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!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power

You might think that an exhibition with a title like, “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” might open in Los Angeles or New York but would you believe The Tate Modern in London?!  As I am writing it is in its second venue at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR ... founded by Walmart heir Alice Walton.  Unfortunately, we have not been there yet but all reports are raves!  Just as surprising in my mind is the fact that I read about the show first in Business Week magazine.

As the press release from Crystal Bridges generously notes the show was developed by the Tate.  The curators for the show are Mark Godfrey and Zoe Whitley at the latter and Lauren Haynes for Crystal Bridges

In the introduction to the catalog the curators from the Tate write, ”There is no America without African American”.  Thank goodness for those who observe us objectively and not xenophobic-ly as we so often see ourselves!  As you have probably already surmised all the artists are black and the art was created between 1963 and 1983, an especially turbulent time for Black America.  The show which is a bit smaller in its second venue is organized in 12 sections, movements, geography, and civil rights being a few of them.

Here are some examples of the work in the show:

Norman Lewis’s, (1909-1979), America the Beautiful of 1960 is a black and white image with a very ironic title.  It is not the abstract image it appears to be at first.  Look closer and you will see the peaked white hoods and crosses of the Ku Klux Clan.  When abstract art was all the rage for the whites, or Anglos as I have learned to call us in the Southwest, the blacks had very different priorities to deal with!

I must admit to not being familiar with all the names  of the artists but one that is very well known to me as a big fan, is Romare Bearden (1911-1988), represented here by Pittsburgh Memory 1964.  It appears in the catalogue under a section called American Skin: Artists on Black Figuration.  His collage paintings draw from the workingman in the general populace, here accentuated by the monochromatic tones. It does not take much to imagine these two figures as steel workers, just one step above the title, slave.

Benny Andrews (1930-2006), Did the Bear Sit Under a Tree? from 1969.  I am afraid I could not find the precise meaning of the title but it is certainly a powerful statement.  Andrews grew up in the segregated American South and became a leader of black activism in the arts.  It does not take much imagination to understand “Black Power” and “Power to the People” from this painting and collage including rolled cloth of the flag and the zipper glued across the mouth of the black man.

Carolyn Mims Lawrence, (1940-), Black Children Keep Your Spirits Free 1972.  The title is right there in the center of the painting.  I find the colors and fantasy offer liberating hope, in contrast to depressingly dark, monochromatic paint.

Betye Saar’ (1926-) Rainbow Mojo from 1971 might be a positive note to end on.  I should have guessed it,--the concept for this series came out of her interest in astrology- and its bright colors create an optimistic tone.

This is a very small slice of art from the exhibition and my hope, as usual, is to have whetted your appetite to learn more.  If you are old enough, think back; if you are younger learn about the years following 1963, the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the a period of black activism, two decades that are so important to American history.

The exhibition at Crystal Bridges closes on April 23 and will travel next to The Brooklyn Museum where it will open in September.  Strange irony that where you would think the show would be born is where it ends!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe is an important figure of devotion to the  peoples of the New World.

The story is told that in 1531 an Aztec Indian, named Juan Diego, heard music on Tepeyac hill as he was walking to church near Mexico City.  After climbing to the top, a woman revealed herself as the Holy Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus.  She asked Juan Diego to be a messenger.  He should find the Catholic Bishop of Mexico and ask him to build a church on that exact spot.  The Bishop, of course, was dubious.  Juan Diego was sent away 3 times asking him for proof of his apparition. 

On December 12, 1531 when Juan Diego was in search of a priest to visit his dying uncle the Virgin appeared again to him and told him his Uncle would be cured and the following day he found his uncle well again.   She further instructed him to gather roses from the hill at which they had met.  Even in that cold weather season the flowers were in full bloom and he carried them in his tilma (cloak) and brought them to the Bishop.   As they spilled out in front of the Bishop an image of the Virgin Mary appeared on his cloak.  The Tilma can still be seen today behind the main altar in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.   She was the only apparition of Mary who provided proof of her existence through an image. There were other accounts where people said they saw her, but they were unable to provide proof of their encounter.

