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Short Stay: Jo’burg Rising

South African capital grows

as business tourism attraction

My first mission upon landing in Johannesburg was to find a perch from which to soak in a South African sunrise.  Equally warm greetings showed up all along my itinerary which was packed with mild adventures of dining on stewed ostrich, trailing springbok in the wild, and visiting historical sites.  There is a glow around Jo’burg, as it’s fondly called.  The city feels like a phoenix rising from an ominous spell.  Dozens of cranes are weaving towers into the skyline, an underground subway is on a fast track to realization, and the country’s GDP growth rate hit 4.7% in the third-quarter of 2006.  Confidence is strong and infectious.

Slice of Jo’burg.

South Africa’s profile as a destination for meetings, conventions and incentive travel is poised to soar.  “The reasons for optimism,” offers Cameron Brandt, International Markets Editor for Emerging Portfolio Fund Research, “include the government’s conservative and consistent economic policy, the rapid expansion of the Black middle-class, forecasts for 10% GDP growth in China [which has] positive implications for commodity demand, and planned public infrastructure spending tied to the [2010 FIFA] World Cup.”  On the flip side, caution is encouraged because of “the expansion of household debt and lack of experience many of the new middle-class have when dealing with credit, still very high levels of unemployment, and the country’s large current account deficit.”  Visit www.southafrica.info for more insight on doing business in South Africa. Travel is about the journey not just the destination.  On our 15-hour intercontinental flight from Atlanta in Delta’s BusinessElite Class ($6,600-$7,900) the pampering began at the gate with VIP compliments in Delta’s Crown Room Club.

Blue Dot performs at Moyo.

On-board service deflects jet-lag and pleasures your senses with personalized five course gourmet dining and flavorful wines, all-leather luxury sleeper seating equipped with a state-of-the-art entertainment system, private video monitors, and a slew of comforts that make for a faultless five-star experience. Sandton, Jo’burg’s gleaming uptown district, bustles with Mercedes-Benz taxis shuttling folk to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Sandton International Convention Centre, restaurants in Nelson Mandela Square; among them is Lekgotla with its tribal chic ambiance, and a massive mall with designer boutiques like Shakur Olla and Sun Goddess, all set near our hotel, the Michelangelo Towers.  Italian heels and Swiss timepieces adorn guests who zip from tables at the lobby restaurant “8” to suites like my tech-savvy duplex ($715 per night).  The ultra-swank Cupola suite has a 360-degree view of Jo’burg, private rooftop pool, butler and security staff and commands $5,700 per night for unrivalled luxury. Considered the ‘urban heart’ of South Africa, Johannesburg is set like an axle in the center of eight provinces:  Cape Town, on the picturesque southwest coast, is famed for its lush winelands and whale watching, Cape Point, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans lock arms, and the historical site Robben Island.  The North West province is home to the super-sized extravagance of Sun City which contains four hotels, that offer family attractions, casino gaming, two 18-hole par 72 golf courses and conference facilities.  The ultimate safari adventure is in Mpumalanga in the northwest, where 10,000 elephants and prides of lions roam Kruger National Park.  My guide, Joe Motsogi, owner of JMT Tours, charted a fulfilling excursion that included shopping at Chameleon Village and an exhilarating sunset safari drive. Seasons in South Africa are distinguished by precipitation rather than severe temperature changes.  Rain or shine there are eventful attractions year-round: Durban July is an illustrious horse racing event steeped in aristocratic tradition; young and celebrated musicians rule the spotlight at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival; golf enthusiasts flock to majestic greens for the Million Dollar Golf Challenge and the Nelson Mandela Invitational Golf Challenge; and wine connoisseurs attend Winex to sample and shop for vintages from over 200 South African wineries.

Apartheid Museum.

Near downtown Johannesburg is the Apartheid Museum, a sleek, modern structure that houses a comprehensive and riveting chronicle of South Africa’s journey to democracy.  It also invokes optimism for South Africa, a country as a democracy that is only 13-years-old.  It’s a new day.  Contact South Africa Tourism to facilitate your convention, vacation and incentive travel needs.

