Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gustave Baumann

More than any other artist Gustave Baumann captured the essence of Santa Fe.  He was born in Magdeburg, Germany in 1881 and when he was 10 years old his family moved to the U.S.  At 17 he took night classes at the Art Institute of Chicago while working for an engraving house.  He then went back to Germany in order to attend the Kunstgewerbe Schule in Munich where he learned wood carving and how to make wood block prints.

He was attracted to New Mexico by the Taos Colony of artists where he had a number of friends and colleagues but decided that was not for him and settled in Santa Fe.  Of particular interest to him here was the open door policy of the new art museum, which had opened in 1917, the year before Baumann arrived.  There, artists were free to put up their works of art in the galleries.

Baumann created in many media but his prints and puppets came to the fore and he is probably best known for the former.  His works can be found not just in Southwest museums but in museums around the country and have become relatively pricey in recent years.  His favorite subjects are the Southwest landscape and the Indians’ dances.  Here are a couple of his prints as they relate to both.

Just before leaving Santa Fe I had a rare opportunity to visit the artist’s home and studio. He built it in 1923 and it has been in private hands until recently.  Two years ago the Historic Santa Fe Foundation took advantage of the opportunity to buy and restore the building as it was when Baumann lived and worked there, which he did until his death in 1971.

Our visit began in what we might refer to today as an entry hall. It is about 10 feet wide and 15 feet long and was used as the shop from which the artist sold his work.  He painted a decorative frieze based on Indian designs and made nails part of the frieze. From these he could hang his pictures so that he never had to ruin the beautifully painted walls with additional nails.   All the colors used in the house echo those used in his woodcuts.

The little dining room off of the hall has the only original light fixture and the ceiling is in metallic paint, which was probably most helpful in reflecting the limited light that he got from his electric fixtures.

We were ushered into a tiny space which was the hub of the house. It was lined with shelves that exhibited his collection of kachina dolls. Off of that was a small room made of cement and brick with a steel door which alone represented a good percentage of the building’s cost.  This was his vault in where he kept his original wood blocks as well as finished works of art and important papers.

Off of the hub we could also walk into Baumann’s private quarters where we saw his bedroom, as well as the bedroom added when his daughter was born. Note the tie rack he built into one of his closets… a Baumann puppet!

There are a number of Kiva fireplaces, which obviously needed to be used during the very cold winters. These are signature elements of Santa Fe architecture and they were often decorated.  The one illustrated here has a plaque with a Katsina on it.

As with many long-lived buildings, this house expanded. The large room with plenty of sunshine on one side of the house served as Baumann’s studio until he constructed an additional building on the back.  The former studio then became his puppet theater where he entertained his friends with puppet shows.  Like Calder’s Circus at the Whitney, the puppets are a beloved part of the collection of Bauman’s work at the New Mexico Museum of Art.  While they have recently been restored and exhibited they are considered too fragile to perform. However, reproductions have been made and every Christmas they are featured in a puppet show at the museum to the delight of children and adults alike.


Having just finished this missive I am reminded of two Baumann exhibitions here in Santa Fe.  One which we received a preview of earlier this year is called “Gustave Baumann: Painter, Printmaker, and Puppeteer” and is currently showing at the Governor’s Gallery in the State Capitol.  It runs until September 2.  The other is just of the artist’s woodblock prints and will open at the New Mexico Art Museum on July 1 and runs through the end of the year.  

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lending Our Photo Collection

In the mid 1970’s Penelope and I collected vintage photographs.  When asked what period I collect, I usually answer works from between the wars, though there are many exceptions.  In those days we bought only as much as we could hang on the walls of our apartment and investment was the furthest thing from our minds.  After all when you buy photos for hundreds of dollars how could they possibly appreciate that much?

At the time we lived in a small one bedroom walk up so the collection is not that large, only about 50 prints.  Eventually we moved to a Park Avenue co-op and then briefly to what amounted to a railroad flat on the west side of Manhattan. There, we had a very long hallway connecting all the rooms.  Since there were no windows it was the perfect venue to show works on paper.

When we moved to the house back on the east side where we remained for over a decade, most of the space was used for the gallery’s art so the photography collection remained in a closet.  Today, we have a gallery and pied-a-terre in New York and our house in New Mexico is devoted to our Native American Collection.

So what to do with the collection?  Because of its appreciation in value our accountants recommended not selling and, in any case, we love it and don’t really want to part with  our photos.

I don’t believe in putting works of art in a crate long term.  Too much can happen to art when it is out of view.

We then had the following idea.  Remember, not long ago I wrote about the “Clouds” and “Earth Now” photo exhibitions at the New Mexico Museum of Art.  The quality and thought behind those exhibitions made us fans of the Museum’s photography curator, Kate Ware.  We, therefore, decided to ask whether the museum might be interested in a long-term loan.  It had the advantages that people could see and appreciate the collection and the museum would cover the insurance costs.

 After consultations between curator, director and registrar, concerning questions such as, how many linear inches will it take up in their limited humidity and temperature controlled storage facility, they agreed that it would fit well with the works the museum already owned.