When the Spaniards came to the New World they brought along their religion of  Catholicism and believed they could convert the Native Americans.   There was, however, a revolt by the Indians in 1680 and they expelled the Spanish.  They were not gone for long and by 1692 the Spanish had returned.  Many of the Native tribes continued to pray in the Catholic Church and venerated the Virgin Mary.  In celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe they have a feast day and perform a special dance known as the Matachines. The official date is December 12 but the dances in her honor actually begin in October.

In Santa Fe we have The Santuario de Guadalupe, the oldest extant shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe in this country dating from 1777.  It was a small adobe church on the banks of the Santa Fe River which today is a mere trickle unless the reservoir is opened or we have a large rain and in either case it is more of a brook than river. The site is important as it was the end of the Camino Real, the Colonial trade route from Mexico City.  Here you can see the Santauario as it looks today  and the large statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in front created in 2008.

The wall behind the altar is covered by a painting dated 1783 by José de Alzíbar (1730-1803), one of the leading painters of Mexico City. This monumental canvas illustrates the traditional image of the Virgin of Guadalupe surrounded by vignettes of the legend of its origin.

Unfortunately, the church fell into such disrepair that it was declared unfit for regular use. And by the end of the 19th century the new and first archbishop of Santa Fe, Jean-Baptiste Lamy  (1814 – 1888), a French Roman Catholic prelate asked Father Defouri to come down from Denver and become pastor of the English-speaking people in Santa Fe.  At the same time Bishop Lamy agreed to give the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the American Congregation.  They got to work on the Church making needed repairs between 1881-1884.  A 1922 fire razed the roof forcing another big change to a California mission style and a new bell tower.    By 1961 the parish had long outgrown the Church and  a new one was built behind the original.  In 1973 Archbishop Robert F. Sanchez began an effort to raise funds to bring the Church back to its original configuration.  At that time  the Archdiocese “deeded” the building to the newly formed non-profit and non-sectarian Guadalupe Historic Foundation, that completed the work in time for our Bicentennial.

Our Lady of Guadalupe lives on.  Gail Delgado, Director of Santaurio, says she has witnessed a deep devotion to the Virgin Mary, even by non-Catholics.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

What Do I Do Now?

Your Great Aunt Nellie died recently and left you with a group of art works.  Your first thought is what did she expect me to do with these.  Its simple:

-Learn what it is that you wish to sell
-Find out its provenance
-Reach out to both dealers and auction houses
-Make the difficult decision

Truthfully, it is not quite that simple.  Would have been nice if one of the paintings that was left you was signed by Rembrandt together with all the references in the various monographs including the latest one.  When I was first in the business there were 600 recognized Rembrandts in the literature and that was reduced by the next generation to 300. One more generation and we were down to 150.  Then a committee was set up to decide what paintings Rembrandt actually did and which were just a follower of Rembrandt’s.  Only one member of the scholars’ committee has stayed with the project and I do not know how many Rembrandts are recognized in the current literature.

You quickly ascertain that the painting you have been left is not by Rembrandt but by who is it?  Should you believe that the work is not by Aunt Nellie herself nor her immediate family, see if it is signed on the front or the back.  Should a name appear, go to the web and put in the name with a comma and the word artist afterwards and see if that is a lead.  If so see if the works on line are similar to what you have inherited.

Should you feel there is hope that the work may have some value beyond sentimental,  scour your aunt’s records for an invoice, or letter of gift, or any clue as to how she obtained the picture.  This information in rare cases can add to the value if the work belonged to someone important.  More important, however, is that it might help authenticate the work.  If there is a letter to Aunt Nellie from the artist gifting it to her out of friendship or gratitude you need seek no further.

The Print Lovers by Honoré Daumier

If you believe you have identified the artist see if there are any monographs on the artist and go through those to see if your picture is in there.  This will be important for you to know when you go to the next step and try to find out what the picture is worth. 