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© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com ]

Courting Contractors

A first-time home remodel almost


becomes a costly nightmare

“Hands down I was sold on the house when I stepped onto the deck and saw the beautiful meadow and creek,” recalled Alvin Adell, M.D.  “I was sold on the setting, the house itself needed some love.”  For Adell, 46, an attending anesthesiologist, the appeal of his 3,200 square-foot Center Hall Colonial in Colts Neck, New Jersey includes being a 60-minute train ride from New York City and Atlantic City, and 35 minutes from Newark International Airport.   “I travel often, convenient access was a major selling point.”   In April 2000 Adell began financing the TLC his home needed.  His remodel project had three priorities: create the feeling of a luxe spa on a homey scale in the master bath, build-out a secondary level for the master suite (with fireplace, walk-in-closets and patio), and modernize the kitchen with a heated flooring system and open floorplan onto the dining room and deck.  “I love to grill,” shared Adell, “sometimes in the winter, so easy access to the deck is important.”

Dr. Alvin Adell’s remodeled and expanded kitchen, fitted with heated flooring and premium appliances, hosts many dinner parties and is the center attraction in his home.

“One of the best things was to work with an interior designer [Beau Boger] who knew where everything needed to go, [my] designer worked with the vision of existing furniture,” said Adell.  “I went around with my interior designer to pick the materials together.”  Adell considers his style to be traditional based with contemporary African and Asian accents.

Contractor selection.  Through referrals Adell sourced three contractors to interview, he requested references and visited one site for each contractor screened.  He “checked with the Better Business Bureau for outstanding complaints, and made a subjective assessment,” said Adell, “to see if I would be able to trust that person in my home when I’m not there.”   “One contractor was low-balling, I visited hardware stores to gauge the price of materials and knew it was impossible to do the job with his bid, he was eliminated.  Low-ballers eventually add costs or skimp.”  Adell established an account at Route 18 Lumber so his contractor “didn’t have to [shell-out] upfront money on materials and have to wait to be reimbursed,” said Adell, “and I didn’t have to worry about him overcharging me for inferior materials.  Invoices came directly to me and I qualified for acontractor’s price on materials.”

Master bath with spa comforts, including heated flooring, jacuzzi tub and multi-head shower, adds value.

Budget for surprises.  Even with layers of pre-screening you may not be exempt from costly misjudgments.  “Firing a contractor midway is one of the worst things you’ll have to worry about,” said Adell.  “It delays [project completion], contractors hate to come behind another contractor midstream to correct work.  In their mind, they know you’re vulnerable, so a $10,000 job could cost $50,000.”  In Adell’s case, he waited till the “big hole in the back of my house was sealed” then consulted his attorney to be certain he would be clear and free to fire his contractor for ‘changing design decisions, hiring substandard subcontractors, shoddy workmanship, and for being grossly behind schedule,’ though the contract lacked a timeline stipulation.  “I would find mistakes laid in concrete; [contractor removed] an oak hardwood floor that was never supposed to be replaced.”  David Jaffe,

Master suite build-out with walk-in closets, fireplace and patio, positioned over the two-car garage.

staff VP legal affairs for the National Association of Home Builders, said, “a ‘time is of the essence’ clause elevates the value the homeowner places on time, the contract can be terminated on the grounds of breach if the timeline is missed [however this can be] negated [if another clause pardons contractor] for delay due to reasons beyond his control.”  In hindsight, Adell said, “I would have found a contractor who has in-house plumbing, carpentry and electrical, which means if the general contractor actually employs those three craftspeople they have more control over their schedules, if the general contractor subs it out to individual contractors and the general contractor runs off schedule he’s at the mercy of the subcontractors.”  A full-service contractor is generally more expensive.  Research resources, project guidelines, and educational seminars are available through the National Association of Home Builders.

Adell credits his astuteness to a reading list comprised of Home Depot Home Improvement 1-2-3 (Meredith Books; $34.95), Reader’s Digest New Fix-It-Yourself Manual (Reader’s Digest Association; $35.00), and Architectural Digest.  “Share your ideas with others,” said Adell, “you never know how their input might turn out to be a brilliant contribution.”

