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Friday, February 26, 2010

Restoration and Research Reveal Old Master

It has just been released that an undisclosed settlement has been reached between an English family and Christie’s auction house over a disputed Titian painting. The painting by the Old Master, depicting Salome with the head of St. John the Baptist on a platter, was sold by a brother and sister to Christie’s in 1994 for 8,000GBP only to stumble upon it in a 2004 exhibition entitled “The Age of Titian” at the Scottish National Gallery. In the years between the initial sale and the sibling’s discovery, the painting had been bought and restored by a private collector who sought out and gained authentication of the piece. With an estimated value of between 2.3 million and 3.8 million GPP the couple was obviously upset and filed a lawsuit before they settled out of court with the auction house. Amazingly, the piece even bears the royal monogram of Charles I and had at one point been a part of his personal gallery.

The case illustrates a number of important points about having a third party art appraisal. First, it proves that auction houses and appraisers are not created equal and some may risk a quick sale and forgo the research often required by pieces of questionable and tantalizing origins. In the complaint filed by the owners they claimed “breach of duty and/or negligence” and alleged that “had they been advised that restoration and cleaning work on the Old Master could have lead to verification that it was an original, they would have commissioned art experts to do so” (Brown).

MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. places a heavy premium on research and often suggests that clients have their pieces restored or conserved for the purposes of exposing secrets hidden by years of grime, damage and nicotine. Beyond aiding in further research, getting a restored piece can greatly increase the value and bring out its true brilliance and magnificence. Also, the case of the misdiagnosed Titian highlights the importance of a third party opinion should someone wish to part with a piece. A consultation is relatively inexpensive and almost always will end in saving the client money in the long run. Even if the consultation backs up the claim that it was not executed by an Old Master it will help reinforce your decision and aid peace of mind. Remember, auction houses seek to profit from the value of your artwork while a reputable art appraiser charges a flat fee and therefore is not influenced by the value. MIR Appraisal Services welcomes all potential clients to give us a call at (312) 814-8510.

Written and Researched by Justin Bergquist

MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.

Principal Appraiser: Farhad Radfar, ISA AM 

307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308 

Chicago, IL 60601 

(312) 814-8510

Works Cited:

Brown, Jonathan. “Couple Settle after their ‘Titian’ was Sold for a Song,” on The Independent Online.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Final Week of the Wonderful Aspen Mays Exhibit at the MCA

The erudite and talented Aspen Mays, at a gallery talk at the MCA

A very friendly reminder from your pals at MIR—the thoughtful Aspen Mays exhibition is coming to a close this Sunday, February 28th at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago! Please do take some time to visit this excellent show.

At the very least, her gorgeous, vivid assemblies will satiate your need for color (as an antidote to the very humble palette of Chicago’s winter mother nature). Yet, in a deeper sense, the visual delight will lead you towards the philosophy and inquiry that is at the heart of the show. It is also ravishingly pretty to breeze past her “leaves” on the gallery walls, which do rustle as you move past—Every leaf:

or to witness her meticulously gathered rainbows of books on Einstein, every book on Einstein available through the Illinois Inter-Library loan—Every book:

One of the greatest delights about living in a city with such fine museums is the opportunity to listen to wonderful artists talk about their personal sense of order and arrangement, process, and to gather the little sweets of their anecdotal generosity.

Just a few days before the Aspen Mays talk, I attended a fantastic “coffee and conversation” event led by photographer Adam Ekberg (photographed here near the Every leaf exhibit) (a blog on Ekberg is in the works—check out his brilliant cosmic works in the Elements of Photography exhibition), and our group toured the Mays installation. I was very excited to attend her talk to hear what she had to say about process, display, color, and language. I was also so curious about what the initial impetus had been to photograph every leaf on a tree, and so baffled that this had not been done before—it’s such a cleanly novel, jubilant gesture, with so much appeal, and it’s so curious that at least variations on this activity aren’t somehow part of our human rituals already. In all of these years with humans living alongside trees, many hadn’t thought before Mays of this sort of meditation upon a tree. I also immediately admired the cleverness of both works in the instillation, and the mixture of what I imagined to be ambitious, joyous feelings in the artist, tempered through a highly methodical process.