If you have that proverbial Rembrandt mentioned above and it is first rate you might go to the most prominent auction houses such as Christie’s or Sotheby’s, but since this is most probably not the case I would not have high expectations.  My father used to say, referring to the major auction houses.  “We can compete with their prices but not with their estimates.”  More than once I have been seduced by an estimate only to get a phone call shortly before the sale asking me to reduce my reserve (the price below which I will not sell) and have them slash the estimate and still buy in (not sell) the picture.  Then your picture is not only handed back to you, usually with fees, but it is what is known as “burned”.  Everyone knows the price it failed to bring and you will have great problems selling the picture for a long time because if no one else wants it, why should anyone else buy it.

Auction is also a lottery.  Someone, and preferably two people, have to want it at that time and place.  If the sale is in New York and the person who is interested to buy the work is in Georgia he may not be able to either get to New York or know who to send in his place.

I owned a contemporary painting by a British artist about 6 feet high that I no longer had room for.   No New York dealer had ever heard of the artist.  I looked her up on line and found that the New Orleans Auction Galleries had sold the artist’s work successfully.  I got less than my cost from the sale but I no longer had to pay storage for the art. 

The way I like to sell is through a dealer, if need be on consignment. If it is on consignment you have a agreed on the price you will receive, you can even agree on the dealer’s commission or he will give you a net figure that you get all of.  If after a set period of time it does not sell you can still put it in auction and there are no records to indicate that the work was available at a different price. 

How do you find a dealer?  One way is to go to the web and go to  It stands for La Confédération Internationale des Négociants en Oeuvre d’Art,  The International Confederation of  Art Dealers . This is an organization consisting of over 30 art and antique dealers’ associations in over 20 countries and representing about 5,000 dealers.  They have been vetted by their associations and deal in almost every area of the art market.  Start with the ones closest to home and make a few phone calls sending some really good photos and the information you have gathered and  see what they have to say.  Don’t forget that it costs to ship and insure a work so take that into account.

Now its time to get some expert advice.  If you are unfamiliar with the art world and have no idea where to turn get in touch with your nearest museum and find out who the curator is in the department where you think your work might belong.  The museum will NOT appraise it for you and you should not ask.  You only want to know what they think it is and who in the commercial world, auction house or dealer, might have the specific expertise in the art or artists you have to be able to help you.

Good luck with your quest, detective work can be lots of fun … enjoy!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Censorship of Art

Years ago in France I remember an 1866 painting by by Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) was shown behind a curtain because it focused on the private parts of a nude model. Its title, The Origin of the World is in its own way factual, and forces one to think of the painting differently… but what was really in the mind of the artist?  Some people will believe they know ...

In December last year a human resources manager at a New York financial firm circulated a petition on line requesting the removal of a 1938 painting by Balthus (1908-2001) from the walls of the Metropolitan museum.  Titled Therese Dreaming, it depicts the artist’s 12-year-old neighbor fully dressed but in a pose that shows her underwear. The petition called it pedophilia and received 100,000 signatures.  Strange thing is, though I have known the painting most of my life and understood it was suggestive, I never thought of that description.

More recently the Manchester Art Gallery in Manchester, England removed from view their painting called Hylas and the Nymphs by Joseph William Waterhouse (1849-1917), which represents a Victorian erotic fantasy.  Why? The reason given was “… to prompt conversations about how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester’s public collection.”  If it is in the museum’s opinion an important work of art representing a moment in history why do they need to ask the public?  I thought the work of a curator and director was to educate the public, not take their guidance. And how is the public supposed to have an informed opinion about what they cannot see?

You can’t please all of the people all of the time. The Metropolitan museum decided to keep the Balthus on view. The Courbet started out at the Louvre and today resides at the Musée D’Orsay and, as far as I know, has always been on view. 

