Sunday, January 26, 2014

Stewart L. Udall Center for Museum Resources

Some years ago a new building for The Center of Museum Resources suddenly appeared on Museum Hill in Santa Fe. The site was dubbed Museum Hill because sitting there above the city are four of our nine Santa Fe museums, including the International Folk Art Museum that is one of the most popular destinations in town.  Opposite the Folk Art museum is the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC) and the Laboratory of Anthropology. The “Lab” is considered part of MIAC though it was the first building on the Hill. It is a major example of the “Santa Fe Style’, built in 1930 by the architect John Gaw Meem and has been designated a Historic Building.

These latter two are part of the State Museums with another two in the center of town, the History Museum and the Art Museum.  There are also nine Historic Sites, eight of which are open to the public, around the state of New Mexico. All are part of the State Museum system, which is under the Department of Cultural Affairs.

The Center for Museum Resources had been housed in a building in town, which had been the Elks Club and was in pretty poor shape.  When that space was needed in order to build the new History Museum annexed to the 1610 Palace of the Governors, Resources had to find new space. 

Two sisters Martha Root White and Amelia Elizabeth White, wealthy socialites from New York who “discovered” Santa Fe on a cross country trip in 1923 and made it their home left their estate as the campus for the School of Advanced Research (SAR).   The White Sisters donated as well land for the Laboratory of Anthropology  along with most of what was to become Museum Hill, the Resources  building was constructed on land that already belonged to the Museums of New Mexico.

The new building is beautifully situated on the hill with fabulous views and in the center is a courtyard with contemporary sculpture.

Stewart Udall was a well-known Politician from Arizona and when he left the Federal Government he moved to New Mexico and did a great deal for the Conservation of Natural Resources.  Therefore, it seemed like an appropriate dedication for this new building, The Stewart L. Udall Center for Museum Resources and that is exactly what it is.

Each museum has its own director and curators, so why is there a separate administration building?  The bottom line is economies of scale.  New Mexico is an economically poor state and it is much less expensive to have one larger department than 4+ smaller ones.  

The Udall building houses several functions.  One is the publication of El Palacio, the museum magazine, launched in 1913.  It bills itself as “New Mexico’s Magazine of Art, History & Culture of the Southwest” and is the house organ for all the State museums, with a print run of about 15,000.

Shelley Thompson is the dynamo Director of Marketing and Outreach for the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) and she is also the Publisher of El Palacio aided by her equally dynamic editor, Cynthia Baughman.

Also in the building is the Public Relations Department run by Steve Cantrell, Public Relations and Social Media Manager for the DCA.  This is a multifaceted job.  Social Media in itself is a moving target that one needs to adapt to continuously, so in the official description of his job, Steve added the word “Entrepreneur” which is most apt.

The third party that I met at a very informational luncheon was David Rohr, Creative Director of the DCA. His role is vital to the success of the previous two resources and he, of course, has a substantial staff.  By trade David is a graphic designer who previously worked at the magazine “Art in America”.  One can tell his insightful style when he has personally designed an article.   He also oversees other areas of design such as exhibition installation at the museums.  His department on its own is worth a Missive and I hope to get to it in the not too distant future.

One individual who I have not met is Richard Sims, Director of Historic Sites and he is in charge of all those historic sites around the state so has arguably the greatest impact on all those who do not visit the capital city, Santa Fe.

I look forward to the opportunity of writing in more detail about each of these departments and the projects that come out of them.  The Resource Center is a microcosm of what goes on in museums around the country.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Staying In Business Sale

“Staying in Business Sale” is a sign I saw in down town Santa Fe a short while ago and I thought, right on!  That is a great title during a downturn in the market.  As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I am closing a gallery not stopping in a field that I love.   Still there are practicalities involved and the biggest one is inventory. I have learned over the years that there are two ways people like to buy.  One is to have everything installed so it looks like a work of art.  A prominent client of ours, who you have heard of, once walked in the gallery and seeing a Louis XV Commode (chest of drawers) on a pedestal exclaimed, “But you are showing it like sculpture”!

