Sunday, April 4, 2021

Working Remotely

Both by desire and happenstance I am writing about a subject that I had not planned on and that is “working from home”.  What if you must work remotely because your employer has emptied your offices for concerns of contagion. This must be particularly difficult if you are used to an open office plan. Working from home has normal advantages and disadvantages and I am sure each of my readers can make their own list.

Even before the pandemic I had found, a small office for myself in a downtown Santa Fe building where no one needs to interact. I found, however, friendly faces in the offices down the hall and we soon became friends. (All have been faithful mask wearers.).

We are of course hugely dependent on email. Think of the havoc an interruption in service could cause in each of your lives. What if your employer were writing asking why you have not supplied whatever he or she needs? One of my daily activities is working on these Missives I rely on replies from the many institutions and colleagues that I need in order to gather the information to write.  

As it happens, last week, the tech company partially responsible for my email (who should have known better) disconnected mine. For 14 hours I was out of luck until a couple of friends who are techies restored me to normal, but still I have lost a day’s worth of emails. I experienced just how stressful the loss of email was, even for a day!  My Missives go out on Monday and many readers respond on the same day, and those are the emails I lost.  I feel that not answering is bad form but beyond that, some emails could be vital.

I almost said, picking up the New York Times, but, of course, I was thinking of reading it on-line, I saw an article on the subject of working remotely and that it is not going away.  To my surprise I l earned the music and media streaming company, Spotify Technology, whose headquarters are in Stockholm, Sweden with offices in 17 countries, occupies 16 floors in a lower Manhattan office building. Those floors will never be fully occupied again as Spotify has told its employees that they can work from anywhere they wish.  Why? Because businesses have learned that it is not necessary for everyone to be working together all the time. The compromise is to have staff come in a few days a week such as Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.  Real estate owners, of course, do not want to see this emptying of office buildings, not to mention the restaurants and food vendors in those neighborhoods.  It is estimated that at this time 90% of workers in Manhattan are now working remotely.  Even though the Mayor of New York and the Federal Government need the economy to be healthy it is doubtful that things will go back to the “old” normal.  We have found out that there are alternatives, and we will have to pivot to get used to it.

 Having said all that, I know that there are exceptions such as, you can’t run an art gallery remotely.  Some one has to get the art in order to show the art and then cater to the patrons who might make a purchase.   You probably have heard the statement that some buyers will buy with their ears more than their eyes.  Those individuals need to hear the whole story of what they are looking at. This is not just sales talk, but collectors want to know provenance and history.  For instance, a statement that this work of art that hung in a museum for 50 years was finally restituted to the family from which it was taken.  This confirms that the work was not stolen from the museum that it had hung in and does not make a bad story for the owner to tell his friends, even if it doesn’t add value. The image of a work and its documentation can be relayed online but, when education is involved, a one-on-one relationship is always the more effective and better option.  Here is an image of famed art dealer, Leo Castelli, explaining to clients Andy Warhol’s Brillo & Cornflakes Boxes.

I am glad that I do not have to make difficult decisions for the younger generation.  The choices they need to make will give the following generations a new paradigm which they will accept and function under. It’s the transition that is difficult.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Museum Exhibitions after Covid

The pandemic has not had many plusses, but it has helped in advancing innovation mostly through technology.  I have written about how art museums, deprived of local visitors and tourists, have come up with online programs that can reach folk across the world. As well as seeking new sources of support museums are looking at how technology can save them money. 

We know there is no substitute for seeing an original work of art so travelling exhibitions will return once museums reopen and new methods are being explored to cut the costs.  The day I started writing this Missive I saw an email from Artnet about the fortune that museums can save just on shipping and courier fees.  They even may be able to have their curator, conservator or registrar supervise a loan virtually thus not only saving money but also keeping their staff where they are needed most.  It is a delicate balance. The negative side is that these trips result in professional development with exposure to institutions, collections, methods and colleagues from around the world that directly benefit the home institution. 

Today, a curator can sit at home and supervise the installation of a loan to an exhibition via Zoom or similar technology. Previously he or she had to be there in person. But first, the work of art had to be sent with a courier to ensure its safe delivery. This meant that the courier stood on the tarmac watching the crate being loaded onto the plane.  He had to have at least a business class seat to be sure to get off the plane first to watch the cargo being taken off the plane and then to the museum.

