Sunday, April 26, 2015

Lensic Gala: On the Orient Express

I have been to a lot of gala benefits for all kinds of causes but mostly in the arts.  Some are very boring, others are rather off putting in the crass manner in which they try to raise funds.  Some are entertaining but you are not sure what you are benefiting by sitting there!   Every once in a while, however, there is one that works.  It is interesting, enjoyable and worthwhile.

Let me start here with the disclosure that I have just been asked to join the board of the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe.  The Lensic started out as a great old-fashioned movie palace, which had fallen into disrepair by the end of the 20th century.  Nancy and Bill Zeckendorf, the well known real estate developer, saw its potential and with 8 other performing arts groups in Santa Fe raised the 9 million dollars to re-open it as a state of the art theater for the 21st century.  Bill died last year, and Nancy carries on working at the Lensic and volunteering her time and considerable energy.

As I have mentioned before the Lensic under the leadership of its impresario Bob Martin has brought to Santa Fe live theater, concerts, ballet, modern dance, lecture series, as well as simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera and the National Theater in London.

While New York has to be called a Mecca for the performing Arts, the Lensic offers much of what we miss from there.  Every year there is a committee that sets up a gala event to help raise much needed funds. Like all endeavors some are more successful that others.  This year’s was a grand success and I found this one to actually be lots of fun.

The evening began with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the lobby of the theater and moved into the theater transformed with a rendering of the train heading out of the station adding the appropriate toots and smoke and videos of Paris where the Orient Express departed from.

The dinner was on the stage of the theater, with the 3 rows of tables listed as track numbers and the dining cars (tables) listed by number.  As usual the guests wore many different garbs from costume to black tie to suit and tie.  The ladies, of course, took advantage of the opportunity to dress to the nines.

What makes a successful dinner?  Of course, part of the answer is who you are lucky enough to sit with.  Therefore, most people sat with their significant other.  Penelope and I have a different philosophy.  We always try to separate.  That way we have double the opportunity to meet interesting people.  I had an additional incentive in having just joined the board of the Lensic I need to meet as many in that crowd as possible.  Every constituency has a different group of interested and interesting people and often they don’t cross paths.

The evening was kicked off by Nancy Zeckendorf who welcomed one and all and thanked her Co-chair, Lisa Barker, who acted as Master of Ceremonies.

Nancy Zeckendorf

We were promised some surprises that were not indicated in the program.  The first was Tonia Bern-Campbell accompanied by her pianist, John Randall – both out of Los Angeles.  She sang a number of songs that Edith Piaf had made famous which tied into the departure of the Orient Express from Paris.  Later in the evening she told me that she had met Piaf, Maurice Chevalier and that Jacques Brel was her mentor, three singers that I have always loved.

Near the end of the evening a group of belly dancers from the Mosaic Dance Company from Pomegranate Studios in Santa Fe came on the floor and danced to the appropriate music indicating we had arrived at the train’s destination of Istanbul.   This was enjoyed by all who did not care as much for the singer.  I personally preferred the latter but if there is something for everyone that adds to a successful evening.

For me the biggest surprise was the auctioneer, David Goodman.  He has a not-for-profit company that specializes in charity auctions.  Many charity galas these days include an auction sometimes silent, sometimes live and once in a while both.  This year the Lensic’s auction was live.  I have heard auctioneers that were so bad that the gala chair had to take their places until the hammer fell. Then I have heard others that were quite good on their own but never before had I seen and heard one who was actually fun!

Part of that enjoyment was that it did not go on forever.  There were 7 lots plus one.  As expected at this type of auction there was a trip on a yacht and a stay at a villa in Tuscany.  A more unusual offering was a wine cellar of 100  bottles donated by a number of people with some of the wines from major vineyards and vintages.  During the bidding the auctioneer would come off the platform to walk through the audience and cajole the bidders. When he was auctioning a Private Night at the Movies where you could bring 100 of your nearest and dearest to the Lensic for a movie of your choice he had a bidder at $3,000 and another at $4,000.  He turned to the latter and said I am going to save you $1,000.  He got the $3,000 bidder to reconfirm his bid and announced that he had sold 2 instead of 1 Private Night at the Movies.  Do you know a hundred friends to invite?