For Every leaf
, Aspen Mays photographed every leaf on a tree outside her studio window—over 900 leaves/photographs. I had heard that she marked each leaf with blue tape when she was finished photographing it, to keep track of where she had been. What I didn’t know until the talk is that right before the epiphany arrived to embark on this labor-intensive and rather meditative project with the Sassafras tree (a “lovely way to spend a day,” remarked Aspen sweetly) (she also shared that the tree smelled very nice) she was sitting in her studio at Ox-Bow, and reading Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. From “Song of Myself, and she came upon the verse:

“What is commonest, cheapest, nearest, easiest, is Me,
Me going in for my chances, spending for vast returns,

Adorning myself to bestow myself on the first that will take me,

Not asking the sky to come down to my good will,

Scattering it freely forever.”

--Walt Whitman

She looked up, and the first thing that “took her” was the Sassafras tree outside her studio window. She thought, “This is the most perfect tree because it is the one near to me.” Because she photographed the tree throughout one solid day, and because the leaves are arranged in a non-linear fashion upon the gallery wall, you can witness varying patches of shadow and light in different areas of the composition. One of the other striking elements is the opportunity to really witness the varying shades and edges and patterns from leaf to leaf—some leaves are insect-bitten a bit, some leaves are a bit singed by the sun, some leaves seem like different shapes altogether. By not confronting the tree as a whole, the photographic subject matter is decontextualized in the current arrangement (the tree is actually surprisingly small, Aspen related, though she didn’t take a photograph of the tree as a whole). The spectator really can look at one leaf at a time, and can really see the lovely individuality and near-autonomy of each part of the whole.

I love the way she described the process as “lavishing attention” upon the tree! Mays felt that through the arduous process of trying to really capture each leaf, she could most clearly contemplate her humanity, as she feels she inevitably “came up short” in an objective, scientific sense—she noted, “Even with all the leaves, you still don’t have the whole story.” Perhaps there can’t ever be a distilled perfection, even in science—there is always “a hand in the photograph”—here, literally and figuratively. I enjoy that aspect of the work—it gives the photographs a real humanness, a less stylized, more immediate feel.

The two works, Every leaf and Every book work nicely together, and Mays related them even more explicitly, speaking to the idea of “leafs in a book”—indeed to record light on the pages/leafs so that we may read/interpret, and on the tree leaves so that they may grow. Also, the arc of color is a motif in each work which shows time passing in the varying shades and dappled light. Both works also made me think of fractals—even with my very pedestrian understanding of fractals, I enjoying thinking that each work showcases detailed “little worlds” which mirror and suggest the larger sustaining “body.” Also, as Mays articulated, it is a consideration of elemental interconnectedness—to think of the origin of the photographic paper upon which the leaf image is printed—the leaf/tree being the initial source of that paper.

The Every book project addresses our “seductive access to knowledge,” as Mays puts it, and efforts to arrive at a sort of “Universal Knowledge.” It was a cumbersome, involved process to track down, check out, and organize all of these books—over 2,000! (Throughout the entire project, she never received a late fee.) Over half of the books listed in the Illinois Library search engine were in warehouses throughout Illinois. She documented the process, and created the arcs of color-blocks through working with whichever selection of books was ready for her at the library at any given time; she photographed every single book that came through; she never photographed the same book twice (although some titles were entered in different ways in various parts of the cataloguing system, so some titles are photographed more than once). She wanted to evoke a sense of gravity through the manner in which the books are suspended between two chairs—the potential energy in the arrangement. (And the titles, too, are so fascinating: Gravity’s Rainbow, On the Shoulder’s of Giants.)

Mays wanted to arrive at a different portrait of Einstein. She also thought of the arcs as a play on how to describe light itself—to describe light in terms of color (rather than photons, etc.). A fellow member in the audience spoke intuitively about how the nature of the two chairs facing one another sets up a sort of “conversation.”

Mays also contemplated in both of these works the kind of knowledge someone outside the scientific community can contribute, for example to use the act of photographing in a cataloguing sense. I appreciate the accessibility in the works, and the evident “pure joy/ Of the mineral fact” (poet George Oppen). Mays: “The process of human understanding is to let curiosity be part of it.”

