The House at 1969 California Street
A home that is an architectural wonder and a small showcase for artists and those who love them
By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka
Anthony Meier Fine Arts Gallery occupies a small portion of Tony and Celeste Meier’s home on California Street between Octavia and Gough. The block is on that challenging incline up from Van Ness Avenue and near the high vantage point of Lafayette Park. Driving past or walking by – you might miss it altogether simply because the steepness demands attention to the road or your adrenaline is pumping from walking up or down to get to somewhere else. In fact, in response to a recent invitation to attend a showing of works by artist Rosana Castrillo Díaz at the Meier’s private mini-galleria, my lungs were burning as I walked past its stone facade and gated entrance thinking the address to be that of an un-marked and perhaps cloistered monastery.
I was arriving fashionably late, saw a few well-dressed folks going into the building – but seriously hesitated, thinking I had the wrong information. No visuals or signage anywhere of a typical San Francisco-type Art Gallery. But the gate was open and – like the couple coming down the steps of the main entrance – I was at least dressed for whatever was going on and, thus, decided to crash the party. Once in, I’m suddenly alert to the fact that it is someone’s home and not necessarily the receiving area of an institution or retail showroom. “This must be it!” For beyond the closed doors of its entrance way and lofty front room with a fireplace and a few amazing textile-type works of art on the walls, it was clear that the other 90% of the residence was not available to we viewers this evening. The following week, I returned to chat with Tony and Celeste Meier about this showing of Rosana Castrillo Diaz, whose opening reception was a benefit for amfAR.
“What I think this space does and our involvement,” says Anthony Meier, “is to bring a patina to the work. Juxtaposing it with masters that have come long before them in the same way that this house of almost a hundred years brings a history of specialness to the art work. The Gallery per se is a destination visit that one needs to know about – because of the artist, for what it is that we do – to enter and come visit us. There is no signage. There is a very small part of the house that we use for the gallery. The patience and energy that one may have to endure to get here – hopefully, that makes the visit that more special.”
Rosana Castrillo Diaz. Untitled, 2009. Mica and silk tissue paper. 60 x 96 inches.
Anthony Meier Fine Arts Gallery was established in 1984 as a private dealer in the secondary market. Working with both public and private collections, Anthony Meier built a highly regarded international reputation specializing in post-World War II contemporary masters. As a public forum, Anthony Meier Fine Arts mounts four shows per year dedicated to emerging and mid-career artists. The work shown in the gallery is consistent with the quality and visual aesthetic for which the business has become known.
Rosana Castrillo Diaz. Untitled, 2009. Mica on silk tissue paper. 24 x 24 inches.
During the summer of 2004, Anthony Meier Fine Arts moved from a quiet residential neighborhood to a new space on the busy thoroughfare of California Street. The gallery occupies a portion of the ground floor of a 1911 mansion designed by the famous San Francisco architect Willis Jefferson Polk. Anthony Meier Fine Arts is active both locally and globally, with membership in both the Art Dealers Association of America and the San Francisco Art Dealers Association. Past and present participation in the major art fairs of the world has helped to present the gallery program as a logical progression for their clients’ continued collecting habits. With the mix of resale and primary work, their inventory maintains a very current and well articulated profile in the art world at large.
My visit to 1969 California was indeed very special. I sat with Celeste Meier in the exquisite and timeless atmosphere of the living room to talk about their activities as international dealers in art and generous involvement with The City’s non-profit organizations, particularly those devoted to HIV/AIDS. I was also shown the immense library of 3,000 art books which is made available by special arrangements to serious researchers. Artist Gerhard Richter being a favorite of Mr. Meier, I was able to have a more realistic and intimate exchange with Celeste about the nature of the library, their household activities as dealers, collectors, benefactors, historians, and hosts.
Celeste: Tony just did the Basel Art Fair which is the biggest and most important contemporary art fair in the world. A lot of his work is private as opposed to the show you see here.
Seán: Is there a kind of buzz that goes on? The inside talk about the artist or the painting that goes ‘Oh, that got sold to this person’ or ‘Who has it now?!’
