Sunday, February 23, 2020

Ghost Stories: Yokai

The Museum of International Folk Art is a popular attraction for visitors to Santa Fe, but it has not been my favorite museum in town.  However, they have an exhibition up now that is well done and really fun. It is called, Yōkai: Ghosts & Demons of Japan and was organized by Felicia Katz-Harris curator of Asian Folk Art. 

The exhibition was a happy surprise even though I was never one who enjoyed ghost stories, probably conditioned by scary stories at camp.  Why people enjoy being scared, I never understood, but they do.  I avoid horror movies at all costs!

In the introductory label Katz-Harris explains “In many Japanese folktales, Yōkai appear at borders on bridges at dusk and between villages.  In popular culture they live on the boundary between belief and amusement, fear and fun.”  Just as you might laugh in a horror movie and sometimes not even know why. So, just like in the Western world, in Japan the Yōkai can be scary and also sometimes amusing.

The show has all kinds of Yōkai.  From what I have learned it would be impossible to amass a list of all the different ones in a similar manner that it would not be possible to list all the different kinds of  monsters in Western cultures   The first one in the exhibition is by Kōno Junya who is referred to as a Yōkai artist.  He sees himself acting as an ambassador and he wants Americans to see “how much fun Yōkai are in Japan”. His huge paper maché sculpture is called Oa Bōzu or Blue Monk. The second illustration here shows the artist with his sculpture.



A really truly macabre piece in the show is a an exquisitely painted 17th century scroll lent by the Mineapolis Museum of Art . It illustrates Shuten Dōji whose  most gruesome characteristic is their appetite for human flesh. These  demonic creatures charm, kidnap, enslave and eat men, women and children.


The Tanuki ceramic figure which is dated 1975 but the artist is not known certainly qualifies as the humorous side of the Yōkai.  If he were soft, I could see a child taking it to bed instead of their teddy bear!


Ningyō Jōruri is a regional style of puppet theater which takes place in the open air.  Three puppeteers are needed to operate this life-size puppet; one each for the head, hands and feet. The artist, Amari Yōichirō, is well known for making these puppets and enjoys working on the figures.  The puppet has a serene expression on her face but then the teeth come out as you will see in the very short video it reminds me of Northwest Coast Native American transformation masks.  This Kiyohime, scorned woman, was made in 2019 but performances of the legend date back to the Edo period (1603-1867).




You will have no trouble recognizing this figure from the Kabuki  theater, not too different from our Casper, the friendly ghost. This character, called Oiwa, is far from friendly.  She is a wife driven to suicide after her husband disfigures her so he can marry another woman. Oiwa comes back to haunt him for the rest of his life.


White Hannya is another figure of a woman transformed by jealousy and rage. This female demon comes from the formal masked dance dramas of Noh theater.


Clearly the subject of Yōkai can be studied in a great deal of depth.  There are so many different ones that have significance in different parts of Japan.  This show, which even includes a mini amusement-park-style house of horrors aka a fun house, peopled with life-sized Yōikai who respond to your passing by, provides a perfect introduction to the subject.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Brandi Fields’ Oscar Party

As you all know, last week was Oscars Night.  What a depressing set of movies.  Not bad movies, some of them were superbly done but still very upsetting.  I wrote to a friend regarding, “1917”, we know War Is Hell but why did they have to put me through it.  But what a journey!  “The Joker” is, literally, insanity and “Parasite” has a climax beyond imagination.

With the world in the situation it is today, this is not surprising.  The movie makers do not feel it is a time for fun and frivolity even though that may be exactly what we need to calm our nerves.  I have learned that psychologists and psychiatrists have been getting more business as a result of our own administration and world affairs.

A good antidote for the malaise caused by the films and times is to go to a party and we went to Brandi’s Oscar Party, a charity fundraiser.  When we arrived, we were greeted by this half naked gentleman with whom our photo was taken on their red carpet.  

The evening started with a silent auction and a raffle.  For the latter we were vying for a group of about six restaurants offering up to $300 worth of food each. The auction alone raised over $3,000. When they asked each table to fill out a “report card”, an excuse for looking for additional contributions, one table gave over $1,000 so the charity did not do badly. 

