Sunday, August 18, 2019

Mayor Pete


I read Elizabeth Warren’s book and that of Pete Buttigieg and even though they are both worth reading the latter is the better written, softer in tone and easier to digest.

When I heard that Mayor Pete was going to be in Santa Fe, I decided to do something I don’t believe I have ever done before:  I signed us up for his local fund raiser.  I did not pay enough to have the privilege of having a photo with Mayor Pete but just enough to attend a brunch with him!  Another lesson of American politics, the almighty dollar.  As a British citizen who recently moved to this country once said, “You don’t have elections in this country you have auctions.”  Sad but true.

Two days before the event we were emailed directions a to the hosts’ estate, happily just 2 minutes from our home (which is in a more modest setting).   I was encouraged to see the large garden crowded with more than 150 people. From what I gathered from our Mayor, Alan Webber, who was also at the earlier, higher end event, it too was well attended.  In fact, they announced that they raised over $100,000, which for our small town, is amazing.


As we waited for Mayor Pete small bites of healthful food were passed, but this was not a sit-down brunch!  People chatted with old friends and people who had just met started conversations.  We had an interesting talk with a vintner, who had just moved to Santa Fe from Portland, Oregon with his wife, a retired judge.

I wondered why Mayor Pete would come to our small and Democratic town.  Turns out his parents met when they were both teaching at New Mexico State, and his mother, who was brought up in Santa Fe, is a regular visitor.  Mayor Pete’s husband, Chasten, came here with him.  I wanted to speak with him since his home town is Traverse City, Michigan where my son, Dan, lives with his family.  Traverse City is known as the “Cherry Capital of the World”.  When I had the chance to chat with to Chasten after Mayor Pete had spoken, I mentioned “The Cherry Republic” a Traverse City shop there that sells everything cherry.  We visit to sample its products on every trip and often get gifts from there. Chasten smiled and said, “I worked there”.   A split second of bonding!


“It’s easy to make a combination look difficult but it’s difficult to make something hard look easy, and that is the goal.” Those were words of New York City Ballet’s Daniel Ulbricht speaking before a performance of his “Stars of American Ballet” touring troupe. Mayor Pete can do it. Buttigieg was in Nevada the day before he came to Santa Fe. I cannot imagine going from one event after the other giving a similar speech at each and making it sound fresh and natural. Even, what I assume was a stump speech, sounded fresh and genuine. He talked about bringing the country together and that it was not right that while our gross national product goes up, life expectancy goes down.  Of course, he also spoke of gay marriage where he said, people had a right to choose, rather than be told by a county clerk whom one can and can’t marry.   Here is a brief clip and this was all he had to say on the subject of our current president, whose name was never mentioned.


Time was left for questions and our new found-friend, the vintner, said he had been an independent voter for 20 years and would Mayor Pete, if elected, be willing to hire Condoleezza Rice or Nikki Haley.  Now, this, was the most impressive moment for me.  Buttigieg did not say a word for over 30 seconds looking down with his hand on his chin, clearly thinking.  Then he said, “I have Republicans in my administration in South Bend and they are excellent, but I don’t think I would hire anyone who was involved in decision-making in the Iraq war.“ Personally, I like someone who thinks before he or she speaks, then gives a considered opinion.  Maybe I should refer to Mayor Pete from now on as “The thinking man’s candidate”!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Luciano Pavarotti: The Movie


I have written little on live theater over the last decade and even less about film but sometimes I cannot resist!  Recently, we went to see the movie “Pavarotti”.  I was dubious about seeing it since I believed it was all about his voice and doubted that a movie theatre would have the best sound equipment. Then we, serendipitously, sat next to a couple at the Lensic Theater and, unrequested, they started raving about the film and they had no problem with the sound.  When this “review” was confirmed by a friend we decided to go. 

Miracle of all miracles my wife and I agreed, what a wonderful film it was. Bottom line it is a documentary directed by Ron Howard (and he may have had a heavy hand in the editing) which was superb.  

Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007) was born in Modena, Italy where he always returned in later years for family and to perform. Ron Howard used the background of Modena together with stills from the family album to tell the story of the childhood of the future superstar.


