Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Resurrection of a Sculpture

Tulio Lonbardo (circa 1455-1532) was one of the most important sculptors of the Rennaissance.  He was commissioned in the early 1490’s to create a large marble sculpture of Adam for the tomb of Andrea Vendramin, the Doge of Venice.   

Metropolitan Museum Photo Studio/Joseph Coscia, Jr.
Metropolitan Museum Photo Studio/Joseph Coscia, Jr.

Late in the day of October 6, 2002 the wooden pedestal on which this life size sculpture stood at the Metropolitan Museum collapsed. It was both a tragic and embarrassing event for the Museum.  When it hit the floor of the Patio from the Castle of Vélez Blanco (formerly known as the Blumenthal Patio after its donor), the head separated from the body.  Jack Soultanian, who headed the restoration project, told the New York Times that there were 28 recognizable pieces and hundreds of smaller fragments.  As the head was being placed back on the torso the Museum Director Thomas P. Campbell together with Conservators Michael Morris, Carolyn Riccardelli, and Lawrence Becker looked on.

Metropolitan Museum Photo Studio/Christopher Heins.

At first it was thought to be a total loss but one does not give up so easily on a masterpiece that has been called the most important piece of Renaissance sculpture in North America.  Jack, with the backing of the Director at the time, Philippe de Montebello, assembled a team to do the necessary research to begin a painstaking restoration.  In the end, it took a team of conservators, conservation scientists, engineers and curators 12 years to complete.

Carolyn Riccardelli, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan’s recent press release mentions that the tomb was originally located in Santa Maria dei Servi and then moved to the basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo in the early 19th century.  By 1821 Adam had been removed from the monument and brought to the Verndramin Calergi palace.  In 1844 it was acquired along with the entire palace by the Duchesse de Berry and Adam descended through future generations of her family.  He eventually arrived in Paris and was acquired by Henry Pereire, a French railway tycoon.  The press release goes on to say that the sculpture was sold in 1935 to an art dealer and the Met purchased it the following year.   What they do not mention is that the dealer was Hans Stiebel of the firm that became Rosenberg & Stiebel.  Hans was my uncle and he had two house-guests at the time, his brother and sister-in-law (my father and mother).

The reason this has always interested me is that as I grew up I heard the story more than once that my mother dried her stockings by hanging them over Adam’s arm, a practice that might be frowned on today .   My father told me that one day a French dealer came in by the name of François Germain Seligman, a member of the famous Seligmann family of art dealers.  He said, “vous pouvez le considérer comme vendus” (you can consider it as sold), a boast that some dealers make if they really want to take a work of art from another dealer on consignment without paying for it up front.  In this case, he succeeded but my parents never knew where it went until they emigrated to New York, and visited the Metropolitan Museum.  There they were surprised to find their long lost friend!

Needless to say the Met is making a great fuss about the resurrection of the Tulio and a special exhibition has been arranged around it.  It is also the subject of Volume 49 of the 2014 Museum Journal as well as past and future lectures.

The museum chose to bring the Adam back at the same time as they were creating a new Venetian and northern Italian sculpture gallery.  For 8 months Adam will have the room to himself with didactic panels giving an in depth account of its restoration using text and digital screens.  Later other important pieces will join him but Adam will continue to be the focal point of the gallery which he must feel is his due after his ordeal!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Artist Cards from Holidays Past

The History Museum in Santa Fe had the wonderful idea to mount a small Christmas card show for this holiday season; “Gustave Baumann and Friends; Artist Cards from Holidays Past” curated by Tom Leech, director of the Palace Press, and guest curator Jean Moss.  Baumann was a German-born artist who came to Santa Fe in 1918.  He was already well known in the U.S. as a print maker when he came here.  The wide distribution of prints throughout time has spread images across time and nations.  So it was with Baumann’s prints of New Mexico making this part of the world better known throughout the states and internationally.

Ann Baumann, Gustave and Jane’s daughter, left to the Fray Angelico Chavez History Library in Santa Fe a collection of original cards that her parents had received and others that they had sent.  There are about 400 cards in the collection and one quarter of them have been chosen for this exhibition.  Here is a photo of Jane and Gustave Baumann with their daughter Ann in 1954 courtesy of the Ann Baumann Trust.

The tradition of Christmas cards started in the times of Charles Dickens and soon were printed en masse by commercial houses.  If you have ever sent out Christmas cards you know it can be an expensive endeavor and artists usually do not have that kind of money to spend frivolously.  Many of them therefore made and printed their own.

The cards in this show are cleverly divided into categories such as, Angels and Madonnas, Santa and the Mailman, and Greeting Irreverent and Belated plus many others.  Of course, since the period of 1918 to 1971 when Baumann died included the Great Depression there is a selection from that time as well.

As said, the show is quite small and in a long narrow gallery but it is dense with gems.  It is a bit like one of those racks of sayings you might find at the Five and Dime and can’t tear yourself away from.  One is continuously surprised by the humor and insights on the cards.

In 1929 the Baumanns received a very appropriate and simple Christmas card from their friends Mary Lou and Oswald Cooper, it says, “We view with frugal disregard; The customary Christmas Fuss; You may have heard that times are hard- This card is all you’ll get from us”.

The label for the card of mother and child says “Jenny Owens, age 17, linocut, date unknown.  I had a dyslexic moment and read instead of undated, updated, which I thought appropriate for this particular Holy Family.

