Sunday, November 17, 2019

Bertoldo di Giovanni

The Frick Collection in New York has continued its series of wonderful shows on renaissance bronzes.   This exhibition, Bertoldo di Giovanni: The Renaissance of Sculpture in Medici Florence, is the  first to be devoted this sculptor who lived ca. 1440–1491.  He was the student of one of the most famous sculptors of that or any other period, Donatello, and went on to be a teacher of Michelangelo.  To top that off he was a great favorite of Lorenzo “il Magnifico” de’ Medici, the most important collector and patron of the period. I believe this is so significant because if the greatest patron of the arts at the time was a huge fan, the artist must have been doing something right.

The “excuse” for the show, as if one is needed, is the Frick’s own bronze, “Shield Bearer” which is the only known work by the Bertoldo outside of Europe.  It is as well a wonderful example of the artist’s work, being very detailed and tight.  Note the hair on this figure’s head and beard.

Monographic exhibitions are put together for a number of reasons, often depending on the taste of the curator.  These days, however, Museums will not lend on a whim, but want to see that the show will advance art history .  One of the most frequent reasons being that if we see these works of art all in the same place, we can make distinctions and draw references.  Here they have brought together more than 20 examples representing the majority of Bertoldo’s work. Also, these shows give the opportunity to reunite objects that were created together but have been separated.  For instance, Liechtenstein: The Princely Collections in Vaduz-Vienna lent their Shield Bearer, which offered a prime opportunity for comparison with the Frick’s. At first it appears to be the mirror image but if you look closely you will find many differences. 

The exhibition opens with Bertoldo's largest bronze. It is an incredibly complicated relief that is an adaptation of an ancient sarcophagus that depicts a battle between Roman soldiers and barbarians. The bronze was lent by the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, with whom the Frick collaborated on the show.

One of my favorite pieces is Hercules on Horseback lent by the Gallerie Estensi, Modena.  It was probably made for the Duke Ercole I d'Este, who associated himself with his namesake.  Ercole even rode through Ferrara in antique costume, bringing flowering branches to the city's most beautiful women.

Being close to life size, the most impressive sculpture is a full-length figure of St. Jerome,  in wood, gesso and paint, ca. 1465–66. The startling realism comes from a great period of innovation.  It was lent to the show by the Pinacoteca Comunale, Faenza. Today’s scholars propose it was begun by Donatello at the end of his life and completed by his student, Bertoldo. Who am I to dispute that? If you look closely you can see the blood dripping from the wound caused by St. Jerome beating himself with the stone he holds.  It is thought that it was meant to go on a plinth where the blood would be better seen from below.

Bertoldo was an innovator in the field of medals but I will leave that for you to discover.

The fully illustrated catalog accompanying the show is the most substantial text on Bertoldo ever produced.  Why is this important?  Because Bertoldo is the direct link between the two greatest names in Renaissance Sculpture, Donatello and Michelangelo.  The latter having the ego that went along with his talent made himself out to have been self-taught and did not mention the instruction from Bertoldo.  An issue for Bertoldo was that he did not have his own studio and relied on other artists to work with him. Artists did work together sometimes! Also, If art historians think that something is just too good to be Bertoldo it gets attributed to Michelangelo.  Many great names are buried by history.

I, for one, am delighted that the Frick has done this exhibition which runs until January 12, 2020. I am only disappointed that it is not travelling in this country.  The show was organized by Aimee NG, Curator, Alexander J. Noelle, Anne L. Poulet Curatorial Fellow and Xavier F. Solomon, Peter J. Sharp Chief Curator with the assistance of Julia Day, Conservator. Listing all those credited with contributing scholarship would take a couple of Missives, however special credit is given to our old friend James Draper, a former Metropolitan Museum of Art curator, who was the first to devote scholarly attention to Bertoldo and wrote the catalog raisonné published in 1992.  Sadly he passed away 3 days ago.

Aside from the exhibition catalog, the Frick’s website has a great deal of material and I urge you to watch the 5-minute video where you will not only learn more, but be able to see much of the show that I have not even touched on.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

TEFAF - New York - 2019

The European Fine Arts Fair (TEFAF) was established in Maastricht, the Netherlands in 1988, thanks to the efforts of art dealer, Robert Noortman.  His gallery happened to be in Maastricht, which is a small medieval town historically important for trade as it is located at the junction of two rivers.  Important treaties have been signed here as It is near the border of modern-day Germany, Belgium and France.  It has the advantage for an art fair as being somewhere that is lovely, restful and there is not much else you can.  So, when people make the trip, they do with the thought at least of maybe buying something.  I am told that there are 10,000 visitors to TEFAF Maastricht every day.