Many dressed up for the theme which was Studio 54 Prom Night!  Here are some of the outfits.


None were as glamorous as the six dresses that Brandi, the organizer and hostess wore during the evening.  Here are a couple of images of Brandi in action.



The event happens at a posh hotel in town with an excellent chef, so we ate well, and wine was generously passed, plus there was a cash bar for the harder stuff.  Even though it was not easy to hear one’s neighbor with a couple of hundred people in the room and the large screen showing the Oscars from the television, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.


A few years ago we went to one of Brandi’s Oscar parties that benefitted Youthworks of Santa Fe and last weekend’s was  for Communities in Schools.  From the web: “The Communities In Schools is a national organization working within public and charter schools in 25 states and within the District of Columbia. It aims to build relationships that empower at-risk students to stay and perform well in school and become good achievers not just academically but also in life.”  My wife, Penelope, has been working in the Santa Fe public schools under their auspices for some time as a teaching assistant and tutor.  We learned that 75% of the children in our public-school system live below the poverty level.  Also, we know that that many have to struggle with English as a second language.  Communities in Schools has its work cut out for itself.

Amusingly Brandi and one of the guests we invited actually recognized each other from quite different circumstances: when working at Anne Taylor, Calvin “Brandi” Fields assisted our friend and her daughter in purchases, taking such good care of them that they went back regularly, and, as our friend said to me, her husband had to pay for it all! 

At the event I asked Brandi whether she was an actress. she replied, “No, just a fundraiser for charities”.  What a wonderful vocation and occupation.  Later I wrote asking for some biographical information since I could find hardly anything online, which is most unusual, Calvin “Brandi” Fields wrote back: 

I moved to Santa Fe in August of 1997 from Virginia.  I worked in restaurants and Ann Taylor.  I got into fundraising around 2006 working with such organizations as Aid n Comfort, Habitat for Humanity - Santa Fe, Human Rights Alliance/Santa Fe PRIDE” and others. I began my Annual Oscar Benefit the year after my mom passed away.  The first 6 years it was held for Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families.  Then I started to do a new nonprofit each year.”  Now Santa Fe’s charities compete to be the next beneficiary of Brandi’s Oscar Party. 

Calvin “Brandi” Fields sees it as “an amazing opportunity for me to bring awareness to these organizations and help raise money for the great work that they do … We live in a small community and there are over 200 nonprofits, many of which are asking from the (same) small pool of donors that support most if not all. I have been very fortunate to have built a very respectable event that started with 35 guest and now has over 220 guest that love to dress up and walk the RED CARPET on Oscar Night.” 

For the last three years Calvin Fields has worked on a regular basis at St. Elizabeth Shelters & Supportive Housing where his title is Events Fundraiser & Community Outreach.  His statement that the work is “rewarding as well as very trying because I am always asking for something from someone, it seems” resonated with me as I am on the boards of a couple of the many not-for-profit institutions in town.

I am going to close with a non sequitur.  On the way back to our car we passed this one owned by someone who must have won an awful lot of awards, if not Oscars. The perfect ending for a fun evening!


Sunday, February 9, 2020

Christ: Life, Death, & Resurrection from the British Museum

Do you like finished or unfinished drawings?  Do you like French, English, German or Italian Drawings?  If you said the latter, you need to run not walk to the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe and if you answered something else you might find you actually like the Italian material as well.  What is the attraction?

“Christ: Life, Death, & Resurrection” is not a commentary on religion but rather an exhibition that illustrates the subject with many masterpieces from the British Museum.  There are more than 50 prints and drawings in the show drawn from  the British Museum’s collection of 50,000 drawings and 2 million prints.  I am focusing here on the drawings in the show. 

Santa Fe is one of the art capitals of the world, and there is a dealer or two here, but we do not often see major European Old Masters in our town.  This exhibition offers wonderful opportunity. Mind you as an Old Master drawings exhibition the works are often the first thoughts of the artist and might very well vary from the finished painting.