If the work of art were too large for a passenger plane it had to go on a cargo flight where courier accommodations are less comfortable. Most loans require some trucking and if the distance was long, the trip would  be non-stop with alternating drivers and the courier sleeping in the cab of the truck. Once on site the currier had to be put up in a hotel with a per diem allowance. Then, don’t forget the works must go onto the next venue and home again after the show.  For a large exhibition with loans coming from different sources the transportation costs could easily run to a million dollars!

A personal courier is no guarantee either.  One registrar recalled a courier who watched his crate go on the plane, signed the paperwork – and then missed the flight.  It doesn’t happen often but there can always be snafus in any system.

As I was looking on-line for material for this Missive 99% of what I found was information from transport companies that have their own personal currier services. These companies that specialize in moving exhibitions around the world will surely have to find new ways to function in this digital age.

You know how you can track your package when you order from Amazon or other places.  The museums will have their own systems.  They can use an art logistics app.  Artcheck, which allows for a virtual courier system with transit information, quality check and communications between parties all in one place.  The packing of a work of art can include a tracking device and sensors that transmit movement, temperature, and exposure to light.  Of course, skilled art handlers and a knowledgeable conservator are still necessary on the receiving side to inspect the art and do a detailed check of its condition when the crate is opened. However, this can now be done with the participation and guidance of the home curator through the internet.

It’s a whole new world out there where a decade ago is the ancient past.  It is scary but I find it a fascinating subject that I shall return to.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Will Shuster’s Santa Fe (1893-1969)

The happy news of this Missive is that my wife and I went to the New Mexico Museum of Art for our first museum visit in a full year! There we saw the exhibition, “A Fiery Light: Will Shuster’s New Mexico”.  

Maybe Shuster was not the greatest painter of all time, but he was an effective visual reporter who conveyed the life and spirit of Santa Fe, its surroundings, and its communities.  He moved to Santa Fe in 1920 to recover his health after being gassed in World War I and it was here that he took up painting, mentored by the Ashcan School artist John Sloan who had become a regular visitor to New Mexico.

New Mexico became a state in 1912 and already by the early 20’s was established as an arts colony.  Five artists, one might say, were the founders of this tradition.  They were Jozef Bakos, Femont Ellis, Walter Mruk, Willard Nash and Will Shuster.  They called themselves “Los Cinco Pintores” but were known affectionately as “five little nuts in five mud huts” referring to the adobe houses they built for themselves in the Santa Fe tradition.  They lived on a road that is just above town.  Today it takes 5 minutes by car to get there, but in those days, I would guess, it took quite a bit longer.

The exhibition title, “A Fiery Light”, is particularly well illustrated in Shuster’s painting “Fire at Bustos Midway Cash Store” lent by Zaplin/Lambert Gallery. The event took place in Pecos, New Mexico, in 1947.  Pecos is a small village not far from Santa Fe.  At the time of the fire the population was about 1,200 and has not grown that much since.  Schuster captured the small-town drama vividly.

The story of Santa Fe is that of three cultures, Native American, Hispanics and Anglo.  Only this past year’s Covid restrictions prevented Santa Fe’s annual Spanish Market and Indian Market which are both sales and commemoration events. Members of all cultures are welcomed to most dances in the nearby pueblos under certain rules of respect.   Although photography, and even sketching, by non-tribal members is no longer allowed there was no such concern in Shuster’s day. Here is his 1929 depiction of The Santo Domingo Corn Dance that the artist donated to the Museum.

Shuster’s “Sermon at the Cross of the Martyrs” of 1934 from the Museum’s permanent collection portrays the religious devotion of the Hispanic community. Today the hilltop cross is a tourist attraction for the panoramic view of Santa Fe it offers but it was created for a much more serious reason. It was erected to commemorate the death of 21 Franciscan friars during what is known as the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, a successful indigenous rebellion against Spanish colonial occupation of what is now New Mexico. On Fiesta weekend in September a candlelit procession to The Cross of the Martyrs from Saint Francis Cathedral occurs after a special Mass.

Santa Fe wouldn’t be Santa Fe without Zozobra, referred to as “Old Man Gloom”. Everyone is invited to contribute records of their misfortunes to be stuffed into the giant puppet recreated every year whose burning prior to Fiesta is a cathartic celebration. Believing that an event was needed to bring all parts of the community together Shuster created Zozobra in 1924 with the help of his friend, artist and puppeteer Gustave Baumann. With Newspaper editor E. Dana Johnson, they came up with the name Zozobra by picking a word from a Spanish-English dictionary that means “anguish, anxiety and gloom”.  No crowds were allowed to gather this past year to chant “Burn him, burn him” but Santa Fe’s worries and troubles went up in flames with Zozobra, nonetheless. Here is “Viva La Fiesta” a model of the event created by Luis Tapia in 1996 as well as an image of the actual burning.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

NFT’s In Art

Twenty-five years ago, my gallery had its own website.  There was nary another art dealer who had one.  I was explaining the concept to many well-known art dealers who did not have a clue what it meant or why they needed one!  Today, I am happy to know how to turn my computer on and from there on I need assistance!