A famous living artist, however, who critics and public alike have appreciated for half a century, has been denied a planned exhibition due to allegations of  sexual misconduct. I cannot say I know the artist Chuck Close but his gallery was in the same building as mine and when I had the chutzpah, to open a contemporary department in my old master gallery Mr. Close came, in spite of his wheelchair, to the inaugural luncheon we arranged.  Coincidentally, he had kids at the same schools as I did so I would see him there regularly attending to his children.  From what I have read he spoke inappropriately to his models who have complained as they have every right to do.  I might advise my daughter not to model for him or, at least, not listen to him.  She in turn might start a movement depriving the artist of models and thereby dampening his career.  But, what has happened as a result of the recent complaints?  The distraught artist insists he has done nothing wrong  but The National Gallery in Washington D.C. cancelled  a show of his work drawn mainly from its own collection. denying the public access to the work in an act of outright censorship unprecedented for the institution.

The Artist

This is, of course, a direct result of the #metoo movement which is a positive empowerment of women to call out lewd or indecent behavior. But we still have a legal system and, I hope, a belief in the concept of innocent until proven guilty!

“Every day, thousands of commuters pass by a series of 12 mosaics by Chuck Close, recently installed in the new 86th Street station of New York’s Second Avenue subway line. The murals, are 9 feet tall and depict a cross section of New York City cultural icons — Close himself among them,— all rendered in his signature style, photo-based images transposed with meticulous care onto psychedelic grids. They are a reminder both of the diversity of the art world here and of Close’s stature within it.  Here is the mosaic of British artist, now living in New York, Cecily Brown and another one of Close himself: an artist’s artist, at 77 years old.“ (from the New York Times)

What is the National Gallery afraid of?  Is it not strong enough to withstand criticism as the Metropolitan Museum did regarding their Balthus. It goes beyond censoring images to suppressing the body of work of an artist on the basis of accusations about his behavior.  Does our National Gallery now bow to the politics of the day like the rest of Washington D.C.?

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The US-Mexico Border: Place, Imagination, and Possibility

The exhibition, “The US-Mexico Border: Place, Imagination, and Possibility” opened at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles and is currently split between 516 Arts, a gallery in downtown Albuquerque, and the Albuquerque Museum.

It was conceived long before the current U.S. administration made an extreme effort to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.  Our relationship with Mexico is at an all time low because of the lack of understanding of the mutual good that our countries can do for each other.  This is not to say there are no natural tensions between neighboring countries as there are between husband and wife!

Lowery Stokes Sims a very old friend from New York, and her colleague Ana Elena Mallet, a Mexico City based independent curator, were co-curators on this exhibition. We heard them speak about it at the Albuquerque Art Museum last week.  Lowery went to great lengths to explain that this show was not directed at the border or the issues there at the moment, but rather the artistic production of artists who live in close proximity to it as well as artists who cross it regularly.

The press release from 516 Arts puts it this way, “The contemporary artists in this exhibition explore the border as a physical reality (place) as a subject (imagination) and as a site for production and forward thinking solutions (possibility).

At the lecture we heard the story of Daisy Quezda, who grew up in Southern California, a block from the border.  In the evenings her mother would hang clean clothes on their laundry line for immigrants to take, leaving their torn and dirty garments to appear there the following morning. That childhood experience is symbolized by the dirty shirt cast in ceramic hanging on a rod above dirt collected at the border by the artist.

Elizabeth Rustrian Ortega is a Mexican artist who sees the border in an interesting way in her jewelry.  In 2013 she created  the “Cruce de Armas” necklace made in silver, gold plated silver and  barbed wire with a figure of the Christ child sitting on the barrel of a rifle with more rifles on  both sides.  This is a piece I would not advise wearing but rather keep it in a showcase!  (image of barbed wire necklaceChiricahua Apache artist, Bob Haozous has a unique way of seeing the border and his 1991 sculpture is shown outside  the museum entrance. The front is painted in bright colors with O’Keefe clouds in a sunny sky above the mountains of New Mexico but it is edged with posts bristling with barbed wire. On the back is a somber view in rusted steel. A door with the words “Border Crossing” is secured with two locks, on one side of the door is an airplane, and the other andarmed guard waiting for those who cross over by foot.

