NEW YORKER COVERS TELL N.Y. STORIES
Whenever Alex Meyerovich throws a party at his upscale downtown San Francisco art gallery, he insists on treating his guests to an experience not unlike a visit to the Garden of Eden.
" You will be surrounded by some of the world's finest art, taste only top-notch food, and you will be with wonderfully good-looking men and women," Meyerovich says, issuing an invitation that sounds more like a proclamation for Thursday's opening of "The New Yorker Cover Stories: New York, NY!," the Meyerovich Gallery's fourth annual show of New Yorker magazine cover illustrations. However, this creator of classy celebrations does have one rule.
" NO ... RED ... WINE!" he says, his heavy Latvian accent disappearing for three words, leaving absolutely no room for misunderstanding. "I simply cannot allow any damage to my beautiful white carpets."
Champagne and white wine will have to do.
An intense man who shuffles from sentence to sentence and painting to painting with the energy of a young boy showing off his Christmas presents, Meyer-ovich first had the honor of hosting the always spot-on-sophisticated New Yorker covers exhibition four years ago, after earning the respect of David Remnick, the magazine's editor.
The two first met in the early 1990s when Remnick, then a reporter with the Washington Post, came to San Francisco to meet Russian artist Grisha Bruskin. So impressed was Remnick with Meyerovich's passion and respect for art that when it came time to hand out privileges to present the New Yorker's cover art, Meyerovich's name was near the top of a very short list.
" It is quite an honor, and it is very difficult to contain my excitement, " Meyerovich says, failing to do so.
The exhibition, featuring more than 40 covers celebrating the city that never sleeps, is visiting only three cities, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
That Meyerovich was chosen to represent the elite magazine's signature artwork four years in a row is no surprise to Eric Drooker, one of five Bay Area artists whose work together comprises nearly half of the art on display.
" Most art dealers leave me feeling cold," Drooker says. "But Alex seems genuinely passionate about art. He's not just selling commodities. It's not just a business transaction to him."
Drooker, a native Manhattanite, has painted an average of one New Yorker cover a year for the past eight years. One of his more notable New Yorker pieces is "Tenement Island," which portrays the remnants of a New York City tenement house apparently floating off into the East River, with an Armageddon- red sunset smoking in the background.
The cover was published a couple of weeks before Sept. 11, 2001, and obviously took on new meaning immediately afterward. But for Drooker, it not only was an artistic premonition of the tragedies that would soon follow, but it also came to represent a diminished audacity in one of the nation's leading and left-leaning sources of social commentary.
" Everything shifted to the right after 9/11," he says. "Even the New Yorker. There are certain things they would have run in the 1990s, back when they would purposely invite controversy. But the climate has definitely changed."
From Meyerovich's perspective, this sort of discussion only makes the New Yorker exhibition more exciting and relevant. The show brings hundreds of new visitors to his gallery, who usually come with a fresh and open mind to his world of contemporary and classic art. In previous years, opening-night lines stretched across the block, and Meyerovich estimates that between 4,000 and 5, 000 people will pass through his gallery during the exhibition's two-week stay, easily doubling normal attendance.
The cover collection spans the magazine's 79-year history, from the iconic image of 1920s Eustace Tilley, to 2001's "New Yorkistan" -- itself the first tasteful twist in post-Sept. 11 humor. Limited edition framed, signed and numbered lithographs are for sale for $600.
When the New Yorker covers arrive in the Meyerovich Gallery in a few days, it is clear that they will be in very responsible hands. After paying a visit to his wide collection of extremely rare Marc Chagall and Roy Lichtenstein paintings, Meyerovich enters his office with a look of horror.
One of the half-dozen small lightbulbs illuminating paintings by New York artist Stanley Boxer has just burned out.
"This is no way to respect such a great New York artist," Meyerovich says, immediately adjusting the lights.