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Best of the Best 2002: Art: Best Art Galleries

Sheila J. Gibson and Joan Altabe

Modernist Marvel
In February, a dealer telephoned Landau Fine Art to inform the owners of the Montreal gallery that he was in possession of an excellent 1943 Fernand Léger painting, Le plongeurs en rouge et bleu. Would Robert and Alice Landau be inter-ested? he asked. They were indeed, and the dealer agreed to hold the painting until they could meet him in Paris in early March.

Around noon on a Tuesday, the Landaus arrived at the dealer’s Paris warehouse, where a window was opened to allow enough light to view the painting properly. The verdict was swift. "That’s fabulous," Alice said, and the Léger was theirs by Wednesday morning. They expect to sell it for more than $1.1 million. "It’s greatly exciting to be able to participate in the art world on that level," says Robert, president of Landau Fine Art. "That’s what we do, and what I think we do the best."

Together, he and Alice, the gallery’s vice president and his wife of 32 years, have gained a reputation as world-class dealers of artworks created between 1900 and 1950. The Landaus’ latest coup, Picasso’s Les dormeurs, was scheduled to be unveiled in May at Art Chicago 2002. The painting, one of the artist’s finest late works, used to hang on the office wall of long-time Picasso dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. —Sheila J. Gibson

Landau Fine Art, 514.849.3311, www.landaufineart.ca

Dutch Master
In 2000, New York art dealer Otto Naumann, owner of the Otto Naumann Ltd. gallery, did something unusual in his profession: He explained clearly and logically how he arrived at a price for a piece of art. In a four-paragraph statement, Naumann wrote that the very successful restoration and reframing of a Frans Hals painting, along with a comparison of recent sale prices for works by the same artist, helped him determine the $3.5 million figure, which, he noted, was $2.5 million more than he had paid for it. The Art Newspaper, the art world’s publication of record, ran an editorial praising Naumann’s statement as "an important step towards a mature relationship between buyer and seller."

This is how Naumann has done business since he entered the field in 1982. "I’m a proponent of open, honest dealing. I hate secrecy for secrecy’s sake," he says. Why keep secrets when you deal in only the best 17th-century Dutch paintings? If the TEFAF Maastricht art and antiques fair presented a best of show award, Naumann would have won for the Rembrandt he debuted there earlier this year. Naumann priced the 1635 work, Minerva in Her Study, at $40 million.

If any of Minerva’s suitors are curious about the price, they need only ask Naumann. He would be happy to explain. —Sheila J. Gibson

Otto Naumann Ltd., 212.734.4443, www.dutchpaintings.com

Gallery without Walls
Until recently, if you were in the market for art, you had to brave the
rarefied air of hushed highbrow salons. No longer. Behold Eyestorm, a U.K.-based art media company founded by London art dealer David Grob. While it does have traditional brick-and-mortar showrooms in New York and London, Eyestorm’s entire stable of more than 120 artists, including such stars as Damien Hirst, Jenny Saville, and Helmut Newton, are represented in the online gallery’s web site, www.eyestorm.com. Here you can view and purchase Jeff Koons’ celebrations of kitsch culture without a dealer eyeing you with disdain. Eyestorm also represents Sol LeWitt, an American conceptualist whose sculpture and printmaking have been in demand since the 1960s.

E-commerce trappings aside, Eyestorm is a serious fine art venue, headed by David Ross, the former director of New York’s Whitney Museum and San Francisco’s MoMA. —Joan Altabe

Eyestorm, 212.226.1000, www.eyestorm.com

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Courtesy of Shakespeare and Company - Paul Foster Books - the NY Antiquarian Book Fair
Photo courtesy of Klein Sun Gallery, New York; Li Hongbo