Playing on the fact that there is too little rain in New Mexico and water is a continuous source of anguish one of the Baumann greetings says, “The Baumanns send you their best umbrella: Just in case it decides to rain in 1955”.  The printing process was woodcut and marble papered collage and came from the collection of David Carter and Geneva Austin.

In 1956 the Baumanns came up with a theme that I would love to appropriate considering our interest in the Hopi tribal culture.  It says, “The Hopi are a Peaceful People, Here’s to a Hopi Year for all of us”.

The exhibition also includes audio of the family’s reminiscences and all in all opens a time capsule into the life of an artist, family and friends.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Getting Ready for an Exhibition

The Ralph T. Coe Foundation is just starting out as a going concern under the leadership of Rachel Wixom, President & CEO and Bruce Bernstein, Executive Director & Curator.  As a trustee, and volunteer archivist,  I am delighted with our progress. It has been just over a year that the Coe has had its own unusual two-story space in Santa Fe and already it has received attention with two exhibitions that it created, one in conjunction with a fair and the other on its own premises.  A collector has even expressed the wish to donate objects to the Foundation. 

We have lent works of art to other museum exhibitions but now, for the first time, the Coe has been asked to organize an exhibition for another institution!  There are over 2,000 works of art in our collection so it should be no problem but no museum exhibition is that simple.  Probably one of the most difficult parts of creating a show is picking the objects that tell the story that you wish to tell.  In this case, the theme quickly became apparent: The exhibition will tell the story about our founder and his collecting journey. 

Ralph T. Coe was known to all his friends and colleagues as Ted. He started out professionally as a curator in several institutions in this country and abroad.  His longest stint was at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri where he rose from curator to director of the Museum.  He left there in 1982 and after a short period at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. he came to Santa Fe to pursue what always interested him the most, collecting and learning about indigenous peoples.   He collected art from all over the world but mostly that of the Native Americans and many of them became his close friends. 

Ted was born in 1929 and acquired his first pieces of indigenous art in the early 1950’s.  He never turned back and continued, often with very little money to collect.  He went to some very good dealers and received guidance from them but he also went out on his own, travelling thousands of miles on a single journey, which would take him all over the United States and Canada.  A single trip of 7,000 miles was not at all unusual.

How are we going to get a handle on this exhibition?  First of all our Executive Director assembled his advisory committee, consisting of dealers, artists and museum professionals to make a quick and dirty tour of the collection pointing out objects that they would like to see in the show and then asking them to explain why.  In some cases the reason was as simple as the fact that the object was something Ted regularly wore or that it was central to one of the stories he told, like the piece he bought from a Cherokee gas station attendant.

The next step in putting the exhibition together was to review all these, not necessarily related works, and try to make an aesthetically pleasing assemblage of them that told Ted’s story.  Bruce decided that an excellent guide to Ted’s essence was the three exhibitions that defined him.  The first was called “Sacred Circles” which he curated in 1976 and was very proud that it did not just show in this country but was also presented at the Hayward Gallery in London.  He was looking to demonstrate the artistic merits of Indian art and overcome neglect and prejudice.  As a matter of fact, our Native heritage was better preserved abroad than at home and Ted set out to change that.

The second exhibition was “Lost and Found Traditions” which traveled to many institutions here and abroad.  Ted conceived of it as evidence that though we are always saying that some tribe is no longer making art in a certain medium such as textiles or basket, it turns out that they never stop, though there may be ebb and flow as to how many artists are working in the medium. 

The final exhibition that was done just for him took place at the Metropolitan Museum in 2003.   About 200 wonderful works of art from his collection were shown and eventually donated to the Museum.  It was called, “The Responsive Eye” and told of Ted’s collecting legacy, passed down from his parents, and his passion for people, education and connoisseurship.

Note, that this all sounds simple but each object has to be carefully taken out of its storage unit and put to one side (in this case metal racks) to see it in the newly-established context.  Thank goodness the Coe had the good fortune to find a student intern who had recently graduated from Williams College, Mariam Hale, who has handled and worked so well with the objects over the last few months that our curator has said “she is at least a curatorial assistant by now!”

Once the objects are out and mostly on racks they must be carefully scrutinized for conservation purposes and to make sure that no material would offend any cultural entity.  The committee was then again called together to see other works of art such as textiles that had been kept in boxes in the dark until now for reasons of space and  conservation.  When one piece, a painted buffalo hide, was shown to us we learned from Teri Greeves, of the Kiowa Nation and a board member, that since the painted decoration was abstract, it was probably created by a woman.  When I asked how she knew that she explained that men were the historians so they painted figures on hide to tell specific stories, leaving the women to do the abstract work which could be appreciated for its decorative and artistic value.  At this particular meeting another board member, Tad Dale, one of Ted’s oldest friends who sometimes even went on buying trips with him was able to point out Ted’s first acquisition as well as tell stories of other purchases they made together.

Have I forgotten something?  Oh, you may be curious as to where and when this exhibition will take place.  The opening is scheduled for mid July of 2015 at Santa Fe’s Wheelwright Museum, the preeminent museum devoted to Southwest Indian art.

