Sunday, April 22, 2018

Today I Am ...

Last week I wrote about people leaving Facebook so today I thought I would write about someone who is staying on and he says, “I know the risks but don’t think the Russian bots or clumsy sales pitches are likely to influence me.”  This from a journalist who spent over 30 years writing art and food criticism for The Oregonian, Portland Oregon’s newspaper for well over 150 years.

My wife, Penelope Hunter-Stiebel, met Bob Hicks in St. Petersburg, Russia when she was working on an exhibition for the Portland Art Museum in Oregon.  The Director, John Buchanan, was putting together an exhibition of works of art that had belonged to the Stroganoff family and his curator had quit on him leaving quite a mess.  From a political point of you he had an ace in the hole with Hélène de Ludinghausen the last of the Stroganoffs on his side.  He asked Penelope to take over curating the show.  Though she had refused John the first time she felt she had time then to do so as she had just accomplished the task of helping our son to get into the university of his  choice.  In spite of a great deal of struggle with some of the Russian old guard she whipped the show into shape and helped seal the deal politically as well.  Bob Hicks came along on the final trip to Russia with Penelope, the director and Development Director (Lucy Buchanan)  to finalize the contract.  Subsequently Bob did a series of in-depth stories for the Oregonian which he called, what else … “The Art of the Deal”!

Bob bills himself today as a freelance writer and editor. Shortly after joining Facebook in early 2012 and not being sure how to proceed, he had a visit from his 6 year old grandson who came up with a different cartoon for Bob to post every day. It sparked an idea and every day since April 15, tax day, of that year he has posted a work of art literally putting himself into the picture by writing as if he was a participant in the image.  He tries to pick only works of art where there will be no copyright or other legal entanglements, giving himself an extra challenge.

For instance, there is this wonderful image from last month’s selections, a gouache and watercolor representing “Harlequin and Death” of 1907 by Konstantin Somov from the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.  I had never seen the image before nor did I know of the museum.   This is what he wrote but you might see yourself differently in this image ...

FROM BOB: Today I am giving Old Bones the razz. We’ve been through this a million times. “See that young couple?” he taunts. “I’ll get them in the end. They’re mine.” “Ah,” I reply. “But I will show them love, laughter, passion, joy. You will win only the husk, once they are done.” As always, he is silent. Poor fellow. He knows nothing of life.

A while back I had put Bob in touch with Puppa Witgentstein who, having posted her images on Facebook for some time, wrote the book, “Old Masters Rock: How to Look at Art with Children” which I wrote about last fall.   A great supplement to that would be Bob’s blog within Facebook, which, by the way, is on his personal page where he feels he is actually interacting with friends who comment.

When our children were small and we took them to museums we would stand in front of a painting and ask them to tell us what they thought was going on.  It was often far more interesting than what the actual title was and far more up to date. Here is one definitely for kids, which I have picked from this last month where he gives his take on Hieronymus Bosch’s, “The Ship of Fools,” ca. 1491-1500, from the Louvre.  Your child might see it quite differently… ask her/him.

FROM BOB: Today I am carousing on the good Ship of State. It’s a luxury liner, and a place of high hilarity. We have such fun putting on shows! Wink and act angry: the crowd goes wild. To get on board, one must line the pockets of the wealthy and promise the poor to poke holes in the hull. The only way to keep the thing floating is to sink it!

If you are a Facebook member you can log on and put Bob Hicks into search and the profile photo of the blond guy is the right Bob Hicks.  You will probably have to befriend him … he doesn’t bite … and if you say you are just reacting to this Missive I am sure he will allow you to join.  Have fun going through over 2000 images or just see what painting or other work of art has been today’s choice. There will be a new one tomorrow.

