By now many of you know that Werner Feibes has donated about a third of the extraordinary modern and contemporary art collection he amassed with his partner Jim Schmitt to The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, as the news has been splashed all over local media (such as here by Paul Grondahl in the Times Union). The rest of the collection is promised to the Hyde as well, and Director Erin Coe rightly declares it "a transformational gift."
I'm excited for the Hyde, proud of my friend Werner, and sad for the recent loss of Jim ... but not surprised by this bequest, as I predicted it in a 2003 Metroland review, which I wrote when the Hyde mounted a superb exhibition called Form(ation) that was drawn from the Feibes and Schmitt collection. The news also brings to mind a story:
It was my good fortune sometime around 1985 to accompany Werner Feibes on a buying trip to a New York City gallery. At the time, I was a young gallery owner myself (in Albany), struggling to find customers for works by regional artists in the $300-to-$500 range. With Werner, I was exposed to quite another art world.
I don't recall the name of the gallery, but it was on the upper East Side of Manhattan and very elegant. Werner was there to see a Jean Arp relief constructed of painted wood, about 16 by 20 inches as I recall, in black and white (of course). The gallery presented it on a velvet-draped easel in a private room, where we murmured our approval and greedily eyed this vintage gem. The asking price was $15,000. Of course, Werner negotiated a discount, then coolly wrote a check for $13,500 - and, in a flash, we were on our way back up I-87 in Werner and Jim's boxy Volvo wagon (the Arp would be shipped).
I was totally speechless (think about that, you who know me personally!). I had just seen how art dealers really operated, and how sharp collectors did, too. The money that changed hands so easily was almost equal to my entire annual income (and I worked a lot of hours to earn it), but I didn't doubt that the Arp was well worth it. Neither do I doubt that it is now worth at least 15 times as much. It was a beautiful work of art and I hope to see it again some day at the Hyde.
Werner's generosity in inviting me on that trip was genuine, but this donation is beyond generous. The collection has been appraised for several million dollars; yet Werner's comment to Grondahl was "What the hell would I do with all that money?" Good point - the true collector thinks about value in a different way than most of us. In the meantime, Werner still gets to live with the rest of the artwork, then it all goes to the Hyde upon his death. I wish him a very long life.
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