A week or so ago my older son, Dan, sent me an article saying, “Thought this might be good for an art blog for someone who can’t leave the house because of a pandemic… If you can understand it …”.  I thought the last part was rather a sarcastic remark made to the older generation.   Boy was I wrong!  

If you are as clueless a I was you may be interested in learning something about this New Art World of NFTs. When I first read the article from an Apple-published virtual magazine called “The Verge” I had no idea what they were talking about.  So, I dId what everyone else does, I Googled.   I found an article from the hard copy magazine “Art in America”.  Then in a recent email I saw the headline, “The world’s first ‘Major’ NFT Art Exhibition is about to take place in Beijing, Headlined by Beeple, Fewocious, and Mad Dog Jones”.  This week articles about NFT’s have been flooding in.

Mike Winkelmann, known in the Digital World as Beeple

An NFT is short for non-fungible tokens which are unique digital assets, individually identified as a block chain which allows one person to own a widely disseminated digital artwork, ie the “chain” links it back to the owner and it is blocked from anyone else owning it.

One of the best ways to describe an NFT is as a sort of digital certificate of authenticity, and for some it's become a desirable collectible. Last month an NFT of the 10-year-old meme Nyan Cat sold for $580,000, and a video clip of basketball player Lebron Jones went for over $200,000.

What I find quite amazing is that these NFT’s have been around for a decade and I never heard about them before, and now suddenly every art email I receive seems to have something to say about NFT’s.  Is it possible this is because one of the largest and best-known auction houses in the world, Christies, had its first auction of this material this month.? In that sale one of Beeple’s works titled,  “Everydays — The First 5000 Days,” had a starting figure of $100 and brought sixty-nine million dollars! In an interview I saw at the end of last week Beeple said it took him 13 years to complete!

You won’t be surprised to learn that this market has been driven by tech investors in cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin. At the moment you can’t buy your groceries or pizza delivery with Bitcoin ,but you can buy an NFT with digital currency.  Can you do this at Christies? Possibly, but will Christie’s accept their commission in Bitcoin?  

History will tell us if NFTs and digital art will continue to have high values.  Art is always a question of taste. The fields I dealt in for decades a for substantial sums now bring pennies on the dollar, but tastes change and what people do not value now can become popular again. Material works of art will be around through change of taste but will NFT’s survive the changes in computer technology? 

Whether Digital Art will survive is a more difficult question than will the concept of the Block Chain survive.  Just before finishing this Missive, I spoke with my son again.  He is in the real estate business and has also been studying bock chains. He said he would not be surprised if the real estate business went in this direction. The transfer of ownership of a house requires a great deal of paperwork. But what if, instead you would just need a block chain transaction to guarantee that ownership?

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Did the U.S. Presidents Appreciate the Arts?

After a discussion with one of my office mates I set myself what I thought would be a simple task to see what U.S. Presidents had to say about the arts.  It turned out to be far more difficult than I thought.  Not all went on record on the subject but the attitude of those who did is of interest.  We have so unfortunately learned from the last administration much of the general public follows and believes their Commander in Chief, something which I would have said some years ago is as it should be.

How did some of our Presidents show their appreciation of the arts?  As a matter of fact, our first President George Washington was a great supporter. He wrote “The Arts and Sciences, essential to the prosperity of the State and to the ornament of human life, have a primary claim to the encouragement of every lover of his country and mankind.” He also wrote “To encourage literature and the arts is a duty which every good citizen owes to his country.”

Thomas Jefferson called Monticello his "essay in architecture." Designed in an American form of Neoclassicism it is a monument to his scrupulous study of the architecture of Rome. He acquired a considerable art collection which he personally catalogued around 1809 itemizing numerous paintings after Old Masters, as well as several sculptures by Houdon, and their distribution among the rooms at Monticello. In the spirit of a true collector, he wrote “Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap: it will be dear to you.”

I could not find a direct quote about the arts from Abraham Lincoln, but I did enjoy his comment on a portrait done of him, “I presume, sir, in painting your beautiful portrait, you took your idea of me from my principles, and not from my person.”