One year beyond his projected deadline, Adell’s investment tallied a conservative $200,000—more than $50,000 over budget.  Recently, his property appraised at $1.2 million, which redeems the unsavory portion of his first home renovation.

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[  404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com ]

Savvy Sailor

Frugal comrades discover how teamwork

can get you more boat for less money

Anchoring a boat for seven months adds up to a tidy sum of money down the drain, so Jerome Abernathy didn’t idle on the idea to enter a co-ownership arrangement for his second boat.  At the 2001 Annapolis Boat Show, Abernathy, a hedge fund manager with Stonebrook Structured Products, and his friend Arnold Mintz, executive vice president of Asset Alliance Corporation, found a new Beneteau 473 worthy of their $300,000 investment.  “Arnold used to own a sail boat, one day while sailing my old yacht we hatched the idea of buying a larger vessel together,” recalled Abernathy.  “It is less expensive to own a larger boat in a partnership than to own a smaller one by yourself.”  Abernathy’s first boat [“Noe”] was a Beneteau 36cc that swallowed $9,000 per year for maintenance, insurance, and dockage fees.  In contrast, he drops $6,000 into “Victory” every six months.

BEFORE YOU BUY.  The type of waters and distances you intend to sail informs the type of boat you buy.  “Sailboats are the original hybrid vehicles,” said Abernathy.  “You have sails and (usually) a diesel engine for propulsion and electricity generation.  When sailing you rely on a bank of batteries for electricity, often, a sailboat will have solar cells or a windmill to recharge its batteries.  Sailboats are very stable, it is not unusual for a 25-foot sailboat to cross the ocean.  Power boats, [however] rely solely on an engine for propulsion and usually are not stable enough for sailing open seas, and are much more expensive to operate.”  Abernathy added, “to go cruising or to sea, you should consider a boat greater than 30-feet with a proper galley (kitchen) and head (bathroom).”

Jerome Abernathy on Victory in New York.

SAILOR 101.  Abernathy has raced from Charleston, South Carolina to Bermuda and does monthly day-sails from his homeport in Mamaroneck, New York to Newport, Rhode Island and Essex, Connecticut.  Before boarding to sail any distance it’s imperative to acquire sailor 101 knowledge.  Although Abernathy and Mintz were seasoned sailors, he said, “our dealer spent many hours teaching us the boat’s systems.”  “I highly recommend courses that follow the American Sailing Association’s curriculum [which teaches] basic sailing, navigation, weather forecasting, and emergency rescue procedures.”  Abernathy advises, “Take an ASA Basic Keelboat course, join a local sailing club to gain experience on smaller boats like the J24, and volunteer to crew on a race boat return delivery.”  He also advocates attending boat shows, vacationing on a chartered yacht with a group, and subscribing to Sail and Cruising World magazines and Practical Sailor newsletter.   As you consider upgrading your boat, Abernathy suggests keeping current on “sailing techniques, technology changes and new equipment offerings.”

ADDED VALUE.  Camaraderie and spending less time on upkeep are benefits of co-ownership to Abernathy who says having “compatible uses for the boat” was important in his decision, as was having a written agreement that clearly articulates the terms of the partnership.  “A new boat will depreciate, but not as fast as cars,” said Abernathy, “and electronic systems such as radar and GPS will likely need maintenance early on.”  After initial depreciation—depending on how well you maintain your craft, the manufacturer and model—a boat actually increases in value.  According to Abernathy, “If your boat has a galley and head, your boat loan can qualify for second-home tax treatment, which considerably lowers the cost of ownership.”   For even more savings, consider mooring your boat (tethering to an offshore anchor) for roughly $100 per month, compared to paying $300 – $690 to dock it.

© SEAN DRAKES
all reproduction rights reserved

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com ]

Inside the Fine Art Game

The market for fine art by African-Americans reached an exciting and pivotal moment in February 2007.  Swann Auction Galleries in New York City, noted for vintage photographs, prints and drawings, hosted the first sale by a major auction house devoted exclusively to African-American fine art.  Auction sales exceeded Swann’s predictions raking in $2.7 million, seventeen sales records were set, and participation was the largest seen by the auction house, with over 200 attendees.  African-American fine art is being included in major museum exhibitions, documented and discussed, and has emerged as the most actively collected art in the marketplace.  Wangechi Mutu, 39, maintains a waiting list of pre-screened buyers for her next works, and recently sold out before opening night.  Investing in fine art is an enriching pursuit, this primer can help demystify the valuation process, develop your approach to collecting, and dispel the perception that collecting fine art is for the wealthy.

