Sunday, March 30, 2014

Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937

Why is it so often that what or whom I want to see is somewhere else or somewhere I just left?  Two friends who had not been in Santa Fe for quite a while, one from New York and the other from Dallas finally came within the same 10 days that we were in New York.  When there is an opening in Santa Fe inevitably I will be in New York or somewhere else and so it goes.

Now, there is an exhibition that seriously interests me at the Neue Galerie in New York.  As you know the museum concentrates on late 19th and first half of the 20th century art from Austria and Germany.  The current exhibition is about what the Nazi’s referred to as Degenerate Art.  This was the avant-garde, the new art of the 20th century in Germany.  Like artists of every generation, they were trying to break the mold and produce something new.

Max Beckmann (1884-1950) "Departure" from MOMA New York    

Hitler, however, who had failed to make it into the Austrian Academy of Art  in Vienna, thought it decadent and only wanted to see classical and medieval art, He believed  paintings and sculpture should look like what they were supposed to represent and not be distorted.   He had no patience with abstract art nor atonal music for that matter.

This is the first major exhibition on the subject since the 1991 show in Los Angeles.  In 1993 Muse Film and Television, on whose board I served at the time, produced a film called “Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art)” directed by David Grubin.  The narrators included the art historian and curator Peter Selz and the author who made art and social criticism come alive, Robert Hughes.  It is based on the exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Art which endeavored to reproduce the exhibition that Hitler arranged to show the art that he felt was unworthy before selling or burning it.

The Neue Galerie goes a step further.  It looks at the time in which the original exhibition is set.  Hitler has just had his Museum called the House of German Art built in Munich to show the art that is healthy for the state.   Immediately thereafter he opened his degenerate art exhibition to contrast for the citizens what was good for them and what was not! 

The show lasted for 3 years starting in Munich in 1937 touring throughout Germany and Austria and by the time it closed it was the most viewed exhibition ever, totaling 3 million visitors. Of the total 16 to 20,000 modern works eventually confiscated by the 3rd Reich from the German people, 650 works were crammed together in small rooms and at the wrong heights.  One witness to the exhibition described graffiti with derogatory comments written on the walls.  The condemned art was not just that of the Expressionists but started in 1910 including all the isms, such as Fauvism, Cubism, Dadaism etc.

The Neue Galerie often has very dramatic exhibitions and this is no exception.  The curator Olaf Peters uses all sorts of juxtaposition, photographs, posters etc. in order to give full effect to the moment.  For instance, he shows on two sides of a gallery, examples of both 1937 exhibitions, both what Hitler disdained and what he approved of.  There are also dramatic examples of empty frames where the works have been ostensibly torn from their frames.  It is a propaganda exhibition to show the evils of the Nazism.  The sinister way they went about influencing the populace on what was good and what was bad art. 

Though we all have our own opinions, we are influenced, as well, by the authorities of the day.  Today it is usually the better-known critics and collectors, but since the critics were censored in 1937 Munich, and it was dangerous to speak out against the Reich, there was only Hitler and his henchmen to say what was acceptable.

The Neue Galerie is showing examples of all the greats of the period such as Max Beckmann, George Grosz, Erich Heckel's, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka's, Emil Nolde and a number of others.  It demonstrates the great art of Germany that was destined for destruction, just like the book burnings, which had already started in 1933.  It was a strange kind of luck that in 1939 Hitler decided to sell many of the paintings that he had stolen at auction in Switzerland in order to pay for his war effort. 

Adolf Ziegler (1892-1959) "The Four Elements: Pinakothek der Moderne"
from Bayerische Staatsgemaeldesammlugen

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) "Berlin Street Scene, 1913"
from Neue Galerie/Private Collection

Many of the artists left Germany when they found that their art was disdained and emigrated abroad.  One interesting fact is that of the 112 artists exhibited in the Degenerate Art show only 6 were Jewish.  Being a member and supporter of the Nazi Party was also not a free pass.  One such artist at the forefront of the Expressionist Movement was Emile Nolde, and though he did not leave Germany, he was relegated to the hinterlands to do small landscapes and paintings of nature.

