Sunday, February 21, 2021

Our Immigrants

There is so much in the 21st century world I do not understand at the age of 76 but one of the most perplexing is the fear of immigrants.  Go back far enough and if you are not the child of a Native American you have immigrants in your family tree.  Remember it was immigrants who came over on the Mayflower in 1620 making America Great for the first time and they were soon rampaging across the continent massacring the Indians.

I wonder of today’s anti-immigration Americans if they ever buy from Amazon (founded by Jeff Bezos, son of immigrants from Cuba) or use Google (founded by Sergey Brin from Moscow and now run by Sundar Pichal from Chennai, India) or follow advances in electric cars, batteries and space made by the founder of Tesla, Elon Musk, (born in South Africa). These are just a few of the foreign born who have founded and head the biggest companies in the United States.  Many of which have brought new-found innovation and wealth to this country.


Sergey Brin


The Vilcek Foundation was founded by Marica and Jan Vilcek, immigrants from Czechoslovakia who were grateful to this country for the opportunities it offered them. Marcia Vilcek is an art historian, and her husband Jan is a microbiologist whose anti-inflammatory invention became hugely successful. They decided to use the profits to create a foundation with the purpose of raising awareness of the contributions in the arts and sciences of immigrants to the United States. Its annual awards honor foreign-born artists and scientists as well as advocates of immigrant rights. Since its founding in 2000 the Foundation has awarded over 5 million dollars in prizes to foreign-born individuals and made grants in the same amount to various organizations ... https://vilcek.org/


Marica & Jan Vilcek


As a personal aside, serving on the boards of two arts organizations in Santa Fe I can tell you that, particularly in the last year, they have been struggling.  We are so grateful for grants we have received from private foundations that allow us to keep these arts organizations going.


Since World War II the art world in the U.S. has been enriched by the talents of many European immigrants. A recent museum recruit was Max Hollein, an Austrian and son of the renowned architect Hans Hollein.    Before his appointment as Director of the Metropolitan Museum, Max was Director of the Staedel Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, and Director of the San Francisco Museums. Earlier generations of distinguished Met curator/scholars included the German-born Richard Ettinghuasen Dietrich von Bothmer and Helmut Nickel who headed the departments of Islamic Art, Greek and Roman and Arms and Armor, respectively.


Max Hollein


Though at times they do not like to admit it the museums need art dealers to find works of art for their walls and installations.  In that category we can count Klaus Perls (1912-1998) born in Berlin.  The dual focus of his interest was French 19th century art and that of the Benin Empire.  He wrote several monographs ranging from the 15th century artist Jean Fouquet to 20th century French artists.


There are a host of art dealers of that same generation who came to the U.S. and that would include my father, Eric Stiebel, who came over from Germany with his brother Hans and cousin Saemy Rosenberg to form Rosenberg & Stiebel.  With their foreign connections were able to find Old Master paintings and European decorative arts for museums throughout this country.


I cannot omit the Viennese Serge Sabarsky (1912-1996) who championed the art of German and Austrian Expressionists in his gallery and numerous travelling exhibitions. Thanks to his close friendship with collector Ronald Lauder the Sabarsky legacy is perpetuated in the Neue Gallerie in New York run by a long- time associate of Serge’s Renée Price.


Today we have Alexandre Gertsman, an art dealer from Russia whose New York gallery is a major cultural meeting spot for the local Russian creative community.   His gallery exhibitions have been acknowledged in the Washington Post, The New York Times, the New Yorker and he has also curated shows of contemporary Russian art for museums in the United States, Europe, and Russia.  These ignored 20th century Russian artists because of National Politics will surely be eventually collected by museums all over the United States.



I don’t know where the United States would be, nor who would want to live here, if it were not for all the immigrants who have contributed so much to our lives in every possible way.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

In Memoriam: Richard L. Feigen (1930-2021)

Though Richard L. Feigen led a long and fruitful life I was sad to learn that on January 29, 2021 he succumbed to Covid-19.

