Sunday, January 22, 2023

Stop With The Selfies

As I start this Missive, I am totally conflicted on the issue I am about to discuss, and I am seriously interested in what others think.

In an article first published in Hyperallergic a museum guard, Dereck Stafford Mangus, who worked at several American museums over two decades recounted his experience of the changes in the attitude toward photography in museums. When he started out as a guard at the Harvard Art Museums you had to sign in at the reception desk to get permission to photograph and wear a sticker of some sort to show that you were legit. Now photography is even encouraged in museums, though still with instructions that protect the art such as no flash photography.

He urged people to stop with the selfies and put down their phones and look at and enjoy the art. Who can argue with that?

He wrote that taking photos of the works of art themselves makes no sense since one can find great reproductions in the museum shop. In my opinion these reproductions often make one think the painting is actually by a different artist or in a different medium according to its color tones and definition of the reproduction. If I do take a photograph of a work of art in a museum, it is to remember it better for a number of reasons. In my mind it makes me see the work, might I say, through a different lens. Then I usually look at the original again to think about it.

Selfies may well have changed the museum experience from what it used to be, but saying that selfies are a new phenomenon is in my opinion ridiculous. If you have ever looked at the family photos of anyone from 20 years ago you also see photos of them in front of a famous building, sculpture or other work of art. Someone took them. Who has not been asked whether they would take a photo of a couple in such and such a place. The concept is not new just the technology has changed for what was done before by others. In fact, today you do not need help and it can be less intrusive to others because there is not a third person taking the photo, who is a few paces away and you cannot pass between photographer and subject.

The Last Knight: The Art, Armor, and Ambition of Maximilian I (1459–1519) an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum opening in 2019 included a quote attributed to Maximilian I: “He who makes no memory of himself during his lifetime will have none after his death and will be forgotten with the tolling of the final knell. Therefore, the money that I expend on perpetuating my memory will not be lost”. The concept remains true today. We all want to leave our mark, and in our day and age it is often by being identified with something that we believe is of value.

Visitors don’t go to a museum to have their photo taken in front of a single work of art though that may be an ultimate goal. There will be much to catch their eye on the way. As I have written before when, as a child, I was first taken to see the Mona Lisa in the mid-fifties, it was in a wide corridor with no one looking at it and I thought the Raphael opposite must be the Mona Lisa because it was of a much prettier woman and so much larger and brighter.

There may also be other famous works of art in the same institution, for instance if you go to the Uffizi in Florence and want to take a selfie in front of Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”.

You might also want to see works by even more famous artists’ paintings such as Michelangelo’s Roundel of the Holy Family, or Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation.

One last thought, artists themselves took selfies, maybe not with an iPhone but with their paint brush. Here is a self-portrait of the artist Nicolas Régnier painting a portrait of Vincenzo Giustiniani painted in 1623 or 1624.


Sunday, January 15, 2023

Holy Breads

Bread is a key element in the art of cooking. What makes bread so important to so many? We think about it as a staple that has always been, and we take it for granted. We all know that most of the packaged commercial loaves that you buy in a U.S. grocery store are dry and tasteless, and basically just an excuse for butter and jam.

At holiday time particularly during religious holidays such as Kwanzaa, Channukah and Christmas special breads come out. We have all laughed about the fruit cake that is passed along from party to party until someone who likes it keeps it.

My mother loved the German version, Stollen. When I was young, she ordered from a private baker who delivered the Stollen to our apartment and others around New York City. This was my mother’s breakfast for the holiday season she never understood why I did not like this dry cake with fruit in it.

My wife, on the other hand, prefers Panettone, a wetter sweeter bread also with fruit in it and she snatches up boxes wherever she can find them, so it lasts a while past Christmas. I found the story of the origin of Panettone. It goes back to 1495. During the luxurious Christmas banquet given by the Duke of Milan, the desert got burnt. A young cook, called Toni, came up with a rich brioche bread, filled with raisins and candied fruit. The Duke loved it, and so the tradition of 'Pane di Toni' was born.