In works titled “The Space in Between” fitting commentary is also provided by Margarita Cabrera who has created cacti as a symbol of the land that surrounds the border, sewn out of the border patrols uniforms.

A project called “Repellent Fence” was created in 2015 by Postcommodity, a collective composed of indigenous artists who lived in Arizona and New Mexico. They created 26 scare-eye balloons that were enlarged replicas of a product marketed to repel birds from, for instance, orchards where you don’t want them eating the fruit.  “Repellent Fence” required a great deal of cooperation between Mexico and the U.S. as it consisted of a 2-mile line of balloons with their large eyes floating over the border fence built by the U.S. In the museum a video of the project is shown with one of the actual large balloons looming above you.  For more details on the project go HERE.

The show loses some of its continuity by being in two venues but it is well installed in both.  If you can I would suggest starting at 516 Arts and then going onto the museum but that is not a must.  There will also be other events related to the show around Albuquerque.  It will be on until mid April.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Zurbarán’s Jacob and His Twelve Sons: Paintings from Auckland Castle

The exhibition, “Zurbarán’s Jacob and His Twelve Sons: Paintings from Auckland Castle” is at The Frick Collection in New York from January 31 through April 22, 2018.  It consists of twelve single figure paintings lent by the Auckland Project / Zurbarán Trust, reunited with a thirteenth from the series lent by Lady Willoughby de Eresby of Grimsthorpe Castle.
The show was co-organized with the Meadows Museum in Dallas and the Auckland Castle in County Durham, England.  It was curated by Susan Grace Galassi, Senior Curator at The Frick Collection; Mark A. Roglán, Director of The Meadows Museum; and Amanda Dotseth, Meadows/Mellon/Prado Postdoctoral Fellow at The Meadows Museum.   It continues the Frick’s year of looking at the art of Spain

Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish,1598-1664) was sent from his small town to Seville to apprentice to  a little known artist and thought to be largely self taught. He established a prolific workshop in Seville and assisted his fellow Sevillian, Diego Velázquez on a Royal commission in Madrid. In the mid 1630’s was appointed painter to Philip IV.  It is said that Philip once declared  of Zurbarán, "Painter to the King, King of Painters". 

With a decline in Seville’s economy in the early 1640’s and then the plague of 1649, Zurbarán turned his attention to the Latin American market, supplying paintings on commission to churches, monasteries, and wealthy individuals while also selling workshop pieces on the open market in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Lima, Peru. It is believed that the series of Jacob and his sons was intended for the New World as other examples of the subject are found in Peru and Mexico.

Jacob and his Twelve Sons, is a cycle of paintings all done between 1640 and 1645 representing the forebearers of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. They were purchased by Bishop Trevor, an advocate for the rights of Jews and Catholics in 1756 to hang in the Long Dining room at Auckland Castle where they pleaded his case for political, social and religious tolerance.  As each painting is close to 7 feet high by 3 plus feet wide they must have made quite a statement then as they do today.

Photo by Colin Davison

Each canvas tells a story from the book of Genesis.  For the Christians Jacob is seen as a prefiguration of Christ and his sons the antecedents of the twelve apostles.

Photo Credit: Robert La Prelle

In Jacob’s blessing of each of his sons "Dan will provide justice for his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan will be a serpent by the roadside, a viper along the path, that bites the horse's heels, so that it's rider tumbles backward. I look for your deliverance, O Lord" (Gen. 49:16-18).  In the illustration you can see Dan’s attribute of the serpent.

Photo Credit: Robert La Prelle

The only painting from Grimsthorpe Castle is of Jacob’s youngest son, Benjamin who was one of his father’s favorites.  Benjamin fathered the first King of Israel, Saul.  He holds a wolf foretelling that his tribe would become known for its ferocity in battle. This figure escaped the Bishop of Durham who was outbid on it at the auction where he acquired the rest of the series.

