SEOUL - By all accounts, the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul, South Korea is a mighty impressive place. Created by the family that runs the giant global company Samsung, it has two parts, one devoted to traditional Korean art and one devoted to international modern and contemporary art.
In the latter, there’s a large exhibition of Alexander Calder’s work that just opened, and will be up through October 20 – the first ever in Korea of the great sculptor. And wherever there is a large Calder presence, there is Sandy Rower, the artist’s grandson.
Rower began his journey as Calder’s über-protector at an early age. At just 25, he established the Calder Foundation, working with his family members to collect the artist’s works and to protect his legacy. He recently turned 50, and I visited with him at the amazing foundation offices in Chelsea.
Alexander Calder’s Grand Crinkly, 1971, Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, ⓒ 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
“Twenty-five years ago there was just Georgia O’ Keeffe, there wasn’t Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Warhol – these other great single-artist foundations,” Rower told me, noting that the Calder Foundation was not artist-endowed. “It’s been 25 years of hard work, building a collection and an endowment.”
The Calder Foundation now has some 1,300 works, and has access to many more through family foundations and its many friends in the art world. So when a place like the Leeum, Samsung Museum wants to do a Calder show, partnering with Rower is the only smart choice.
“We make projects,” Rower told me. “We’re not a granting institution like the Warhol Foundation. They do a great job giving money away. But every foundation has its own thing.” Rower has prioritized making the collection available to scholars, as well as to seeking out and pointing out fake Calders.
Of the foundation’s sixteen employees, two people spend much of their time looking for fake and look-alike works. “We police all that stuff,” Rower said. “We are on eBay every day, kicking off stuff where they abuse Calder’s name.” There’s a long list of misattributed works, as well as sneakily misleading ones, on the website: calder.org.
The foundation model Rower has set up is unique, tailored to the particulars of Calder’s work, the family’s dedication and circumstances, and to Rower’s own go-getter personality. That said, to me it still seems like an art world success story that can be instructive to everyone, given the increased importance of artists’ estates as we head into the busy fall season.