His father was a carpenter but sang in the church choir and was said to be an accomplished tenor. When he was old enough, Luciano joined him in the choir.  His mother was a teacher and his family convinced him to follow in her footsteps.  So, he did teach for a while. He could not resist his calling, however, and his opera debut came in 1961 at the Teatro Reggio Emilia.  In 1963 he made his International debut at the Royal Opera House in London as Rodolfo in Puccini’s “La Boheme” and quickly added all the major opera houses of Europe including the famed La Scala in Milan.

I remember in the early 1970’s when he sang with Joan Sutherland at the Metropolitan Opera.  In those days the singers did not have to be actors as well which we all expect today.  It was enough for them to stand at the front of the stage and belt out an aria.  But Pavarotti and Sutherland never belted anything out, they had the most lyrical voices one can imagine.  

In addition to his on stage charisma Pavarotti had this captivating personal style. The film speaks of his friendship with Princess Diana.  Here is a clip:

I had a friend and client, Nelson Shanks, who was a portrait painter and did a number of portraits of Pavarotti. He also did one of Lady Di when he was working for a summer in the studio of John Singer Sargent in London. I wonder whether Pavarotti introduced them. Here is an image of Nelson and Pavarotti with the portrait.


Everyone compares Enrico Caruso, the legendary tenor from the early 20th century with Pavarotti with neither coming out on top.  In fact, when I looked up the former on line I saw arias listed for both of them on the same page.  It took half a century to find a comparable, voice demonstrating how rare a tenor like this is.

The documentary includes a clip of Pavarotti at the Met singing “Ah mes Amis ... Pour mon âme” from Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment” which requires eight high C’s one of the most difficult feats for a tenor.  When Pavarotti is asked, if he is sure he can do it when he goes on stage, he says matter of factly, “No”.  Here is a recording of his 1972 Met performance that was a career breakthrough. 


Pavarotti reached the summit of his popularity with the series of Three Tenors concerts with José Carreras and Placido Domingo.  Their first performance at the World Cup Finals in 1990 was at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. (This was where, as a child, I saw my first full opera. It was Aida and I will never forget the production  with live animals on the stage. But I digress. ) 

In the film Carrera recounts that in 1987 he was diagnosed with leukemia.  After going through a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy he made a full recovery.  He says that during that time he was thinking about a concert he could do in order to make a comeback and the Three Tenors was the perfect vehicle.  The original performance was such a success that it was repeated in many other venues.  We managed to watch on our television, which was exciting enough but in person it would have been even more exciting, except in an outdoor setting sitting among such a crowd the sound might not have been as good!

After footage of the artist’s final years and funeral Ron Howard closes his movie with the aria “Nessun dorma” from Turandot sung by Pavarotti in his prime.


Sunday, August 4, 2019

Museum Protests


There is always protest, particularly in a free society.  There are different points of view and, if it affects your personal world, you are apt to take sides.  You may have heard of protest art. Since the 19th century artists have used their media to express themselves in ways that countered the art establishment. In Nazi Germany this was labelled “Degenerate Art”. Then there is art expressing direct political protest like the Mexican popular prints of the 1930’s. What I am thinking of is a more recent phenomenon, --- Artist-led protests against museums on the basis of the institutions’ supporters.   

Once upon a time there were only private museums opened by the royalty or aristocracy of a country.  There could be no protest there.  After all it was an honor to be allowed to see what the Elector of Saxony or the Queen of England collected.  The Royal collections of the latter can still be seen in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace.

Today, in this country, we have both government and private museums. Even the  museums are run by a boards of trustees who have the power of the purse. The concept of art being free of the purse is preposterous.  As romantic as it is to think of the “starving artist” they need to eat too.  Michelangelo had to be paid to lie on his back for months on end painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling!

To keep the doors of the museum open you have to pay for the building maintenance, guards, art handlers, curators and the director, not to mention the millions it can cost to put on major museum shows, particularly if you are borrowing works of art from all over the world. So where is the money to come from if not foundations, corporations and wealthy individuals?