Photo Credit: Robert La Prelle

Begun in the late 12th century and remodeled over time ,Auckland Castle was a symbol of power and authority as the primary residence and hunting lodge of the Prince Bishops of Durham. It was purchased from the Church of England by a philanthropic financier, Jonathan Ruffer, and transferred in July 2012 to the Auckland Castle Trust, a charitable foundation created to restore both the castle and grounds and also establish permanent exhibitions on the history of Christianity in Britain and the North East.

Photo Credit: Graeme Peacock

If you cannot get to the show the catalogue explores the historical, religious, and artistic perspectives on these paintings was co-edited by Susan Grace Galassi, Mark A, Roglán  and  Dr. Edward Payne, Senior Curator, Spanish Art, The Auckland Project, County Durham. There are also other entries by scholars of Spanish art.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Annex Galleries

When I was in New York a number of years ago I went to visit a photography gallery where the proprietor, who I knew, asked if I had ever heard of Gustave Baumann.  I said I certainly had.

He told me a client had left a collection of photographs with him to sell.  Along with the photographs was this Baumann woodcut that he asked if I could I handle for him.  I said, of course I could though I did not know that much about Baumann but had seen a number of his great colored woodcuts and was a big fan. The New Mexico Museum of Art has a great collection of his work and the curator, Merry Scully, told me to get in touch with the Annex Galleries.  I did but they were not interested in my print or maybe it was the price I was asking for it!  Here is an image of “Taos Placita”, 1947.

Anyway, this correspondence via email got me on their mailing list and pretty much every day from then on I got an email with their “Print of the Day”.  It was an education in itself.  There were 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st century prints not just European and American but also Mexican, Asian, African and Pacific Rim.  The prices ran roughly from $50 to $50,000 with the great majority in the hundreds of dollars.

I found, not surprisingly, that what I liked did not necessarily correspond to the price.  I felt that this website was the answer to all those people who had come to my gallery saying, “I can’t afford to collect” and indirectly to their other question, “what should I collect?”  For instance if you are looking for a strong and not very expensive print here is a block print called “Worker with Drill” of about 1935  by Russian artist Albert Abramovitz (1879 – 1963) for $600.

The gallery is in Santa Rosa, California and that put the news coverage of the terrible fires last fall on a more personal level for me.  I emailed them at the time as I was concerned with their plight.  When, shortly after, we saw their stand at the New York Print Fair I asked about a fabulous Baumann print they had up on the wall and the price and I was told “It’s $35,000 but it was just sold” – Bummer! – The lady with whom I was speaking was Gala Chamberlain, she is partnered with her husband, Daniel Lienau, founder of the Annex Galleries.  Here is an image of “Silver Sky” the woodcut I saw which is finished with hand applied aluminum leaf.

Turns out that Gala and Daniel worked closely with Baumann’s daughter who also lived in Santa Rosa and died in 2011.  They are sole representatives of the estate and Gala is the executor; I did not quite understand the transaction.  It was explained to me that Gala would buy it from the gallery and give the woodcut back to the estate for resale and then the proceeds could be used for Baumann projects around the country.   Gala has just completed the Catalogue Raisonné on Gustave Baumann’s prints, which is scheduled to be published by Rizzoli in 2019.

It all began when Daniel was at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and he came across the Roten Gallery, which brought prints to college campuses giving the students a chance to buy with a year to pay for them.  He acquired a monumental woodcut by Leonard Baskin, “Hydrogen Man” for $100 and two Franz Marc’s for $20 each and paid them off over the following year.  The rest is history but Daniel started in business as a framer in Berkeley and then San Francisco where he first framed single prints and then editions of prints.  He ended up trading frames for cash and prints.  He now has over 6,000 prints on his website for every taste and pocket book.

Back in the 1970’s prints were not considered a high art like paintings and sculpture so selling was difficult.  Since Daniel saw the burgeoning interest in the collecting of photography which, of course, is just a category of prints, he reached out to a New York dealer by the name of Lee Witkin, who was a pioneer in the photography  market.   Daniel did a show in New York with Lee in the early 1980’s.  My wife and I were then regular visitors to the gallery where we bought much of our photography collection. Why were we acquainted with the name and images of Gustave Baumann before we came out to the Southwest?  It must have been Daniel Lieneau’s exhibition at Lee Witkin’s gallery.  My father always said that we live in a Global Village and it took just 37 years for these links to come together in our lives!