As long-time colleagues in the art world, Dick and I were both members of The Art Dealers’ Association of America.  He was greatly respected by all.  His mere presence elevated the group.   Though professionally he was hard driving and a tough negotiator, I found that he treated everyone equally and never had a superior air.  I remember at one of our Art Dealer Association meetings someone saying, probably in the early 1970’s, “I wonder if we could get the young trump to start collecting art” and Dick piping up and saying, “I tried to get him to buy some important painting coming up at auction.  I told him this could really put him on the map in the art world and be good PR, but he was not interested.  He will never be a collector.”  Here he is early in his career.

Dick enjoyed entertaining at his home where we were included in the annual Chinese dinner he held for those who had convened for the Old Master auction week in New York. The walls were hung with his fabulous private collection. A great quote of his is, “I am a collector in dealer’s clothes” which he wrote in his book, “Tales from the Art Crypt”.  He also wrote, “Masterpieces are increasingly unavailable, but I never encountered one that was overpriced, only ones I could not afford”.  Sometimes, reluctantly, he had to sell at auction, for liquidity, to take advantage of opportunities in the market, or more recently for estate planning as with his 2019 consignment of a group of paintings to Christie’s. Here he is at home hanging some of his art.

Armed with a Harvard MBA he bought a seat on tha New York stock exchange but left Wall Street to open his first art gallery in 1957 in Chicago focusing on Surrealism and German Expressionism, most especially the work of Max Beckman. In 1962 he opened a second gallery in New York selling not only Modern Masters but cutting edge artists such as Francis Bacon, Joseph Cornell and Claes Oldenburg.  He explained, “I think I was interested in the future potential of things”.  My point being is that at the time these works would have been considered, Modern, and in today’s parlance, Contemporary. Though he never abandoned them he became increasing involved in Old Master paintings, whether they were for himself or resale.  Here is an image by George Grosz (1893-1959) “Lovesick Man”  of 1916 sold to the Museum in Dusseldorf, Germany.

As a dealer his approach was more high powered than the older generation in the profession like  Klaus Perls, who had a gallery in the same Upper East Side neighborhood and used to say, “I never sold a painting, but once in a while I allowed someone to buy something.” Though I believe Richard would have subscribed to that philosophy his drive and financial background aligned him with a clientele of modern moguls.  In his Italian collection is a wonderful photo of Danae by Orazio Gentilesch (1563-1639) which ended up in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum.


Richard Feigen’s legacy lies not just in the paintings he donated to his alma mater Yale and to the Metropolitan Museum, but in his role as a dealer, esteemed for his acumen and his “eye”, who enhanced many important private collections and museums around the world for half a century.


Sunday, February 7, 2021

Peter Schjeldahl ‘s Art of Words

I wrote about Peter Schjeldahl last year and I believe I could write about him every week without becoming boring.   Charles Finch in his review of Schjeldahl’s book “Hot Cold Heavy, Light” in the New York Times called him “a great artist”. He paints his pictures with words, giving the reader an intimate understanding of the art he has viewed or the music that he has heard.


A published poet before he became an art critic, he even taught at Harvard for four years. I wonder if the year he spent in Paris turned him onto the visual arts because, born in Fargo North Dakota and working as a reporter for local newspapers, he did not have this background.   He has certainly become over his lifetime a 20th and 21st century Renaissance Man!



In 21019 when Schjeldahl was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and was not expected to live long the New Yorker had asked him to write a memoir. He did it, in a way, calling it, “The Art of Dying” in which he reviewed his life chronologically but skipped his year in Paris.  Right off he said that he is glad he did not die at a young age because he would have been embarrassed if people said, “He. Smoked you know… “ Though he says there is no art to dying  as “everybody does it”, he described death as “like a painting rather than a sculpture because  it’s seen from only one side”. 