New York is not that kind of town so though many may come, an art fair is just one of many cultural choices you might have any day of the week!  We were at TEFAF New York 10 days ago for close to 6 hours on the opening day. We managed to at least pass and look into all 90 stands which is less than half the number of dealers that you find in Maastricht.  Of course, we went back for a shorter time a few days later.  A curator at the Maastricht edition once told me he had been in the fair for 3 days and not seen everything yet!

In this year’s New York fair, the passages before you get to the booths are hung with an exhibition titled, “Artfully Dressed: Women in the Art World”.  The large-scale portraits by photographer Carla van de Puttelaar are of women dealers, curators, artists and patrons of the arts.  The show was sponsored by Bank of America and curated by art dealer, Rachel Kaminsky.  Rachel told us that the project came about when she met the photographer who had asked to photograph her and Rachel realized that she was in a position to introduce her to other powerful women in the art world.  I must say that I knew quite a number of these women, but they were so artfully dressed and posed that I recognized few. Here are two of the images.  The first is of Rachel and the second is of mega collector and philanthropist Agnes Gund with her granddaughter Ellie Traggio.

I am sure there were celebrities among the visitors, but I just saw colleagues and friends.  At functions like these if you have been in the art world over a long period of time you see these folks again and again.  At 75 I am lucky enough to have spent many years in this group.

Our first stop was at the Wildenstein Gallery. My family has dealt with the Wildensteins  for generations as we have always been in similar fields of art.  At this fair they were one of the few dealers to occupy one of the historic rooms not just a stand on the Armory floor.  They showed some wonderful French 18th century paintings of which my favorite was Jean Francois de Troy’s, circa 1714, “Danae Receiving Zeus Disguised as a Shower of Gold”.

Also, from my old world contacts were the Kugel brothers from Paris. They had an incredible object, “The Comte de Charolais Fountain”, which has a distinguished provenance back to the 18th century. It is composed of a Chinese late 17th or early 18th century celadon vase and two porcelain fu dogs mounted as a fountain on a gilt bronze base. It must have been assembled around 1749 by a Paris marchand mercier (dealer who put together the various parts to create precious novelty wares).  It was described in detail in the inventory of the Comte de Charolais (1700-1760).

The founder of the Lillian Nassau Gallery in New York was responsible for the revival of interest in Louis Comfort Tiffany. The gallery continues the tradition, under the aegis of Arlie Sulka and Eric Silver with an example of his work that they had the good fortune to recently acquire. It is a monumental wrought iron fireplace hood ornamented with Japanese sword guards created by Tiffany for a New York mansion on 72nd street.

An object that really got to me was this Spanish terracotta Head of Saint John the Baptist by Jose de Mora (1642 – 1724) which was exhibited by the Mullany Gallery from London.

Many of the booths had creative installations such as this large silvered frame hanging at the front of the booth introducing the English silver wares of  Shrubsole from New York.

One of the most exciting objects in the show was also one of the smallest.  It was a Book of Hours made for Queen Claude of France created circa 1520-23.  The tiny vellum leaves are painted with text, patterns and full scenes.  I hope to devote a complete Missive to it in the near future.  When we spoke to the dealer, Heribert Tenschert from Switzerland I was delighted to learn that the missal came from the Vienna Rothschild Collection that my family handled in the 1940’s and beyond.  The jeweled and enamel gold cover for the missal was found separately but when the binder put the book inside, the fit was so perfect that he said he believed it was made for it.  These miracles happen in the art world, seldom, but they are not unique.

TEFAF organized a cultural program of lectures and panels during the fair.  We heard an interesting one on the restoration of Notre Dame after aa fire earlier this year. Panelists stressed the importance of restoring Violet le Duc’s work on the cathedral as it marked the beginning of the modern science of architectural preservation. 

Since I have not been traveling abroad in recent years, TEFAF New York, combined with visits to a few of the incredible museums in this town, gave us the fix we needed from the art of former times!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

3-2-1 Acting Studios

Well, we are in Pasadena California, a few minutes from the Hollywood Hills so what did you expect me to write about, another Museum?  