In the light of all the works of art that were recently found in the possession of Cornelius Gurlitt, this exhibition gives hope that other works of art that were thought to be destroyed might again come to light.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

TEFAF 2014

I had decided that since this was the second year that I could not go to the fair I would not write about it.  Then I started to see messages on line from curators on Facebook.  One said I will be in the drawings section at 5 pm.  If you are going to TEFAF (The European Fine Arts Fair) I will see you there.  Another wrote that he was on his way to Holland and a third told of the trials and tribulations of cancelled airline flights to that destination.  Luckily he had started out a couple of days early.  Then there was the curator who just posted a picture of a canal in Amsterdam, a sure give-away that she was headed to Maastricht. I just could no longer ignore one of the most important events in the world of older art.

"Canal" - photo credit: Nadine Orenstein

If you are on any art world lists you are sure to have received many emails from art dealers telling you where to find the dealer’s booth.  I love Stephen Ongpin’s site promotion.  He is an important drawings dealer from London and if you follow him on Facebook you will find many images of his booth often with a member of his staff, his family or his visitors.  Carlton Hobbs, the well-known English furniture dealer with a mansion in New York, addressed his public directly saying if you couldn’t come to the fair, here is some of my inventory.  He showed the grand rooms of his gallery with the furniture in situ.  Then he added views of his booth. He further professed to be enjoying himself in Maastricht.  Usually dealers say that the fair is very hard work but then they let loose after the show closes for the day with great food and drink at one of the gourmet restaurants in and around town.  Maastricht being on the Dutch border could mean that they are eating in Germany or Belgian that evening.

Restaurant Chateau Gerlach

Twitter is another source of information regarding the European Art Fair.  One individual twittered his lament, “Missing Maastricht this year – boo!  Fine Art worth and estimated $5.54 billion are on view.”  Another was bored with the art after a while and suggested that one focus on the flower arrangements which are always quite sumptuous.

"Flowers" - photo credit: Loraine Bodewes

TEFAF has an excellent web site where I saw that the Metropolitan Museum had bought an important piece of silver from the  Parisian Galerie Kugel.  The announcement is surprising  since it takes a meeting of the board of trustees to confirm a purchase even if the money is available, but what if a donor was accompanying the curator, then the chance of board approval rises substantially!

Museum directors in Europe can often decide what their museum is buying on their own if they have lined up the funds to pay for it.  As a result, the director of the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague  bought a painting by Matthijs Maris (1839-1917) from the Amsterdam dealer, Douwes Fine Art.  In the old days the directors visited the galleries but today one stop shopping is the order of the day.

"Visitor" - photo credit: Loraine Bodewes

If you know that Maastricht, where the fair takes place has a total population of 120,000 you can believe that the TEFAF opening was a success when you learn that there were 10,000 visitors attending.   The crowds continue at least for the first 4 or 5 days with every restaurant full and the hotels charging triple what they charge during the rest of the year.

"Preview" - photo credit: Harry Heuts

Good sales have been reported in the press including a Roman Janiform Herm, a Francois Clouet, a number of Dutch 17th century paintings, a Picasso drawing, a Frank Auerbach, an Alexander Calder, Asian and Italian decorative arts and the most important jewelers of Europe and book stores and insurance companies are also there vying for attention.   Of course, with 275 dealers from 20 countries exhibiting there are bound to be many disappointments besides the expense of setting up your booth and shipping your art, travel, room and board for you and your staff there is no profit until after that.

Yet, this is the place to be for both exposure and sales as far as the exhibitors are concerned and the visitors get to meet friends and colleagues they may not see at any other time of the year.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

My First Pen Show

A couple of weeks ago I went to a pen show – a new hobby for me, collecting fountain pens.  When I was younger I smoked a pipe.  It was not even that I enjoyed the act of smoking that much.  Truth be known it often gave me a stomach ache!  It was the feel of the pipe.  How smooth or rough it was, the way my fingers could wrap around the wood.  The growing patina on the pipe as it was burned from the inside and burnished by skin oils from the outside.  It was a most sensuous experience and searching out the pipes themselves I found quite exciting.  Though I had to give up smoking, I will still sometimes pick up an old favorite pipe in my mouth and caress it for a while before putting it down again.


Fountain pens, while they don’t quite give the same satisfaction, they do have many tactile qualities. This is not a totally new pursuit for me.  I remember buying a few fountain pens as a teenager and then again in my 40’s  and 50’s.  Eventually, I always tired as there was no internet and fewer and fewer places to go in New York for pens and ink.  Of course, like a pipe, pens have their dirty aspects such as ink on the hand, the counter, the shirt!  It was just too much trouble.