Outliving all expectations, I see that he wrote a review in the January 25th edition of the New Yorker, which proves him still to be at the top of his form, at least as far as his art criticism is concerned. His subject was an exhibition at the David Zwirner gallery in New York, a show of two artists, the German Josef Albers and the Italian, Georgio Morandi.  I have a particular interest in the latter because my father’s best friend and my adopted “uncle”, Herman (Maenne) Goldsmith,  was his dealer.  Maenne took my parents to Morandi’s home in the mountains of Italy. The artist had the most beautiful view of the country side, but was fixated with the bottles and other objects in his studio which he painted for half a century.  Schjeldhl describes the work as “Often woozily drawn and always tenderly brushed in muted colors, the tableaux look but don’t feel repetitive."



He points out the “deeply poetic” Morandi  and the “academic and even pedantic” Albers “were brothers in perserverance”.  Albers “wedded himself to a format of three or four nested hard-edged squares on square supports – ‘Homage to the Square’ he called them – centered a bit below the pictures’ vertical midpoints.”  I shall illustrate it here though after that description you hardly need it.



Schjeldahl even describes the gallery in lyrical tones, “The Zwirner show is one of the best installed that I’ve ever seen. Its four large rooms host rhythmic arrays and alternations that induce that crackle: the soft cosmos of Morandi is both relieved and refreshed by the architectonics of Albers, and vice versa. The artists share an intensity of artistic vocation.”


A couple of months ago Schjeldahl wrote for the same magazine, “The Metropolitan Museum at a Hundred and Fifty”. He described the Met’s acknowledgement of its birthday as “celebrating in a pandemically muted manner”. As he pointed out “A hundred and fifty is a lot of years, though a mere flicker compared with the five millennia’s worth of objects from the permanent collections that are sampled in the show.” He criticized the Met particularly for it’s early blind spot to modern art and artists of color but conceded “Oh the other hand, and meanwhile, c’mon.  The Met is our Home Depot of the soul.”


I do hope that someday someone will write a comprehensive biography of this consummate artist of words.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Art of Mathematics

When I was in 5th grade, around 1954-55, I had a math teacher who was probably brilliant but what did I know at the age of 10.  In retrospect, however, I believe he was somehow involved with early computers.  Anyway, he was teaching us about “Random Number Tables”.  I have always had a very linear mind and I thought at the time how ridiculous, why would you want a random number table.  I naively asked, “how do you set up a random number table?”.  I am sure you have guessed his answer, “Randomly”!  It only took me about 65 years to understand.  Today, for almost anything I want to do, log into a financial website or sync my remote keyboard with my monitor, they send me a 6-digit number which is, of course, randomly picked by a computer.  I actually marvel at all the combinations and possibilities.


This has had me thinking about mathematics and art. They say that art works on emotion and imagination to create a reaction in the viewer or listener.  Some people find emotional reactions in the perfection of mathematics.  Certainly, line and proportion are part of both visual arts and mathematics.


I am sure that one of my old schoolbooks had the Vitruvian Man created around 1487 by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) to represent what he believed were the ideal human proportions. The drawing was accompanied by Leonardos’ notes based on the calculations of Vitruvius, the 1st century BC Roman architect and engineer.


When I started to delve further into the subject there was kind of a “dah” moment when I related the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) to my geometry class. His early work was quite traditional painting landscapes and still-lives and, for my taste, his flowers were beautiful. Without going into his philosophy too deeply, when he came to believe that art surpassed the mundane and wished to find a higher level, he became a leader in modern abstract art.  If you care to review a geometry lesson based on the artist click here  https://www.teachervision.com/geometry/geometry-color-piet-mondrian 

Here is an iconic Mondrian Image, “Broadway Booggie Woogie” painted in 1942.  It can be found in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.


I cannot comprehend the scientific definition of a fractal, but I did find a relatively simple definition: fractals exhibit similar patterns at increasingly small scales. Can the same shape, repeated over and over again at smaller scale be turned into an image to which one can form an emotional attachment?  Research done by a physicist, Richard Taylor at the University of Oregon and others claim that Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings are fractals.  These complex geometric shapes have been studied by mathematicians since only in the 1970’s.  Jackson Pollock died in 1956!  Here is a Fractal Canvas Print by Jason Padgett and a Jackson Pollock Drip Painting called “Lavender Mist # 1” from 1950 and now in the National Gallery, Washington D.C.