This started me thinking of the significance of bread in history and religious observance. Though I had never thought about this before, maybe because I am Jewish :), I like Challah best and have it daily when I can get it. (The egg shortage lately has made this difficult.) In biblical times the Jews made do with unleavened bread, i.e. matzoh, and this is commemorated at Passover. In the Jewish religion, however, Challah is served Friday evenings at the beginning of the Sabbath (Jewish Holidays start the evening before) as well as holidays. It is not particularly sweet but rather rich and moist.

In the Islamic, Jewish and Christian religions bread is thought of as a gift from God. When Moses fed his people in the desert with food which fell from heaven. Bread wafers are central to Catholic mass. With the parable of Jesus multiplying loaves as well as fish to feed a crowd, bread became a sign of sharing as well.

According to the web, in Islam bread may not carry the same spiritual weight as it does for Christians and Jews, but still it is regarded as a blessing from Allah, and an important symbol of almsgiving, and hospitality. Special breads are a part for Id al-Fitr, the feast that follows Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. Is that very far from religious significance? I would think not.

Anyone who has travelled abroad or to different regions of this country knows that people of all faiths, nationalities and localities have breads that are special to their community. Having worked in France I am very familiar with Croissants and Brioche. Here are two French staples that have been interpreted and copied in many countries and they are different in each if not in every bakery. And don’t forget Southern hushpuppies!

From what I have learned bread is a universally thought of as a gift from heaven … that is everybody’s heaven.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

New Year’s 2023

The last time I wrote about our New Year’s Day annual event was precisely a decade ago. I see that I started that one out about the trials and tribulations of travel during this season and I wrote about this year travel travails last week!

We bought our house 25 years ago though we have only been here full time for about 15. We loved this town since we first came 33 or 34 years ago just to visit Indian Market. At that time, we knew 2 people, a colleague from New York and a Curator,later Director, of the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City.

When we did have a house to come to, we came regularly and always in summers and over New Years. How could we get to know more people? We hatched a plan. I figured that everyone does a New Year’s Eve party we would do one New Year’s Day. (I was wrong, there are lots of parties here on January 1, but we have stuck with it.)

One always meets new people over the year and we started to invite all those that we had gotten along with. Our group grew as people started to come regularly and bring friends. We learned that people loved the event because they get to see old friends that they have not seen in quite a while and they make new connections as well.

We get a particular kick out of having a younger generation join us. It helps us feel younger and relavent. Here is one of our youngest guests.

The world has certainly changed since we began this tradition, but our party is pretty much the same. We did skip one year because of Covid and a few years we had snow that kept our numbers down but this year about 60 friends joined us. It is an open house, but still people brought goodies.

We did have unusual competition this year because the inauguration of the Governor took place at the Lensic Performing Arts Center but several of our Lensic friends came after the festivities.

We have made a few minor modifications to our event. We now ask folks to sign in, do name tags and we have masks and hand sanitizer for anyone who wants them. When you have a large party and live outside of the town proper, guests park on the road. After dark, which happens early at this time of year, they have to find their way back to their cars, so I made a couple of Handicapped Parking Spaces in front of our garage, something we had not thought of in past years!!!

Rather than snow, rain was expected since the temperature went up to 48 degrees, most unusual for January 1 in Santa Fe. We were prepared for umbrellas, which as you know is the best way to have a rain free event!

Our menu has varied little over the years. Penelope selects the food and makes it look lovely on the platters. There is always plenty of wine and sodas but no hard alcohol. It is always interesting to see what goes and what remains as left overs because it is different every year.

It is shortly after 6pm the last guest has left. Eventually the table is cleared but two lovely presents look so good there as a reminder of our 23rd event.