The other way to sell is to create a jumble of works and allow the visitor to make their own discovery.  Personally, I have enjoyed both.  Penelope and I used to go antiquing in New England and the southeast and come up with some wonderful objects.  At one time you could have built a good photography collection at Argosy Books on 59th Street in Manhattan for a few dollars each just by digging through their bins and bins of photographs.

We will be closing the doors on the New York Gallery during the second half of March.  Everyone asks what are you going to do with your inventory.  There is no one answer.  Some objects will go to auction, some will be given to our partners to sell and still other pieces will go into storage for the longer term.

I hate to see works of art in storage.  If they are not seen on a regular basis something can happen to them and no one knows until it is too late.  So obviously, one of us will peek from time to time, but still it is a shame.  Someone should be enjoying them.  So in the interest of giving some works of art a better home sooner rather than later I have decided to hold a Super Sale.

Once upon a time we had a gallery called, Stiebel Modern and I plan to put out a painting by a wonderful French/Hungarian artist, Tibor Csernus (1927-2007) who we exhibited.  In June, 1993, Jed Perl reviewed his work for the New Criterion.  I believe it was when he saw his work in an exhibition at our gallery.  He wrote, “Caravaggio meets de Kooning in the recent paintings of Tibor Csernus, and the results are curious, engaging, brilliant…”  Here is our painting titled, “Matthew”.

Other treasures include a painting  by Alfred Stevens from his prime period, the 1870’s called “Avant le Spectacle”  where the woman in the beautiful white lace gown has set herself down by the fireplace with her bouquet and binoculars waiting to be picked up for the opera.   Will her beau be picking her up?  What is going through her mind?

I have also decided to offer for sale a drawing given to me as a gift for my first marriage in 1964.  It is by Pierre-Antoine Demachy (1723-1827) of “La Charlaton au Louvre”, basically a snake oil salesman in American terms.

Finally, one of my favorites, maybe because I grew up with it in my parents’ collection, is a drawing by LĂ©opold Boilly (1761-1845), a preliminary drawing for a painting now in the Louvre, “L'Averse”.

Now for the good news, I have not only literally slashed the prices close to cost but if you don’t like the price, talk to me, who knows.

Come take a look and enjoy the hunt while the doors are still open at 13 East 69th Street through the beginning of March.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ojo Caliente

For Christmas my wife bought the family an overnight at Ojo Caliente, the hot springs and spa in Northern New Mexico.  We went there with our son, Hunter, who was visiting from Los Angeles.

I believe there is a certain amount of mysticism and faith necessary to fully appreciate the healing benefits of hot springs, but that belief has lasted through many centuries and maybe there is something to it.  The forefathers of the Tewa Indians who live in Northern New Mexico today all believed in the healing powers of the waters and even when there were warring factions in the neighborhood they would come in peace to the springs at Ojo Caliente. 

The baths are below the cliffs where underground lava warms the pools.  Different springs are rich in different minerals.  Here is the iron spring right below the cliffs

and in this hot pool  is yours truly with his baseball cap covering his ever balding and sun susceptible pate!

Hunter is in the mud spring, or mudpot as it is sometimes known.  It is supposed to be good for skin texture as well as to ameliorate arthritis and soft tissue injury

In the 16th century the Spanish came up from Mexico through New Mexico in search of gold and the fountain of youth and discovered the springs.  With such a history and being so important to so many peoples it is not surprising that the springs have been designated as a historic site.  Three of the original buildings have been listed on the National Registry of Historic Places) This is one of those buildings, the hotel built in 1916.

There they sit in a valley in the high desert.  On our way to the springs we had some pretty breath-taking views.  To our surprise, the Rio Grande which can look like a dry riverbed  at times was actually flowing as were a few creeks.

As I did some research for this Missive I found on the Spa’s website 10 pages of references to article written about Ojo Caliente in the last couple of years.  There are even more pages of videos on Youtube.

