Sunday, December 26, 2010

Enrichment Through Technology

I hear from all sides the disparagement of technology, at the same time said individual turns on the microwave to heat up dinner and turns on the TV.

Nobody reads anymore. Then why are the Kindle and other electronic book readers doing so well?

Nobody writes letters any more, then why do we produce millions of emails every day.

Some of us remember the Texaco broadcasts with Milton Cross on Saturday afternoons from the Metropolitan Opera. We had friends and relatives across the country who were glued to their radios to hear that week’s opera. So the concept of the simulcast is nothing new but it has gotten a lot better. Not only has video been added but it has been improved technologically and the cinematographer has learned how to use his/her camera to capture the essence of the theater experience; the feeling that you are participating in the original performance with the audience in the theater.

In the last decade technology has brought the arts ever closer to us. The other night we went to the Lensic theater here in Santa Fe to see a Simulcast of Hamlet from The National Theater in London. It was a much acclaimed new production and had received excellent reviews. It was, of course, not exactly a simulcast since I doubt that the play went from 2 AM to 6 AM in London but it was a film of the actual production having taken place in London that evening. The next evening many went back to the Lensic to see a simulcast of Don Carlo from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. We see and hear the audience that is watching the production live, as well, giving us even more the feeling of participation in the actual event.

The next day we went to the inauguration of several new additions to the New Mexico Museum of Art’s website. To my surprise part of the pitch was that you can enjoy the museum without actually setting foot inside the door.

I must admit to having been a little shocked. Whenever I speak to classes or groups I tell them that they have to engage with the original work of art, that reproductions are no substitute. But I do not think that the museum director was suggesting that there is no longer a reason to go to actually go into the museum or the theater for that matter. Then I remembered when Barnes & Noble and Borders started putting coffee bars and reading areas allowing the visitors to linger and sample their wares. The result more people bought more.

Many of us do not have easy access to the original. We may be across the state, the country or in another country altogether. The Metropolitan Opera has a finite number of seats for a particular performance so even if you live across the street you might not be able to get a seat... not to mention that those seats are extremely expensive. Why shouldn’t the family in Timbuktu have access to the arts as well.

The website of the New Mexico Museum of Art offers much of the permanent collection on line with a tasting from all their departments, only a fraction of which can be on view in the museum at any one time. Of course, the exhibitions that are showing at the museum are also on the site with images and teasers about forthcoming exhibitions. What I found the most innovative is the section called “New Mexico Art Tells New Mexico History”. Like all internet sites this one is a work in progress but at the moment there is a section on ‘Ancestral Peoples’, ‘Opening of the West’, ‘Growing New Mexico’, and ‘People, Places and Politics’. This is a wonderful tool designed for use in New Mexico schools to supplement the social studies curriculum, but it can also serve the visitor new to New Mexico or new to an art museum. What a wonderful way for a parent or teacher to prepare a child for a visit. In turn that child will have the background knowledge to make his or her own discoveries.

As technology improves it can bring the art experience closer to us and make the entry to the museum or theater all the more thrilling.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Governor's Gallery

The Governor’s Gallery is a space for changing exhibitions located next to the Governor’s office in the New Mexico Capitol. It should not be confused with the Capitol collection which I wrote about some months ago. You will find that throughout the rest of the Round House, as the Capitol is called.

The Governor’s Gallery has six exhibitions a year drawing about 3,000 visitors monthly. The exhibition schedule is varied and includes a mix of all media. There was one recently on a local collector and another about the WPA which had a major impact on the State. The current exhibition is the annual tribute to the winners of the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the arts. Here we find painters, photographers and contributors to the arts as well as performing artists such as Wes Studi the famed Native American film actor who brought a more realistic view of the Indian to the screen. “Dances with Wolves” is probably his most famous role. Then there is Robert Redford who received the award, not just for his acting and film making accomplishments but also for his work on behalf of young artists, Native American and Hispanic film makers, and his contribution to the preservation of the environment.

