Sunday, September 30, 2012

Quick Draw

A short while ago we were at one of the best charity events I have ever attended.  It was for the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.  First of all it took place in one of the most beautiful places, the Santa Fe Opera, high over and looking away from the city.  We were not in the opera itself but on the rehearsal grounds behind.

There was a large tent under which tables were set and there was a huge spread of hot and cold dishes, always a welcome sight.  The caterers supplied the hot food and the ever-loyal volunteers of the Wheelwright did a tray of cheeses, muffins, bagels and a delicious desert tray.

The real reason we were there was to watch 20 artists create a two dimensional work of art in an hour and a half. There were some very well known artists and a number of them had travelled many miles to participate.  The event actually commenced with an amusing invite by Ricardo Caté illustrating the “competition” with a typical Native American sense of humor.

The rehearsal grounds are situated in a bucolic setting, and there was even a swimming pool though that was closed.  On a higher terrace there were 8 or 9 artists and the rest were spread around two levels below on the grass, a small path and under the portal of a building.  It could not have been a more relaxing circumstance.  Since it was a paying event there were not huge throngs of people but a nice manageable and congenial group.  We did not just stare at the artists as they worked, but we could ask questions or just chat with those we already knew .  Needless to say, there were some we had not even heard of and I made notes of a few that I want to follow up on after having seen their work.

Most worked on good size paintings and some on drawings, pastels and watercolors.  But others did works that were so small I could not photograph them, such as the artist who worked with extremely tiny beads.  He obviously was not going to finish in the allotted time so he announced when time had elapsed that he would let those people know who had expressed interest when he had completed the piece.

What interested me a great deal were artists who were trying something new.  For instance there was a potter by the name of Robert Tenorio who said that this was the first two dimensional picture he had ever done, and it might also be his last, because he usually paints on his pots.  Another, was an artist by the name of Ramona Sakiestewa, an extremely famous weaver.  Her work can be found in many major museums.  She announced that she would not be working in that media anymore and that at this time she was painting.

Ricardo Caté did what was referred to as a risqué work of art, the only one of his cartoons ever rejected by The New Mexican newspaper.  It showed two Indians sitting at a campfire, while  a young brave with a girl on each arm is entering his oversized tepee.    One of the Indians at the campfire is saying, “I guess size does matter”!

After the hour and a half was over all the artists were asked to bring their works over to the tent where the potential bidders were finishing their brunch or returning for the exciting finale, the auction of the works created. 

It was quite a convivial crowd and no one was there to prove a point as I have found at other charity auctions but rather to show their appreciation of the artists and a desire to benefit the Wheelwright.  The Museum’s Director, Jonathan Batkin, announced that the artists and the Museum would split the proceeds equally so, of course, it was the director’s wish for high prices, not just for the Wheelwright’s sake but for his artist patrons as well.

Jonathan then commenced auctioning the  20 lots.  These artists did not yet command astronomical  prices with the high being $2,600 and the low $400.  We were very excited by a number of works from artists we were acquainted with and some we did not know.  In all I think that we bid on 5 lots and were the underbidders on 3!  Making it most frustrating was that the individual with the same taste we had was a lovely lady at our own table.  We did prevail in gaining one lot and that was the painting by Raymona Sakiestewa, the former weaver. The title of the picture is “In the Beginning” and it represents a Germinator Katsina.

Afterwards, the director told us that many of the artists had achieved record prices for their work.  Quick Draw was a rare duel where every one came out ahead.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Zozobra & Fiesta

Zozobra, known as  “Old Man Gloom” was the creation of the Santa Fe Artist  William Howard Shuster (1893-1969). Born in Philadelphia he moved to Santa Fe in 1920. Here he met the artist John Sloan (1871-1951), also a Pennsylvanian, who mentored him.  John Sloan one of the most important artists of the Ash Can school came to Santa Fe for four months every year for 30 years.

The first Zozobra that Shuster built for the entertainment of his friends in his back yard was 6 feet tall.  In 1925 Shuster with an editor for The New Mexican, E. Dana Johnson and the help of the artist Gustave Baumann (link to blog) built a 20 foot version to burn in public before the beginning of the Hispanic celebration of Fiesta de Santa Fe. They filled their puppet with paper representing all the gloom of the community and immolated it.  Today Zozobra stands almost 50 feet tall, and citizens and visitors alike are invited to submit their misfortunes over the past year, including documents such as divorce papers, to be stuffed into the puppet.