Sunday, April 15, 2018


You might say I am not a pioneer in other words I am usually not the one who buys or indulges in something first, since I want others to find the issues or bugs and let me know the problems before I jump in.  I was not that interested in this new thing called Facebook (FB) when it began in 2004.   For a decade I had belonged to an art forum on Compuserve where we used our own names and met live (from China to Alaska) one hour a week.  Back in 1993 I used to say it was the only singles bar you could go to in your pajamas.  But then my associate started telling me what my son was doing and about an operation his wife was going to have.  My first reaction was why didn’t our son tell us first and then, how did my associate know this?  My associate looked at me as if I was not of this world and said, “Facebook”.  Clearly this was something I had to learn about, so I joined.

Facebook started out naturally enough with mainly young folk and slowly but surely its demographic became older.  The largest percentage today, at just under 30%, is between 25 and 34 with a total of over 2 billion who are active every month and 1.4 billion on average who log on daily.  It was not that long ago that I remember the heralding of 1 billion users!  To put this in perspective the population of the United States is 326 million with 7 billion in the world.  In the interest of full disclosure when FB users reached 1 billion I felt they can’t all be wrong, so I bought some stock.   I have not regretted it and wish I had bought more but I was not that brave!

Now, suddenly, so many have turned on Facebook.  They are upset that their information was stolen and being used for issues that they are not in favor of.  Of course, people don’t like that. You mean you put things you don’t want people to know out in a public forum and thought that only people who agreed with you would see it?  Why do you think that you rarely see doctors or lawyers participating?

I must admit I don’t like the way a foreign country might use Facebook to subvert our political system.  If it is criminal it must be prosecuted and it is up to FB to reveal criminal activity as it is for any other company.  If you don’t like the company you are in leave but don’t prevent others from finding enjoyment of even solace from it.  I have friends who have used FB to share their pain, be it from a loss of a child or loved one or getting through a dreadful illness.  If I can comfort someone through FB that is, as they say in Jewish religion, a Mitzvah, a good deed or even a commandment.

Aside from keeping up with what my children are doing.  I use Facebook to find and keep in touch with colleagues.  Also, my weekly blog is posted there which helps me to connect with a broader audience.

I no longer live in the city so I have a post box at the top of my driveway that has no lock on it. Mail gets stolen sometimes but I don’t think I plan to resign from the postal service because of third party malfeasance.  The congress could insist that the Post Office deliver all mail against a signature, or any other regulation they think appropriate, but that is not going to happen. Maybe after the hearings where CEO Mark Zuckerberg is testifying there will be some regulation of FB but it doesn’t make much sense to me to punish ourselves ...

I am genuinely confused.  We have an open source of information where we all pour out personal thoughts and photographs for the benefit of all our friends and sometimes to everyone out there, but we want that information to be protected from those we don’t like?

Would you send out your bank information on FB?   What I don’t understand is why is anybody who is concerned about their information being private using FB at all, or not being more discreet about what they share.

If Congress gets its way and puts a bunch of laws and regulations in regarding disclosure, a huge number of lawyers will spend months if not years writing incomprehensible paragraphs in such fine print that even those who might understand cannot read it. Then we will be asked  to click on the word “agree”.  Will it make a difference?  Will you click on it?

Sunday, April 8, 2018

I Can Hear Clearly Now

Sound -- This is another in my series going back stage at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe.  If you put the word ‘Lensic’ in the small box at the top left of this page you will find the others.

I am always amazed at how fascinating other people’s lives are and how their careers are so much more complicated than they seem.  I had the opportunity recently to spend some time with Alex Reiser, Audio Supervisor and Sound Engineer at the Lensic and ask about what goes into the job of helping everyone hear and, at my age level, understand what is going on, on stage.

Alex grew up in Boston and went to Middlebury College in Vermont. I always thought of Middlebury as a school for languages but Alex graduated with a degree in Film and Media/Music and started as a musician playing bass.  I have always felt sorry for those who had to carry that instrument around particularly if they were in the New York subway! As in most professions you learn a lot at school but you learn how to succeed by on the job training.