One of the next steps will be to find out whether the director of the museum, Jonathan Batkin has any personal wishes as to what he would like to see or not see in the show as well as continuing consultation with their curator, Cheri Falkenstien-Doyle.  Then a very exciting moment will come when we show their designer, Lou Gauci if he is available, what we have put together and discuss with him how he will install the exhibition ... stay tuned for further developments.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

3 Fairs in 1 Weekend

Thank goodness Thanksgiving Day weekend was a long one because we needed to fit 3 fairs in.

We were invited to the first fair by a Board Member of the Spanish Colonial Society, Joel Goldfrank, who is a good friend.  That was a very large show at the Hotel Albuquerque in the town of that name.  It was the winter edition of the summer event which happens every year on the Santa Fe Plaza. 

There was a champagne brunch which as might be expected consisted of some champagne and lots of green chili which, in deference to the Anglos among the guests, was fairly mild.  There were tortillas, scrambled egg and potatoes on which to put the chili as well as a green chili stew.  Sugar helps cut the spice so there were biscochitos, traditional New Mexican sugar cookies, as desert.

After that introduction we were in an excellent mood to visit the fair in the next room, a cavernous size ball room.  There was entertainment planned all day and we particularly enjoyed “La Rondalla de Albuquerque”.  It draws its tradition from the Canary Islands started over 100 years ago, probably much older, where the governor would send out scouts to gather the best musicians to play.  This Rondalla was chosen from New Mexico amateur musicians. They played well together and here is a brief taste of the music.


Then the director of the Spanish Colonial Society, David Setford, and the President of the Board, Brian S. Colón, welcomed all to the event, which built all afternoon until the room was totally full of artists and visitors.  Amusingly enough, this is the second year that this market is taking place in Albuquerque.  The first year they did it many artists objected to changing the venue which has always has been Santa Fe.  So many people came and bought,  however, (Albuquerque has a population of 1 million and Santa Fe about a tenth of that!) that  it was a great success and now the artists are eager to participate.

The Spanish Market has some very antiquated rules that are difficult to understand.  Mostly they revolve around the question of what is traditional New Mexican Spanish Colonial Art.  The selection committee does not want to allow much variation from what they believe the norm should be.  It is a sad loss for the public as well as the artists many of whom would like to expand their horizons..

The following day we went back to Albuquerque to a much smaller fair, which was the Winter edition of the Indigenous Fine Art Market (IFAM).  This was the group who had separated from the regular Indian Market to form their own show.  It was held in the  beautiful old Hotel Andaluz.  There were only 50 artists invited to show and I am not sure if that many came.  What I liked most was that there was something worthwhile looking at in almost every booth.  One Hopi carver explained to us that he had sold out at a show in California recently and had only learned late that he was invited to this show, so he had to carve morning, noon and night for two weeks in order to prepare enough Katsina dolls. He decided that making them Christmas ornament size would save time and be season appropriate.

The last and final show was SWAIA’s Winter Indian Market here at home in the convention center of Santa Fe.  I believe that there were about 200 artists but unfortunately, many were showing just Christmas decorations or minor work what we might call back east, chachkas.  That is not to say that if one knew what to look for one could not find some stellar works of art. 

Among the best booths was one that belonged to Marla Allison, a painter and her husband Pat Pruitt, a metal smith who makes the most striking jewelry.  Another was that of the Keri Ataumbi, she too is a jeweler.  I have written about her sister, Teri Greeves, a major beader, in the past.  Keri like many other native artists today did not just learn her art, in the traditional manner, from her family.  Keri attended the Rhode Island School of Design and when she came to Santa Fe studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts and received a BFA from the College of Santa Fe in art as well as the history of art.

Keri Ataumbi
By Keri Ataumbi (Front)
By Keri Ataumbi (Reverse)

"Amidst the Trees" by Marla Allison

One interesting, though not totally surprising, thing that happens at these fairs is that artists never really stop doing the kind of work that they want to do.  If they are not allowed to sell a certain genre of work in a fair because it doesn’t fit into to what the fair organizers believe is proper for their event, they do it anyway.  They either sell at a different venue or they invite a potential client into the parking lot or up to their hotel room to show what they have created.  We bought one of our most stunning Native American works in a parking lot years ago, and last weekend exactly the same kind of thing happened again and we were invited to go outside the fair to buy another great object.  I will save that story for another Missive.

Sunday, November 30, 2014


What better time to announce something new that before the end of the old year.

My family firm started out in Frankfurt before 1870 as I. Rosenbaum, named after my great uncle’s father.  His name was Jakob Rosenbaum but since ‘J’. in old German looked almost exactly like an ‘I’. the name remained the same when his son Isaak Rosenbaum took over the firm.  Isaak had no children so he took his nephews into the business the Rosenbergs and Stiebels and I am a descendent of the latter.  When Hitler came to power, Isaak and Saemy Rosenberg moved to Amsterdam.  Isaak died in 1936 and when it became obvious by 1939 that Hitler would eventually cross into The Netherlands they sent the youngest, my father Eric Stiebel, to New York to start a new company, Rosenberg & Stiebel.  Saemy Rosenberg passed away in 1970 but it took my father and me thirty years to change the name again, to Stiebel, Ltd.  After my father died I told people it was Stiebel, Limited because the firm was limited to just me!