This year was the 300th anniversary of the Fiesta which celebrates the Spaniards’ peaceful re-conquest of Santa Fe from the Indians in 1692. The event lasts for a 3 day weekend and starts and concludes with mass at the Cathedral.  On Saturday morning there is a children’s pet parade. On Sunday, a community parade is led by police and fire departments and Caballeros of Don Diego de Vargas in period regalia and on horseback, followed by floats from schools, sports teams and other political and town representatives. Throughout there are concerts on the plaza and ethnic food stands galore.

The most popular event, however, occurs the afternoon and night before Fiesta begins with live bands in Fort Marcy park under the stare of. the huge paper maché puppet.  The actual burning of Zozobra is scheduled for nightfall which is, at this time of year, approximately 8:15 pm.

We usually have an early dinner in town and plan for a 7:30 arrival to settle in.  We also carry extra sweaters and a blanket to sit on, none of which were necessary this time around.  Because of increased security and the banishment of strollers the line to get in must have been a half mile long and it did not seem to move.  We have seen this event a number of times and we did not wish to wait in line possibly until after the burning began.  Also, as it turned out, an unnecessary concern.

Many, even those with advanced purchase tickets, were turning around to leave.  As we were coming to the same conclusion and began to reverse our steps, our guardian angel appeared. Our dear friend, City Councilwoman, Rebecca Wurzburger was with her family and she invited us to join her, so we got to see the event from a close up and high vantage point on the 2nd floor of the firehouse at Fort Marcy. Even if we never go again, that night we had quite the experience.  Unfortunately, there was an additional fly in the ointment.  For the second year in a row the city experienced moderately high winds and the burning had to wait for an additional 90 minutes until the winds died down,  so that It only got going shortly before 10pm, an extremely late hour where the main dinner time is 6:00 pm.

Eventually Old Man Gloom began moving his arms and groaning.  First, however, a “judge” pronounced a death sentence and then came a horde of “Gloomies”, little dancers from primary school.  Next there were the fire dancers with lighted torches and at that point the lights were turned off.  One does not go for the choreography but it is all quite effective.  Near the end fireworks were shot from the vicinity of Zozobra in very short spurts and finally we saw little explosions under the skirt of the puppet and it began to blaze.  It all leads to a crescendo and Zozobra is totally ablaze with cascading fireworks above and the crowd of tens of thousands begin to spill into the streets finding their way back to their vehicles, presumably purged of a year’s worth of worry.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Biennale des Antiquaires

Thanks to the wonders of technology I am heading across the pond without need of transportation.  This year my associate, gallery director and the person responsible for making something out of my random picture taking, Vince Hickman, has gone over and sent me video and comment.  This week you have his pictures and video with my text.

 Biennale des Antiquaires 2012 from Stiebel, Ltd. on Vimeo.

Vince and his wife Heidi arrived in Paris last Thursday morning and shortly thereafter they were raring to go to the opening of the Biennale at the fabulous Grand Palais off of the Champs Elysée.  There was just one problem and that was getting in.  They gave away too many tickets and at the same time beefed up security because of the recent riots in the mid-east.  The crowds waiting outside stretched the length of the huge Grand Palais and across the street to the Petit Palais.  After an hour and a half they’d had enough and called a friendly exhibitor who came out and snuck them in a side door.  It’s nice to have good friends!

Opening Night - Biennale - Paris - 2012 from Stiebel, Ltd. on Vimeo.

I remember bad crowds In recent years but never like this.  I guess the organizers believe that these kinds of crowds bring excitement to the event.  Personally, I think it brings frustration and this was evidenced by the numbers that just left without going in.  After all it does last from the opening on September 13 until September 23 and the hours run from 11am to 8pm and on 3 nights they go on until 11pm, a real endurance test for the exhibitors.  On the other hand if you leave and come back another day you may have to pay the entry fee of 30 Euros, close to $40 to get in, twice as expensive as most U.S. Art Fairs.

One of the reasons for the crowd was the much anticipated and hyped design of the fair this year by the famous Karl Lagerfeld, the designer for Chanel, and art collector.  It seems, however, that he fumbled the ball, or should I say balloon, this time around.  It amounted to what my younger son would call, “a big whoop!”  The only décor in the entire place was the large balloon at the center as you walked into the fair.  Lagerfeld said he also wanted to accentuate the beautiful glass ceiling of the Grand Palais but at night it is not evident.  The balloon was at the center of a large round bar, which was mobbed all evening.  There were, however, satellite bars all over with good food and drink.

