Sunday, September 22, 2019

Stories


I have been hearing from more and more readers that they enjoy the old stories so I thought I would write down a few, including names, at the risk of name dropping, so my readers can identify.

Shortly after I was born I became part of the art world.  When my parents arrived in this country in 1939, they were given a limited budget by the family firm and found an apartment at a prestigious address on Central Park South, but it was a one bedroom in the back with a wall for a view.  There was a living room, which served as the office, a kitchen they could eat in, and a bedroom with the bathroom off it. I was put in a crib in the living room at night and in the morning, I was rolled into the bedroom in case a client came in.  One time a member of the Rothschild family came, and he needed to use the loo. Heading, as instructed, through the bedroom he tried to pull open one of the doors. It happened to be the closet which my mother, still not dressed, had jumped into and was pulling on the handle on the other side!  I guess he got the hint … Wrong door.

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J. Paul Getty was said to have frequently “gone shopping” with my uncle, Hans Stiebel, for French 18th Century Furniture.  The most famous piece being the double desk that had belonged to the Dukes of Argyle and was acquired from Sir Robert Abdy.  I visited Getty twice at Sutton Place, his manor house near London.  The first time was strictly business, though he was having tea with his current girlfriend and decorator, Penelope Kitson.   I had been rehearsed by his advisor and his curator from his museum in Los Angeles.  The only thing they forgot to remind me of was that Getty always had to bargain. Happily, a 10% reduction satisfied him.  Thank goodness since any more of a reduction and we would have taken a loss.



Regarding the parsimoniousness of J. Paul,  I did not see the  pay phone that was he was supposed to have had installed in his lobby, but when the new Getty expanded from just Greek and Roman art in the villa, his curators had to buy their own office supplies.  When I went back to Sutton Place with my wife some years later I asked if I could show her the model of the new Getty where the curators placed miniatures of the pieces that Getty could buy for the museum to show him how they would look in the rooms.  Getty told us that he only heated half the house in the winter so, not wanting to leave the heated section, he said, “You know the way, show Penelope”.  I had been in the house once before, so we went wondering off until we found the model.  We just followed the breadcrumbs back to the living room!

J. Paul Getty at Sutton Place

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This past weekend we saw a snippet of a play where one of the characters was Henry Ford I.  He was portrayed as the anti-Semite that he was.  It  reminded of Henry Ford II, who we knew as a client.  This man was definitely no anti-Semite, --he was just too nice to both my father and me.  I remember one time he came in during the lunch hour. When I opened the door for him, he said, “I bet you were just eating lunch.”  I replied in the affirmative and he laughed patting his tummy and saying, “This is how I diet”.  He proceeded into the gallery and bought several pieces of turquoise Sèvres porcelain and paid the next day.  Later, I approached him when I was raising funds for a dealer exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, under the auspices of The International Confederation of art Dealers (C.I.N.O.A.). Most people gave a few hundred dollars or a thousand at the most, He contributed $5,000!


Henry Ford I

Anne & Henry Ford II

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I had a couple of elderly lady clients that I adored.  One was Miss Frick who I have written about (http://www.geraldstiebel.com/2010/11/miss-frick.html) and another was Anita Young. 

Mrs. Young was the widow of Robert R. Young, a financier and innovator of the railroad business.  His only failure was the New York Central Railroad which he took over in 1954. He had to suspend dividends the following year, the stock price fell and, scared they were headed towards bankruptcy, he committed suicide in 1958.  His personal finances seemed to be in fine shape, however, and left his widow Anita with homes in New York, Newport and Palm Beach.

Anita & Robert Young


As a client Anita Young knew what she wanted and told her decorator rather than asking their advice, as so many of our clients did.  She only bought French 18th century furniture and furnishings from us.  As the very old and very young get along well, one day I mustered the courage to tell her about our French 18th century paintings which would go so well with her collection.  We would take them out in the paintings viewing room, on request.  Mrs. Young said, “I am quite happy with my sister’s paintings.”  I first thought, oh dear what have I gotten myself into! But then I thought, the lady has too much taste and flair to want a poor artists work on her walls.  So, I took the plunge, “Mrs. Young who is your sister?” “Oh” she responded, Georgia O’Keeffe”.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

My Lament

I found an old file where I kept quotes and humor before everything went into the computer. Going through it piece by piece I found this anonymous poem I could not resist sharing:

My Lament, “I’m Fine, I’m Fine”

There is nothing whatever the matter with me
I’m just as healthy as I can be
I have arthritis in both my knees
And when I talk, I talk with a wheeze.