The final lot was introduced with a video of youngsters extolling the importance of the performing arts and what it meant to them to be able to attend the free performances for school children that are part of the Lensic education program.  To raise money for the program the auctioneer did not exaggerate and started at $2,500 going in increments down to $100 in order to gather the greatest participation.   The entire auction was done so no one could be offended.  One auction I attended some years ago was so offensive in its style that I have never gone again.

In between the auctioneer did a few magic tricks, which were so out of left field that they were twice as funny and magical.  When it was all over he took what seemed to be an empty glass box and suddenly it was filled with dollar bills demonstrating the success of the auction.

The objective of any charity gala night is to raise funds and if it can be done so people don’t leave saying, “I hate going to those things”, you know you have a success.  I believe the Lensic’s “On the Orient Express” qualified.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Guilt and Nazi War Loot

Years ago I went to see the Belvedere Palace in Vienna, an extremely impressive building with beautiful grounds surrounding it.  My only memory of the museum, however, is of one wall with five paintings by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), the Austrian Symbolist painter who was the most important artist of the Vienna Secession movement.  Little did I know at the time that there was going to be a great deal of contention about the ownership of those pictures.

We went the first day of the showing in Santa Fe of the film, “Woman in Gold”, the story of Maria Altmann (1916-2011) who desired to retrieve her family’s treasures stolen first by the Nazis and then by the Austiran government.  The centerpiece of the wall at the Belvedere was one of the most impressive paintings by the artist representing Altmann’s aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer (1881-1925).  Bloch-Bauer was one of Klimt’s favorites and the only woman of whom he painted two portraits.

Photo Credit: Assieme (1978)

Adele Bloch-Bauer died at the age of 44 of meningitis in Vienna long before Hitler arrived in Austria.  Her will included a request that her husband leave this particular portrait in his will to the Belvedere Palace.  In 1941, however, the Nazis came and seized all the family’s art eventually murdering the mother and father of Maria Altmann and many other friends and members of her family.  Maria, however, managed to escape Austria with her husband and sister.

Helen Mirren convincingly portrays Maria in the movie, that closely follows the actual case, as she  realizes through press reports that attitudes in Austria and Germany were changing during the second half of the 1990’s. An old friend from Austria recommends her son, a young lawyer. who becomes captivated by the case when he realizes how his family was also affected by the holocaust.  His grandfather was the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg.

Though Maria has sworn never to return to Austria she goes back to Vienna with her lawyer where they meet up with an investigative reporter, Hubertus Czernin, who wants to help them and make up for the sins of his father who was a rabid Nazi.  With his help they find the will of Adele Bauer-Bloch’s husband who died in 1945 leaving everything to his two nieces (in fact a nephew was also included).  The Austrian government had interpreted the request by Adele Bloch Bauer that her husband bequeath the portrait to the museum as her will, but the will’s actual wording left the picture to her husband. Since the Nazi’s had taken the painting from the walls of the Bloch-Bauer home in 1941 before he died, the case was that it should be restituted to his legal heirs.

After the Austrian government restitution commission finds against them they return to the U.S. to pursue the case here.  In a precedent setting decision they win the right in the U.S. Supreme Court to be heard in U.S. courts.  Realizing, however, that they cannot afford court costs either in Austria or in the United States, they make a deal to bring the case back to Vienna for arbitration, where Altmann finally wins back the family’s Klimts.  Today the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I can be found in the Neue Galerie in New York.

Along the entire process Maria repeatedly hesitates and sometimes wants to put a halt to the venture altogether.  In a final heart-rending scene in the movie Maria finds that winning brings none of the sense of celebration and relief that she expected, but just the guilt of having escaped and left so many behind to die at the hands of the Nazis.  This hit home with me.  My parents got out of Hitler’s Germany shortly after my father was thrown out of University in 1933, the year before he would have received his doctorate.  He never wanted to speak of it and said only, “I knew when I wasn’t wanted”.  He was 22 years old at the time.  Like many of his friends he wanted to enlist in the U.S. Army but to his further upset he was classified 4F, unable to serve.  He could only join the civil defense and never left the U.S.  His guilt feelings were profound and acknowledged more in what he did not say that what he did.  I hadn’t realized what it meant when I was told as a child that my mother went back to Germany in 1937 to get a wedding dress because she could not afford one and money could not be gotten out of Germany by then.  My grandmother only left after the Anschluss in 1938.