Before Punk Came Funk, 2010, mixed media ink, collage, by Wangenchi Mutu.

Growing awareness grows demand.  “Black art speaks to the black experience and that is what sets it apart,” explains Eric Hanks, art instructor and owner of M. Hanks Gallery in Santa Monica, California.  “The work has to have meaning that doesn’t have to be that deep.  “Bearden [for instance] references his childhood in Pittsburgh and his grandparents who are black.”  According to Hanks, 53, “the early part of the 20th century and the latter part of the 19th century are the eras collectors and museums clamor for” because there is no more of it being made and those works fill historic and aesthetic gaps in American art collections.

“Contemporary art today is about investigation, not accepting boundaries,” says Nigel Freeman, 39, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department.  “Emma Thomas was the first African-American woman to have a retrospective at the Whitney Museum.  She was [a retired teacher] in her 60s when she achieved great fame,” he says.  “I had a 5”x8” paper piece that sold for $16,000, her large canvases command six figures.  “Recently there has been growing awareness through touring museum shows; museums are active in elevating and acquiring works,” shares Freeman.”

Art in black and white.  The Swann sale ignites a new dialogue that explores the implication that these artists’ works cannot stand on the same merit as their European counterparts.  “[Auctions] put [the work] into the marketplace,” says Franklin Sirmans, curator at The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, “but [the work] can’t be limited to only showing in a racial construct.  What’s the point?!   I don’t think any of those artists created the work for it to only be valued next to other black artists.”  “Swann has taken a very bold and significant step that other auction houses have not,” opines appraiser and art adviser Halima Taha author of Collecting African American Fine Art: Works on Paper and Canvas (Verve Editions; $50.00).

Art appraiser and author Halima Taha at NBAF.

“Sotheby’s and Christies would traditionally include African-American artists, but sporadically.  Not annually, not the same artist.  So there would be sporadic values.  Sales were lower than what the work was actually selling for, in that case auctions were doing a disservice.”  Taha, 46, asserts, “It is extremely important that these artists be included in auctions because the auction is the international marketplace, it’s not a black marketplace, not a white marketplace, not an American marketplace, it’s international.”

Gallery owner Bill Hodges highlights another conundrum when he said a Norman Lewis abstract he has priced at $135,000 would sell for $10 million if it were by Jackson Pollock.  While demand for African American fine art grows, prices are yet to catch an uptick momentum.

The Yellow Hat, oil on canvas, 1936, by Norman Lewis.

The off-the-record whisper from art aficionados is that an African-American artist with white representation stands to attain greater access and exposure, and command higher prices and fatter paychecks as a result.  But Hanks insists, “talent, connections, luck, perseverance and a thick skin” are what artists need to be able to seize the coveted attention of the Whitney, MoMa and Guggenheim.

Fine art game.  To seize an edge, seasoned collectors train an eye on portals for emerging talents such as the Kenkeleba Gallery and Museum of Contemporary Diasporan Arts in New York City, The Hammonds House Museum in Atlanta, The Southside Community Art Center in Chicago, as well as incubators such as the artist-in-residence program at The Studio Museum in Harlem.  Understanding how an emerging artist is transformed to a celebrated voice may influence your approach to buying work by an aspiring talent.  “It’s the collective activity of the artist, the dealers, the collectors, the curators, the critics and the auction houses.  Their interaction with one another enables them to become the cultural and economic arbiters of taste, together that is what propels an artist into the marketplace,” explains Taha.  “One by itself isn’t going to work.  You need dealers to contact the critics and to have relationships with auction houses and major collectors.  That’s the real art game.  [There are] a lot of incredibly talented [artists] but they’re not interacting with curators who are part of that collective activity.”  Collector Brenda Taggart Thompson remarks, “People miss [out on] some important art because [those works] are not supported by the game.” 