The Lensic is a relatively small theater with 821 seats but it has 64 speakers in the hall, both in plain sight and hidden in the walls.  There are also a varying number of microphones, depending upon the performance, to pick up the sound.  Alex deals with three  types of shows.  The Lensic has actors, singers and musicians on the stage.  A film has it own sound system. Then there is an acoustic shell that can be set up to surround an orchestra to create a richer sound using its 18 microphones with 64 speakers placed around the theater.

You have probably seen a large soundboard at the back of a theatre with buttons and sliding levers, which control the level and way each sound comes from the stage.  In the audience we take hearing pretty much for granted and figure that it all comes from the two large speakers  on each side of the stage. In reality they are in the front, back and in the walls of the theatre. broadcasting from all the microphones scattered around, which for a band, would number 40. Alex explained that the soundboard he controls from his removable station in the last row of seating has 56 channels so he can mix the input from 56 different microphones.

Before a show they do a technical rehearsal or sound check so that Alex can be sure all is working as it should and the performer(s) can also hear how they will sound in this  particular house and adjust accordingly.

Some performers bring their own soundboard and sound engineer.  In extreme cases a performer may even bring their own sound system so they get just the result they want.

A point of reference for me was a concert we had heard at the Lensic that week with Arlo Guthrie, his daughter Sara Lee, his son, Abe and their friend Terry Hall. The Guthries have travelled with the same sound person for years. I asked why they needed two  soundboards and learned that  the second one goes on the stage where a Monitor Engineer is listening to what each of the band participants is hearing.  I did not realize that each performer could hear his or her own voice and one or more instruments in the band through earphones or a wedge shaped speaker at their feet.   So even though the percussion was muffled to the audience and performers by a plexi glass shield around the percussionist, he could still hear what the rest of the band was playing through headphones.

Of course, a great deal depends on where you are sitting in the audience.  Alex explained that the best seats in the Lensic for getting the full effect of his efforts is about two thirds of the way back in the center of the orchestra.  If you are under the balcony you will lose some of the higher end.  Seeing, of course, is another matter that goes into the equation of selecting your preferred seat.

For the hard of hearing an assisted listening system of receivers and headphones can be picked up in the lobby Conceptually it is extremely simple .  If you use the device Alex can send the same sound feed that the rest of the audience is getting to your headphones through radio waves.

Being responsible for the way an audience hears is an awesome task because that will be the first thing that people will complain about. We all hear differently, and, as we get older, the inevitable hearing loss starts with higher frequencies. Thanks to Alex my understanding of the experience of sound in a theater has grown immensely.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A View from the Other Side

When we went to Los Angeles a short while ago my son, the actor, wanted to take us to a live performance of “Real Time with Bill Maher”.  I used to love Maher’s work but when he came to Santa Fe for a live show we were rather disappointed.  Hunter, however, had gone to great lengths for us: when there was no response to his application for tickets he found the person in charge of seating and got us, not only seats, but a parking space in the CBS Studio lot where Real Time originates-- so that was where we were going.  Unfortunately, no photographic evidence that we were there because they took our phones away as we walked into the building!

I found that a show that did not seem exciting on the tube was quite different in real life.  We got in a bit early and I asked to use the facilities and found I had to be escorted.  It made sense when I realized we were back stage where who knows what havoc could be caused, not to mention that I would have needed a road map and thrown breadcrumbs to find my way back to my seat!

The chief writer came on stage to warm up the audience.  Basically he told us the format of the show, trying to make some lame jokes in between.  Then he showed us a video of clips from some of Maher’s previous shows.  Everyone enjoyed it and laughed a lot, getting in the mood.  Finally, Maher himself came out to do a monologue, up close and personal.

All the while there were three cameras in place on the right, left and center of the stage and one camera on a boom that went back and forth from one side to the other, sometimes pointing towards the audience.  The director must have nerves of steel to get it right selecting the best image to broadcast.  One does realize rather quickly, however, that although the show is televised live, there is a tight format and everything has been rehearsed to some degree.  All the guests know the topics that will be discussed, even if not exactly what will be said.