But we still needed a contract.  These can get extremely complicated and demanding on both sides but in this case it was rather simple.  The main issues were how long the contract would be in effect, so that either side could opt out if they so wished; whether loans would be allowed to third parties and under what circumstances, as well as issues of exposure to light, i.e. how long a work can remain on view. 

As with all contracts the countersigned contract arrived at the last minute, hand delivered by the registrars who came to pick up the boxes of photos. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Library Arrives

As mentioned in a previous missive we are moving much of our gallery’s library to our house in Santa Fe.  And, as is bound to happen, there came a day at the beginning of the month that the truck arrived with 180 cartons mostly filled with books!  They had been packed up by our art movers in New York, Gander & White, and the cartons were handed over to Art Handlers, Ltd. which specializes in art moving in Santa Fe and they brought them cross country.  In order to avoid the tornados near Joplin they took the southern route but had not checked with Mother Nature first.  When the truck arrived in Nashville with a blown turbo, which took a day to replace, they could not leave again for another day because of tornado warnings there as well.  Happily those tornados did not hit and finally, three days later than anticipated they arrived in Santa Fe.

Then with less than a day’s rest they delivered the shipment to our house.  On the way in, however, they had to lop off some large branches from our tree at the driveway to allow their truck to pass.  The owner of the trucking company, Sharon Pattison, who had accompanied the shipment from New York and her heroic truck driver, Jay Quintana, arrived with four men to lift the cartons out of the truck and set them as near as possible to their eventual resting place. As much as you expect it, it is still a shock when it all arrives!

Sharon and Diana Nixon, our New York librarian, were by the truck to direct in which direction the specific cartons should go.   Penelope was in the basement where she had had metal shelving erected and pointed to the area where we planned to shelve the books and I was there to take care as to where the fine arts, which came along would be placed; more on this next week.

As of this writing it has been a week since the truck unloaded; the books are in place and there are a very few cartons still to be opened.  Not that this is the end of the job, as we still have all the books that have been already housed in Santa Fe that will have to be integrated!

Now, the next question that comes to mind is where are what books.  There is method to our madness: exhibitions and museums as well as most sculpture and decorative arts volumes are here in Santa Fe; books related to provenance research, such as collections and auction catalogs, are going to our New York warehouse; and old master drawings and paintings as well as a selection of sculpture and decorative arts books being at the gallery.  Thank goodness for our library software. We will be looking there first to be sure where the book might be!

As I have heard so often, the Frick library is two blocks from the gallery, why not just use that.  Unfortunately, not everything is there.  In rare cases visitors to the Frick have been guided to our library, also old European auction catalogs might not be available or the volume desired is not always easily accessible.  One never knows when a publication must be retrieved. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Albert Paley @ Gerald Peters Gallery

Gerald Peters has a huge pueblo-style gallery with outdoor space here in Santa Fe, the perfect venue to show the art of Albert Paley.

Albert Paley (Philadelphia 1944-) started out as a jeweler buy he never made small delicate jewels he made major statements. It wasn't long until his statements became larger and he turned them into incredible pieces of metal furniture with lyrical lines. Later he continued to create the decorative arts but increasingly worked on major pieces of sculpture in his 40,000 square foot studio in Rochester, New York.

Penelope met Albert in her days working in the 20th Century Department at the Metropolitan Museum and they stayed in touch. Once when she went to his studio he had just found his first winch, an elevator winch, which could twist metal. He gave her an illustration piece.

Believe it or not in the early 1980’s she was allowed to hand carry this ten pound piece of twisted steel onto her plane home. Things have gotten heavier and larger since. The exhibition that arrived 25 years later in Santa Fe was brought on two semi 18 wheelers carrying three tons each of Albert's work, his art is not for the faint of heart!

The Peters’ gallery director for contemporary art, Abigail von Schlegell, supervised the full day of off loading from the trucks and then four days of unpacking and installation. It wasn't as if she could change her mind and move the indoor sculptures (300-800 lbs.) around on her own.

The resulting exhibition does justice to both Albert's largest pieces and his small objects including candlesticks and even a menorah.

Many of the table objects are placed in a smaller gallery and usually on top of one of Albert's tables, so as not to be dwarfed by the sculpture.  Since, when one is installing very heavy items such as library shelves for art books or large pieces of sculpture one must keep in mind the weight that the floor will bear, the sculpture that is12 feet high and weighs 1200 pounds was a special challenge. That remains outside. Still, looking at the gallery, the way the exhibition seems to build up to the larger pieces and the way the walls are used for drawings make it work wonderfully.

As much as I like Albert’s sculpture in the appropriate outdoor setting I tend to gravitate back to my roots and enjoy the objects and furniture most. The piece I would buy for myself, not necessarily the one I might buy for the museum, is a round glass topped table. Needless to say, that is one of the first pieces that was sold from the show… yes, I did pick it before I saw the red dot!

Working on the scale he does Albert is preparing two years ahead for a bigger challenge: sculpture to adorn Park Avenue like Jeff Koons’ current installation.