Morthyn Brito, 2011, oil on linen by Kehinde Wiley at Art Basel Miami 2011.


History affects value.  A well-rounded collection gives a sense of the various approaches to a particular style.  “Provenance (history of ownership) supports and can increase the value of a piece,” offers Hanks, an art adviser for distinguished actors, doctors and athletes, this document establishes authenticity and identifies previous owners, “if they are famous it will positively impact the value.”  Recently Eldzier Cortor’s Portrait of a Woman, once owned by author Ralph Ellison, fetched $110,000 at auction, it was estimated to sell for $30,000.

You Do, 1993-1994, cut paper on canvas, by Kara Walker.

“When provenance doesn’t pan out and the work seems suspicious it makes the piece seem stolen or fabricated,” shares Hanks.  Appraisers gather provenance but are not obligated to authenticate art.  They are expected to check the Art Loss Registry and the FBI’s registry of stolen works.  “The burden of duty is much greater on the person authenticating the piece than the appraiser.”

Get the right appraisal.  Yolanda and Greg Head of Stone Mountain, Georgia, have been collecting African-American abstraction since 1999, “I have my collection insured,” offers Greg, 49.  “I look at the value over time [by] looking at auctions and auction records.  He also attends the art mart at The Fine Art Fair of the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta to see what sold.  “It gives me a sense of how my art has escalated; every three to four years I have it appraised.”  Collectors must be clear about their use for an appraisal and disclose that to the appraiser, offers Taha.  Appraisals can be for insurance against loss, inventory or tax benefit when donating art to museums.  Researching the comparable economic analysis is the same for all appraisals, but the approach to mathematical calculations vary, hence, specifying intended use is essential.  An appraiser’s fee schedule ranges $150—$500 per hour depending on their expertise and resources.

Collectors on collecting.  Enthusiasts say ‘buy what you love’ because there is no fault-proof formula for what to buy and when to sell.  Yet most everyone has a faithful strategy for collecting:

Former NBA player Elliot Perry, 38, of Memphis, Tennessee invested 11 years to grow his collection by contemporary and master artists, he investigates a dealer’s reputation and cultivates a relationship with dealers intent on “helping build a collection not just move inventory.”  A good dealer “should have a feel for what you like.”  Another attractive quality is “when a dealer is willing to lose a deal [by advising] you to go elsewhere because another gallery has a better quality piece.”

Rooftops on Wabash, 1938, oil on canvas, by Eldzier Cortor.

“There is a misnomer [that] collectors are plunking down thousands of dollars all at once,” shares Head, “galleries understand they have to ‘work with you,’ the code phrase for payment plan.”  Head reads periodicals like Art in America and the International Review of African-American Art, and suggests shows like Art Basel, Art Off the Main, and Art Chicago to keep abreast of trends.

Brenda Taggart Thompson and husband Larry, of Greenwich, Connecticut, have collected since 1977.  “Books help refine your eye to see beauty in lots of places,” says Brenda, “not just where some gallery has decided it is.”  Thompson’s reference library contains African American Art and Artists by Samella Lewis (University of California Press; $70.00), St. James Guide to Black Artists by Schomburg Center for Research, Afro-American Artists: A Bio-bibliographical Directory by Theresa Cederholm, Two Centuries of Black American Art by David C. Driskell, and history books on American art and photography.

Knowing the history adds value to works and allows collectors to have cross-references when they work with art dealers.  “Attending lectures, going to museums, listening to curators talk about how [shows] are put together,” says Thompson, “are instrumental to a collector’s growth.”  Hanks adds, “look at art wherever it may be, your understanding will improve and your collection will reflect it.”

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published, edited version in Black Enterprise.

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

 

Short Stay: Casa de Campo

Casa de Campo is an extraordinary island outpost,

Sean Drakes samples the beautiful life


If I try to picture what a replica of a 16th century Mediterranean village situated on a coastal bluff in the Dominican Republic would feel like, I couldn’t have visualized Altos de Chavon in Casa de Campo.  This ultra-exclusive resort and residential community is a Caribbean destination that is part 16th century, part 21st century and passionately devoted to the arts.