Then, here in Santa Fe, a friend of mine started talking to me about different fountain pens and telling me about the endless varieties.  No two pens are the same and the varieties of possibilities increase exponentially from there.  Do I buy a wide, medium, thin or calligraphic nib for my pen.  Do I want steel or gold.  Do I want to use an ink cartridge or a converter to get a certain ink color out of a bottle.  Do I want a quick  drying ink so that I can put a fresh note in my pocket right away.  If that isn’t complicated enough I find that fountain pens write differently on different papers and not every pen works well with every paper!

I did find some of my old pens but unfortunately not the first ones I had bought.  Can I still blame that on my mother and the things she threw out like the newspaper from the day after Lincoln was shot, which I had found in an abandoned house in Vermont when I was at camp?  Still I was not totally sold until I went into the law office of our State Assemblyman and saw on his table a display case with a number of pens in it and started to speak with him to find out how he used his pens for different kinds of editing, briefs etc.

I learned as well that we have our very own pen shop in town.  Neil Frank started Santa Fe Pens 18 years ago after having done his first pen show to see if anyone was interested. Three hundred people showed, so he rented a small space in a mini mall called Sanbusco Market and was able to start out in the black.   From there he moved to a larger space in the same mall where he is still located today.  A large Borders bookstore opened next door to Neil but it met its demise a few years ago while Santa Fe Pens is still going strong.  Pens, like the printing press, are here for the long haul.  Of course, the store is not only devoted to the fountain pen but you can also find roller balls and other types of writing implements.

Neil also has his own hobby.  He is a member of the Sports Car Club of America (S.C.C.A.) and drives two different racing cars.  This year he brought his 1990 Masda Miata F production with him into the pen show!

Of course, if you go to a pen show you want to buy something.  This show is not large, but there were 6 representatives representing 23 different companies.  I have purchased several pens from the Lamy pen company in Germany so I spoke to their representative.  He also happened to represent 2 other companies that I was interested in.  The same representative had brought a pen to town some months ago that I was sorry that I had not bought at the time, and I was ready to purchase it at the show.  Naturally it had been sold meanwhile.  I did, however, buy another pen from the same German company, Diplomat, but I have to wait for the delivery of one that is not a sample. Looking for immediate gratification I went and looked at another pen that I had actually seen the week before in the shop.  Neal had said wait till the show when there will be a 20% discount.  This pen was still available when I went back, so I was in luck.

 Pen companies will come out from time to time with a “Limited Edition” pen, meaning that they only produce a finite number and the pen is different in some manner from what they usually do.

A Japanese company, Pilot, originally called Namiki after it’s founder, produces what is known as a vanishing point.  Fountain pens usually involve taking off a cap either by unscrewing or simply pulling on it in order to write.  This is a fountain pen that works like a ball-point that you just click to open and shut.  I own one from the 1990’s, which I have always liked.  For the 50th anniversary of the Vanishing Point the Limited Edition was produced in a wood version.  There were only 900 pens made and only 300 of those came to the United States. and I now own #811.  Does one keep such a pen in its original box never to use hoping it will increase in value?  As I tell my clients don’t buy art as an investment. That is also not why I like fountain pens.  I like to write with them and this one writes beautifully.   Here you can see the beginning of my first draft.

Once you have gotten used to the word processor going back to hand writing is a challenge but it is also a pleasure to do for a change.  Maybe, I will go to the pen show in Los Angeles in the fall which is, of course, much larger… an addict is born!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Behind Closed Doors: Art in the Spanish Colonial Home, 1492-1898

Last year we were invited by a friend, the Curator of European Art at the Brooklyn Museum, Richard Aste, to attend the opening of his exhibition, “Behind Closed Doors:  Art in the Spanish Colonial Home, 1492-1898”.  We regretted since at the time we were at home in Santa Fe.  What is it they say, “All things come to he who waits”?  Well, we did not have to wait long.  The show came to Albuquerque in mid February and we went down for the opening .

It was definitely worth the wait and I would also rather drive an hour on the highway than spend an hour in the New York City Subway System!