The lengths that some will go to, to explain a painting shows why I have stayed away from math all my life and centered on the arts!

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Trump Art Souvenirs

I have no wish to become a political, much less just an anti-trump, blogger but I believe I have made it clear on how I feel about our previous President. To work within the scope of my Missives I have found a middle ground at least for this week in the “art” that makes fun of him. It probably galls him no-end and that brightens my day!


Artists have produced a great deal of protest art thanks to our last president The first time I became aware of this phenomenon was an article on an acquisition by the Museum of London of a giant “trump baby” balloon for its collection of Protest Art.  The unflattering caricature of him as a giant baby in a diaper waving a cell phone first flew over London in 2018 to mark the president’s first official visit.


Activist, artist and curator, Karen Gutfreund, illustrates the Anti-Trump Fine Art Movement in her nf released book, “Not Normal: Art in the Age of Trump”.  Here Is one of my favorite examples, a billboard by Karen Fiorito called “Trumpocalypse”, (2017) in Phoenix, Arizona, 10 x 42.6 feet.


New York artist, Andres Serrano, best known for his “Piss Christ” has gathered examples of trump memorabilia in a multi-media installation devoted to his subject called, “The Game: All things trump.”  Serrano spent two years and $200,000 of his own money putting the collection together.  He opened his   presentation in a defunct night club in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District with a thousand pieces related to his subject including a souvenir miniature cake from trump’s 2005 wedding to Melania!


The exhibition, which starts with trump as a businessman, is a portrait of consumerism and egoism wrapped up in a lot of cringe-worthy memorabilia. It demonstrates that trump's America has been a long time in the making.  Unfortunately, it is not a permanent museum, but it is commemorated in a book.



The pro-trump Insurrection at the Capitol has inspired the Smithsonian to collect flags, protest signs and other ephemera from the event.  This bumper sign is headed for the collection of the National Museum of American History.

Photo by Frank Blazich

The most devastating aspect of trump’s legacy is being documented by the state museums of New Mexico which are collecting photographs and written submissions regarding the Covid Pandemic.  There is a lot to collect for the last time I checked the U.S. ranks among the countries with the most Covid-related deaths per capita, and so many could have been avoided with responsible leadership.  The more that museums preserve of this period the better the reminder to future generations to watch out for a repeat of this kind of would-be tyrant.  

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Insurrection

Ten days later and I am still boiling.  Who could believe that an event such as two Democrats, one a black Minister and  a young Jewish documentary filmmaker get elected to the US House of Represenatives in Georgia, of all places, and it gets so little play on the news.  You know why? We had an insurrection in the Capital and in the Capitol preceded by a treasonable  phone call trying to overthrow our election.

If you have followed my Missives over the last 4 years you saw these blogs:

https://www.geraldstiebel.com/2020/11/what-happened-at-bonwit-teller.html

https://www.geraldstiebel.com/2018/03/forewarned-is-forearmed-redux.html

https://www.geraldstiebel.com/2020/08/making-fun-of-commander-in-chief.html

https://www.geraldstiebel.com/2016/11/forewarned-is-forearmed.html


So hopefully this is a final farewell from this president who should be in prison … I shall live in hope.


Here are a couple of comments from friends and colleagues that resonated with me because of my German Jewish immigrant parents:


 “I left Germany when I was 4; born after war, my parents could barely speak about what happened, but I have studied my past -- I'm a German gentile after all- and I needed to understand what happened.  I know what Hitler did- race baiting, scape goating, distorting the truth, lying, using violence and pressure, demanding loyalty,  attacking the press-  using his loyalists like thugs- scaring people -- creating a cult- it's ALL there- ALL THERE! Plus he's INSANE—"


Another wrote: 

“This is a rare day when I’m powerfully reminded that I’m an (Jewish) immigrant & naturalized American citizen. I’m remembering the prizes I won in elementary school in the 1940’s for my Americanism essays. Can this be made right? Was the idealism with which my immigrant parent imbued me misplaced? Today I had to wonder.”