Sunday, January 1, 2023


We spent this Christmas with my older son, Danny, and his family in Traverse City, Michigan. Being right on the Lake Michigan, the town is known to get an average snow fall of 125-145 inches per year. Adding to their normal winter weather we learned that the “Blizzard of a Generation” was on its way across the country and airports were shutting down. After much anguish we decided to go for it anyway, quite prepared that we might have to spend the holiday halfway there in an airport hotel. We regained confidence, about 12 hours before our flight, we heard sporadic reports that the storm was slowing down. In the end we made it, ahead of the storm and, amazingly, only 30 minutes late.

My son was to pick us up at the airport, but we did not see him. There was an airport Santa Claus who we waved to, and he waved back. I said out loud, “I need to find my son”. Then we spotted our step-granddaughter convulsed in laughter and at this point Santa cracked up. Our airport Santa turned out to be Danny in the costume that Penelope had given him last year as a thank you for having wrapped all the presents we had ordered online without gift wrap option. The greeting from our surprise Santa set us up for a great stay.

Of course, in time the blizzard arrived but was not nearly as bad as was expected. Also, being in snow country Traverse City has continuous snow plowing.

We were staying at a hotel not that far from Danny’s home but he picked us up every day with our suitcases in case we could not make it back again! We had to explain to the front desk that we really were not checking out!

It was great seeing immediate and extended family members. We spent our time indoors near the fire doing a lot of talking and catching up. There was a large collection of games, and we played Scrabble, Gin and Nine Man Morris. After so many years I had to relearn the latter two! Here are all four siblings and not to leave anybody out, all the family gathered on Christmas Day.

There was continuous cooking and baking. I cannot remember when I have eaten so many cookies and such a variety. I liked the Buckeyes the best, chocolate

covered peanut butter. A lot more peanut butter and better than in a Reese’s bar. Yum! Here is Eryn eyeing the cookie tray of home-made goodies.

Our daughter-in-law, Jenifer made a pulled pork dinner that rivaled and surpassed any I have had in the Southwest (and I usually eat it once a week in Santa Fe), and my grandson Aidan made a Beef Wellington. That was a special treat.

Since Chanukah coincided with Christmas this year there was candle lighting every evening and my granddaughter, Lucy and I had the honors on the seventh night.

Christmas morning was quite a scene with lots of presents, stocking stuffers and a curious cat, Rue, wanting to know what all the fuss was about.

For Chistmas Dinner Tables were moved so we could all dine beside the enormous tree that I could not figure out how they got into the house. Before every one sat down Lucy folded napkins onto the plates in the form of Christmas trees.

Here’s Jenifer, setting out the buffet.

Jenifer’s parents, her brother and sister-in- law and their 2 year old joined us that evening.

Flying home was another adventure. We had a 3-leg journey flying from Traverse City to Chicago to Denver. All our flights were delayed what with de-icing, gates that planes could not get into, a crew delayed coming in from Mexico City and finally a stewardess missing as her flight in from Newark was late. (They already had 3 flight attendants, but FAA rules required 4). From her expression when she finally arrived running with her suitcase in tow, I had the impression that this woman had been told as she got off her last flight that she had another that had not been scheduled. Thank heavens were on United not Southwest. Ours was certainly a charmed trip as the delay of each successive flight made our connections possible!

All in all, it was a wonderful, and memorably white Christmas!

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Quotes from the World of Art

I collect quotes as many of you know. I am going back to that theme but from the artist’s point of view so I trust some will be new to you. I will let the artists speak for themselves and marvel at their insights. I believe that to be an artist you must be able to see yourself first, in order to understand others. In their own words ...

I always think that I need to search for another subject to write about, but in this case, I can walk in Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) shoes. He said “I don’t search, I find” the subjects are right there before you. All you have to do, is open your eyes.

Patrick McGrath Muniz (1975-), a painter born in Puerto Rico now working in Texas, uses traditional Spanish religious images to give social commentary on current and existential events. His work depicts the past as well as the present as he puts it, “Nothing is Really Lost until it is Forgotten”. We say this about history as well as friends and relatives we have lost. The artist illustrates those memories.