The concept of the exhibition is to compare and contrast the way of life of those who came to the States from the Protestant lands such as England and Holland and those who came from the more Catholic southern part of Europe, i.e. Spain.  This is accomplished by showing the rather simplistic images of English and American portraiture next to the far more ornate images of Spanish men and women in their best finery. 

I think the bottom line is that no one leaves their culture in the old country but brings it along with them.  This was certainly true for my German Jewish parents and I inherited many of their ways and interests.  There is, however, a very important difference in the 16th century. Half a million Spaniards had come to the new world not for religious freedom but for personal wealth.  In the Americas they mined silver and participated in the lucrative markets of tobacco, cacao, sugar and other goods that this new rich land offered.  Remember New Spain was not just Mexico and parts of South America but at that time extended to today’s U.S. Southwest.

Position within the social hierarchy was extremely important to those from Spain and their progeny, therefore it was also part of the Spanish style at the time to demonstrate status by way of conspicuous consumption.  This is illustrated in many different ways in the exhibition.

There are certainly many eye-popping works in this show.  Paintings and objects that will knock you off your feet.  Maybe not all 160 but many of them. What interests me the most is, as always, the works of art used to demonstrate the important points that the exhibition strives to make. 

The ultimate demonstration of visual extravagance is a painting of The Wedding at Cana by Nicol├ís Correa (Mexican 1670- ?) It is lavishly inlaid with mother-of-pearl. It was considered too fragile to leave New York’s Hispanic Society to travel to Albuquerque or even across the river to the Brooklyn Museum but was considered important enough to be illustrated on one of the labels in the exhibition and in the catalog!

If I could pick one object to leave with it would be a two-sided screen known as a biombo illustrating the Siege of Belgrade on the front and a hunting scene on the back.  Made between 1697 and 1701, it is oil on panel, inlaid with mother of pearl  and stands 8 ½ feet tall.  This is just one half of an originally 12 fold screen, the other half being in Mexico.  Exhibitions are often a good excuse for a museum curator to build on the institution’s collection.  In this case Richard Aste was able to purchase the biombo for the Brooklyn Museum for more than the institution had ever spent before. One of the many things that impressed me about this piece is that it reminded me of one of my favorite paintings of all time.  A painting by Albrecht Altdorfer (1480-1538)  in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich called “Die Alexanderschlacht”  (the battle of Alexander at Issus,1529).

Textiles are also well represented in the exhibition and my favorite is a tapestry made in the late 16th century measuring just 92 by 84 ½ inches, no bigger than an area rug in a reception room.  What is amazing about this piece is that it just looks like a patterned textile until you get close to it when you see that it is made up of hundreds of different animals.  In the center a spotted dog but throughout you will also find snakes, rodents, rabbits, birds and others.  Click on the image in order to enlarge it and see for yourself.  It was probably made in Peru which was a center for great textiles for many hundreds of years already before the arrival of the Spanish.

Children born to Spaniards in the New World were known as Creole.  Needless to say, like all children they wanted to prove that they were doing as well or better than their parents.  One such example is Don Tadeo Bravo de Rivera who returned to the old country to become a government administrator in Madrid and have Francesco de Goya Lucientes (1746-1828), himself, paint his portrait in 1806.  Believe me this was quite a surprise when we turned a corner in the show and there was this over life-size portrait staring down at us by one of the greatest international artists.  The painting was left to the Brooklyn Museum by the estate of Colonel Michael Friedsam.  Much of the art in the estate had gone to the Metropolitan Museum.

To end with something that may seem less exciting but totally captured my imagination, a travelling altar.   We forget that even without cars, trains and planes those who could afford it travelled a great deal and and a portable altar was part of the luggage of the Catholic elite. These altars were often something you could fold up and put in your trunk but in this case it is large enough that it could quite easily be used in a family chapel in your home away from home.  You will notice that this one can be folded up so it would not take up as much room in the wagon in which it was being transported.  The yellow textile is a replacement, the old one probably damaged when the actual altarpiece it housed was removed.

So much more to see, I am looking forward to going back.  The exhibition remains open until May 18.  I also want to point out that putting the images together for this Missive involved 3 museums and I would like to thank all of them.  The Abluquerque Museum of Art, The Hispanic Society in New York and, of course, the organizing institution, The Brooklyn Museum from whose permanent collection most of the exhibition was drawn.