Susan Glasser ended her excellent New Yorker piece on “Trümperdämmerung” this way: "Out of all the books I read this year—and I read many, stuck at home during 2020’s endless quarantine—the one that resonated perhaps the most was “Those Who Forget,” an account by the French-German author Géraldine Schwarz of postwar Europe’s, and her own family’s, not entirely successful effort to reckon with the crimes of the Second World War. It made the very convincing case that, until and unless there is a full accounting for what happened with Donald Trump, 2020 is not over and never will be. I still don’t want to remember, but I know that forgetting is not an option, either."



How about I end with a bit of news that is more positive. Lee Rosenbaum, wrote about the collateral damage to the 300 works in the Capitol that are desginated as art in her blog called, “Scooprose, Culture Grrl” in the Arts Journal on the subject of: https://www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl/2021/01/the-architect-of-the-capitol-assesses-the-damage-our-nations-art-architecture-if-we-can-keep-it.html



The New York Times and others picked up the story a bit later.  Happily, there was no major damage to paintings and sculptures t including those in the Rotunda.  For once in my life, I was happy that the marauders did not understand art and thought it unimportant.  If there had been, we would have had another black eye from the international community where there is a greater appreciation.


When we look for the seditionists, we must remember that the criminals were not only those who invaded the Capitol: Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Josh Hawley and their cohorts who tried to overturn the election should be included, not to mention their leader, djt.



Sunday, January 10, 2021

Tira Howard – A Hidden Talent

Who is Tira Howard? Well you may ask … she is a hidden talent in Santa Fe, a fabulous photographer who I only discovered in that guise on-line, first on Facebook and then on her website (https://www.tirahowardphotography.com). Let me say right here that I know Tira because she is married to one of our son’s best friends, Brian Weed, a cinematographer for the Travel Channel. Let me further state that I asked Tira if I could write about her. 

Tira told me that she has been interested in photography as long as she can remember.  The first decade of her life was spent in Japan where her father went with the Peace Corps and later taught there.  As her father was an avid photographer, she was just following in his footsteps, often carrying a camera with her, taking photographs of her world, her friends and even her stuffed animals.

She became serious about photography when she was a little older and her father gave her an old Nikon F1. Today her favorite camera is a Canon EOS-R and most often attaches a Canon zoom 24-70mm f/2.8L but her favorite lens for portraits is a Canon 85mmf/1.2.  Though she says she relishes the sensations of rolling film onto a spool, she also uses a range of digital tools.


In spite of her life-long love of photography Tira only turned professional in 2015  when she moved to New Mexico. With an already long list of both corporate and private clients Tira bills herself as a Fashion and Portrait photographer. To me she is much more than that.  Though her work has appeared in numerous New Mexican publications, in my opinion she is a superb artist who deserves to be known beyond our state borders.

For this blog I picked a few of my favorite of her photos, which could not be easily pigeon-holed, and asked for her comments.  There was a still life which reminded me of a Dutch 17th century painting and her observation of her work was, “The quality of light in painting, as in photography, is so much of what informs the feeling and storytelling of an image … I’m always learning, and the painterly quality of many of the Dutch masters has a lot of inspiration to draw from.”


I told Tira that this second image of a woman made me think of French artists of the 19th century.  Tira said, “The romance of much French 19th century painting, is the kind of storytelling that appeals to my soul. I really enjoy the drama of elevating a humble moment or subject to one of heroism or fantasy…”.


The third is a striking photograph that for some reason I find upsetting. Tira, of course, looked at it differently, “These wild geese were so full of personality and the shapes that their bodies made as they interacted with each other were mesmerizing.”



Here is a photo that I did not ask about since it appears as such a universal of mother and child.  I have been taking photos of our 15-month-old granddaughter which prove all little ones are cute, Tira’s photograph, however, goes much further into the emotional bond between infant and parent than any photo of this subject that I have ever seen.



One last quote from Tira which I am sure any photographers out there will appreciate, “I’m hoping someone can invent a camera I can just keep in my eye.”