The booths were also better integrated than in the past and the Jewelry exhibits were not constricted to one section but scattered throughout the fair.  A new section of younger, less established dealers also seemed to meet with the publics’ approval.

Unfortunately for us, most of the booths had signs that forbid photography.  That has not been a problem in the past so Vince had not requested a press pass.  Come to think of it, a pass might have helped getting in without the hassle!  In spite of this Vince and Heidi found the fair overall most impressive and, as one must, they went back on a quieter day to view the booths more carefully.  In any case, I feel that openings are more for chatting than viewing.

As you might expect Vince and Heidi had different favorite booths.  Heidi’s was Van Cleef and Arpels, not just because of the beautiful Jewelry but it was the fabulous and innovative design of the booth.  They had a street of Parisian houses in small scale that led into a room of fantasy wedding dresses that rotated behind screens making them look as if they were being projected.  What a great way to create an appropriate atmosphere for their fine jewelry.

Vince went in a very different direction.  He liked Bernard Croissy’s booth, a dealer in historic arms.  Croissy has said that most of his clients go for his highly ornamented swords but Vince picked out a rifle made for a right handed shooter and designed so that it could probably not have been shot accurately by anyone other than the man who had commissioned it.  It was made circa 1635 and attributed to the Austrian "Meister der Tierkopfranke" with elaborately engraved silver, carved ivory and fruitwood throughout.

Among the galleries that are more in our field, the Galerie Kraemer built their booth around a single artist, Jean Henri Riesener, Marie Antoinette’s favorite cabinetmaker.  One of several highlights in their booth was a fabulous marquetry commode with a beautiful flower bouquet in the center.

Didier Aaron who has galleries in Paris, London and New York showed off many old master paintings but what struck Vince the most was a delicate late nineteenth century gueridon, a circular occasional table by the Veuve Ferdinand Duvinage.  The top of the table is done in a lovely combination of marquetry and ivory inlay.

One of the dealers in the fair said that they had not expected much from the event but already by the second day they were happy.  That has to be considered a successful fair by any standard.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Five Women that I Live With

It’s the dawn of a new art season and it is time for me to look around the gallery and assess the inventory.  There are 5 ladies there who don’t necessarily live together since 3 are French and 2 are German spanning over a century but I love them all.

The earliest that I wish to present you with is a Revolutionary woman who lived during The Reign Terror in France (1793-1794). Her attire indicates that she is  a political activist on the side of those operating the guillotine, known as the “National Razor,”, and an unlikely victim. The Republican women did not get the axe!  We do not know her name but the revolutionary cockade on her turban headdress identifies her as one of the female activists in the early years of the French Revolution.  The artist, who shows her here in profile in this relief portrait, was kind enough to sign his name, Joseph Chinard (1756-1813), and his style is quite distinctive.  At that time he did this relief he was working in Rome but his support of the Revolutionary cause in France landed him in the Vatican jail!

In spite of her chaste appearance, the second woman was probably not such a highly idealistic female.  Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887) often found his models from the  “demimonde”, courtesans and actresses.  This terracotta is signed A. Carrier, bearing the signature he used early in his career.  He liked to sculpt his women in a very serious and dignified manner.  We do not know who she is but there is something very sympathetic about her and we might feel some compassion for her should we happen upon her in the street after the theater.

The next terracotta is also signed by the artist using his later signature, Carrier-Belleuse.  In this case, she is a woman of total fantasy, a mythical being known as a bacchante, the follower of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine.  Bacchus and his followers are much appreciated in our family and we drink to them almost every night!  Our Bacchante is one of the most famous of Carrier-Belleuse’s sculptures and was extremely popular in its time.  We know of several terra cotta examples and a marble, signed and dated 1868, that was sold at Sotheby’s on December 10, 2002.

For #4 we must cross the Rhine into Germany and the Meissen Porcelain factory near Dresden.  The factory was established by Augustus the Strong in 1710 and was the first to be able to replicate the hard paste porcelain formula that had been developed in China and was desperately sought by the royalty of Europe.

The factory also has the distinction of having been in continuous existence since that time.  They still replicate the old molds but they also continue to come up with contemporary designs and images.

The lady in question was modeled by Professor Paul Boener (1888—1970) between 1935-1939.  After studying in Meissen, Dresden and Florence he was appointed as a painter and later as director of the painting and design studios at the Meissen factory.  With half-closed eyes my dreamy lady seems self-absorbed.