One President who was often associated with the arts was John F. Kennedy.  He said, “The arts incarnate the creativity of a free people," and once wrote, "When the creative impulse cannot flourish, when it cannot freely select its methods and objects, when it is deprived of spontaneity, then society severs the root of art."  (I can testify to Jackie Kennedy’s interest in art for the White House as a friend of hers requested we donate a specific object that was needed, which of course we did. Years later another friend brought her to visit our gallery.)

Among the Presidential quotes posted online by artist Marvin Mattelson is one from an unexpected source, Lyndon B. Johnson: “Art is a nation’s most precious heritage.” 

Many Presidents had their portraits painted, but a few were, or attempted to be, artists themselves. Surprisingly among these is Ulysses S. Grant. He painted this rather accomplished landscape when he was 18 years old.

Other Presidents who found a satisfying hobby in painting are Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush.

I will finish my meager tale with a story I just read recently, and you may have seen.  It is about a painting, not by a U.S. President, but by another great statesman, Winston Churchill. Titled “The Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque” it was painted in Marrakech in 1943 shortly after the allies met in Casablanca and decided that only unconditional surrender from Germany was acceptable.  Churchill gave it to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a symbol of the special relationship between two allied Nations.  What makes the story even more interesting is that after changing hands a few times it was acquired by Angelina Jolie’s family in 2011, reportedly as a gift to the actress from Brad Pitt.  It was recently sold at a Christie’s auction for $11.6 million dollars.  What a difference provenance makes!

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Will Wilson, Photographer

I don’t believe I need to tell my readers of my life-long interest in photography but for most of the last few decades I have shifted to a deep interest in Native American Art.  It is a great pleasure when these two loves of mine come together, as in the art of Will Wilson.

I am privileged to know Will as we both serve on the Board of the Ralph T. Coe Center for the Arts.  I have written about a dozen Missives about Ted Coe and the center over the years.  If you want to know about the Center CLICK HERE and scroll down through them.

Will Wilson (Diné/Navajo) was born in San Francisco in 1969 but spent his formative years on the Navajo Reservation.  He has a B.A. from Oberlin College and Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of New Mexico.  His credits could take up the rest of this Missive, but surfeit is to say that he has had visiting Professorships at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Oberlin College and the University of Arizona.  Here is a self-portrait he did for his Air Series.

As you can imagine Will is a multifaceted artist, who has created many different kinds of images. Most of his work is in black & white but he often visualizes a work in color.  He likes to work in series and here is an image from his Connecting the Dots series.  The subject is Shiprock Disposal Cell, the site of a uranium processing mill and thousands of tons of tailings and radioactive waste.  It is part of a survey of 521 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation an area heavily mined by the U.S. government during the development of the atomic bomb leaving Navajo communities contaminated with radioactivity.

Will is not happy that the Euro-American vision of the American Indian is frozen in the images of Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) and wants people to understand the Native American of today as part of a continuous and living culture. He writes “Ultimately, I want to ensure that the subjects of my photographs are participating in the re-inscription of their customs and values in a way that will lead to a more equal distribution of power and influence in the cultural conversation.”

With that understanding I want you to know what Will has done for the Coe Center.  He usually works in mural size images and his smallest are still quite large, but he has created a special edition of what I would call domestic size of 11x15 inches for a tintype print created exclusively for the Coe Center. It is titled, “Madrienne Salgado, Jingle Dress Dancer/Government and Public Relations Manager for the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Citizen of the Muckleshoot Nation.”  For those of you who do not know about the Muckleshoot they are a tribe in the state of Washington near Seattle.  Will feels that this work blends 19th and 21st century storytelling and imaging technologies. 

In this image Madrienne is doing the Jingle Dance traditionally associated with the healing process.  This dance was inspired by a vision during the 1918 flu epidemic and has become particularly relevant in the current pandemic.

Although Wilson uses historic techniques, a large format camera and the mid-19th century wet-plate collodion development process, he has embedded the image of Mareinne Salgade with technology that allows the dancer to be animated with the Talking Tintypes App (a free download and at this time only available on apple devices).

Here is the opportunity I am presenting today.  My readers have a chance to buy this photograph for $300 (plus $30 to cover packing and shipping within the continental United States).   Each print of this special edition of 50 

is inscribed by the artist in pencil along the lower edge with the title, his signature, edition number, and Coe dedication. 

Needless to say, all proceeds are for the benefit of the Coe Center.  I have never written a Missive that tried to sell a work of art but when the work is so inspiring and the cause so important it seems well worth it!

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 ...

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.