The show was conceived by the Keeper and head of the British Museum’s department of prints and drawings, Hugo Chapman. In his lecture at the exhibition opening he stated that he is not a very religious person. He undertook this project for a close friend, the Director of the Galleries at the University of San Diego, a private Roman Catholic institution. 

From Medieval times through the Renaissance, stories from the Bible were prime subjects for artists and one of the richest was the life of Christ, It gave them a wide range of depicting the human figure but with animals and landscapes could also be squeezed in if they desired.  Don’t forget that not only the Church but the privileged classes such and royalty requested these images, so they were bread and butter for the artists.

The biggest name in the show is, of course, Michelangelo and there are those who can wax lyrical about his drawings.  Personally, they do not excite me while his sculpture and paintings I could look at for hours.  In this case his subject is The Three Crosses., dating 1521-24.  Below the highly worked nude figures of Christ and the two thieves, there is a great deal of activity with execution workmen, soldiers, horses and mourners.  The figure of the Virgin lying in the arms of a mourner is even a prefiguration of the Lamentation.


When I first went to Florence with my parents my father was a big fan of the paintings of Benozzo Gozzoli (1420-1497)  so we visited the Medici Chapel in the Palazzo Medici-Ricardi to see the fresco that is Gozzoli’s most important work. The exhibition has a sheet of figure studies for the angels in the Adoration of the Magi, dating 1459-63.  Here is the drawing with the finished work in the apse of the chapel.



It is interesting to note that the British Museum was founded in 1753 and most of their drawings were acquired in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries yet some masterpieces arrived much later such as the Gozzoli which was acquired in 2017 in lieu of Inheritance taxes.

Another artist I love from this period is Fra Filippo Lippi (1421- ca. 1469).  The exhibition includes his circa 1460 sketch for the Crucifixion.  The` drawing has had other attributions and differing thoughts on which painting or fresco it was created for.  The famed art historian, Bernard Berenson was the first to suggest Fra Filippo Lippi.  If you wish to see how confusing art history can be for curator, dealer and collector go to the British Museum site and search for this drawing then read the entry!


Moving to the next century there is a drawing by one of the most prolific and to my mind one of the best draughtsmen of the 16th century, Parmigianino (1503-1540).  This image of an Adoration of the Shepherds with the Virgin bathing the infant Jesus I find particularly poignant.  There are a number of other versions of this drawing sometimes with the figures reversed showing the artist depicting the scene from different angles and thinking how the figures would look best in a finished painting or fresco. If you click on the image and enlarge it, you will see a partial signature F. Parm, lower left, on the reverse of the drawing (not shown) is the name spelled out.


One of the most dynamic Crucifixions I have ever seen is this 17th century colorful oil on paper drawing here attributed to Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609-1664). They date this to the second half of the artists life.  It is not only dramatic with what seems like a great wind blowing but you can see god flying in to watch this horror happening to his son.  The Flemish artist, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) used similar wind effects and I wonder whether Castiglione had not seen his work.


There are several others I would like to mention but I think for my final image I am going to go back in time to a rather quirky one, a study of a dead Christ done for a Deposition.   It shows Christ seemingly hovering in the air which makes it seem extremely exciting and weird at the same time.  It is by the Roman artist, Giacomo Rocca. (1532-1605).  A former curator at the British Museum, Nicholas Turner identified this unusual drawing as for Rocca’s fresco of the “Deposition from the Cross” painted circa 1575 for the Oratorio del Gonfalone in Rome.  The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has a study for the complete composition.  The Oratorio, which has frescoes from floor to ceiling, is de-sanctified and used for concerts and lectures. in this photo the Deposition can be seen in the second bay from the right.



Not all the artists depicting the life of Christ in this exhibition are household names but putting the religious subject matter aside you can simply bathe in the superb draughtsmanship and the imagination that inspired these works.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

A Car Trip Down Memory Lane


When I was in Los Angeles, I paid my first visit to the Petersen Automotive Museum.  I have always liked cars but never learned much about them.  At school all my friends could identify the cars on the road but all I could recognize was the Cadillac or the 1950’s, the Volkswagen Bug and when I became a teenager there was the Corvette.  Other cars, not at all.