The material that was used actually was one that preceded the discovery of hard paste porcelain and is a stoneware product.  The inventor was Johann Friedrich Böttger (1882-1719), a German Alchemist.  Instead of turning base metal into gold he was given the assignment by Augustus the Strong to produce the hard paste porcelain that was being sought after in Europe and he became the first head of the Meissen factory.

Last but not least, and one of my favorites, is a Balinese woman also made of red stoneware in the Meissen factory.   The model dates between 1924 and 1926 and was modeled by Wili Münch-Khe.  The sculpture illustrates the European fascination with oriental exoticism and particularly the Indo-China region.

All my women demonstrate how the three-dimensional art of sculpture can show off the individual in ways that are not conveyed in two-dimensional art.  For me they become more accessible and more alive.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

14,000 years of Art in New Mexico

Do I need to tell you up front that I am not going to cover this subject in a page and a half of text?  Dr. Joseph Traugott, does with his book that accompanies the exhibition at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe. It is titled “New Mexico Art Through Time” and it is a straight forward history of the art of the State. 

The show itself has the most wonderful title, “It’s About Time”. I love titles that get one involved and have you thinking about what the exhibition could possibly be about before you enter and the subtitle, “14,000 Years of Art in New Mexico” did not exactly enlighten me.

When I asked Joe Traugott, curator of the exhibition how long the show had been in the making, he replied, “40 years”.  He had the idea when he became an archeologist and began to notice how early on people began to decorate, or as he puts it, aestheticize, objects made for use.

The exhibition is far more of a think piece.  It starts out with the deceivingly simple question, “What is Art?” !!!  University courses cover this subject in a semester or two.  When I was at school I took courses on philosophy and Aesthetics that broached these subjects.  Aestheticizing for me was the most illuminating of the many Issues addressed.  As an archeologist Joe looked at arrowheads made over 13,000 years ago and Native American pots and noticed their aesthetic qualities which did nothing to improve their functionality but made them pleasing for the user, and today, the viewer.

Courtesy of the Blackwater Draw Collection, Eastern New Mexico University     

Dr. Traugott also makes the case that an object can gain artistic qualities by simply being seen in the context of a museum exhibition.  By illustration he uses rocket components by Robert Goddard (1882-1945), known as the father of modern rocketry.  Here we see a combustion chamber, nozzle and jacket (1931-32).

Courtesy of the Roswell Museum and Art Center    

Another think piece is the pairing of “The Rabbit Hunter”, a 1945 painting by an Oscar Berninghaus (1874-1952) and a Japanese Internment Camp in New Mexico painted in 2009 by Jerry West (1923-). West’s father and uncle worked in the camp about the same time that “The Rabbit Hunter” was done.  West remembered what he had seen as a child and probably had photos of the camp.  Both paintings relate to the same period in the 1940’s.  The curator’s idea here is that New Mexico is a state that both looks forward and back.  The atom bomb was developed and tested in New Mexico effectively changing the future of the world.  (A wall size photo image opposite the paintings shows the exploding of the atomic bomb.) At the same time an artist is painting a picture of the rabbit hunter as if nothing had changed in the half century that came before.

Courtesy of New Mexico Museum of Art

Courtesy of New Mexico Museum of Art

It is difficult sometimes to know if the commentary on the exhibition label is expressing the curator’s views or those of the artist.  One such example is Thomas Barrow’s (1938- ), “The End of Photography” (1993-94), a mixed media piece.  It poses the question: do Instamatics used as the feet of the container and Polaroids, discarded inside, change the significance of photography?  Personally, I believe that to be a red herring.  Harvey Littleton who pioneered the Studio Glass Movement of the 1970’s famously said, “Technique is Cheap”.  He meant it is not the craft skill that is art but what the artist does with his craft that is important.  I believe that art is a word that is defined by the quality of what we are looking at.  You can see many weekend painters at their easels; but are they all artists creating art? I do not consider all painters or photographers to be artists.  As we know great photos have been taken with the simplest of cameras. The inspiration and the idea behind the photo is what is important.  The technique is a given. I want to come away with a thought that I did not arrive with.

Courtesy of New Mexico Museum of Art

An exhibition that does not only show an eclectic mix of quality pieces but then adds provocative questions to ponder deserves a great deal of thought afterwards and begs the return of the visitor.

In this case there is plenty of time to see and re-see the show since it will continue until January, 2014.  But don’t put if off lest you forget!