The Gallery was started in 1975 by former first lady of New Mexico, Clara Apodaca, wife of Governor Jerry Apodaca. I don’t know about you but I can hear her coming in to his office saying, “Honey, the walls outside your office are so dreary why don’t you get some paintings from the museum and put them up”. Whatever the conversation was it ended up as a marvelous program administered by the New Mexico Art Museum.

The person responsible for the art in the Gallery is hired, after a Nation wide search, by the Department of Cultural Affairs and the New Mexico Museum of Art. In 2006 Merry Scully was chosen for the job, she was uniquely qualified. She had majored in Studio Art and minored in Art history at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and then went for an MFA to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque pursuing Photography and Art History. It was also an opportunity to become acquainted with Santa Fe. Shortly after graduation from UNM Merry became Director of Exhibitions & Galleries at the San Francisco Art Institute. During her studies she had several interesting positions at galleries as well as teaching.

Her responsibilities as curator of the Governor’s Gallery include producing the six exhibitions a year for that space as well as responsibility for any art borrowed by the Governor and First Lady for the Governor’s Mansion, his offices, the Office of the Chief of Staff and the Cabinet Room. Merry has to coordinate the loans coming mainly from the four State Museums but sometimes also from galleries and private individuals. One of the many issues that she has to deal with is that the insurance policy of the Museum covers all art in public rooms but not in private quarters.

This program has its political side as well. I am sure that Merry’s teaching experience comes in handy when there is a change in administration and she needs to assist the new Governor and spouse regarding what kind of art it is wise to show. No one can afford to slight one constituency or another. As an example you have large Native American and Hispanic communities throughout the State. In New Mexico our Administration is about to change and the curator must first retrieve all the artwork borrowed by the last one and then find out what the incoming Governor, Suzanna Martinez, and the first spouse would like to live with.

Take a look at the office of current Governor Bill Richardson. I am sure the taste of the next Governor will be quite different. The curator is also to assist the Governor with issues that may come up regarding the arts and guide him or her when he has visits from members of the local, national and international arts community. For this reason the curator of Governor’s Gallery who was hired by the Art Museum has offices in both the Capitol and the Museum.

Near the end of our conversation Merry told me, “The Arts are core to our civic life. We had a museum system when the State was just a territory”.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Transportation and Culture

Transportation and communication are central to the development of any society and if one believes that art can act as the ideal ambassador of its culture, then bringing the people to the art and bringing the art to the people is vital.

We forget that people, since time immemorial, have traveled. It is a basic instinct of mankind to explore the unknown. Travel was so basic, for those that could afford it, that portable altars became part of the nobleman’s inventory and, later on, when furniture became more than a plank on two saw horses larger pieces were made in kit form so that they could be taken apart and put together easily for travel.

Starting during the second half of the 17th century The Grand Tour became a rite of the young wealthy gentlemen of Northern Europe, predominantly the British Aristocracy. It was thought to be an important part of one’s education to have exposure to Classical Antiquity and the Renaissance. In this way the traveler could visit famous sites and see specific works of art in far off lands such as Italy and Greece. As we also know, a number of cultural items would return with the traveler who had acquired a taste for these foreign styles.

We have all seen, as well, exhibitions comparing two artists or schools of art from different places and seeing how they borrowed ideas from each other. Patrons all over the world have always commissioned foreign artists to come and paint for their court (be they religious, secular or corporate) and do their portraits.

What actually prompted this “Missive” is being back in New Mexico and the recent arrival of a light rail system linking the Capital, Santa Fe, with the most populace city in New Mexico, Albuquerque, and beyond along what is known as The Central Corridor. It was an idea that had been discussed for decades but it was only after Governor Bill Richardson was elected that he put it on his priority list and in the end it took 6 or 7 years to complete. They named it the Rail Runner, a play on the fact that the state bird is the Road Runner.

The main reason the Governor pushed for the Rail Runner, however, was not culture but rather lessening the growing automobile traffic on the 60-mile trip between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. A large part of Santa Fe’s work force lives around Albuquerque and they need to commute daily.