The Petersen is a great museum for kids. I love that the first thing you see when you walk in is what came to be the Ice Cream Truck!  It greets the multitude of kids who come through that front door.  The school group of teenagers that was there during my stay had piled their knapsacks on a cart before entering.



Several smaller children were engaged in a playroom where you could build your own Lego car and then race it down a ramp.



The museum of course displays early vehicles. We all know what a Mercedes Benz should look like but who would have thought that Karl Benz’ first car patented as the “Motorwagon” looked like this.  It was the first petroleum powered vehicle.


As I walked through the museum, however, I found myself reminiscing about cars I had seen and been driven in.  Funnily enough the museum rarely had the exact model, but they were close enough to jog my brain.  I could not find my parents cars, for instance.  In my youth, they had a used 1949 grey Buick, then a 1953 green bulbous Oldsmobile and a sleek maroon 1959 Chrysler with fins.

I do remember my “school bus” which was actually a station wagon, one of my school’s small fleet.  Of course, I wanted to take public transportation and be on the public bus with all my schoolmates.  Unfortunately, when I was old enough to do so I found out I lived on the wrong side of town to take their bus.  But it is nostalgic enough to remember that my all wood station wagon was “school bus #9”.


The first car I owned, in spite of having German refugee parents was a 1959 Volkswagen Bug.  It had tiny taillights, the trunk was where we expect to find the engine and the engine was in the rear.  I remember one hill on Long Island that I had to drive up every afternoon where I felt that I should open the door and put my foot out to help the car with a couple of pushes.  Here is the museum’s example of the car, though I could tell from the larger taillights that it was a 60’s model.



In the early 1960’s I went to a number of Formula 1 races at Watkins Glen and in the mid-60’s I even went once to Silverstone in England.  The big names in racing then were Jimmy Clark, Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby.  The latter was the first person to drop an American V-8 engine into a lightweight British roadster and the museum has Shelby’s 1962 Cobra from the collection of Bruce Meyer.


Who remembers Knight Rider, one of my favorite TV shows of the 1980’s?  David Hasselhoff played the part of crime fighter Michael Knight, who was assisted by his car K.I.T.T. that was at his beck call and had all kinds of special protection and weapons.  It was an early example of Artificial Intelligence and a take-off on the James Bond films which started two decades earlier. There were twenty prototype K.I.T.T.s which were based on the 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.  Pontiac later demanded that these cars, which were actually built by Universal Studios, be destroyed and the museum’s example was one of the few to survive.



There were other fantasy cars such the Batmobile and The Alligator car. If you want to see the Batmobile you can go to the movies, but the Alligator car will be hard to find anywhere else.  This was a replica of one used in the 1975 film “Death Race 2000”.


If you are a car buff you will not be happy with me having left out so many details about the cars themselves, so if you wish to learn more, do go visit the museum when you are in Los Angeles.

I will end with an image which I find priceless.  The museum has a glass wall between the galleries and the garage. It showcased the lineup of visitors’ cars. For me it was the perfect statement of LA’s car culture. Frustrated as they may be by the parking lots called freeways, no one in Los Angeles can possibly survive without a car!



Sunday, January 26, 2020

Gillian Wilson (1941-2019)


I can’t rightly remember when I met Gillian Wilson, but it had to be around 1970 when she joined the Metropolitan Museum as a student fellow.  I remember an assured, very opinionated young woman who considered herself a great expert in French 18th century decorative arts. If she was at that time or not, she later proved herself to be just that.

In my time in the biz I found that, particularly in the decorative arts there are cycles of interest so an entire generation may pass without much interest and then the taste comes back.  One individual who continued his interest in Royal French 18th century furniture (FFF, fine French Furniture in auction parlance) from the 1930’s till his death in 1976 was J. Paul Getty.  But there was a long hiatus in his acquisitions.

I believe my uncle, Hans Stiebel, who lived in Paris, got to know Getty in the late 1940’s through an introduction from the French Rothschilds as an expert they respected in the field of French decorative arts.  According to my father, Hans and Getty went on shopping trips together and bought, for instance, the double bureau dos d'âne (two sided desk) from the Duke of ArgyIl in Scotland.  It is by Bernard von Risenburgh known by his signature BVRB and is one of the Getty’s prize pieces in the field.