I. Rosenbaum

Dutch immigration document

A few years ago I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico leaving my inventory in a warehouse in New York and closing the gallery there last March.   In fact, when we visited New York a few weeks ago it was the first time in my life that I was in New York without having my own bed to sleep in.  As an aside, it did not bother me in the slightest.  It was nice to visit New York as a tourist even if there was work to do.

There are times in life that one wants to break with the past.  It is often called a mid-life crisis though in my case it is definitely too late for that.  This was, however, definitely a break in my life.  How to mark the change?  Obviously, doing away with the old and starting with something new is helpful.  I know all kinds of stories of friends who gave up careers and started new ones but they were a lot, lot younger than I am.  Also, I do not believe that art dealers ever retire.  In fact, one very well known dealer told me that he had made more money in the art trade after he officially retired.  How? He bought shares in important paintings with other dealers.

I decided to close my New York gallery and form an entity in New Mexico but what to call it?  I tried various forms of my name and they all seemed to be taken by other companies in the state so I had to think outside the box.  When I bought my first car in New Mexico I wanted to get a “vanity” license plate but I never wanted anything that would be too easily identified or remembered by, the police, for instance .  I picked the word Pahaana for my plate.

To give a little history, if you have read my Missives on a regular basis you know that we have collected Native American Art and particularly that of the Hopi tribe for the past 25 years.  This has involved a number of visits to the Hopi Reservation.  We were lucky enough to find Tsakurshovi, the first trading post you see when you reach the top of 2nd Mesa.  There, we were soon taken under the wing of Joseph and Janice Day, the proprietors.

They would take us to see places that we would not have been able to find or go to without them.  They also explained much of the culture or demonstrated it to us in one way or another.  After a few visits they started introducing us as Pet Pahaanas.  We knew that Joseph, in particular, had a great sense of humor so we figured they were making fun of us but soon learned this was not the case.  Pahaana in the Hopi language means foreigner of European descent or Anglo.  We learned that many “pet pahaanas” visited the Rez, as Reservation is often abbreviated.

It seemed like a most appropriate name for my new company.  After all we are Anglos and foreigners to New Mexico.  Though most of the people we meet came here from somewhere else, we have a few friends who have been here for many generations.

The new company is now called Pahaana, LLC and as a Limited Liability Company it seems more personal that a Ltd. i.e. corporation.  What will I do with this company?  First let me tell you what I will not do.  I am not opening a gallery though it has been suggested.  Aside from the fact that there is little market for old master paintings and French 18th century decorative arts out here, I have done that.  I will become a private dealer (a term more honored in the breach) which I have been in effect for a long time.  I have resigned from several art dealer associations staying only as a member of the Private Art Dealers Association which automatically makes me part of The International Confederation of Art Dealers (C.I.N.O.A.) of which I was once President.

The firm in Frankfurt and new image for Pahaana

I will continue to deal in what I have all my life and will not forgo any opportunities to handle any great Indian works of art that may come my way, which has happened once or twice.  Obviously I shall keep in touch through my Missives and my website which can still be found at as well as and my email,, will not change so do stay in touch.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Twelve Hours in a Dark Room: The Spanish Colonial Revival Decorative Arts Symposium

My wife, Penelope Hunter-Stiebel was asked to speak by the Center for Southwest Research at the University of New Mexico (UNM) at the symposium on Spanish Colonial Decorative Arts.  She had written about the historic furniture made for the New Mexico Museum of Art.

The symposium took place in the Zimmerman Library built by John Gaw Meem (1894-1983).  He was an architect living in Santa Fe who was best known for his popularization of the Pueblo Revival Style, which has become a staple of New Mexico.  Its benchmarks are adobe buildings constructed of mud bricks (later simply clay coloring of stucco) and flat roofs supported by vigas (heavy wood beams).  Although it has the appearance of adobe the Zimmerman was constructed in 1938 of brick, steel and concrete with walls 5 feet thick, which keep the library cool in summer and warm in winter…. Wish I had had them in my non air-conditioned schools.

Location of the Symposium with furniture and tin work

There were probably two main reasons for the symposium one being political and the other scholarly.  Audra Bellmore, Curator of the John Gaw Meem Archive and Lillian Makeda, graduate fellow, are on a quest to preserve some of the original buildings and furniture made during the years since 1901 during the presidency of William George Tight (1901-1909) who wanted to make the school uniquely New Mexican by using the the traditional architectural style of the region.  The regents were not happy with this concept, however.  New Mexico did not become a state until 1912 and the Regents felt that in order to gather the favor of the politicians back east they would have to have brick buildings with pitched roofs like we find in the suburbs back East and in the Mid-west.  There was no progress in architecture in the school until the presidency of James F. Zimmerman in 1927.  In 1933 he appointed John Gaw Meem as official architect of the University of New Mexico.  He built a number of buildings there but his greatest achievement was the Zimmerman Library, which opened in 1938.

As in any business or scholarly endeavor we all have to prove to our bosses that what we are doing is worthwhile.  In this case, Audra came up with the valid proposition that her research of the buildings and cataloging of the important works of art including the furniture were valuable to the administration as a cataloged inventory on which values could be placed for insurance purposes. 

Her interest in having the symposium , however, was to further knowledge of the revival style promoted by John Gaw Meem whose archive is housed at UNM, and to learn more about their inventory.  Therefore, a virtual who’s who of those who have studied the subject were present.  Of course, it will not hurt Audra’s cause that it was a sell out even needing additional seats with audio visual for those who could not fit in the large research room where the symposium took place.  My only disappointment in the effort was that none of the professors gave their students the assignment of attending.  Without this it is difficult to bring the knowledge in that room to the next generation or to kindle its interest.

