Sunday, January 25, 2015

This is a Music Town

We have booked for many of the simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera at or local “Palace”, The Lensic Theater.  It was literally the Movie Palace of Santa Fe once upon a time before the Multiplexes.  Then it fell into disrepair and William and Nancy Zeckendorf resurrected it and helped make it a cultural center of town with across the board events including, the simulcasts, concerts, old movies, theater, lectures and dance.

The simulcast we saw a week ago was the Met’s production of Franz Lehár’s, “Merry Widow” translated into English.   We so enjoyed it that as soon as we got home looked up what the New York Times had written about it.  They totally agreed on the wonderful voices of Renée Flemming who played the title role for the first time and Nathan Gunn as her amour, Danilo.  The direction and choreography was by Susan Stroman who is famous for her Broadway productions but the Met was a first for her.  What wonderful music and great performances!

As a light operetta, it had been chosen for the Met’s New Year’s Eve Gala.  The New York Times reviewer, however, had a problem with all the intimate dialog which was difficult to understand in the huge Metropolitan Opera House.  I chuckled when my wife read this to me because we had no such problem.  In the simulcast the camera focuses on the individuals speaking and we had a much better vantage point than those sitting in the Met itself.  What was supposed to be intimate was.  Obviously, there are advantages to be sitting in the opera house for a live performance but we have been lucky enough to have seen opera live around the world and can well appreciate being right there on stage with the singers.   My father who loved opera, and in later years had a Met subscription, lamented the fact that the auditorium was so large, having heard opera in many of the smaller houses in the capitals of Europe.

If you want to buy a ticket in the orchestra at the Metropolitan Opera it will cost hundreds of dollars.  If you go to a simulcast with an unbelievable savvy audience in Santa Fe it will cost you $22.  One often hears applause in an audience essentially watching a film.  You get a lot more than you pay for.  It is, however, not so simple to bring this amazing mix of art and technology to an audience.  When 2 founding directors of the Lensic, Bill Zeckendorf and Patricia McFate, learned that the Met planned the simulcasts they became very excited about the idea.  It took a leap of faith, however, to think that there would be enough of an audience here particularly in tiny Santa Fe with a population of only 100,000 in Santa Fe County at the time.  They decided, however, to put up and raise the $80,000 to acquire a high definition digital projector and install an HD audio interface so that the satellite transmitting from New York could communicate with the Lensic system.  The projection booth had to be refitted to accommodate this new equipment The sound system which had left something to be desired before had to be greatly improved since there is nothing worse that an opera with poor sound particularly on the high notes.  Their faith proved well worth it.  The subscription series for the actual simulcasts have been regularly sold out with the encore performances that run the same evening are well filled, if not quite to capacity.

The next day we were back at the Lensic to hear the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra composed entirely of local artists. A short piece by Mozart, the Ballet from Idomeneo, was followed by the Concerto for Two Cellos  by Vivaldi.  For this there are only strings on stage with two excellent cellists Joel Becktell and Dana Winogrand. The latter received her BA and MA degrees from Julliard and has performed at Carnegie Hall.  She moved to Santa Fe in 1999.  Mr. Becktell received his degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music and was awarded the Rubenstein prize for Cello.  In other words these are not amateurs but very accomplished musicians as the entire orchestra seem to be.

The last piece was Mahler’s Symphony #1 where there must have been close to 100 musicians on stage.  What an incredible performance! It was so well done that the small woman playing the triangle in the back could be clearly heard and I believe that there were 7 or 8 French Horns alone. The guest conductor Guillermo Figueroa was amazing.  What he pulled out of those musicians was inspiring and you could tell that they were inspired as well.  At the end of the performance, with never-ending applause, Figueroa had each section of the orchestra stand up to receive their due from the enraptured audience.

I have heard comments from people living elsewhere like, “We don’t get as much culture in our town in a year as you can get here in a week”. We are extremely lucky that Santa Feans have such love of music.  We enthusiastically support what is brought to us from cultural capitals but we also have a wonderful symphony, which compares well with orchestras from larger cities and, of course, we have the world class Santa Fe Opera during the summer that draws people from all over the world.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Art World

I would very much like to put to rest the idea that there is such a thing as The Art World.  It is a bit like saying the Wine World if all wines could be thrown into one category.

Yet, over and over again we read headlines about how the art world is doing.  After 9/11 everyone believed the art market would tank and for the most part it did except for one area, American Paintings.  For whatever psychological reason people felt not only comfortable but also patriotic by buying American paintings so that market experienced a boom while other areas were not so lucky.  I remember my reaction,, I bought some stock in Southwest Airlines just because I wanted to show support!

Even though you can find many surveys and analyses showing one area of art or the other being up over the last decade it is no indication that any one work of art is going to increase in value.  I made the mistake years ago of assuming because we sold a great deal of Louis XV furniture that I should stock up only to see tastes change and people no longer wanting the curvy lines of the Louis XV style but preferring the straight lines of Louis XVI.  Not so surprisingly, it happened in other areas too.  At about the same time Art Nouveau again with many curves, went out of fashion, and Art Deco with its straight lines took its place.