When we heard that Getty was buying again we got back in touch.  At that time the Getty Villa in Malibu, today devoted to classical antiquities, was the entire J. Paul Getty Museum. In 1971 Gillian made her fateful move to the Getty Museum and she stayed until 2003. She was a formidable force there.

 A savvy “oil man”, the story goes, told Paul Getty not to invest in wells in Libya because the oil fields were going to be nationalized, saving Getty billions.  The “oil man” then bought a venerable art dealer’s practice and became Getty’s sole agent.  That individual then hired a young scholar, Theodore Dell, who was an expert in French furniture and would much later write the catalogues for the Frick Collection in New York.  Ted highly recommended Gillian to the Oil Man, and when introduced to Paul Getty, he and Gillian hit it off.  

Getty always promised to fly from his home, Sutton Place, in Guilford, Surrey England to teach a course at UCLA and visit his museum. He never could get himself to do so and never saw his museum.  Gillian had a model of the Getty Malibu Villa made for him at Sutton Place and would place tiny models of the objects she wished to acquire strategically inside the model.


Gillian died at the end of 2019 and last week I went to Malibu for a celebration of her life.  For me it was old home week.  So many people from my professional past showed up for the event.  They showed slides of many of her acquisitions including a number that had come through our hands.  One of her favorite pieces (and mine) was a Planisphere with all its dials and beautiful marquetry.  Originally, it not only told the time, but its various dials showed the level of scientific knowledge in eighteenth-century France. The only problem with it was that the works were missing.  Gillian was criticized for the acquisition but her rational was that it was a unique and important piece of furniture and the works did not matter since you rarely see working scientific instruments in a museum.


Among the many speakers were the current director of the Getty, Timothy Potts and the former director, John Walsh, known for his expertise in Dutch old master paintings when he had been curator at the Metropolitan Museum. Walsh had kind words but also talked about Gillian’s directness. At the time when Gillian applied to the Met for her fellowship, he was in the position to interview her and he repeated that she told him he had to hire her.  She was no shrinking violet! 

As you probably know, Richard Meier, the starchitect, built the new Getty Center with his signature white tiles looking over Los Angeles. What is less well known is that Gillian got the Getty administration to hire Thierry Despont, a major French architect, just to design her galleries of French Decorative Arts.  From what I heard at the time Gillian was quite tyrannical about what she wanted.  In fact, the story was told at her memorial that she wished to have certain walls painted brown but vetoed all the custom browns that Despont brought to her.  Instead, she brought in a shopping bag and said that was the color she wanted.  It is said that Despont named the color, “shopping bag brown”!  here is Gillian in one of those rooms.


One story told which I actually heard told jokingly by Gillian, herself, was that when trying to cajole Getty into parting with his money, which he held onto dearly, for each button she would undo on her blouse she got another $5,000.  Knowing Gillian, and having met Getty a couple of times, it would not surprise me in the least!

Gillian was not spared her foibles.  Most of those stories were about her stubbornness and argumentative nature.  One of my favorite tales came from a good friend of hers, the Getty conservator of decorative arts and sculpture, Arlen Heginbotham, who said that Gillian was good training for him, as he now has a 14 year-old daughter who questions everything he says and argues incessantly.  Gillian was always questioning.  

She was also extremely enthusiastic.  Martin Chapman, who was at the Getty but is currently curator in charge of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco when he was with Gillian leading a group and there seemed to be a bunch of stragglers.  Gillian turns around and yells, “if you don’t keep up you won’t hear what I have to say”.  Martin catches up with Gillian and says, “They are not part of our group”!


There are different kinds of curators.  There are scholars who never wish to take there nose out of an archive or a book, those who specialize in organizing exhibitions and then there are the acquirers, which is what Gillian was best known for.  Not that Gillian did not also publish a number of catalogs and also install them beautifully in her galleries. Without her the J. Paul Getty would not have been the repository of some of the greatest expressions of 17th and 18th century French art that it is today.