In the short amount of space I allow myself there is no way I can list all the speakers and their precise subjects but here are a few highlights.  The introductory speaker was Dr. Thomas Chavez, an eminent scholar and museum person.  He was director of the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe and built (by cajoling the powers that be and raising the funds) the new History Museum.  He pointed out that decorative arts, the object we live with i.e. tables, chairs, lamps and carpets were relatively new in New Mexico.  In the Spanish Colonial period most homes had only built-in adobe bancos and a few stools and storage chests.  Easterners prefer to hang their clothes the Hispanic folded theirs. The governor of the territory came with his own accouterments, but only when the Santa Fe Trail was completed did the Easterners come with there wagon loads of furniture. The Hispanics had worked iron for generations but in the mid 19th century recycling tin cans, that came with U.S. army provisions, were and used to make lighting fixtures, developing a decorative tin work tradition that still survives today.

Jan Brooks was the éminence grise behind the symposium.  Jan is, in her own words, “I have a decade of university teaching; three decades as a producing artist and designer and have been actively involved in the nonprofit sector.”  She also runs a gallery, Coulter Brooks Art & Antiques with her husband Lane Coulter who has written in this field and is known for his book written with Maurice Dixon, “New Mexico Tin Work 1840-1940.  Jan helped organize this event and, I believe, it was originally her idea.  She brought along several people who you might not expect to see at such a scholarly event.  They included, Murdoch Finlaysin, a legend in the field, who Jan described as a “picker” par excellence.  He started in the New York theater world and then came west and has gone out as a trader finding early objects and saving them for posterity either in his own collection or passed on to others.

Karl Hom was probably the greatest surprise.  He is a noted ear surgeon who has become the expert on William Penhallow Henderson (1877-1943) and his Pueblo Building Company.  Henderson was a well known artist in Chicago who moved to New Mexico and continued painting but got involved in architecture and furniture making.  His paintings today can bring tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Thomas Chavez, Karl Hom, Will Wroth, Lonn Taylor

Another member of Jan’s tribe was Chris Sandoval.  He followed in his father George’s footsteps and became a master woodworker.  George learned from his grandfather and worked in the style of the old Spanish Furniture makers.  George passed away a few years ago but Chris keeps up the tradition, though he beaks with it once in a while for a more modern style.  Fifteen years ago we commissioned from him a bedroom set in a novel design that incorporates Spanish colonial carving motifs.

Chris Sandoval and his wife

The final person in this group was Ed Garcia whose family has been in New Mexico for the past two centuries. He is a collector who is a friend and client of several participants and attendees of the symposium and he spoke of his collection.  In order to continue interest in the field there must be those who invest in their subject both intellectually and monetarily.  They will be the ones to light the spark in the younger generation.

There were so many more who spoke from deep knowledge in the field such as Lonn Taylor, a curator at the Smithsonian History Museum for a couple of decades, who wrote THE book on New Mexico furniture.  If you are into the field you will also recognize the names Will Wroth, and Frank Turley who both spoke.  In the audience that was listening attentively were numerous other experts whose knowledge was called upon several times during the day.

Jan Brooks, Lonn Taylor, Will Wroth

Coming full circle we ended our 12 hour day at Los Poblanos, an historic ranch house in the Rio Grande valley north of Albuquerque whose architect was John Gaw Meem.  Unfortunately for us, the Bed & Breakfast was fully occupied as far as accommodations were concerned, but the reception hosted by the Remby family who are the current owners, and the spread they put out for us, made us want to return soon.

The Library at Los Pablanos

Note:  with many thanks to Jan Brooks and Lillian Makeda for their photographic contributions. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Performing Arts in NYC

Is there such a state as too much of a good thing.  Not according to my wife, Penelope, when it comes to the performing arts.  She booked every free moment we had during our recent visit to New York.  As I have learned that is what all good Santa Feans do when they visit the “Big Apple”.

The first show we attended was “The Money Shot” by Neil LaBute.  We were lucky enough to hit the last performance of the run at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher Street.  Naïve me, I did not understand what the money shot was until we were well into the play.  An aging lesbian actress who wanted her intellectual partner to have a baby for them and an aging heterosexual actor who arrived with his bimbo “fiancée” came together to discuss whether it was alright with their significant others for them to actually have sex on on screen for the “money shot”.  To add spice to the plot, the male was rather dumb, e.g. after insisting that Belgium is not in Europe, and looking it up on his iPhone, he says “See it’s not Europe, it’s in the European Union”, driving the intellectual lesbian bonkers.  Neil LaBute can thus have a wonderful time with words and ideas, as well as an insightful ending.