Seriously, we are visiting our brand new grand child but another birth does not stop the business of Hollywood.  99.9% of actors have a lot of down time between gigs and wish to continue to earn a living and contribute to their community.  So it is with our actor son, Hunter.  Therefore, twice a week he teaches at 3-2-1 Acting Studios and we have joined as spectators  for some of these sessions.

The studio was founded in 2007 by Mae Ross, known in-house as Miss Mae, as a place for kids to get the rudiments of acting.  Of course, I am always wondering where do the students for a children’s acting school come from. Is it the ambitions of loving parents who see their children as stars or do the kids themselves want to be like those who they idealize from stage or screen?

These students  are of all ages and our son works with the teens, age 12 to 18.  By this time one can see how serious they are. Some will just  gain skills through lessons in acting while others are serious about pursuing it as a profession.  After the class we saw, one father was asking Hunter if he would tutor his child for an audition  she was going to have in a few days time.  Of course, any such request within the school had to go through proper channels.

The class starts out with warm ups where they need to quickly come up with an action that someone else has to imitate and then immediately come up with something that the next person has to do.  Another exercise is called Zip Zap Zop where you quickly say one of those words hands pointing to someone else in your circle who must continue without  pause. Then, What Are You Doing?  Lessons for quick thinking on your feet.  You have to take up an action (for instance brushing your teeth) and when asked by the next student “What are you doing” you must reply with something completely different (mowing the lawn) without stopping tooth-brushing. The next person must act out  the verbal cue (mowing) and repeat the process. This forces the student to do one thing and verbalize another.  These are lessons for quick thinking on your feet, as well as improv and relating to your fellow actors.

After these warm-up games  they are given a fundamental  acting principle  to think about. What every student has to remember is— Who? (Who are you, what is your role) What? (What is your motivation) Where? (Literally, where are you located) Why? (Why are you where you are and with what motive) When? (What time period are you working in.)

If a student has an audition coming up they can bring their sides (scripts) and Hunter will help them rehearse and give notes for that piece.  If the student has nothing special to work on they are paired with a partner and given a short script which Hunter  picks out from a pile prepared for his students.  They  are  given 10 minutes to rehearse the piece before returning to perform and  watch each other  in turn.   We watched one impressive student deal with a script that had her being interrogated by an investigator and  confessing to drowning  the class bully.  The scene ended with her turning  to her (invisible) mother to plead “I am #1 now, aren’t you happy for me?”  I quote this line to show the kind of emotion that has to be demonstrated in the piece.

After each pair has done their bit the way they conceived it, Hunter gives them notes on how they might improve their performance and what their motives might be. He then films each vignette, plays it back to them, often with their parents present.

When I asked Hunter whether the children of working actors attended, he said only a few, because the school is not near to where most actors live.  I also wanted to know if any of these kids ever worked in the biz and he said that some actually did.  One acting coach that Hunter interviewed with when he was starting out said that you get one role out of every 100 auditions and that sounds like an accurate description, unless you get a break, which most actors don’t.  Talent, of course, is important but just as important is being in the right place at the right time- and having good basic training in the art form at an early age doesn’t hurt.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

I Was Used By Richard Meier

Richard Meier (1934-) is what we call these days a starchitect.  He won the most prestigious award for architecture, the Pritzker Prize, in 1984, the year after I.M. Pei won.  I am not a big fan though I can appreciate his innovation.  He has been described as, “an American abstract artist and architect, whose geometric designs make prominent use of the color white.”  Is white your favorite color?

I believe that the first Richard Meier building I was in was the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, shortly after it opened in 1983.  My two memories of it are that aside from being very white, inside and out, the stair railings were built so a child could easily fall through, a fault that was later corrected. Also, on the top floor which was to house the drawings a large skylight allowed for direct sunlight on the walls, the greatest peril for works on paper!

In 1995 Meier completed the City Hall and Library for the Hague in the Netherlands, creating a new city center.  In 2017, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the de Stijl movement, Meier’s  huge white slab building  was painted with blocks of color in the style of  Piet Mondrian, de Stijl’s preeminent into “the world’s largest Mondrian painting”.  The new façade was created by artists Madje Vollaers and Pascal Zwart of Studio VZ.  Although meant to be temporary, in my personal opinion it was a great improvement!