In 1932 Diego Rivera (1886-1957) was commissioned to create a mural for Rockefeller Center. Even though he was told what was expected of him he added elements of his own socialist views. According to David Rockefeller, “The picture of Lenin was on the right-hand side, and on the left, a picture of [my] father drinking martinis with a harlot and various other things that were unflattering to the family and clearly inappropriate to have as the center of Rockefeller Center". When Rivera refused to paint over the offending passages the mural was destroyed. Rivera revisited his vision replicating the commission for the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City saying, “I restored the murdered painting”.

I think we can agree that Georgia O’Keefe (1887-1986) was a great artist but what is it in her art that, as my father would have said, “gives us a heartbeat”. I think that a lady from the Philippines I was sitting next to on a long plane trip got it right. Out of the blue she said, “Georgia O’Keeffe reminds me how profound simplicity can be. It reminded me of a quote from Georgia, herself. In 1921 she was recorded as saying "I wish people were all trees and I think I could enjoy them then".

Robert Capa (1913-1954) was a famous war photographer, and he died as he lived. Shortly after his arrival in Hanoi to cover the war in Indochina for Life magazine he was killed when he stepped on a landmine. It is easy to understand his quote and its irony, "It is the War Photographer's fervent wish to be unemployed".

Being a portrait painter can be a comfortable profession if you have a clientele of important people and honor comes with the creating an iconic image like Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington. But it has its downside as well. Stuart (1755-1828) lamented this other side of the coin. "What a business this of a portrait painter - you bring him a potato and expect he will paint you a peach.”

I have so many more quotes I would like to share but I like to keep my Missives short in the hopes that they will be read! Let me take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and healthy 2023.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Accidental Art Discoveries

What a strange thought, to find a worthwhile work of art by accident. How does that happen? I have written about new technical advances that have allowed us to see the artist’s under drawing below the surface of a painting or see over-paint by another artist in order to cover the parts of a body thought to be unsuited for others to see. There is even a case of the discovery of a Goya that had underneath its surface, a whole other painting by the artist.

What seems to be not that unusual is finding coins on the beach. Not those that fell out of a sunbather’s pocket but ancient coins. There is a hobby of searching the sand with metal detectors for treasure that might have been swept ashore from shipwrecks. A 2011 article in the Maryland Dispatch reported a nine year old girl who was looking for sea glass for her collection came across what looked to be an old bracelet. Covered with grime it was hard to see exactly what it was, so the fourth grader and her mother took it to the nearby DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum on Fenwick Island, Delaware. The “Museum proprietor” Dale Clifton, is an expert in items from the many shipwrecks that are recorded off the Maryland and Delaware coast. Dipping the girl’s “bracelet” in a solution to remove the corrosion and grime, he revealed that it was a piece of wire that had become attached to a copper coin that was dated 1655. Although Mr. Clifton said the coin might be worth between $30 to $100, he thought the discoverer would not want to part with it, but rather keep it as a lifetime souvenir.

What about a discovery in your own kitchen? On the site of “Auction Central News” as well as other publications one can find a story about a British surgeon who bought a vase as a decoration for a nook in his kitchen. It cost him a few hundred pounds in the 1980’s. A visitor to his home, who happened to be an antiques specialist, spotted it in the kitchen and identified it as an 18th century ceramic made for the court of the Qianlong Emperor. It was inherited by the surgeon’s son who put it at action at Dreweatts in London. This exceptionally large 2 foot high vase was featured in their Chinese Ceramics sale with an estimate of £100,000-£150,000, it brought £1,449,000 ($1,700,000). Was this piece lost before it was “discovered”….you tell me.

Then there was a scrap metal dealer who paid the handsome price of $14,000 for a piece he found at a market thinking that he would melt it down and the object might be literally worth it’s weight in gold. To his good fortune and posterity’s, he did not melt it down before looking into what it might be. To his surprise he found out that it could be worth as much as thirty-three million dollars. Research had revealed that the piece was the third of fifty jeweled eggs made by Peter Carl Fabergé for the Russian Imperial family between 1885 and the end of its reign with the Russian revolution in 1917. This particular Imperial egg was presented by Czar Alexander III to Maria Feodorovna in 1887. It was displayed at Wartski’s in London in 2014 and is now in a private collection.