Art can better be compared to the fashion industry.  Chanel or Dior may be popular this year but there is no guarantee that it will be next season.  Listening to the critics regarding what the stars wear to awards ceremonies it is clear that there are wide differences of opinion in dress as there are with art.  When a look goes out of fashion, it does not disappear altogether, but it will fade for a time and have very few patrons which naturally reduces demand and therefor the market depreciates.

After many a headline on how well the art market was doing or not I would inevitably have someone come up to me and commiserate or congratulate me as if there were a direct correlation to my area of the art world.  More often than not the opposite was true.  I have done very well at times when other art worlds were foundering and vice versa.

Speaking of one art world, why have artists regularly asked if they could exhibit in my gallery?  Wouldn’t you think that an artist who wanted an exhibition would want to find a gallery with a compatible direction?  If you look up Stiebel, ltd. or now Pahaana, LLC on line and find my site you won’t find any contemporary art there.  One time I answered an enquiring artist, I thought nicely, that we only deal in Old Masters i.e. ones no longer living and I hoped that it would be a very long time before this person qualified.  I received a vitriolic email in return saying he had never been so insulted and treated so badly.  The result is I no longer try to be helpful and respond.

Art is not easy.  You can enjoy it but it requires time and effort to learn and understand a given area.  People, however, often don’t take the time to learn and want it all spelled out for them.  A very sad result of all this is that we set up certain people, sometimes critics, curators, or collectors, and believe that what they say is right and we have to follow their lead.  I ask, why?   Of course, we all want to know the secret, whatever that may be, and if we can have our choice blessed by a known scholar or collector, we feel secure.

Unfortunately, these people are not infallible and I know more than one story of the expert being discredited or even have the ill fortune of dying and a new expert comes in denying what his or her predecessor said. This, of course, affects the market value of a work. Even more frequently taste simply changes and the demand for one field gives way to another.

 If you are buying for investment the odds are very strong that you will lose a lot of money.  If you buy because you love a work of art you can only come out ahead, buffered against the vagaries of “the art world”.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Setting the Standard: The Fred Harvey Company and Its Legacy

Fred Harvey is a legend in these parts and much has been written about him and  Hollywood spread his fame through the classic Judy Garland movie, “The Harvey Girls”.

Written in 1946 for the film, the song, “The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” was released already in 1945 by Capitol records sung by Johnny Mercer and the Pied Pipers.

I certainly remember the music from my childhood as it was still popular in the 1950’s.  It all had little meaning to me, other than being a catchy tune, until we started to come out west where the stories of Fred Harvey and the Fred Harvey Company were no longer a thing of myth but of reality.  But the stories also helped feed the mystique of a state known as “The Land of Enchantment,” New Mexico.

As we walked down a flight of stairs at the New Mexico History Museum I noticed that on the staircase as you come into the gallery below it says, The Harvey Mezzanine. With this exhibition that opened late last year a gap has been filled in the history of the state.  While there were references before there is now a succinct little exhibition that tells the Harvey story.  The press release says it will be on until December 31, 2030.  When I commented to Kate Nelson, Marketing Manager and de facto Communications Director for the museum, she explained this was just another way of saying it will be on permanent view for the foreseeable future.

Fred Harvey was an Englishman who began his life in America as a dishwasher in New York but he saw the railroad pushing west and had the vision that the passengers would need to be fed along the way.  Fred Harvey made a deal with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and the rest is history.  At its height the Fred Harvey Company covered 15 states with over 60 locations.

We became fully aware of the name Fred Harvey by knowing a couple of hotels, known as Harvey Houses, that were built by his company.  The one we have stayed at a few times is La Posada in Winslow, Arizona in the middle of Indian Country and like all Harvey hotels and eateries it is located next to the railway tracks.  Not only does the passenger train still let people off right at the hotel but freight trains run well into the night. So, if you go be sure to get a room on the other side of the hotel.

The focus of the History Museum exhibition, however, is New Mexico.  Santa Fe used to be on a spur from the main East-West rail line that ran through Albuquerque. To encourage stopovers the Harvey Company bought and enlarged the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, that, recently refurbished, still welcomes visitors. This was the starting point for the “Indian Detours” the Harvey Company organized and promoted beginning in 1926.  These were guided automobile tours into the heartland of Indian Country designed to help the Easterners better understand the different world they were now in.

Here is an image of a bowl by Susan Folwell, a contemporary Santa Clara ceramicist, depicting an Indian Detour to a pueblo on the Hopi mesas.

New Mexico is also where the concept for the Harvey Girls was hatched by Tom Gable in Raton, New Mexico in 1883.  The idea caught on with the Company, that young well bred women in black and white uniforms would make the passengers feel a little more comfortable coming to the wild and wooly west.

Tom Gable, saw the concept a little differently.  He said, “Those waitresses were the first respectable women the cowboys and miners had ever seen--- That is, outside of their own wives and Mothers.” 

The Harvey Company had an entire concept, which continued from a place to eat while traveling to hotels where you could stay a night or two.   Clients would also eat off of proper china designed for the company with proper silverware.