Celeste: No. There have been times, for example, when Tony sold a Richter which has gone into hands that went right into the show. In fact, it was up at the show they did here at the MOMA four or five years ago. It went from “Owned by…” to “Courtesy of Anthony Meier Fine Arts”, because he had bought it in the process of the show going up. But the new owner did not want it to read his name. So, it became “Courtesy of Anthony Meier Fine Arts”.
Seán: I’m aware of how much Dede Wilsey contributes to the special exhibits at the Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum, such as the recent Fabergé exhibit. Her green Fabergé Easter Egg was on display. She shared a story about having its design replicated into a purse. So, standing in the midst of these incredible treasures and dramatic displays, it’s really interesting to hear her talk about the ones that are hers. How does the collector learn that a piece is available? What is the process of connecting a piece that is available to those who might be interested? Is it simply a matter of the collector saying, “I’m looking for a Richter” –?
Gerhard Richter. Evening Landscape (with Figure). 1970. 150 cm X 200 cm. Oil on canvas.
Cow, 1964. Oil on nettle canvas
Celeste: Oh, definitely. Tony has a list of private clients. They will come to him and say. “I want a Richter that’s a photo realist piece that has a landscape. I want a landscape.” Richter does do figures – a lot of family portraits. Then Tony will say, “OK, give me your parameters. What years are you thinking of? What’s your budget? And how shocked – no, not “shocked”, although that’s one word you could use. But – “How well known do you want the piece to be?” So, someone could come to Tony and say ‘he did this great painting of cattle’. Tony would say, “OK, there are five cattles that are available. This is the price range I know of right now.” The collector would see it and say, “Oh, that came from so-and-so…” Then there’s the hidden Richter that’s been with somebody for years and years who wants to sell it but wants to be private. You run the gammut of what you have. Some buyers want something that hasn’t been out on the market, some don’t want people to know they got it. That happens a lot in Tony’s world of confidential dealing. It also happens when he’s buying things at auction. You’ll see his name as the bidder on something in auction in New York. Eighty percent of the time he’s bidding for someone who doesn’t want their name out there.
Seán: How does he keep up on and keep track of all this information?
The Meier Library
Celeste: For Tony, it wouldn’t be all artists but it would certainly be Richter. There would be a certain number of artists and he would know the body of work. And he knows where to get that information.
Seán: Does he have a favorite period or a stretch of time with a number of periods?
Celeste: Most of the work is ‘50s, such as de Kooning. Tony published an article on Jackson Pollock’s prints. He would end up selling one little Jackson Pollock, a little Christmas Card he had worked on. Primarily from the ‘50s on.
Seán: Does he have a favorite?
Celeste: I think he has the best understanding of Richter. I don’t think he’s necessarily his favorite. It’s a funny thing – living here, because we see the coming and going of works of art all the time. Only twice have I been coveting something. Tony is just, like, “No, let’s move on.” You know? “We’ll see something else that’s really beautiful and it will be really great…” Things come and go. So, no. He doesn’t.
Jim Hodges. And Still This, 2005 – 2008. 23.5K and 24K gold with Beva on gessoed linen in 10 parts.
Seán: What is your “Fabergé egg”?
Celeste: This is so funny. When artists give us pieces I think, “Can you sign this over to me?” Jim Hodges is one of my favorites. He would do these handkerchief pieces. He would go to coffee shops – this was during the beginning of AIDS and government intervention and non-intervention – and draw beautiful flowers on napkins. Then he would hang them on the wall with a pin. There would be as many as 400 of them on the wall. It would knock me – not side by side necessarily – but this wonderful collage would flutter as you walked by. It was just the most magical thing to me. Because, talking about AIDS and the deaths of so many people, and it being so concrete, and so much a part of his life. Then there was the sadness of death. But here were people walking by and all this flittering from a beautiful little drawing on a napkin – this utilitarian thing. The museum has a curtain of silk flowers that they bought, about 40-feet wide. Have you seen that piece? A beautiful work. So, that’s my Fabergé egg.
Seán: What have you got your eye on these days? What’s coming up?
Celeste: We’re doing a show with Jasmine Sian. She has this most beautiful work where she has cut out paper and colored it. The most amazing work.