In the mid 1990’s, when I was on the President’s Cultural Property Committee, we were taken to Meier’s yet unfinished Getty Museum to meet with many Arts Ministers from Central America.  Here is a photo of the committee and others participating in the conference in front of the building.

The Getty officially opened in December of 1997 at a staggering cost of $1.3 billion!  To be fair, it is a campus complex including the Conservation Institute, the Research Institute, the Foundation, the Trust and, of course, the museum.  The President of the museum at the time had rejected several suitable locations on terra firma, as he wanted to build a monument overlooking L.A.. He picked a spot in Brentwood with breathtaking views but directly on a major earthquake fault! Special structural considerations were needed and, methods had to be invented to secure the museum’s works of art against the inevitable tremors and quakes.

A short time after this I was told that Richard Meier wanted to meet and have lunch with me.  I must say I was somewhat flattered.  Why would this starchitect want with me?  It  took a while to realize what his goal was.  My parents were originally from Frankfurt am Main, Germany and he wanted to learn all about it.  My knowledge, however, was fairly limited having only been there a few times and my parents’ stories were limited.  The other shoe dropped sometime later when I found out that Meier had been asked to build the Museum Angewandte Kunst (decorative arts museum) in that town and needed background information!  Of course, he had not mentioned this. I was not a happy camper!

To quote Meier, “Any work of architecture that has with it some discussion, some polemic, I think is good. It shows that people are interested, people are involved.” According to one definition, Polemic is “a strong verbal or written attack on someone or something”.  So, as I have found there are those who love his work as well as some that hate it, I suppose he would consider it a success!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Buffy Sainte-Marie

It was a dream come true, hearing Buffy Sainte-Marie performing here in Santa Fe.  In the 1960’s I frequented the Greenwich Village coffee houses in New York but to my recollection, I had never heard her live before.  We are so lucky to live somewhere that people enjoy visiting and entertainers want to come despite the fact that they  make money touring playing venues much larger than our local Lensic theater with its 821 seats. During her solo performance Buffy talked several times about how expensive it is to travel, especially with her band, so I presume that is why they did not come along.  She used the excuse, however, that they had just been to Australia.

Joel Aalberts, Executive Director of the Lensic introduced her performance by explaining that the evening’s event was a fund raiser for Indigenous Solutions/Indigenous Ways, The Friendship Club of Santa Fe and Tewa Women United.  All very appropriate for our new holiday in the State of New Mexico, Indigenous People’s Day, formerly known as Columbus Day.

Buffy Sainte-Marie was born in 1941 or 1942 into the Cree Tribe in Saskatchewan, Canada where records of the Indians were not that carefully kept.  She was adopted by a family from Massachusetts where she grew up. During her performance she mentioned twice the bullying and sexual harassment she experienced both from her stepbrother in their home, and a relative who lived outside their home.

The concert began with a traditional Indian blessing in the Tewa language and English for an on-stage group of local Native women elders.  There was one of two signers translating throughout the evening. I don’t know why people who could not hear would come to a small concert like this but maybe it was just a fitting symbol of communication.  Part of the Buffy message is that we have consideration for others as we all need to get along, particularly important in these divided times.

Of course, the reason for going to a concert given by Buffy Sainte-Marie is to hear her sing her songs.  She is not only has a great voice but she is a multitalented in the musical arts, playing different instruments.  She played two string instruments a keyboard and a mouthbow on this particular evening. If I am not mistaken, she only sang songs that she herself had written.  Her lyrics make you realize her talent for poetry as well.

Of course, she sang some of her strongest and most popular songs such as, “My Country 'tis of Thy People you're Dying” and her fans’ 1964 all-time favorite, “Universal Soldier”.

She explained it came to her when she was stuck overnight in San Francisco Airport and in the middle of the night this Airforce transport landed, and injured soldiers were brought through on gurneys… that was Vietnam.

After her performance there was an after party at which we were all giving a shoulder bag which included Buffy’s Biography.

Altogether the experience was much more than an exercise in nostalgia, it was a stirring performance by a still-great artist and a perfect opening for the Indigenous Day weekend.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The San Francisco Mint

I remember being taken to the Mint when I was still in my single digits.  I believe it was one in Washington D.C.  I was so disappointed, not sure why but maybe it was because I went with a my class to a donut factory we all got samples and at the Mint we could not get close enough t actually see the money, just the stacks on a conveyor belt below our glass glorified catwalk.