After Maher’s stand up routine, he will sit down with his guest star. Then a desk will slide up to the front of the stage with his panel and he adds another guest before the panel disburses. After that comes his “New Rules” and a final commentary.On the show we attended comedian Kathy Griffin was Maher’s special guest.

Comedians always have to push the borders of good taste, sometimes too far and must pull back.  If you remember that is how we lost Senator Al Franken, mostly because of an obviously staged photo of Franken putting his hands on a woman’s breasts. Kathy Griffin pushed even further when she posted a photo of herself holding a fake severed head resembling Donald Trump.  As much as I understand the sentiment I have to agree, that goes too far.  It seems, however, that the current administration reacted in a similar extreme and Bill Maher was the only one who was willing to defend her publicly.  Rather than reading about that interview where she talks about how she was virtually black balled, McCarthy style, by Jeff Sessions and put on a no fly list even with Interpol, so she would be detained and questioned in airports internationally, listen for yourselves. The entire interview is about 10 minutes long.

The panel included Erick Erickson, an Evangelical conservative blogger and radio host in Atlanta; Ana Navarro, Nicaraguan-born Republican Strategist with various news outlets including CNN, ABC and Telemundo; Trae Crowder, a comedian; and, near the end of the panel discussion; Bari Weiss from the NY Times adding some additional gravitas.  It is a little like a great dinner party where the host, Bill Maher, leads the conversation and is a major contributor so that the result is a serious but amusing conversation among friends.

I was about to say it was the usual liberal view one hears except Erick Erickson was far from right wing extremist nor was Bill Maher overly liberal.  There was a real balance of opinion, making for an enjoyable show and leaving one with something to think about.

Maher closes with his sometimes insightful, sometimes silly, “New Rules” and a commentary.  The one we heard was about the Second  Amendment being an amendment not a commandment!

I found the evening a fascinating choreographed experience, which I was happy to be part of, as, clearly, was the rest of his audience.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Forewarned is Forearmed Redux

This week I was going to post a Missive on a comedic experience but after listening to the shenanigans in the administration lately I have decided to repost a Missive from November, 2016, with a couple of modifications.  Comedy can wait another week!

Unfortunately, not only has nothing changed since then things have actually gotten worse.  The reason for the original post was simple: my parents had to leave Germany right after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor in 1933 and my father was immediately thrown out of his University .  There was no war, no proven violence, yet, but the country that was suffering from their loss in the first world war had democratically elected the party of a crazed despot in the making.

Then I was sent an article about a California teacher who was suspended for comparing Trump to Hitler in his 9th grade class. 

He was a history teacher and holocaust scholar.

I have been speaking about this to friends for some time.  I was taught by my father that, “It can happen here, it can happen anywhere”.  Now we have seen a beginning that we may not believe or wish to believe and pray cannot happen but…   forewarned is forearmed!

Nate Beeler, Washington Examiner

No question Germany lost World War I and was under the punitive yolk of the Versailles Treaty.  Article 231 of the Treaty forced Germany to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations to certain countries that had formed the Entente Alliance.  In 1921 the total cost of these reparations was assessed at 132 billion Marks roughly US $31.4 billion.  Not only couldn’t Germany afford it they found it a national humiliation.

Then came the hyperinflation whereby there were 90 German marks to the dollar at the beginning of 1921 and by the end of 1923 there were 4.2 trillion German marks to the dollar, a staggering figure.   It finally normalized with a new finance minister in November of that year. There were some high times in Germany for a short while and then there was the Depression by the end of the decade!

The reaction from the people in Germany was not dissimilar to the disenfranchisement that people felt in the U.S. after 2008/2009 Great Recession.  In the people’s opinion obviously their government had forsaken them and left them in a continuous state of suffering, no jobs or financial stability.   Along came a strong man who was charismatic and promised to make Germany great again.