Jasmin Sian. Making the Exacto Sing, 2003. Cut-outs on magazine paper. 2 x 2 3/4 inches
Seán: What about your beautiful living room? Is this the transition room for stuff that comes in and you enjoy the most?
Celeste: Pretty much. Things come in here, stay for a little bit, and then they move on. But this is our personal space that we just sit in and really enjoy the art. Because there is this distance from it and it’s so quiet back here.
Seán: You’re right about the timelessness of it all.
Celeste: Tony is so visual. When we first moved in here – how we were going to decorate the house came into heated conversation. We’d just gone to Venice and I said to Tony ‘if there was anything we could design our room like, it would be the fabric and Fortuny of Venice’. That is the ultimate. So, in keeping with the timelessness of the house, I wanted something that, as you came in, soothed you as opposed to jarred you.
Seán: Tell me about your involvement with charities and non-profits and how the art is used.
Celeste: Every year amfAR does their largest fundraiser in Dallas in cooperation with the Dallas Museum of Art. Some really good friends of ours put on this silent auction at their house, the Rachofsky House – a beautiful Richard Meier house. We give a painting every year. They have raised millions of dollars for amFAR. Tony started his career right out of college and has seen all the pain and devastation of HIV/AIDS. So, it’s been one of the organizations to which we’ve always given money. Additionally, the concept of arts education is a topic near and dear to us and our involvement with our art library and local schools such as the Art Institute, California College of the Arts, Stuart Hall, San Francisco Day School and many others brings many students to the house and library. And we have events related to Zen Hospice here at the house. Everything we support is something we are emotionally tied to in some way. We do events for the Film Society, being on the board and because it’s such an important part of my life. Growing up, as a kid, film would be the escape of living in Fresno – with a 110-degrees and six kids and a little house. All of us kids ended up going to the movie theaters to escape. A lot of kids do that.
Seán: I did the same thing. I’m a native San Franciscan. I spent many a Saturday afternoon at the Coliseum Theatre which was at 9th and Clement.
Celeste: I’ve always wondered about that place. Was it beautiful?
Seán: As a child, I was able to go to the Fox Theater. So, I had the sense that the Coliseum was beautiful as a neighborhood theater. But that’s where I saw all these pivotal films that, along the way, have impacted my life so much. Also the Coronet Theater – and its enormous curved screen – which premiered Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” and had reserved seating for the run of “Ben-Hur”. It was glamorous, and it was easy to escape into a world of film. In those days, films would advance from the grand theaters downtown out to those in the neighborhoods and I would follow. By the time they were out at the 4-Star on Clement and 23rd or to the Balboa at 38th and finally to the Surf at 47th and Irving – the prints had turned a little red. I talked to Diane Baker about that a couple of weeks ago. She was in Journey To The Center Of The Earth – I was just a kid, but became obsessed with her and it, followed the screenings all over town – and got to know my way around San Francisco.
Celeste: And she is so beautiful! My favorite of hers is with Paul Newman, Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man.
Seán: What is your pivotal moment in film?
Celeste: Growing up in Fresno, there’s not a lot of anything there other than agriculutre. When I was 13 my father took me to see my first John Cassavetes film. It was mind boggling. There was nothing like that ever in my experience. It made my interests more intense.
Anthony and Celeste Meier will be hosting an event for VISUAL AID, a non-profit organization founded in 1989 by a group of passionately concerned artists, collectors and art dealers to serve artists affected by HIV/AIDS. Over time, the organization expanded its mission to help produce, present and preserve the work of professional, visual artists in need, those whose careers are challenged because of any life-threatening illness. The Meiers are also active with ART FOR HEALING, a non-profit organization which collects works of art through donation and places them in a wide range of hospitals, hospices, community clinics, children’s centers, retirement homes, and other agencies serving highly diverse, cross-cultural populations throughout the Greater San Francisco Bay Area.
Anthony Meier Fine Arts is pleased to announce an exhibition of new work by San Francisco artist Rosana Castrillo Diaz. Castrillo Diaz’s second gallery exhibition exudes a quietness and simplicity that belies the rigid structural details of her works construction. For more information: Anthony Meier Fine Arts Gallery
Rosana Castrillo Diaz. Untitled, 2009. Cotton quilt batting. 20 x 20 inches.
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Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: email@example.com.