One of the highlights of our stay in New York also served as a birthday present from Penelope to me and what a great gift it was.  After we had heard the Pro Musica Symphony Orchestra in Santa Fe I had thought it was very good but said now I would like to hear the New York Philharmonic,  to compare.  Penelope knows that I love Mozart and it just so happened that during our stay in New York there would be an all Mozart program at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center.  It featured Lang Lang, a celebrated  concert pianist from China, born in 1982.  His first piano teacher in China threw him out for “lack of talent” but, the story goes that when another teacher played a Mozart record for him his interest in the piano was rekindled and he was able to join the conservatory.  He has gone on to play with all the great orchestras of Europe and ,when eventually he went back to China to play, it was with the Philadelphia Orchestra. His interpretation of Mozart is extremely controversial and many critics don’t like it.  The audience, however, including yours truly were absolutely enraptured by his passionate performance.  Here is Mozart:Rondo alla Turca (Turkish March) in a different venue which Lang Lang played as an encore for us.

The next event on our schedule was a revival of Leonard Bernstein’s musical “Our Town”.  Penelope, a former dancer, was seduced by the fact that Morgan Fairchild a principal from the New York City Ballet was in it.  She did not figure on the choreography of Joshua Bergasse who beat every dance number, and there were many, into the ground by doing encore after encore of each beautiful or funny bit.  I felt I was watching various circus acts going on far too long.  What added to this image was the fact that it was at the Lyric Theater which seats an audience of 1,930 and most of the seats were filled.  What was nice was that it was well miked and had a live orchestra.  Also, just like the circus they played the National Anthem before the show and the entire audience stood and sang.

Another revival was on our schedule.  One that I thought was far more successful.  It was “Indian Ink” (land of the Raj, not the Indian Chief or Governor) by Tom Stoppard.  The first stage production was done in England in 1995.  Stoppard, who grew up in India, writes on so many different levels and knows so much history that he can weave a very complicated story together so that you can laugh while you are learning.  In this case, it is about the relationship between the Indian People and the English under British rule.  My reaction to a Stoppard play is always the same, I want to see it again the next day so that I can piece together all the dialog and meanings that I missed the first time around.  Penelope solved the problem by buying the script during the intermission.  The show was so well produced by the Roundabout Theater Company and directed by Carey Perloff with Rosemary Harris and Romola Garai in the starring roles.  The former is a noted American actress who grew up in England and the latter is a British actress who has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company and been on British television and in a number of films.

Our final theatre New York experience was the much acclaimed musical “Book of Mormon”  It was, in my opinion, an overblown skit with some good numbers but I do not remember a single tune.  Maybe I had just heard for too long what a hot ticket it was and how everyone had enjoyed it.  Maybe it is just the best “new” musical around.

In order to see a work by the reputedly greatest English playwright, William Shakespeare, we had to return to Santa Fe where  King Lear was being performed by Shakespeare’s Globe from London.  The original Globe Theatre was built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s “playing company” and many of his plays were performed there. In 1997 a reconstruction was built a short distance away from the original location.  The Globe was a touring company and the current one has continued the tradition.  Therefore, we were lucky enough to see the small company of 10 and a simple set put on a fabulous performance lead by Joseph Marcell as King Lear.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection

I met Ronald Lauder, younger son of Estée Lauder, about 40 years ago when a mutual friend introduced us.  Ronald became a good client over the years collecting French 18th century but mostly the more modern works (i.e. early 20th century) that we handled. The latter usually came to us through private collections we had known for some time.  Ronald often said my brother, Leonard, should come in.  I thought this very nice of him but never expected to have Leonard visit but after some years, sure enough he did.

You have probably read about the fabulous promised gift that Leonard recently made to the Metropolitan Museum, consisting of 81 cubist works of art, but what do you think he started to buy from my family gallery?   French 18th century furniture!  After a few years of collecting he invited me for lunch at his home with the Chief Curator of Decorative Arts at the Louvre and an expert in French 18th century, Daniel Alcouffe.  He was suitably impressed and looked forward to Leonard’s collection becoming a great one in the field.  Unfortunately, shortly thereafter the Lauders started on a different track in the decorative arts.  I did, however, see the beginnings of the collection.  It actually amazed me how well the French 18th century went with the modern works, which included a large incredible painting by Gustav Klimt which I personally coveted. 

I remember when Leonard said to me, “Gerry, how about finding me some Cubist pictures?”  I protested that I did not deal in the field of Cubism.  He said, “Well, you sold my brother one.”  Sure enough Ronald had bought many pictures formerly in the Richard S. Davis collection and when a wonderful Picasso drawing came up from that collection I had immediately offered it to him.  The strange life of pictures: one brother owned a great Gustav Klimt which by logic should be in the other brother’s collection (Ronald is co-founder of the Neue Gallerie that specializes in Austrian Secession pictures); and the marvelous Cubist Picasso is also in the “wrong” place… or is it?

How wonderful that Leonard decided to make this collection a promised gift to the Met and not to the Museum of Modern Art that is already strong in the field.   Even better he did not attach strings to the donation.  Unlike a collection like that of Jack and Belle Linsky that must be shown together in perpetuity or the collection goes to another institution, or the Robert Lehman collection that required loan forms for a work to travel from one side of the museum to the other, the Lauder pictures can be shown wherever they may fit with a given installation.  That is the ultimate charitable gesture when a collector doesn’t feel compelled to keep control of their collection after it is given.

I was delighted to see that the introduction to the Met exhibition is two photo-murals which show the Lauder apartment with Cubist paintings together with French 18th century furniture acquired at Rosenberg & Stiebel.

