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.