artworldArt Business
Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Stonewall Me and I’ll Facebook You!

Social networks can start revolutions and end marriages.  They can also contribute in novel ways to the advance of journalism and the settling of scores.  A case in point was provided this weekend when artist and writer Oriane Stender posted a riveting essay (click here to read it in full) on the misfortunes of the Allan Stone Gallery to her Facebook page.

Oriane Stender (right) with the late Allan Stone and another gallery artist in a photograph in the collection of Stender
Oriane Stender (right) with the late Allan Stone and another gallery artist in a photograph in the collection of Stender

“The back-story of Allan’s estate – estimated at over $300 million – and the Allan Stone Gallery, an enterprise that continued to function until its abrupt closure in late April, is a near-Shakespearean tale replete with internecine family rivalries that have simmered for decades and an outside agitator with just the right set of skills and motivation to turn that simmer up to a boil,“ according to Stender.  The gallery that had given Wayne Thiebaud his first New York exhibition and Eva Hesse a show of drawings when the artist still lived in German shut its doors in the spring.

Works from Stone’s extensive collections, which includedAbstract Expressionist paintings, African tribal art, American and European folk and decorative art, have been selling this year at Sotheby’s.  The third sale is scheduled for Friday, September 23 in New York.

After Allan Stone’s death, in 2006, Claudia Stone, a daughter from his first marriage and a trusted lieutenant of sixteen years standing, ran the gallery.   Direction was wrested from Claudia by trustees of the estate, however, which had been left to Stone’s widow Clare.  But the Upper East Side firehouse premises of the gallery belonged to Claudia and were subsequently put on the market, selling in July reportedly for close to $10 million, and the gallery shut.  Stender recounts this saga in great detail, and delves into the family dynamics of the litigious heirs, and the travails of artists associated with the gallery (Stender herself being one of the latter.)

Therein, ethically and perhaps legally, lies a problem.  The article was commissioned by a leading art magazine, and when rejected, considered briefly by artcritical.  It is a superb piece of journalism in respect of having a tale to tell, doing its homework, and attempting due diligence.  It makes for great copy.

But the piece collides the responsibilities of a reporter with the axe to grind of a cheated artist.  Stender, like a number of artists, had works on longstanding consignment to the gallery subsequently caught up in the back and forth of the warring heirs.  The upshot is that the works are trapped, deemed gallery property in the absence of documentation to the contrary from the artists – rather than due to the presence of documentation in the hands of the gallery.

Had the stories been separated then each might have been fine in itself, from a publisher’s perspective and with fact checking and legal proofing.  But this is our problem, not Stender’s.  For her part, she constructs a compelling yarn of the sad decline and spinning out of control of a once seminal gallery, from the perspective of the aggrieved artist.  Publishing her 2000 word exposé as a “note” on her Facebook page draws her point of view to 600 friends who include Loren Munk and Jerry Saltz, both of whom cross-posted it a combined, further 7000 friends, allowing for overlap.  Plus the “note” is unrestricted.

Stender may not get her artworks back any sooner, but she has had the satisfaction of telling her tale – and even making some new friends.

Oriane Stender pictured in Allan Stone's office in front of a work by Franz Kline
click to enlarge