©The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014

The Met exhibition is singular.  It includes the entire promised gift of 81 paintings, drawing and sculptures.  The first room by itself is worth a visit with over a dozen paintings, drawings and a sculpture by Pablo Ruiz y Picasso (1881-1973).  In the first few drawings you see Picasso change his technique from realistic nudes to figures in a Cubist style via imagery borrowed from African art. 

The following gallery is full of pictures by Georges Braque (1882-1963).  Then comes the gallery of the two colleagues together where you see the very clear influence one had on the other, so much so that it not always easy to discern which is which from their pictures.

© 2014 Estate of Pablo Picasso
/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP

The story goes that Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884 -1979) the renowned French art dealer (who was born in Germany and treated as an enemy alien by the French during World War I) was going to visit his artist Picasso when he passed the studio of Juan Gris.  Looking through the window he saw one of Gris’ paintings so he went in and asked to see more.  The artist was making his living as an illustrator but Kahnweiler began to subsidize him so that he could concentrate on his painting.  I found “The Man at the Café”, 1914, particularly intriguing.  You see the figure of the man quite clearly in the center of a Cubist world.

© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS)

The final room is devoted to Joseph Fernand Henri Léger (1881 – 1955).  He was not only a painter and sculptor but a film maker and is thought by some to be a forerunner of the Pop Art movement.  That is my only justification for never having cared particularly for his work!

There is a major catalog for the exhibition written by the co-curators of the show, Emily Braun, who is Leonard’s personal curator, and Rebecca Rabinow who is Leonard A. Lauder curator of Modern Art at the Met.  Rabinow is in charge of the Leonard A. Lauder Research Center of Modern Art, which he also established at the Museum.

What a wonderful introduction to the growth of the Met’s modern and contemporary collections that will soon to be displayed in the Marcel Breuer building that was the former home of the Whitney Museum.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

For a Love of His People, The Photography of Horace Poolaw”

When we were in New York we went down to Wall Street/Bowling Green near the tip of Manhattan which was a rare visit for us.  Our goal was the New York branch of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) which together with NMAI on the Washington D.C. Mall has a collection of over 800,000 thousand objects!  It is in the Old Customs House on Bowling Green which is worth a visit by itself.  In the rotunda there are ceiling murals depicting the port of New York by Reginald Marsh.  But we were there to see the current exhibitions.

While we were there a show that was not high on my priority list struck me.  It was photographs by Horace Poolaw (1986-1984, Kiowa, Mountain View Oklahoma).  Linda Poolaw, Horace’s daughter, had started, after her father’s death, to bring his images to a wider audience and Nancy Marie Mithlow (Chiricahua Apache) and Tom Jones (Ho-Chunk) took up the project when they were at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  They have now superbly curated this exhibition.  Tom Jones had an additional interest in that Poolaw had inspired him to photograph his own tribe, which is not as simple as you might think.  The Indians generally do not like their privacy invaded with the camera so it is important to ask permission to take a photo and to have the sensitivity not to photograph religious ceremonies or dances.  Jones also owned the only original prints in the exhibition, which were a small group of mainly postcards (Those were the only works that I was not allowed to photograph.)

The galleries are well designed using moldings to create panels in the rooms in which the blown up images looked to scale.  The walls are grey with a darker grey on the rest of the wall and the ceiling a dark grey so the viewer reads it out.  The lighting is perfect so that there was not an ounce of reflection on the non-reflective glass.  Poolaw used a Speed Graphic camera which made it possible to blow up the images significantly from his negatives.

The rooms were divided into various themes, the first being Portraits.  Here the Indian girl dressed as a cowgirl and the boy dressed as an Anglo businessman caught my eye.  Poolaw did portraits to make some money but he could not make a living at it.


Then came Family Portraits.  An image of the entire family could have been my family except mine would have been a lot smaller!

Here is my favorite image in the exhibition, Jerry Poolaw, the artist's son, at the Washita River from 1932.

The room titled Community and War was particularly poignant.  Poolaw himself served in the armed forces during World War II as an instructor in aerial photography.  Here is an image of members of the Poolaw family with the casket of a friend, obviously a veteran, in 1953.

Another shows some of the contradictions of Indian life.  The Natives so badly treated by the Anglos but were the most loyal patriots always proudly serving their country but still holding on to their traditions and living in the modern world.  Note the car again behind the family in 1950.

Another section was devoted to Performances, Parades and Pageants.  Indians enjoy pageantry and you see a lot of it on Tribal lands.  In fact, many years ago we had made a reservation to go on a horseback ride on the Navajo Reservation and when we arrived we learned that their priority was that the horses rest for the parade the next day, so that was the end of that!  They usually wear traditional gear only for these events and most often make their own.  This image of the Natives sitting on the car with their tribal affiliation you can still often see today.

Poolaw was not interested in being known for his photographs but he wanted his people to be remembered for who they were.  The exhibition gives us insight into both. It will be up until February 15, 2015.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Thomas Hart Benton

--> Sometime in the 1970’s I was asked to teach a course at the New School in New York.  It was to be about Collecting but otherwise I had no parameters and no one told me anything of what was expected.  I was surprised but pleased and thought about what one would need to know about collecting and decided I would bring in pertinent people such as our insurance broker to speak to the class and I would fill in the gaps.

What I was not told until the day of the first class, after arranging it all, was that if I had less than10 students, the class would be cancelled.   Of course, for the next half hour I was sure that no one would show up.  As we neared the appointed hour, however, people of all ages began to trickle in until there was a rush and there were no more seats in the room.  Some sat a on the edges of desks and others just stood for the period.