New Mexico did not become a state until 1912 but already in 1868 we had a territorial representative to congress, Antonio Joseph , and he built the first bathhouse at Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs and they became one of the first natural health resorts in the country.  I am sure even then there was a realization of the importance of tourism in the state, and what better way to attract visitors than saying we have the next best thing to the fountain of youth!

The valley with water was a natural place to build overnight lodging, a post office and a general store.  Ojo is quite close to Taos where Kit Carson and his family lived. The general store’s ledger shows that Carson made frequent visits to buy supplies there.

Only Hunter fully partook of the offerings of the place, which include night-time soaks in the mineral baths. Penelope and I were not anxious to head back to our rooms from the baths soaking wet in below freezing temperatures.  We plan to go back in another season.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Gallery Not Required

“I’m still here” is the refrain from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies.  Remember?  It goes,
Good times and bum times, I’ve seen them all, and my dear, I’m still here. Plush velvet sometimes, sometimes just pretzels and beer, but I’m here.”

I was searching for a title for this Missive when I read how Michael Miller opened a recent piece on his “Berkshire Review for the Arts”.  I can think of no better way to describe my 48 years as an art dealer.  Times change and sneak up on you.  People have always asked me how has the business changed and for a long time I would say it hasn’t but I was wrong.  There were few momentous changes but slow increments of change.  About half way through my career we made a film about the history of the firm and it is still pertinent.

With the majority of my current efforts more accurately described as “consulting” versus “dealing”, having a gallery in the Old Master field has become almost superfluous.  After much consideration, I have decided to close the doors on Stiebel, ltd.’s physical entity, the art gallery.  I will continue to offer my guidance as an authority in my areas of expertise.  As with life, some things will change while others will not.

I started in 1965 when I was still at Columbia going for my MA in art history.  My first experience with a client was literally crawling on the floor with the director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Perry Rathbone.  He was examining a Persian Hunting Carpet from the Baron Maurice de Rothschild Collection, which was destined for his institution.  In my first decade, museum curators and directors came to our door to see what was new.  Near the end of the 70’s things were changing.  I said to a curator from a mid western museum I look forward to seeing you when you are next in town.  He replied rather gruffly, “I don’t have time for that.  You let me know if you have anything we might be interested in.”

The tables had turned.  While there were relatively few dealers when I started out, more and more were joining the ranks.  It was not just old family firms where the progeny were joining but young people who had some money, often family money, who thought they would try their hand or auctioneers who had learned the ropes and thought there might be a better way.

I have friends, twins, who I first met on a teen tour across the country, who went to work for two of the top New York dealers and eventually struck out on their own.  Early on we had this debate where one would say he wished he had gotten my art history degree and I would say I wished I had his business degree.  Funny thing is that when I went into the business the Masters in Art History was preferable and within two decades the MBA was far better training for this business.

The auction houses were originally where the dealers bought wholesale then adding their expertise, sold retail.  There were few private collectors at the auctions unless their dealer/advisor was bidding for them.  In France, I remember, It was such a small group of dealers that we literally sat abound a horseshoe shaped table with the auctioneer at one end.

Early on in my career someone said to me it is the only business I know of where one can walk into a gallery ask the proprietor all about his business and leave without buying anything. Then again change, as the auctioneers started marketing directly to the collectors.

In more recent times in the older art fields unless you have a special event such as a special exhibition, an opening or a party the clients stopped making the rounds.  They preferred one stop shopping, now available at the art fairs, which proliferate today.

Going forward, I will continue to counsel clients and colleagues, travel to see museums, exhibitions and fairs as well as enjoy my many wonderful connections in the art world.  To keep me on my toes I will, of course, continue my “Missives from the Art World”.  After all art dealers, by definition, never retire, it is in their blood, but just change their way of doing business.

For well over a decade now I have had 2 loyal employees.  Diana Nixon and Vincent Hickman.  Diana has kept our house, our library and done research for the company.  Vincent has literally done everything else.  For one thing, the blog was Vincent’s idea originally and without him it could not come out every week.  I am not only grateful to them for past services but both have agreed to continue to work with me on an ad hoc basis.

Do keep in touch, my email will remain