“Early on, Hitler had a central insight: ”All epoch-making revolutionary events have been produced not by the written but by the spoken word.” He concentrated on an inflammatory speaking style flashing with dramatic gestures and catch phrases: ”Germany, awake!”  Have you heard this sentiment before when it comes to immigrants from certain countries or ethnicities?  When the Chinese President Xi won the right to a life time term, Mr. Trump not only congratulated him but said, “maybe we’ll give that a shot here”!  Of course, it was a joke or was it?

There were warnings in the New York Times as well on November 20, 1922 but with this coda.  ”But several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused …”

From, This Day in History, January 30, 1933:  “The year 1932 had seen Hitler’s meteoric rise to prominence in Germany, spurred largely by the German people’s frustration with dismal economic conditions and the still-festering wounds inflicted by defeat in the Great War and the harsh peace terms of the Versailles treaty. A charismatic speaker, Hitler channeled popular discontent with the post-war Weimar government into support for his fledgling Nazi party (formerly the German Worker’s Party). In an election held in July 1932, the Nazis won 230 governmental seats”


No, I do not think that Donald Trump is Hitler but he has released a culture of hate against, Muslims, Blacks and Jews, which truly scares me on a personal level.  We have heard more moderate language to a degree but can he put the genie back in the bottle?   It does not seem like he wants to with ever escalating rhetoric and actions.

My good friend a lawyer and expert on Constitutional law originally believed our Constitution and division of powers would protect us and I so wanted to believe this was correct.  This past week, however, he sent me an article from the New York Times Book Review section called “Can Donald Trump Be Impeached” by Andrew Sullivan from March 12, 2018.  Sullivan writes, “The founders knew that without a virtuous citizenry, the Constitution was a mere piece of paper and, in Madison’s words, “no theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure.” Franklin was blunter in forecasting the moment we are now in: He believed that the American experiment in self-government “can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” You can impeach a president, but you can’t, alas, impeach the people. They voted for the kind of monarchy the American republic was designed, above all else, to resist; and they have gotten one.”

Here is a link to the full article. 

The 3 cartoons I posted in this blog you might have laughed at once but that might be a big mistake today.  I do hope that I will not feel that I have to post this Missive again and that the Congress will think more about the county and less about the next election cycle.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Painted in Mexico 1700-1790: Pinxit Mexici

“Painted in Mexico 1700-1790” is the name of an exhibition I saw a week before it closed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).  It was a six-year undertaking by the co-curators ILona Katzew, curator and department head at LACMA, Jaime Cuadriello and Paula Mues Ortis of Mexico City and Luisa Elena Alcalá of Madrid. The curators toured Mexico in search of paintings never before recorded that told a piece of art history about which little was known.

By the 16th century artists from Spain were already coming to the New World either to decorate the new churches or complete artistic commissions.  Some formed workshops, which lasted generations. By the 17th century there were artists born in New Spain who had no experience in the Old Country but were informed by a combination of paintings and prints by their forbearers and the world they knew.  This exhibition shows that by the 18th century the Mexican artists developed their own styles.

The exhibition begins with a large painting, “Apotheosis of the Eucharist”, 1723 by Juan Rodriguez Juárez 1675-1728 commissioned for the newly established convent of Corpus Christi in Mexico City.

Nearby are two paintings attributed to Nicolás Enriquez (1704-c.1790).  One is the Interior of the Church of Corpus Christi with a view of the main altar where you can see the Juan Rodriguez Juárez altarpiece which is my previous illustration.

The second image is of the Alameda Park and Convent in Mexico City where we were a few months ago and I wrote about.  These two paintings were lent to the exhibition from the Royal Palace in Madrid as they were commissioned and sent to the King of Spain to show the progress already made in New Spain and to garner continued support for these ventures.

Like many other exhibitions this one is divided into themes, such as Great Masters, Master Story Tellers, Noble Pursuits and a number of others.  Due to a rather disjointed installation it was difficult to follow these themes but it did not detract from the enjoyment of the exhibition and the feeling of discovery.