My favorite story of an art discovery was mentioned in a publication called Complex. In Montignac, France, in 1940 a group of teenagers were walking with their dog when it disappeared into a hole in the ground. (Judging from the handwritten signs posted all over Santa Fe, dogs are continuously getting lost particularly in our arroyos.) In this case, however, the kids were able to follow their pup into what turned out be a series of caves covered with paintings—hundreds of animal paintings. A publication called, of all things, “Dogster” elaborated on the story. The dog’s name was Robot, unusual at that time since the term was coined in a sci-fi movie just 20 years earlier. Robot had happened upon the famous Lascaux caves. Even at 15,000 - 17,000 years old, they weren't the most ancient cave art ever discovered in the region before World War II, but the significance of this find was the sophistication of the paintings. The horses and deer had been closely observed and rendered. The discovery showed an evolution that stretched over 20,000 years. What our mongrel-hero came upon that September day was nothing less than the evidence of our ancestors’ artistic evolution.

I believe serendipitous finds are more enjoyable and satisfying than stories of those seeking buried treasure.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Is Art Important?

I was told recently that art is just a frill we don’t really need it. Certainly not the first time I have heard that. Michael Kimmelman, while he was art critic for The New York Times, wrote about the Christo Gates, (1978- realized in 2005). "Art is never necessary. It is merely indispensable". Again, I have picked a subject that books can and have been written about, but here is my brief take.

It seems that in the public mind the term “Art” is just paintings, drawings and maybe sculpture and lately photography. People don’t seem to remember the terminology “The Arts” which would include, theater, music, dance, literature and design and not necessarily in that order. An emotionally moving piece of music and theater is a song that stirs me to want to march along. It is from the musicle, Les Misérables, “Do You Hear the People Sing?”

What is special about art? On a site called “Artwork Archive” I found this definition, “Art allows us to examine what it means to be human, to voice and express, and to bring people and ideas together.” When I asked a friend in Valentine, Nebraska why art was necessary, he wrote “Art makes us think and feel at the same time. It can provoke a vehemently repulsive response”, think of images regarding Ukraine today, “but it can also calm us and remind us of who we are or where we came from.”

The power of the visual is seen in the instinct of children to collect pebbles or shells. Visual art adds on an emotional and intellectual response. Then comes the desire to preserve and collect this evidence of times gone by.

As I mentioned in my Missive on Ukraine Banksy has been going around the country of Ukraine painting murals on the walls of buildings that have been bombed by the Russians. What better way to call attention to man’s inhumanity to man and I am quite sure some will be preserved in situ, even after the war.

Every culture has some form of ceramic art. Much of Native American culture has roots in the art of this medium I wrote recently about the exhibition “Grounded in Clay” In the first half of the 18th century both France and Germany went into competition establishing international prestige through their royal porcelain factories of Sèvres & Meissen. Their products are still appreciated while the factories continue innovating today. Historic pieces in this media teach future generations not only of ways people ate and drank but also what was considered of intangible value. 

Knowledge in all areas of life is based on what we have learned from the past and art could be considered the greatest teacher. My father talked about Grete Ring (1887-1952) who was one of the first women to study art history. Earning her doctorate under the famous German art historian Heinrich Wölfflin , she was highly regarded as a scholar and critic. From 1921 on she worked as an art dealer. Her comment on the subject sums it up for me, "Why should one talk about art, if not to open the eyes of others to it".

The statue of Laocoön and His Sons, this nearly life size marble sculpture was excavated in Rome in 1506 and placed on public display in the Vatican Museums where it remains. Whether it was created by the Greeks or Romans is under debate but there is little question that its origins go back to the Greeks. History, through its art, lives on.

What is it we remember from past civilizations? What has been preserved? … it is their art.