My pulse is week and my blood is thin
but I’m awfully well for the shape that I’m in.
Arch supports I have for my feet
Or I wouldn’t be able to walk on the street.

Sleep is denied me every night
And every morning I’m sight
My memory is failing, and my head’s in a spin
I’m practically living on aspirin.
But I’m awfully well for the shape I’m in.

The moral is, as this tale we unfold
That for you and me who are growing old
It’s better to say, “I’m Fine,” with a grin
Than to let them know the shape we’re in.

“Old Age is Golden,” I’ve heard it said.
But sometimes I wonder as I go to bed.
My ears in a drawer, my teeth in a cup.
My eyes of the table until I get up.

Ere sleep dims my eyes I say to myself
“Is there anything else I should lay on the shelf?”
But I’m happy to say as I close my eyes
My friends are the same as in the days gone by.

When I was young my slippers were red.
I could kick my heels right over my head.
When I grew older my slippers were blue
But I could still dance the whole night thru.

Now I am old and my slippers are black.
I walk to the corner and puff my way back.
The reason I know my youth has been spent
My get up and go has got up and went.

But I really don’t mind when I think with a grin
Of all the places my “get up and go” has been
I get us each morning and dust off my wits.
I pick up the paper and read the obits.

If my name is missing, I know I’m not dead
So, I eat a good breakfast and go back to bed.

- Author unknown.

****
The poem sounded familiar and I found an old Pete Seeger song which was an adaption.  Like so many things that come to us anonymously through the ages there are a number of versions around. Here is Pete’s (the song starts one minute in) ...


Sunday, September 8, 2019

David Ligare, Artist


If you have been reading my missives, you must know by now, we live in an arts town, with possibly more art per capita than anywhere else in the world.  We cannot do everything, so we do not attend openings randomly.  But when we noted an opening of one Native American Artist who is world famous, Fritz Scholder, together with another whose work we recognized and liked, David Ligare, we decided to go.  The show which is up until October 12 is at the LewAllen Gallery in Santa Fe.

I recognized David Ligare’s work but could not place it.  I thought I had seen it at a gallery my cousin worked at in London.  Wanting to check that out with Ligare who attended the opening, I introduced myself saying, “You don’t know me” at which point he interrupted and said, “But yes I do”.  I started to argue with him but before I could, he said, yes Gerald Stiebel, Stiebel Modern and then mentioned my wife’s name, Penelope.  How embarrassing! He had exhibited at my gallery, or rather its contemporary art subsidiary which I was only able to keep going for 5 years within Rosenberg & Stiebel’s walls.  Our gallery manager for this section, at the time, was Deven Golden who scouted and picked out the artists and brought them to the Stiebels for consideration, and for the most part, we were on the same wavelength.

David Ligare is a California-based artist, born in 1945 in Oak Park, Illinois.,who  received his formal arts training at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. His work can be found in many museums in this country and abroad, to name a few, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, The Uffizi, Florence and the Thyssen Collection in Madrid!

Ligare’s paintings could be seen as a quest for a classical  ideal of visual perfection. He draws his inspiration from the philosophers of old like Plato, Aristotle and the more recent, Nietzsche.  His figural subjects also reference Greek mythology as his 2016 monumental painting which is the PR image for the exhibition.  This is what the artist writes about this piece, “The Falling Man (Icarus) was inspired by my thinking about the dangers of our dependence on modern technology.  In the Greek myth of Icarus, the young man is given wings made of wax and feathers in order to escape from the island of Crete where he has been held captive.  He was told not to fly too high because the sun would melt the wax, and he would fall.  He did not heed the advice and fell into the sea.”  


Despite this cautionary tale and the artist’s claim to be a luddite he does carry a smart phone on which to do his email.  He is a wiz with his thumbs! There is no telling what inspires us but what is nice about art you cannot be told how to enjoy a painting and if you wish to think of this as someone who just jumped off the high diving board throwing his clothes off, no one can stop you!

I love this 2018 cloud study probably because in this part of the world it is all about the clouds.  Not a day goes by that we don’t comment on their color, formation or just breathtaking beauty.  David writes, “Landscape with a Cloud suggests ephemerality and evaporative, ever-changing nature of culture.”  We spotted him outside the gallery photographing our clouds.