It is not always the nicest people who have made a fortune.  I am sure you can think of a bunch of very wealthy people you don’t care for and fewer that you do like by reputation or in person. Some of the more unpleasant millionaires or billionaires may wish to use donations to the arts as a way of making amends to society, or maybe they just like art, or maybe they wish to influence the direction of the museum’s activities towards their own field of collecting. Their individual influence will depend on the size of the board and the size of their contribution. The story goes that when the Museum of Modern Art was looking for an architect to build a new wing on the museum one trustee took all the others on his plane to see an architect’s work and on the flight the trustees challenged each other to pledge more and more for the project.

Starting in the early 1990’s artists led protests against museums around the country, including the Metropolitan Museum, which was accepting funds from Philip Morris for their exhibitions.  How could a public institution help promote something so foul as smoking?  Lately protesters have demanded the Sackler name be removed from museums whose family members have supported the arts since long before the invention of the opioids their pharmaceutical company promoted. Even the Louvre in Paris has taken the Sackler name off its walls. Most recently it happened at the Whitney Museum that a trustee was hounded off the board because his company made the tear gas used on immigrants at the Mexican border.



In London there is another bête noire, British Petroleum.  It started at London’s National Portrait Gallery but on the same page as one of the articles about the protest there is a picture of the winner of the BP prize for art which a friend of mine, won years ago and she did not complain!  BP protests have now moved to the British Museum but so far the Museum is standing firm.



I don’t like the politics of the Koch Brothers who paid for the plaza outside the Metropolitan Museum, but I can still enjoy the fountains and we can debate whether you like their style or not.  Is it better to have fountains outside the museum or a Leonardo exhibition inside the museum or have neither?  Many may  disagree with me, but I believe beggars can’t be choosers.

I am not suggesting investing in companies where we don’t approve of the products or their use, but if some of those who have profited from these enterprises want to use their money for public benefit through arts institutions, is it excessive righteousness when  activist artists demand it be refused?

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Alphonse Mucha


The artist Alfonse Maria Mucha (1860-1939) was born in the town of Ivanicice, in what was then Moravia and now the Czech Republic, and died in Prague. It is however the commercial graphic work he did in Paris at the turn of the century for which he is best known.  His depictions of women with flowing hair and robes have become synonymous with the Art Nouveau style which he is given credit for popularizing.  Curiously, though we collected Art Nouveau and furnished our New York home with it, the only Muchas we had, were reproductions on coasters!

Currently there seems to be another in the series of revivals of interest in the artist, this one promoted by the Mucha Museum and Foundation in Prague. It has organized a new show “Timeless Mucha - Mucha to Manga: The Magic of Line” that began its tour of Japan this month.  It comprises about 250 works, concentrating on his graphic work.  It also explores how Mucha’s work influenced artists in the 1960’s and 1970’s, particularly those interested in psychedelic art.  In addition to his posters, drawings, book illustrations and designs, it includes Japanese prints from Mucha’s personal art collection and interpretations of his work in fin-de-siècle Japan. 

New York’s newest museum,  called the The Poster House opened last month with “Alphonse Mucha: Art Nouveau / Nouvelle Femme”.  The show  focuses on his portrayal of women as bold and independent, whether rolling a cigarette or riding a bicyle. Another Mucha exhibition called, “Alphonse Mucha - Art Nouveau & Utopia showing 178 important works from the Mucha Trust Collection is at the Pearl Art Museum in Shanghai. The 80th anniversary of the artist’s death, seems as good an excuse as any for arranging an exhibition.


Mucha is the only visual artist I have ever heard of who worked his way through continuing education by his singing.  He was certainly multi-dimensional, a painter, illustrator and graphic artist.  He worked at decorative painting jobs in Moravia, mostly painting theatrical scenery, then in 1879 moved to Vienna to work for a leading Viennese theatrical design company, while informally furthering his artistic education. In 1887 he went to Paris where he produced  magazine and advertising illustrations in order to continue his study of painting  at the Académie Julian and Académie Colarossi.

The Moravian Teacher’s Choir

Serendipitously, around Christmas time in 1894 he stopped by a print shop where they had a sudden need for a poster of Sarah Bernhardt in a new play. Impulsively, he said he could do it within their 2-week window.  The poster created a sensation with the public when it appeared on the streets of Paris on New Year’s Day, 1895. Bernhardt was so impressed that she entered into a 6-year contract with the artist.  Hence the plethora of posters of her that Mucha created.  Here is an image of the original poster and one from 1896.