In any case, it did give me a taste for how money is actually made.  Therefore, when I read an article in The Arts Journal, one of the art blogs I subscribe to, I latched onto this headline “The Museum where they Print Money”. The article came from the San Francisco Chronicle, “SF Newest Museum is opening in the City’s Oldest Mint”.  In 1792 Congress passed the Coinage Act, establishing the first national mint which Congress declared would be in Philadelphia, this country’s Capital at the time.  Congress directed that “In copper: half cent and cent, In silver: half dime, dime, quarter, half dollar, and dollar and In gold: quarter eagle ($2.50), half eagle ($5), and eagle ($10)”.   Only the gold and half penny have disappeared in the meantime!

When gold fever gripped the country, they needed to open U.S. branch Mints with assay offices to weigh and value the gold. The California Gold Rush began in 1848 and the San Francisco Mint opened in 1854 , the oldest one in the West, turning nuggets and gold dust into coins.  It was soon too small, and a new mint was established in 1874.  This building known both as the Old United States Mint and “The Granite Lady” was one of the few to survive the 1906 earthquake.  Only the base and basement were made of granite, the upper stories were done in sandstone.  It is very much in the same Classical Style as the Metropolitan Museum built in the same decade but by different architects.

By the time of the fire, the San Francisco mint held $300 million, one third of the United States Gold Reserve.  Fort Knox was established only in 1936 and in 1937 got the first shipment of the country’s precious bullion reserve.  At the same time San Francisco built a new Mint. 

Designated a National Historical landmark, the old Mint was open to the public until 1993. In 2003 the Federal government sold it to the City of San Francisco for $1.  They used an 1879 silver dollar struck at the mint to pay. It was supposed to become a historical museum and called San Francisco Museum at the Mint.  They finished the first phase but then the project languished between many possible owner museums.  In 2014 the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society began raising funds for phase 2 but they failed. Vice president of the Historical Society was also active in real estate and saw an opportunity in this property located in the heart of the oldest part of the city.  He made a deal with the city that if he left the original building intact and it remained a museum he could build on the property.

The Historical Society has a 5-year lease with an option to renew.  They have started out modestly with an exhibition on the untold stories of the men of the gold rush, which I certainly would be interested in seeing.  If you go let me know what you think.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Highland’s University Statue

For my birthday my wife surprised me with a visit back to the Castaneda ...

The idea was that their much-touted restaurant and 12 course tasting menu would be open and ready, but that was not to be.  Construction delays as always.  We had a lovely time anyway, and, wanting to visit a part of town we had not been to before, we went over to Highlands University. It was founded in 1893 as a teacher training school but is now a branch of the state university system.

On a Saturday afternoon the campus was almost empty and even the library was closed.  That would, of course, not have been the case in my day but then, I didn’t have the internet for research. As we walked around, we found the Commons with a bronze statue in the center.  Titled “Harmony” it consists of three figures by artist and educator Gary Coulter (1935-2000). It was dedicated in 1987 to “to recognize and honor the cultural and ethnic diversity of New Mexico Highlands University’s students”. Definitely not a great work of art but what they did with it I found so appropriate for a place of learning in these days of conflict.

Large plaques on each side of the base have excerpts from the writings of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and José Marti, as well as “A song of the Tewa”.

The Tewa are a linguistic group of Native Americans living today in pueblos along the Rio Grande. The Song of the Tewa, is looking to the day when tame animals and children are blessed as are their brother Indian tribes and even the Mexican and Anglo-American people, wishing all “may make our lives together here”.

José Marti (1853-1895) was Cuban poet, and philosopher who is regarded as a hero in his country as a revolutionary activist. In 1893 he writes, “Man has no special rights because he belongs to a particular Ethnic Group, “Anyone, you might want to send this plaque to?

JFK writes in 1962, “In a time of turbulence and change, it is more true than ever that knowledge is power…” “Liberty without learning is always in peril and learning without liberty is always in vain.”  Oh, how I wish that our politicians would learn their history before aspiring to a political office.

The plaque with the best known quotation is, of course, Martin Luther King’s, “I have a dream” speech of 1963, It continues, “I have a dream that one day, on the red hills of Georgia the sons of slaves the sons of former slave owners will sit together at the table of brotherhood.”

Just think if every student who came to Highlands University would just sit in front of this statue and take in the lessons that each of these plaques had to offer what fabulous individuals and politicians they would make!