Mary Jane Coulter, a former art teacher and painter, was hired to design most of the Harvey buildings to reflect local traditions and the romance of the west, including the Indian Building at the Alvarado Hotel and the rooms at La Fonda.

The Albuquerque train station had along side of it the Alvarado Hotel, which, in turn, housed the “Indian Building” where people were introduced to the art of the Native Americans from the pueblos.  The chief buyer of Indian art for the Harvey company, Herman Schweitzer, immigrated from Germany in 1885.   He began his curio trade when he came to be in charge of the Coolidge, New Mexico Eating House on the Santa Fe Railroad.   Fred Harvey’s daughter encouraged Schweitzer to collect and he built a huge collection for the Indian Building.  Although much of it was for sale, some was kept for the Company’s collection.  Some of these pieces were eventually sold to the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery (today known as the Nelson-Atkins Museum) in Kansas City, which, if I may slip in a plug, was coincidentally was the museum where Ted Coe founder of the Ralph T. Coe Foundation was curator and director.

If you are interested in New Mexico’s history don’t wait until 2030 to see this informative exhibition.  The curator of the museum’s 19th and 20th Southwest collections, Meredith Davidson, has enlightened us about an important period spanning close to one hundred years of New Mexico’s history as the Harvey family legacy continued until the death of the founder’s grandson and was sold in 1968.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Small Museum in a Small Town: The Dennos

Whenever we visit my older son, Danny, and his family in Traverse City, Michigan (population 15,000) we go to the Dennos Museum at Northwestern Michigan College.  I have visited many a museum in small towns where once is quite enough but at the Dennos they have regular changes of exhibitions.

There seem to be two regular landmarks, however, one is an interactive gallery which is always a hit with the younger set and truth be told to some older folk as well!  Also, there is the Inuit Gallery.  The museum has a collection of over a 1,000 Inuit prints, sculptures, drawings, textiles. and more giving an overview of the art from the Baffin Island area of Nunavut, Canada.  The works, which are regularly alternated cover the modern period from 1950 to the present.

There are always one or more temporary exhibitions and this time there were two of 3 that I found rather intriguing.  The first of these is titled, “Li Hongbo & Matt Shian: Stacked & Folded Paper As Sculpture”   Matt Shian is from Ann Arbor, Michigan.  He is a paper engineer by profession (one that I had not heard of before) and his work lies somewhere between art and engineering.  He is involved in print media, book arts and commercial design. He works with scientists and researchers who are interested in the practical connections between paper folding and folding at microscopic and macroscopic scales.  I admire the students at the college that can grasp these issues.  For me the interest is in the results.  We usually think of paintings or drawings as two dimensional and sculpture and objects as 3 dimensional.  In this case Shian’s pictures are both.  The images are created by lifting the surface off of the 2 dimensional plane.  Here is an example called “Wave”.

Photo Credit: Cullen Stephenson

The other artist in this show, Li Hongbo,  is  from Beijing.  In his former career as book  editor and publisher he developed a fascination with paper.  He stacks thousands of sheets of paper and glues them together.  He can then saw them into shapes and sandpaper details into them.  He makes sculptures that are fantasy people but also recognizable sculptural paper portraits.  I kept staring at his tree trunks which looked like they were solid wood.  Since we know paper comes from wood what a concept that in this case the wood comes from paper! Flipping nature upside down! Here is his “Wooden Cube” made from paper.

The Executive Director of the Dennos, Eugene A. Jenneman, who was kind enough to supply the photos for the above show went to visit the artist outside of Beijing after seeing his work at Art Miami.  At this point I was planning to insert a single link to a YouTube video of the artist at work.  When I looked, however, I saw so many I decided to just point you in the right direction.  I stopped counting his videos at 20!

The next exhibition, which I found even more interesting was “Chul Hyun Ahn, Infinite Space”. This artist uses lights and mirrors.  Some 35+ years ago when my wife was curating 20th Century Decorative Arts (today known as Design) at the Metropolitan Museum we went into the Heller Gallery in New York, which specializes in glass art.  A young artist, Paul Seide, was installing his exhibition of small light sculptures.  Remember, this kind of art was quite new at the time, and I asked, “How long will the bulb last”.  He replied “Oh 5 years which is long enough”.  Our perspective when we are young is quite limited.

Chul Hyun Ahn, was born in Korea in 1971, and now lives and works in Baltimore.  I find his optical illusions most effective.  The best one in the show, in my opinion, is called, “Tunnel” 2013.  It is an edition of one.  It is made with cinderblocks, mirrors and fluorescent light.  It stands 2 to 3 feet above the floor but one is tricked into thinking that the museum cut a hole in the floor and that this goes down to the basement.  Here are two images.  The first is as the artist wanted you to see it and is taken by the author.  The next is a photo taken by my son, Hunter, of my grandson, Aidan,  he calls it “Farewell Nephew”!

How does an artist become inspired to create pieces like this?  In Ahn’s case it was when he began to practice Zen and became a Buddhist.  He wishes to create an environment that could be, in his words, outer space or a spiritual environment. 

Every once in a while I see contemporary art that gets me thinking and that is just one more reason that art is a never ending journey.