Before the time of visual broadcasting, i.e. television and the internet, posters were a new way for an artist to get public attention.  But, like so many artists, Mucha did not wish to be pigeonholed so he did not want to be associated with a movement. He denied any French influence and that of colleagues who were adopting the Art Nouveau style.  [This reminds me of Georgia O’Keeffe’s claim  that she was not influenced by photography, though she was married to the foremost photographer of her day, Alfred Stieglitz, for over 20 years!]

Mucha felt he created his art for higher purposes and promoting the art of his country of birth. For the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris he decorated the Bosnia and Herzegovina pavilions and assisted in the Austrian one.  The work consisted of a series of monumental paintings of the history of Slavic people. He titled it “The Slave Epic” and considered it his masterpiece. 

It is, however, Mucha’s graphic style that remains instantly recognizable today and the importance of his role in the history of modern advertising is undeniable.  

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Collecting Bits & Pieces


I love it when I start writing about a subject and then look on line and find I am not the only one thinking along these lines. When it turns out to be the Metropolitan Museum, I am positively proud!

In this case after I picked my title and began writing and then looked up collecting fragments and wouldn’t you know it there were several entries for books in German which I decided I would not bother acquiring and then the headline: “The Dietrich von Bothmer Fragment Collection.”  Of course, it helped get my attention that I knew this famous art historian, curator and  head of the Department of Greek & Roman at the Met.  He came to the Met a couple of years after I was born and retired in 1990.

Dietrich, of course, acquired the important pieces for the museum but ,since Greek vases was the area of art he was most passionate about, he began to collect for himself broken pieces about the time he began to teach. I am sure he brought some of that collection into his classes before taking his students for a tour of the Met’s collection.  Dietrich passed away in 2009 and bequeathed his personal collection to the Met, which for all we know was a deal he made with the director of the Met when he told them he wanted to collect privately in his professional field, something that  was later frowned upon.

Aside from the headline grabbing auction records where people more interested in status than art are buying, there still are plenty of people who have the desire to collect art from various cultures in the old-fashioned way, because they love it.

So why do people collect fragments or even an unfinished drawing.  One looks for areas of art that one can afford, and it may just be part of a whole.  A small sketch might just be the first thoughts of an artist, maybe a record of someone on the street which the artist will use later in a painting.  With sculpture, you might think an entire figure was out of reach but owning a fragment can be something satisfying and part of history.

I started to think of some pieces that we own which are remnants of a bygone era, both historically and for our life time.  In New York, one of my fields as a dealer was  in the European decorative arts of the 17th and 18th century. Most of that was sold because it was part of gallery inventory but I felt we had to keep some pieces so we would not totally lose our past to the world of the Southwest which has brought us to collecting Native American art.

Who wants to throw away a thing of beauty?  Here is a Meissen Porcelain handle with a silver letter opener of later date.  The handle would have originally been for a knife or fork. When the blade or tines were no longer usable someone refitted the handle for a new use rather than throw it away. This particular handle dates around 1740 and is painted with Meissen’s well known “Flying Dog” pattern adapted from the Japanese Kakiemon style.


Meissen, near Dresden, Germany was the first Western factory to produce true hard paste porcelain.  In 2012 a small early Meissen porcelain tea service came up at Bonham’s auction house.  In a sense it was a fragment because it was missing its most important piece, the teapot!  Still at least a couple of people got excited enough about it to shoot the price up to $760,000!

We on the other hand, own just one lonely saucer attributed to one of Meissen’s greatest artists, Christian Friedrich Herold.  He worked at the factory for half a century and when he started out there in 1725, he painted Chinoiserie subjects on the factory’s wares. On the bottom of the dish is a large number 17 in gold which was the gilder’s mark.  Placing gold leaf on porcelain was a sub specialty not done by the painter.