As I recently wrote about the Virgin of Guadalupe I will illustrate “Allegory of the Patronage of the Virgin of Guadalupe over New Spain,” by an unknown artist, dated 1786, one of a number of depictions in the exhibition.  It was lent by a private collector in Mexico City and is a devotional picture set in an especially lavish silver frame.

The influence Europe still had on the New World is evident in a large painted folding screen, known as a biombo, with Fête Galante and Musicians, attributed to Miguel Cabrera (1715-1768), ca. 1760.  Except for the Spanish costumes it looks like it could have been imported directly from France and and the composition has been traced to a French print.  This piece from a private collection has been on loan to Fomento Cultural Banamex, A.C., the non-profit branch of the National Bank of Mexico (Banamex) located in Mexico City.  It co-organized the exhibition with LACMA and was its first venue.

Though very difficult to decide, I will end with what is, at the moment, my favorite picture in the show.  It is by Nicolás Correa (1657 - ca.1708), “Procession of Saint Rosalia of Palermo”, 1708, from another private collector in Mexico City.  The scene evokes the miracle during the plague that struck Palermo in 1625.  I love paintings where every time you look at them, with fresh eyes, you make a new discovery; here the individual figures in the crowd.

You will have another opportunity to see the exhibition, which is heading now to the Metropolitan Museum in New York where it will open on April 24 and remain until July 22.  If I end up seeing it again I may write with a new view!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Obama Portraits

The first time I saw images of the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery I was surprised, maybe even a little shocked… but that was probably the way some people felt when we elected our first Black President, even those who desperately wanted him to win.  So why not make the portraits different as well?

Then I remembered where Barack Obama took his wife on their first date, The Art Institute of Chicago.  I remembered that with particular fondness because finally there was at least one politician who cared about the Arts … how very rare. No wonder they had their favorite artists.

Why do so few people, except school groups, go to the National Portrait Gallery? Because the portraits are usually extremely stodgy and boring.  Here you can see other Presidential portraits, . They are not very exciting. There are small differences between them but not major ones with two notable exceptions when Elaine de Kooning painted JFK and Chuck Close did Bill Clinton.

The artists the Obamas requested to do their portraits are, not surprisingly, also African American.   Kehinde Wiley, who painted the President, and and Amy Sherald who painted the First Lady are not strangers to the politics of race and would want to do something different that would stand out for their sake as well as their sitters.  Even in the best of all possible worlds, when all visitors are “color blind”, these portraits would stand out as the First Black President and his First Lady.

The President is set against greenery, and according to the New York Times the flowers have symbolic meaning for him.  The African blue lilies represent Kenya, his father’s birthplace; jasmine represents Hawaii where he was born; Chrysanthemums are the official flower of Chicago where he first got into politics and where he met Michelle.  Some said that Obama seemed too aloof as President, always the academic.  While that was never my feeling, here you see him as a contemplative individual, always taking his decisions very carefully in spite of the many frustrations!

 The Times describes Amy Sherald’s take on Michelle Obama as emphasizing an “element of couturial spectacle and rock-solid cool”.  I do understand these aspects but also the seriousness with which Michelle saw her role in the White House.  Not trying to do her husband’s job but doing something just as important speaking for the young, as far as education and health are concerned.  I have hardly any interest in haute couture and though I am supposed to have heard of Michelle’s dress designer Michelle Smith, I have not.  I can note, however, that this dress has style and most importantly to me is that it is different but tasteful and distinguished.

I can also perfectly understand why a little girl could be mesmerized by Michelle’s portrait.  Not sure that a young child would think, “Oh, this is a woman who was the first Black First Lady”.  I think that the monochromatic effect of the work makes it all the more powerful, as the First Lady was in her own way.  Here is the photo of two-year-old Parker Curry, taken by another museum visitor Ben Hines.

I don’t think that the Obamas had in mind what their portraits would do for the National Portrait Gallery but attendance at the museum has been up 300%.  I doubt that any other Presidential portraits inspired that kind of attendance  when they were unveiled.  How refreshing mixing politics and art with the emphasis on the latter while serving the former!