David reminded me that one of the paintings in the LewAllen show was also in the Stiebel Modern exhibition.  It is the painting on the left.  David writes “It’s called Hercules Protecting the Balance Between Pleasure and Virtue.  This image is from the retrospective that the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento did in 2015 and it traveled to four other museums.”  When your work has received critical acclaim, flaunt it!  That is called marketing and every artist has to learn to do that and then find a reputable gallery to promote their work.




As usual I will end with a personal favorite, Rock & Shell, 2016. My wife finds “its clear light and fragile balance of opposing objects, breath-taking”.  David wrote, “Fine to use this picture but it is one of the rare still life’s that doesn’t adhere to my usual project of specific meanings.”  At first, I thought, in that case, maybe I should not use the image.  Then I realized that it helps make a point that I have tried to make often.  In art it is up to the viewer to make up their own mind and not just what the curator or artist want us to think.  Then if the work of art speaks to one, then it is interesting to learn what the artist, the curator and the critic have to say.  But, here is the hard part, these other thoughts should not interfere with your feelings about the work of art!


Sunday, September 1, 2019

Art Batala Commission


For the collector, commissioning a work of art, essentially asking an artist to create a work to order, is a risky business.  What if you ask an artist to do something that turns out totally different from what you envisioned?   Therefore, we have done it less than a handful of times in all our years of collecting.

For several years I had an office in an arts institution here in Santa Fe and had no need for a business card holder, so I donated my silver overlay example to the institution.   I had purchased it 25 years ago at a shop on the Hopi Reservation.  Then, when I moved to an independent office again, I missed my card holder.  Well, once you have received a tax deduction for a contribution to a not-for-profit, you cannot ask for it back!

For a year I searched websites and galleries to find another Hopi card stand without luck.  I asked a friend on the reservation if he could ask the artist, Art Batala, a silversmith from 2nd Mesa who had made my first one, if he could make another, but that did not happen.  Finally, after about three years we went to a fair of Indian Art and there was Art Batala.  I had photographs of the first stand and showed them to him, asking whether he could make me another one, but not just a copy.

The artist asked what my favorite motifs were.  I looked at a wedding ring I had commissioned for my wife from another Hopi artist and told Art that I liked the sun and rain signs, Kokoppelli (the fertility deity), and the kiva (square walled, often underground structures where spiritual ceremonies are held). 

What gave me, actually my wife, the idea to write about this commission is that the artist included me every step of the way through email images.  Of course, as with any artist, he had shows to get ready for before he could actually start work on my piece, but he did send me his idea for the design which I liked. He had given me the size of the piece and had taken my business card into consideration as to where my name and the company name appeared.  FYI, my company name is Pahaana which is the Hopi word for foreigner which we were on 2nd Mesa and in Santa Fe.

Art’s design was very carefully thought out.  He wrote: “Sometimes designs can get "too busy" when combined altogether, so with your interests in the Kokopelli, sunrise, kiva and rain, I separated the designs into all sides of the card holder. The Kokopellis are shown with prayer feathers for longevity of life, abundant of crops, happiness, and above all; healthy livelihood. The back the Father Sun is depicted with just the forehead showing; meaning sunrise with the rays coming down. And the designs on each sides of the sun rays represent water and clouds. On each side of the card holder, are the kivas with thunder clouds and rain coming down.”

Note that there is a ladder to go down into the Kiva which symbolizes going underground.  

FRONT: the Kokopelli; BACK: the sun symbol;
SIDES: the Kiva with rain cloud

Additionally, he wrote, “I intend to use a thicker gauge of silver for the bottom of the holder (Base) so the weight stabilizes the entire holder.”  I understood this better when I received the piece and found how it was weighted which the old one was not.  Like all of us we learn as we go along, and this piece was far more substantial than the first one I bought.

A week later Art wrote, “Attached you will see where i am in the process of your biz card holder.  Everything is transposed onto sterling silver plates.  I have drilled small holes where i will began cutting out the designs.  The designs are slightly modified from the sketch i sent to you. But overall still has all the motifs you desired.”