Take a look at this pair of German 17th century lions.  They clearly belonged together but were not just decoration. There is a small piece of gilt bronze on top that looks attached and not molded with the rest.  Turn it over and you find that a screw is holding this to the Lion’s back.  Without this top they are flat and clearly something was on top of them.  Since they are too small to hold a cupboard or chest of drawers, they probably propped up a small cabinet or, more likely a clock.  The clock might have stopped working and the owner had no more use for it, so they threw it out and an industrious person preserved the feet and turned It into a decoration which we enjoy every day.



Bits and pieces, or rather fragments can provide the acquirer with great personal pleasure.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Judy Tuwaletstiwa: The Dream Life of Objects


We met Judy Tuwaletstiwa at a pig roast!  Our friends from the Hopi Reservation took us along to a birthday party of a Hopi friend of theirs outside of Santa Fe. For this occasion, the entire pig was roasted… delicious and enough for all. Their friend turned out to be married to an extremely dynamic artist, Judy Tuwaletstiwa. 

Until September 15 the Center for Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Santa Fe has an exhibition called, “Judy Tuwaletstiwa: The Dream Life of Objects”. Judy is a very intellectual artist with a degree in English Literature from the University of California at Berkeley and a Masters in the same field from Harvard. When I was speaking to the young artist behind the gallery reception desk he said  you need to “feel”  this show as much as observe it.  If you give it a chance it will speak to you.

My thesis has always been that you should walk through any exhibition and then if you wish to dig deeper read the labels, take the audio guide, if it exists, and, if you are really serious, buy the catalog… and then read it!

In this show, however, I was told that Judy wished the visitor to see the 9-minute film first and then see the show.  Unfortunately, too much light poured into the room when I was there and the sound too low for my old ears, but I had watched the 3-minute version on line which I will share with you here: https://vimeo.com/335994167 

Judy speaks of language and how materials speak to her.  She tells us that the first language we hear is our mother’s heart beat before we are born.  The second language is our sense of touch.  She is shown touching a rock which she tells us holds history.  It made me think of an infant of touching its mother’s breast or clutching a rattle, that is how learning begins.

Judy had no formal art training, but allowed her materials to speak to her.  She speaks of working with the fragile medium of glass and weaving at the loom which the layman might find tedious, but it is there, she said, that she learned patience.

This brought two experiences to mind.  When my wife, Penelope, was a curator at the Metropolitan Museum she gave a lecture once in conjunction with a Corning show called “New Glass” at the Met.  She did not allow anyone to sit in the front 3 rows because she began the lecture by smashing a glass on the side of the lectern … yes glass breaks! 

The second was a personal experience.  The only art I was ever half way good at was photography, in the days when one could bulk load one’s own film and process it in one’s bathroom.  My enlarger and chemical trays were all on a board over my bathtub and I stayed up half the night working.  One certainly had to be patient getting the image that one wanted out of the negative.

Judy is not Native but Jewish. She was born and grew up in East Los Angeles, which she said was a melting pot of various ethnicities and “they all played together”.  Her family was from Poland and her first husband was Armenian. In 1993 she married Phillip, a Hopi Indian. His grandfather’s name, Tuwaletstiwa, was changed to Johnson at Keams Canyon boarding school in the late 1800’s because they could not pronounce his Hopi name!  Phillip wanted to take back his grandfather’s name and they both agreed to do so. The name Tuwaletstiwa has a beautiful meaning, “ripples made in the sand when the wind blows”.

The first room of the show is a wall of photographs of the Warsaw Ghetto, lent by the Hollocaust Museum in Washington D.C., and families that were slaughtered there at the orders of Heinrich Himmler.  Judy writes about the figure of a little boy with his hands up. “This image has haunted me since I was young:  I identified with the boy in the foreground who was only a few years older than I in 1943. If my grandparents had remained in Poland, I might have huddled in this group.”


Associated with these images is a series of works which one sees and feels in particular, for me, these hands cast in glass. Are they charred?