The staff at MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. seeks to fully understand the arts in their particular cultural contexts and to analyze relationships between various artistic mediums and genres; in this way we can broaden our expertise as art appraisers. If you would like to inquire about our appraisal services for your fine art, please do email: or call (312) 814-8510.

Written and researched by Jessica Savitz.

MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.

Principal Appraiser: Farhad Radfar, ISA AM
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 814-8510

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Historic Letters up for Auction

On the heels of Valentines Day comes the revelation that JFK’s love letters sent when the future president was a U.S. senator are up for auction in Chicago. The letters in the collection were previously sent in the 1950s to a Swedish woman named Gunilla von Post and include 11 handwritten letters and a handful of telegrams that span the length of their covert relationship. Tame by modern standards, there are no lurid details but their historic value is not hard to overlook. The correspondence shows the early statesman Kennedy and his private thoughts, making them invaluable to historians and collectors of JFK memorabilia.

Letters are an important and often overlooked insight into the private lives of important political, cultural and historical figures. In the age before the instantaneous communication offered by email or the low fees associated with long distance phone calls, letters were an essential means of communicating with personal and professional contacts outside of your zip code. Some of these correspondences are very collectible for their deep personal insights and the most famous letters are often collected and published for the public’s benefit.

Another set of unguarded letters written by a public figure who captured the public’s imagination through tragedy are the letters of Princess Diana. A collection of more than 30 letters include notes to her chauffeur and beautician and express her love for her children, her daily routines and her anxiety about the future. The letters are expected to go for anything from $300 to $2,300. A significant price in a market that still has not gotten over the tragic death of the Princess while in Paris in 1997.

MIR has a great deal of experience analyzing and authenticating letters by pivotal historical and cultural figures. Besides the intimate artists’ journals and sketchbooks highlighted on this blog in weeks past, MIR also houses an intriguing letter on the letterhead of the French Ministry of War (a more bellicose title for what is now considered the Minister of Defense) dating from the dawn of the French Revolution. Written in July 1799 and signed by a subordinate of General Grenier, the letter is executed in flowing calligraphy likely generated by a scribe in service of the military officer. Interestingly, the date it was written was not indicated according to the months and years we are accustomed to but rather it is dated in relation to the French Republican Calendar (Year 1 starts on 22 September 1792, Year 2 starts on 22 September 1793, etc.). A seemingly insignificant invoice of military necessities and their costs, the letter allows historians insight into the price of items, the unique dating system and the names of military figures whose names might have been lost to history.

MIR employs a range of specialists in a multitude of fields, insuring that your unique antique item will be analyzed by a knowledgeable expert in the field. A community of people experienced in both academic and professional arenas, MIR is a company interested in and dedicated to the art and items they study. You are highly encouraged to contact MIR with any questions about your treasured items or visit our website for further explanation of our services. You are always encouraged to make an appointment and visit us at our Michigan Avenue office.

Written and Researched by Justin Bergquist

MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.

Principal Appraiser: Farhad Radfar, ISA AM

307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308

Chicago, IL 60601

(312) 814-8510

Works Cited:

Dizikes, Cynthia. “JFK ‘Love Letters’ to Young Swedish Woman Up for Auction,” on Chicago

Hutchinson, Bill. “Princess Diana Letters up for Auction Reveal Angst over Media Attention – and Love for James Bond,” on

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    Welcome to our blog site! MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. is a fine art and personal property appraisal company dedicated to serving clients throughout the United States and abroad since our incorporation in Chicago in 1994. We specialize in the multi-faceted field of appraising fine art, jewelry, antiques, and decorative items. We also provide professional fine art restoration and conservation treatment for various media, including but not limited to, artworks on canvas, board, masonite, and paper. We offer professional and precise appraisal services carried out by our team of accredited appraisers for the purposes of insurance coverage and claims, charitable donations, estate planning and probate, equitable distribution and fair-market value. We started our art commentary blog site as a venue for colleagues and fellow art enthusiasts to share their experiences within the art community.