I remember starting out by asking if anyone already collected and having most hands shoot up.  I began by asking around the room expecting to hear photographs, drawings, paintings etc.  Instead, I was hearing all kinds of things that people collected that I did not expect such as matchbook covers, comic books, baseball cards and I stopped with the fellow who collected barbed wire.  I had not traveled in the West at that, time except Los Angeles and San Francisco, so I did not realize how many different types of barbed wire there were.

The following week when I arrived at the New School I was told they had given me a new larger classroom.  So off I went to arrive in the most amazing space that anyone has ever taught in.  It was a normal large size classroom but all four walls were covered by a mural by Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975).  It was called “America Today” painted 1930-31.  It’s 10 panels show life in this country in the 1920’s.  It had been painted originally for the Board Room of the New School for Social Research and later transferred to what became my classroom!

In 1984 the mural was bought by Axa Equitable, the insurance Company and eventually installed in the lobby of their Manhattan headquarters.  When they were asked to take the mural down for a renovation of the lobby in 2012 AXA decided to give it to the Metropolitan Museum. 

The Museum has installed the mural in a separate room with two large window spaces and a large doorway so they do not have quite the impact as they did when they were immediately next to each other in the classroom, but still you do get the idea.  A small exhibition in the adjacent galleries shows preparatory drawings that remain the property of AXA along with pictures by artists who influenced Benton and even one by his pupil Jackson Pollock.  That was a shocker to me!  I wonder whether Pollock showed up for his classes .

In this panorama of American life there is just one Native American and he is shown in a saloon with a cowboy and bargirls.  See bottom of the left middle of this image for relative scale and then the detail.

Indian Panel

Indian Panel detail

Black men work alongside white men doing hard labor in construction or on an oil rig.

The murals on either side of the doorway feature women from the realism of a straphanger going to work on the subway to the glamor of dancers in a nightclub.

Go see the exhibition on view until April but afterwards the mural will remain installed with the other period rooms in the American wing at the Met.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Gods and Heroes: Masterpieces from the École des Beaux Arts, Paris

Some months ago I noticed in one of the Art Blogs that the Oklahoma City Museum of Art was going to have an exhibition from the École des Beaux Arts. The arts of France having been my primary field of expertise I was excited but surprised that this specialized exhibit would be shown there.  After further investigation I found out the exhibition was done under the auspices of the American Federation of Arts and there would  be four venues.   One of them was much closer to home at the Albuquerque Art Museum and we went to the opening, 10 days ago.

There is a connection to our current art world, however.  I wrote recently about the Taos Society of Artists and some of them, such as Robert Henri and E. Irving Couse, studied in Paris at the École des Beaux Arts.

The École des Beaux-Arts was founded under the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV, in the 17th century as the Ecole de l’ Académie royale de peinture et sculpture.  It was a school to learn painting, sculpture but foremost how to draw, something we see little of these days.  Drawing was thought of as the basis for all the arts and the exhibition “Gods & Heroes” gives us plenty of examples.

In order to show some of the early influencers … and draw audience… there is a small Leonardo drawing which was not lent to the other American venues but it is by no means a show stopper.   There is also a little Rembrandt. But in the area of French art there is a spectacular Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721).  It is a sheet of Studies with 2 women, a Harlequin and 2 men’s and 2 women’s heads.  You need to be in front of the original to see them all!

It is a bit of a misnomer to call this exhibition a show of masterpieces because more important, it shows the training that the young artists gained when they came to the school.   We see many of the exercises that were given to the students such as learning about anatomy illustrated by images of skeletal bones and muscles.  Most impressive is the Ecorché (flayed figure) done as a study for a figure of John the Baptist by Jean-Antoine Houdon  (1741-1828) when he was a student at the school.  He produced many different plasters in varying sizes, which soon became the model at art schools across Europe for classical sculpture supplanting even classical antiquities.   Shown here is his first bronze cast of the sculpture from 1790 which is shown with a classical antiquity of a female torso which had been sent back to the school by the arist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) who was at the time director of the Académie de France in Rome.

The annual competitions in which the students participated prompting them to put their best foot forward are represented in a line-up of ambitious history paintings.

There are also a number of incredible works of art.  When you enter the beautifully installed galleries the wall which has the didactic panel explaining the basis of the exhibition and giving all the necessary credits for donations that make the show possible has a classic portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659-1743).  It is familiar since there are several versions; this one, however, was commissioned for the École des Beaux-Arts where it has resided for the last 300 years. To give it a proper sense of place as the introduction to the school a pair of fabulous Louis XIV carved and gilded torchères were sent along as well.   They too were created in the late 17th century with figures representing Geometry and Astronomy respectively.  There may very well have been some of the other sciences represented in the original set.  It is incredible that such fragile objects where the gilding can flake off with the slightest jarring would be sent around the world for what is basically a drawing, painting and sculpture exhibition.

Other highlights include a painting of “Erasistratus Discovers the Cause of Antiochus's Disease” from 1774 by Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) and paintings by Ingres.  Here is the David as well as the Ingres Torso which he painted in 1800, the light makes this simple academic exercise exciting.   The works of art are all from of the school’s collection and are illustrated with the Courtesy of the American Federation of Arts.