I personally have a case with Germany, which was published in the Wall Street Journal on February 24, 2015:


My father would never have agreed to it.  He had a philosophy “Lass die Toten ruhen”  ironically translated “leave the dead in peace”. He was grateful to be out of Germany safe with his family and being able to lead a good life.  For me, however, over the last decade it has become a desire to seek justice for my family.  We have been after works of art taken from the family in Germany and The Netherlands and refused at every turn.  Although, in a political decision, we lost before the advisory restitution committee in Germany, since I have partners in the current venture and lawyers who believe in the case, it Is being pursued.

I am not sure why so many movie critics did not care for the “Woman in Gold” though they admit that Helen Mirren as Maria is superb.  She was so good that I truly believed she could have been one of my parents’ refugee friends. One of the critics I read found Maria’s statement that it was not about the money, disingenuous, but I can tell you that while money, of course, is part of the package it is about so much more.  I have learned where my parents really came from and it has opened my eyes to the horror that already started in 1933.  Those who lived through it wish and need to forget, but those that come after must always remember!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Frits Lugt and the Fondation Custodia

To anyone with an interest in Old Master drawings the name Frits Lugt (1884-1970) is of great significance.  Lugt was born in Amsterdam, Fredrik Johannes (Frits) Lugt.   By the age of 15 he had written a biography of Rembrandt with photographic reproductions.  In 1921 he published his first major work, “Les Marques de Collections de Dessins & d’Estampes” (Collectors Marks on Drawings and Prints).  Private Collectors and Institutions often put their own marks on works on paper.  These are usually in the form of stamps.  This is from the collectors point of view a good way to prevent theft or if not prevent it be able to identify their art when retrieved.  From a dealer or museum’s point of view it is an excellent way to establish provenance.  Until recently no dealer who dealt in drawings or prints could afford not to have these 2 volumes in their library.   Besides collectors’ marks and institutional stamps, one could find the marks of dealers, mounters and editors as well as studio stamps.

New marks are discovered and invented all the time and in 1956 Lugt published a supplement to his compendium of marks.  By 2010 there were 4,000 additional marks to be added to the 5,216 marks that Lugt listed in his 1921 and 1956 compilations.  Interestingly enough, though more volumes were contemplated, it was decided that it would be too complicated and too expensive to do. Slowly but surely all the marks are being put on line for one and all to use. To use the database, CLICK HERE.

Another Lugt publication is the “Répertoire des catalogues de ventes publiques intéressant l'art ou la curiosité”, where one can find more than 100,000 auction catalogues from 1600 to 1925.  These 4 volumes were published between 1938 and 1987.  Most of the catalogs were in his  own collection which he donated to the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie/Netherlands Institute for Art History, known as the RKD, in the Hague.

Lugt owned over 7,000 drawings, 30,000 prints and 220 paintings.  His collection included Dutch, French, Italian and German drawings ranging from the 15th through the 18th centuries.  Add to that another 40,000 artists’ letters he acquired and you have not only a very major collection, but a major resource for art historians. To house his collection Lugt established the Fondation Custodia in the 18th century Hôtel Turgot located behind the Assemblée Nationale in Paris.  Because of the fragile and fugitive nature of their works on paper it is not heralded as a museum and has been open by appointment only.   However, an appointment can be made by any serious art lover, they need not be accredited scholars.

The director of the Fondation Custodia, Ger Luijten, believes that the Fondation should stay alive by continuing to collect.  He recently commented that the annual Fair in Maastricht was a place to see what the dealers had “fished out of the pond”.  A few years ago the Fondation put on a small exhibition art the fair in the section devoted to works on paper.  He believes as I do to that to be able to hold original works of art and the letters of artists in your hand leads to a better understanding of the artist’s work.  For one to be able to accomplish this the Fondation is the ideal place.  Ger also believes that there should be a place for the general public to view art as well. Therefore, he decided to open a section of the building for public exhibitions.  Currently there is an exhibition of Italian drawings borrowed from the Staedel in Frankfurt am Main Germany.  It includes works by Raphael, Titian & Michelangelo.  The Staedel was my parents’ hometown museum.  My father always said that the Staedel didn’t have a vast collection but they had a masterpiece by every important artist.  Their superb drawings collection has continued to grow over the years.

