I helped with absolutely everything from showing paintings, documenting condition, to the research for pricing works of art based on our knowledge of private and auction sales. I’d sit with her at the auctions and learned who everyone was, and what their roles and motivations were. I remember her taking me aside one day and telling me “You’ve got what it takes to be a great art dealer. I’m going to teach you everything I know.” She was an amazing mentor to me then, and has continued to be over the years.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE CRITERIA FOR WORKING WITH AN ARTIST’S ESTATE? WHAT ARE THE PARTICULAR GOALS AND RESPONSIBILITIES?
Frances and I were the first two people to walk into Ray Johnson’s home several weeks after his suicide. They removed the police tape and we entered this strange and incredible puzzle with rooms and rooms of collages, objects, ephemera and other art that Ray had purposefully left behind in a very manipulated way as his last overarching work of art. We had to slowly work through to decipher and catalogue all of Ray’s work, and it was so complex that there was an art history student from Columbia on our team brought in to specifically oversee the day-to-day organization of it, which took years in his case. Richard and Frances had known and dedicatedly worked with Ray for a very long time, so working with the Estate and getting him the attention he deserved was and still is a passion and a labor of love for them, and something with which they’ve been very successful. If you haven’t yet seen the movie How to Draw a Bunny, which they produced after his death and which is about the whole “mystery” that was Ray, it is fascinating and absolutely a must-see.
RAY JOHNSON’S WORK IS VERY DIFFICULT FOR ME TO CATEGORIZE. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE IT AND IN WHAT WAYS DOES IT IMPACT THE WORK OF ARTISTS TODAY?
There really is no way to categorize Ray’s work, which is one of the most wonderful things about it I think. Ray had a brilliant semiological sense and was fascinated with the intersection of the worlds of ideas, language, aesthetics and, very early on, with celebrity/personality. And he knew that either you were the type of person who “got” this too, or you didn’t. But he was never comfortable being fully IN the world — he wanted to be at arms length to it, watching it, commenting on it, and inciting beautiful things within it. It always seemed to me that he had difficulty making intimate personal connections with all but a very few people (much like Cornell, who he also greatly admired), but he actually KNEW so many people in the worlds of art, music, dance and literature, as well as business.
But these relationships were often much more superficial simply because it was difficult for Ray to connect, so he connected with people through his art and also by connecting them to each other, both literally in real life via his Mail art and in a more traditional sense via aesthetic connections in his collages. He also had a brilliant, and sometimes biting, sense of humor. Both his mail art and his collages were very sophisticated vehicles for verbal and visual punning, with the mail art as well as a form of art that he could “release” into the world and which would then take on a life of it’s own. He lived very much under the radar, but he was hugely influential to and admired by many great artists and writers, including Cage, Rauschenberg, and Johns.
IN OUR NEXT LRFA BLOG, MEREDITH WILL MOVE TO CHRISTIE’S AND SHARE HER EXPERIENCE OF WORKING FOR AN INTERNATIONAL AUCTION HOUSE.