In another gallery a fair amount of wall space is used to show what look like a series of abstract banners.  They are 72 photographs showing a process.  In 1987, Judy decided that her first attempt at painting was going to be a red painting, but she would work her way there…again a process. In a public discussion she had with David Krakauer, American evolutionary biologist, who is President and William H. Miller Professor of Complex Systems at the Santa Fe Institute, she speaks of Native American kivas.  These holy places have images painted on the walls for a ceremony, which are then painted over for the next event. Often hundreds of images are layered on top of each other.  For doubters of process she asked her audience how many were writers?  Then she asked whether they ever rewrote and effectively wrote over what they had written, sometimes having to delete their favorite words in a quest for the final result.  Count me in that group and sometimes I keep the sentence or phrase for another time.  Here is the end result and one wall of the photographs recording the process.





Bringing you up to date here is a piece in one of the artist’s favorite media, kiln-fired glass adhered to canvas. It is titled “Text. Shards 2, 2019”.  Shards in this part of the world usually refer to the broken remnants of Native American pottery that have survived over time.  In fact, there is an archive in New Mexico of pieces of pottery collected at building sites when excavation starts.  These are important evidence from which we can learn of earlier Indian generations.



In this show Judy Tuwaletsivwa gives us much to feel and think about and I have only scratched the surface.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Pasadena


After seeing the great exhibition in San Diego, we took the train up to Pasadena, where our son, Hunter and his wife now live. Since childhood our son has loved touring, so he organized a tour to introduce us to his new home city. 

One of the cultural stops was The Gamble House. We had visited the house before, maybe 40 years earlier, and I remember being more excited by it then.  That was possibly because we were then with colleagues on a junket, not on a general public tour. I love the period and looking at the photos I am posting I feel what I did then … the harmony of this Arts and Crafts house, from its Japanese-influenced wood structure to the stained glass of its front door.



David Gamble, second generation of Proctor & Gamble, and his wife Mary, from Cincinnati decided to build their winter residence in Pasadena and hired the firm of Greene & Greene.  The latter were architects who had built other houses in the neighborhood which the Gambles obviously liked, and it could not have hurt that the Greene Brothers originally came from the Gambles’ home town.

Charles Greene (1868-1957) and Henry Greene (1870-1954) were born on the outskirts of Cincinnati.  Their father became a physician in St. Louis and put the boys in a Manual Training School at Washington University.  He then decided that they should become architects and enrolled them in the architectural school at MIT.  They found work as apprentices in a couple of architectural firms when their parents moved to Pasadena and asked their boys to join them.  On the trip west they visited the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago where Japanese architecture made a lasting impression on them.  Opening their own architectural firm, they designed what they called “Ultimate Bungalows” of which the Gamble House is one. Some bungalow! Our tour of most of the rooms took over an hour and we were not lingering. 


The drawings were ready in February of 1908 and construction was started in March.  Not everything moves quicker today then in yesteryear! The Gambles also wanted Greene & Greene to design the furniture which was all completed by the summer of 1910.  The house included a number of blind doors and inset closets giving a very clean look, accentuated by the furniture.

Mary and David were not the only Gambles living in the house but two of the sons were there at different times.  it seems there was always a child or grandchild around and Mary’s sister, Julia, became a full-time resident. There were bedrooms for all, most of them with sleeping porches which were much appreciated in the days before air conditioning. The dining room table was expandable, and the large sitting room was designed to accommodate the different activities of family members.



We also went to see the City Hall of Pasadena, a very grand building indeed. The project began in 1923 when the people of Pasadena approved a $3.5 million project to develop a civic center with City Hall being the centerpiece. This was near the end of the “City Beautiful Movement” 1890’s to 1920’s when urban planners decided that “design could not be separated from social issues and should encourage civic pride and engagement.”  It continues to do so almost a century later.


The low relief armorials on the building have the seal of the city on a shield. My schoolmate, David Phillips, who is an expert in armorials, supplied me with the explanation: The word Pasadena means “valley” in the Ojibwa (Chippewa) language but has been interpreted as “Crown of the Valley” or “Key of the Valley,” hence the adoption of both the crown and the key in the official City Seal.


It is not easy to keep a hundred-year old building in mint condition particularly when it is being used by hundreds of employees and visitors every day!  Near the end of the 1990’s the City hired an architectural firm to do a major renovation that included earthquake-proofing the building by floating the pillars of the foundation on moveable steel balls. The employees were all cleared out in 2004 and were finally allowed to return in 2007.  Now again, it is worth a look.