Another exhibition that will be coming to the Fondation Custodia up in the near future is devoted to oil sketches. A friend of mine who is a collector will lend to the show from her collection along with the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Oskar Reinhart Foundation and another private collector with additions from the Fondation’s holdings.

The Fondation Custodia is another gem of the art world where you can immerse yourself in art in an intimate setting.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

According to Hoyle

No, this is actually not going to be about Edmond Hoyle (1672–1769) the writer best known for his works on the rules and play of card games.  This is rather about an actor by the name of Dan Hoyle and his rules.

Dan Hoyle, as well as being an actor is also a playwright based in New York City.  He has won awards for his one-man shows, which he takes to theaters across the country from New York to San Francisco.  He also has done tours of the Universities and it seemed to me that his ruminations were often aimed at a young audience still into the Philosophy of Life.   He stopped at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe for the second year in a row with a new piece about his philosophy and observations.

Dan Hoyle came to his art naturally.  His father was from Yorkshire and an actor.  Dan was born in 1980 in Malta where his father was playing in the film “Popeye”.  Dan graduated from Northwestern with degrees in Theater and History.  He has a keen interest in people and obviously a great deal of empathy.  Even when he is dealing with red neck prejudiced Americans as he demonstrates in his play “The Real Americans” where as the New York Times said, “it brings into contact two worlds that usually prefer to stay apart: the liberal achingly hip, moral-relativism of gentrified city life and the conservative absolutist and often hostile populism that Hoyle found overflowing in small-town America.”… “Frequently grateful for their hospitality, often perplexed by their beliefs, he sought to see the world through their eyes and understand their anger.”

This empathy was brought home again in “Each and Every Thing”, the show he recently presented in Santa Fe.  He interviewed people, as he said, “out of his comfort zone” such as the drug dealers in the neighborhood telling them he would like to include them in his one-man play.  One asked whether it would be a musical because he loved musicals!  He then portrays these characters using their accents and mannerisms, not to mock them but to that take the viewer into their milieu. A recurrent character was Protim, his best friend from India, and in effect his guru. Following Protim’s advice he traveled to India and in a final scene he took us into a Calcutta teahouse to meet people who had clearly become his friends and shared their outlook on life.

In this show he made a case that we are too hooked up to our electronic media and cell phones and miss out on human interaction.  Though my wife and many would agree with him, I do not.  There was a wonderful bookstore in New York for artists and art historians called Wittenborn.   It was a great meeting place and salon though Mr. Wittenborn would yell through the small second story shop on a typical Saturday afternoon, “This is not a library!” and shoo students out who he felt were just using his books for their homework.  This was in the 1960’s and not too long afterwards stores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders not only had seating areas but also coffee bars.  We have the same at our wonderful local bookshop here in Santa Fe, Collected Works.  They found that the longer they could keep the customer the more apt he or she was going to buy something and if not this time, the next.

Personally, I believe the same is true with social media.  First of all, through a site like Face Book we are in touch with many people that we might never dream of phoning.  Then often we become comfortable enough through written contact to pick up the phone.   I know one story where a small child using her cell phone at the dinner table was chastised by a parent.  Only to explain that she was playing a game with her aunt sitting across from her!  I think all interaction is good.  I have a friend with whom I discuss history and politics in email regularly.  Then we get together for lunch or dinner to delve deeper into these subjects.

In some cases social media becomes the icebreaker or actual introduction to an individual.    After one of my Missives an artist, art historian and teacher got in touch with me because we had gone to the same school for art history in London a decade apart.  We had an on and off conversation on Face Book until she announced that she was coming to paint and lecture at Ghost Ranch, where Georgia O’Keeffe had a second home near her house in Abiquiu.  My Facebook came down through Santa Fe and we could finally have our first face to face conversation over lunch.

Of course, like everything in life moderation is important.  There always comes a point to put down the email as there is a point at which to put down the phone.  Messages left that outrun the time on the tape do not help anyone!  A date can also go on too long, we used to have a guest at our New Year’s Open House which was scheduled from 2-6 pm who we would still find in our house at 9 or 10pm.  There is the concept of too much of a good thing!

I like the fact that a performance like Dan Hoyle’s can get one to think about the philosophy of life even if one is of a certain age!!