Design is transposed onto silver plates

A few days later I received the following, “Good morning and greetings from Hopi, attached you will see that i am finished cutting out the designs.   Now, i will be soldering the cut out plates onto similar sized sterling plates.”  I asked a question, “How do you make the black stand out on the bottom layer?”  Art replied, “I have checked all my lines and indentations are good, I will then put the entire piece into dissolved liver of sulfur, heating the contents until the card holder is totally blackened. Then i will began to grind, polish/buff, and, I will be finished.” 

After soldering


Art learned Hopi Overlay after serving in the Marine Corps.  He studied with the master Jeweler Glen Lucas, who he described as, “the person who put "precision cutting overlay" on the market”. To give you an insight into where Art is coming from, he wrote, “Today I am semi-retired and enjoy getting back to jewelry making.  It’s a hobby to me these, but my primary work is my cornfield, which i also enjoy as that is where my ideas and designs originate, amongst nature and its awesome powers.”  Living in an arid land farming is the only thing more important to the Hopi than art.





Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Fifi White Collection


I came to the Fifi White Collection of Ancient Peruvian Textiles by a long route. I was on the internet early on.  My company website was first set up in 1996 but I was on the dial-up web years before that.  I remember in the early 1990’s joining CompuServe’s Art Forum.  The first time someone wrote to me I did not even know how to respond until I was told you have to hit “Return” as the old electric typewriters used to say.  These days on the computer the same key says enter which is clearer!  The art forum used real names and shared real information about art and I even remember when we had our once a week “live meeting” with time zones from China to Alaska all up at the same time.

I made a point of meeting CompuServe friends when I travelled, so on one of our early visits to Santa Fe I looked up an Art Forum participant, a dealer by the name of William Siegal, aka Bill or Billy, who specialized in Aymara Bolivian and Peruvian textiles.  He lived out of town and in his spacious and beautiful home he started pulling out these breathtaking Bolivian Aymara creations.  Eventually we had a home here and Billy had a gallery that I would visit from time to time.  

If you have read my missives you know by now that we have collected in a number of fields but due to disposable income and space one has to draw the line somewhere,  so I admired but never bought one of his textiles.

At his gallery I would see textiles that looked just like the Abstract Expressionist paintings.  I often asked Billy if he would do a show of textiles with visually comparable paintings, but he did not wish to go in that direction. However, the Fifi White collection that he has recently acquired was put together with an eye to the similarities of examples of weavings from Peru to 20th century modernist paintings.

Fifi White was already a serious textile collector when she teamed up in the late 70’s with Elizabeth Wilson, an art historian and wife of Marc Wilson, the Orientalist and Director of the Nelson Gallery in Kansas City. Together Fifi and Elizabeth launched a designer clothing line using Japanese fabrics. Women from all over came to assemble wardrobes from their unique garments!  They called their company, “Asiatica” Here is a photo of Fifi and Elizabeth on their annual buying trip to Japan.


With her increasing focus on Japan, White’s Peruvian material was shown in 2005 in an exhibition at the Johnson County Community College Gallery in Overland Park, Kansas nand was sold soon after.  It then went into storage for the next 14 years.  Billy has been after it ever since.  When I asked him, what was so special about this collection he said that each of the works was either unique or the best in its category.

Naturally, after that back story you want to see what I am talking about and here are a few samples from the collection at the Siegal Gallery. Let’s start with what I heard Billy describe as his “Mark Rothko”.  It is a Tunic from the Nasca (or Nazca) Culture that flourished from c. 100 BC to 800 AD beside the arid, southern coast of Peru.


This ceremonial cloth also from the Nasca Culture reminds me of a painter’s palette.  I have always found palettes somewhat satisfying and sensuous when the paint is thick on the palette.  Here the daubs of color seem more like a watercolor chart.



This large stepped tunic from the same culture Billy referred to as an Art Deco design, but according to an expert in that field, the stepped diagonals are just small part of Art Deco. This piece reminded her more of Mayan and Aztec architecture and archeological Southwest pottery designs.  What fun to have an art form that you can see every day in a different light.


My final example, as usual is a favorite of mine, if only I had the room… a mantle from the Paracas Culture on the South Coast of Peru 500 - 100 BC using shellfish dye on cotton 48 x 58 Inches.  This reminds me of cave painting or petroglyphs, also from prehistoric times.



If you like an exhibition where your imagination can run wild in a very satisfying manner get over to the William Siegal Gallery, 318 South Guadalupe Street in Santa Fe, New Mexico. What has not been sold you might be able to acquire and enjoy at home!

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.