Originally, there were no plans for the Rail Runner to be operational on weekends or at least none were voiced. But what do you know? New Mexicans and tourists wanted to travel to different communities to visit friends, sites and local museums. As gas prices rose it was an extra incentive to take the Rail Runner. With a yearly pass, assuming one used the Rail Runner every week-day, it would cost an individual only $1.25/day, about the cost of a half gallon of gas! I have mentioned before there are at least 8 museums in Santa Fe alone plus many cultural sites as well as State and commercial exhibitions which are now open to a much larger audience. It was soon realized how important this tourist trade was to Santa Fe, especially when there was the Spanish Colonial Art Fair or an Indian Market or the International Folk Art Market which brings artists from impoverished nations to sell there wares and introduce them to the Culture here and vice versa. This fair alone brings over 20,000 visitors.

The Rail Runner finally added Saturdays and Sundays to their regular schedule. The cultural institutions and the businesses realizing that it could be a long trek to a destination in town from the nearest train station started a regular shuttle service to various stops around Santa Fe.

Believe it or not this marvelous new means of connecting some of the cities and towns of New Mexico was fought tooth and nail as a waste of tax payer money, but I still have not heard the statistics on the money it has brought to the Capital by tourists and workers coming here. There are always unintended ways that anything new is used. Sometimes good, sometimes not, but one good thing that occurred in this case was for the new Charter High School for the Arts. Its mandate is to accept students from each congressional district in the State. About 15% of the student body neither live nor dorm in Santa Fe and they use the Rail Runner. In return, the school has changed its planned schedule to coincide with the Rail Runner schedule, so school starts later and ends later than other public schools.

We need to broaden our horizons by learning about the arts from other cultures as well as our own. The Rail Runner is one way to begin the journey.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How About a Christmas Present?

Now, you may think it odd that anyone would come to a high end gallery to buy a Christmas Present for anyone but themselves or a spouse, but that is not necessarily the case.

We have had a collector come in Christmas eve and pick out a small Louis XV marquetry table. He then asked for it to be gift wrapped before it was delivered!

Another bought a small French 18th century painting for a business associate and yet another, an older woman, came in and bought a small 17th century Italian bronze snake for a friend.

Since this is the time of year that such thoughts go through one’s head I thought I would pick something from my inventory that might fit the bill. Should it be a piece of furniture? Probably too large in every sense? What about a painting? Probably too expensive. That leaves a small bronze, a piece of porcelain or a drawing or watercolor. Best to pick something I would like to take home because, in the private sector, I find those are the works of art that go first.

Even though we have many works on paper that are less expensive I picked an object that I thought would be popular in subject matter as well as an object that was at the top of its genre in quality.

My mother had a large collection of elephants, therefore my parents were always on the look out for fine examples. On a business trip to Paris, at a prominent gallery, Fabre et Fils, that we had been dealing with for 2 or 3 generations they found a bronze of a running elephant, a bit over 5 ½ inches high and 8 inches long bearing the signature Barye on the base.

Animals have always been a favorite subject for sculptors in bronze and Antoine-Louis Barye (Paris 1795 - 1875 Paris) was the master in this art during much of the 19th century. His range was phenomenal and while bronzes are rarely unique because they could be made in multiples this bronze, known as "Elephant du Senegal” is not as common.

An important aspect of any bronze is the finishing of the piece and our elephant has been superbly finished and it stands out in its class.

As I have discussed before, provenance can also be of great interest when making a purchase. Imagine my parents’ delight when they turned over the bronze and underneath found the inventory mark DW 2090, indicating that it had belonged to one of the greatest French collectors of the first half of the 20th century, David David-Weill (1871-1952) who was an extremely successful financier and a great patron of the arts. His son and grandson, years later became wonderful clients of Rosenberg & Stiebel.

I do not remember exactly when my parents found their treasure but it had pride of place and could be seen as soon as you walked into their apartment. It had given them many decades of enjoyment.

Why not take a look at our website,, and see what you would pick out as a Christmas present.