I asked Daniel how it is possible to do a global business from a small town in Northern California and the response was interesting.  He said that they do 18 to 20 art fairs a year. Having never done more than a couple annually I can tell you that even that was exhausting!  Nonetheless, Daniel told me that today he does most of his business on line.  I found this rather mind-boggling but with his method of being in continuous touch with potential clients by offering them something new to consider every day,---why not?

If you want to start on the same journey into the print world that I did just email the Annex Galleries ( to get on their mailing list for “The Print of the Day”.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Lifeways of the Southern Athabaskans

The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe opened an exhibition last month,  “Lifeways of the Southern Athabaskans”.  What is Athabaskan? Well you may ask. According to the dictionary it is “a family of languages spoken by American Indians in most of inland northwest Canada and Alaska, in coastal Oregon and California, and in Arizona and the Rio Grande basin, and including especially Navajo, Apache, and Chipewyan.”

This exhibition focuses on the Apache. There are 5 different main tribes with a number of Bands in each.  The five tribes are the Jicarilla, the Mescalero, the Chiricahua, the San Carlos and White Mountain. In the movies the Apache have often been represented as a single warlike tribe lead by Geronimo (1829-1909).  The Mescalero-Chiricahua, the warrior and medicine man led bands of Indians on numerous raids during a prolonged period in what he probably saw as protecting the lands of his people which were being settled by the Anglos after the United States’ war with Mexico.

The curator of the exhibition is Joyce Begay-Foss (Diné, known in the Anglo world as Navajo).  She is Director of Education at he museum and she wanted to call attention to the Apache because she felt that visitors to the museum might only be acquainted with a few of the Pueblos and not the Apache.  The show gives an across the board view of how the Apache lived and the utilitarian objects that they made.  Each of the tribes was different and approached the creation of these objects differently. 

Ms. Begay-Foss approaches her subject in a very ethnographic manner with the accent more on material culture and less on art though I would venture that many of works in the show reach the qualitative term, art. As an aside students  have traditionally been taught that there are the Fine Arts, paintings, drawings and sculpture and everything else is decorative arts, which in my opinion is a pejorative term.  Not as bad, of course, as at my Alma Mater, Columbia University, where there was a file cabinet outside of the library labeled, “The Minor Arts”.  In medieval times, however, there was just art, with no such distinction.

The Apache lived a migratory lifestyle, moving around from hill to dale seeking food and good hunting.  They camped in tipis that could be easily taken down, transported and put up in the next place. Here is a photo of the Mescalero Apache tipis in New Mexico taken around 1906 by R.H. Robinson.

Courtesy of the Palace of the Governors, Photo Archives

I will illustrate a few objects but there are so many that you really need to see the exhibition for yourselves to fully appreciate its scope.  Happily the show will be up into July of 2019 so you can put it on your calendars for when you will be in the neighborhood.

The most impressive work in the exhibition is a huge buffalo hide painted to record in abstract terms the early homelands of the Jicarilla.  The U.S. government had not yet set boundaries for tribal lands and as a nomadic people they had no sense of their specific land but roamed the Southwest freely.  Of course, there were natural boundaries, rivers, sacred mountains, lakes plains and other natural markers.  Each band could define their territory using these landmarks.

The primary weapon used for hunting was the bow and arrow and here is a Chiricahua Quiver (ca. 1886), which held the arrows. The colorful stars that decorate the brain tanned leather and the red flannel wool are made of tiny glass seed beads.

Photo by Addison Doty. Courtesy Museum of Indian Arts and Culture

For any group of people procreation is vital to continuation of the species and therefore we protect our children and teach them so that life can continue.  In the Apache tribes the children become aware of their identity as male and female through their language, education and cultural values which seems no different from most other worlds except I was not carried around on my mothers back on a cradleboard.  Dolls and tiny cradle boards helped to teach children how to take care of their siblings.  The style of clothing and moccasins a child wore were changed according to their age and amulets were attached to their garments for protection.  The same as we see St. Christopher medals hanging from the rear view mirror in many cars.