The levels of luxury accommodations here aim not to be outdone.  After all, some of the richest business tycoons own palatial homes here, and both a famous Bill [Gates] and an infamous Bill [Clinton], along with a host of Hollywood highbrows, have deplaned in the private airport here.  Name-dropping isn’t part of the accepted local culture, if you want to feel welcomed.  I learned this from Angel, the resort agent I befriended and who personally arranged my VIP access.  My tour of this 7,000-acre sprawl in La Romana, which is 130 miles southeast of Santo Domingo, starts in the 16th century.

Altos de Chavon at Casa de Campo. Photo: SeanDrakes.com

Altos de Chavon is a replica of a traditional Mediterranean village, it was built on the highest point overlooking the Chavon River.  Construction of the coral block and terracotta buildings that frame narrow cobblestone walkways, began in 1976 under the stewardship of Italian artist Roberto Copa.  The final stone was laid in 1982.  Walking the site at midday feels like a Hollywood set for a movie involving a romantic tryst in Europe.  You can dine at bistros or three specialty restaurants: El Sombrero, La Piazzetta and Café del Sol.  The site houses a 5,000-seat Grecian-style amphitheatre that has hosted Dizzy Gillespie, Gloria Estefan, Julio Iglesias, Alicia Keys’ music video shoot and the Dance Theatre of Harlem.  There is a Regional Museum of Archeology that is home to a collection of pre-Columbian ritual artifacts.  And an art gallery and craft ateliers that make ceramic and silk-screened souvenirs, and The Altos de Chavon School of Design caps the effort to market Casa de Campo as an arts-friendly destination.  You should note: The School of Design offers degrees in design fields and the fine arts, and is affiliated with Parsons School of Design in New York and Paris.

The Dominican Republic, is the Spanish-speaking territory of the island of Hispaniola, a border with a treacherous history separates it from Haiti.  Puerto Rico is just 60 minutes east by plane.  In order to deliver me to the resort’s doorstep, my driver surrendered his license at a security stall that has the span and scale of an interstate toll booth.  That was the first cue to the grandeur that is a staple at Casa de Campo.

I am in a chic suite, but Casa de Campo resort offers the option to supersize your accommodation with a rental villa tastefully lathered with luxury.  Exclusive and Oceanfront Villas host up to 12 guests at roughly $840–$2,445 per night ($577–$1,345 off-season), that includes maid and butler service, breakfast prepared in your villa, a pool or whirlpool, and concierge service for sporting and dining reservations, and private airport transfers.

Private residence at Casa de Campo. Photo: SeanDrakes.com

I won’t name-drop, but I have the good fortune and pleasure of photographing two gorgeous private residences during this visit.  Both homes reside on an 18-hole golf course.  There are three here, each designed by Pete DyeTeeth of the Dog has seven holes skirting the ocean and is ranked #17 on Golf Digest’s list of top 100 courses in the world.  Links is a hilly inland course with five holes that tangle with lagoons and lakes.  The Dye Fore course is positioned 300-feet atop the bluffs of the Chavon River, it is a mesmerizing masterpiece.  Its 7,800-yard par 72 layout attracts and challenges pro golfers who shell-out $90 – $215 per person per round.

Marina at Casa de Campo. Photo: SeanDrakes.com

I grabbed lunch at Chinois at the marina fashioned after Italian portofinos.  I am passing on shopping at designer boutiques, shooting sporting clays and playing tennis (there are 13 courts).  My visit is out of season for the polo matches hosted

Cuban artist Bibi Leon (2nd from right at top) toasts guests at her home. Photo: SeanDrakes.com

November – May at the equestrian facility, which has five fields and 70 trained ponies.  Instead, I’m bound for a day trip sail to Catalina Island.

After sailing, a dinner party at the home of Cuban artist Bibi Leon is a great wrap to the day.  Walking through her elegant front door, my feast begins.  My eyes are restless, in every room, there’s original creative expression by Spanish artists to admire.  Tomorrow, I will ride Bibi’s coattail as we soak in the decadent interior design of her friends’ vacation homes, a collective that can fill two coffee table books.  This is la dolce vita, where the air always feels rare.

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  | SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

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