This Jicarilla elaborately contoured and beaded buckskin cape was made for the ceremony of a girl’s passage to womanhood. The dangling shells are amulets. Late 19th early 20th century.

Photo Courtesy Museum of Indian Arts and Culture

There is no catalog for the show but many books on the subject of the Apache.  I asked Ms. Begay-Foss, if forced, could she pick a single book to cover the subject and she suggested “Apache” by Thomas E. Mails.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Kota Ezawa, The Crime of Art

Site Santa Fe, our renowned Kunsthalle has been recently enlarged and has had an overall renovation as well. Before you reach the main exhibition galleries there is a curated shop with design pieces opposite a pair of smaller galleries called the SITElab where the exhibition Koto Ezawa, The Crime of Art is installed.

As indicated by the title, this is a solo exhibition based on famous art thefts.  All the works are new or recently done. As I have at home a shelf of books on art crime, the title of this show caught my attention.

Ezawa pays tribute to the  stolen works of art with transparencies placed in light boxes.
His series devoted the 1990 theft of the Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet and Degas among others  from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum starts the exhibition. The case has not been solved in almost 30 years. Every once in a while we seen a blurb in the news that they have another clue but these lead nowhere!

The show is not limited to the Gardner theft.  Another series of images refers to the famous theft of the Edvard Munch’s, “The Scream” from Oslo’s National Museum.  This picture was recovered in Norway after a two- year search.  There was another painting stolen as well and tree men were eventually convicted of the crime.  In this lightbox transparency you can see two men carrying paintings and the third opening the back of the wagon to put them in.

Ezawa is a Japanese-German artist who was born in 1969 in Cologne, Germany.  He currently lives near San Francisco and is Associate Professor of Fine Arts and Film at the California College of the Arts.  His work has been shown in many major museums in this country as well as in Canada, London, Paris and Germany.

A press release from the Haine’s Gallery in San Francisco defined Ezawa’s work very clearly, “Kota Ezawa’s work explores the appropriation and mediation of current events and images.”

The artist himself  states that this series, “draws upon painting only to recognize that painters before 1850, like Rembrandt and Vermeer, were essentially the photographers of their time. In the absence of photographs, their paintings take on the task of recording reality with the scrutiny and minuteness that we now expect from cameras. ….I feel compelled to produce an exhibition dealing with ‘stolen art works’ because my own process could be regarded as a form of image theft. One could say I’m hoping to steal these images back and give them a new life.”

What wonderful self-awareness! I too had the reaction to the work that it was copying though it certainly was not identical replication .  It is the theft of thought and who owns art?  It is always open to interpretation and what we call appropriation.  This has become a serious contemporary legal issue involving copyright law.   The Tate Gallery in London defined artistic appropriation as, “the more or less direct taking over of a work of art, a real object or even an existing work of art.”  I doubt very much that Rembrandt or Manet are going to go after Ezawa, however!

But when you compare Ezawa’s transparency with an original painting you see that he has not copied but simplified in a way like Cézanne simplified form and started cubism and abstraction almost at the same time!  Here, for instance, is his version of Manet’s “Chez Tortoni" together with the original.

Again in Ezawa’s appropriation of Rembrandt’s “Storm in the Sea of Galilee” it’s starkness derives from very flat colors and stylized form.

The video that goes along with the exhibition is marvelous exposition.  It shows among other aspects of art crime the helicopter coming down on the roof  of the museum and guards scrambling in the famous Topkapi heist; as so often happens they are too late!  I have included a small portion of the artist’s video.  In Google you will find many others.

I apologize for having  “discovered” this show at such a late date so you only have a couple of days to see it in Santa Fe live but a beautifully produced book with the same title has images from this show and a lot more.  A version of the show will go on to the Christopher Grimes Gallery in Santa Monica, California.