Sunday, July 26, 2015

Killer Heels

“Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe“ is an exhibition at the Albuquerque Art Museum and was originated by Lisa Small, Exhibitions Curator at the Brooklyn Museum  with the additional assistance of Albuquerque’s Project Manager and Curator, Andrew Connors.  You might say that I went there kicking and screaming.   I expected high kitsch. Well there was some of that.  I have never been into fashion, and even less shoes though I did have employees once who competed with each other on who could buy the most shoes at the once or twice a year sale at Ferragamo on 57th Street in New York.

I was in for a very pleasant surprise.  This show was interesting and enjoyable and made art historical sense as well.  There were some shoes that I found absolutely hideous others that seemed most impractical, such as the toe shoes with heels so that you could never come down off toe, but then, thank goodness, I did not have to wear them. 

There were 6 commissioned videos, which did not seem necessary for the show but I believe that is what is done these days to interest the younger museum visitor.  Some had warnings to the effect of R ratings and they were a bit racy but that is all unless you find close ups of painted toes obscene.

The overarching label for the show reads in its first lines, “Loved and despised, coveted and mocked, high heels are perhaps the most polarizing and intriguing article of fashion.”  The only thing missing from that description is that they have also been considered unhealthy to wear and yet men agree that they make the women who wear them most alluring!  Actually, it was aristocratic men who first wore high heels at the end of the 16th century.  By the early 18th century they had shifted from representing the higher classes to identifying gender and worn by women. Every show needs funding and one of the newer ways of collecting funds is by “selling” sponsorships in the works of art in the show so those individuals are mentioned prominently on the labels.  I thought it was brilliant that 3 podiatrists sponsored 3 pair of boots!

There are a couple of sculptures by Virgil Ortiz (1969- ) from Cochiti Pueblo.  The one that introduces the exhibition is called, “Aeronaut Pilot of Survivor Ship Armada, Decision, 2015” and lent by the artist.  The woman represented is studying her choice of shoes deciding which she should put on before taking on the world.

There is so much to see in this exhibition that I won’t be able to do it justice. One fascinating pair of shoes that is too difficult to read in a photograph are by French designer Christian Louboutin, who has a number of heels in the show.  These are called Maire-Antoinette Fall/Winter 2008-9. They are called peep-toe stilettos.  On the ankle strap is an embroidered portrait of Queen Marie Antoinette wearing a towering wig topped with a miniature warship taken from an anonymous engraving of 1778.

The one pair of historical shoes that I feel obliged to mention is British these particular ones were produced between 1720 and 1739.  It became the most fashionable style for women during the reign of Louis XV (1715-1774).  A painting by Hyacynthe Rigaud (1659-1743) of Louis XIV wearing a similar pair shown on the label looks back at the time when heels were stylish for men. These were lent to the exhibition from the Metropolitan Museum, which lent several other pair as well.

A number of years ago my wife, Penelope, co-curated an exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum called “Rococo: The Continuing Curve 1730-2008” and she remembered this pair of shoes from the Italian fashion company Miu Miu called Cammeo Baroque Leather Wedge, Fall/Winter 2006.  They came to this exhibition Courtesy of Prada USA Corp.

Any exhibition about fashion has to include celebrities and this show (or as Ed Sullivan used to pronounce it, Shoe!) is no exception.  The “best”, in my opinion, were the shoes that were designed for Lady Gaga by Rem D. Koolhaas for United Nude and worn in 2012 for the launch of her perfume, FAME.  The photo is by Sonia Moskowitz.  Accompanied with a quote from “Fashion” from Artpop by Lady Gaga, “A girl is just as hot as the shoes she choose”!

Of course, all the designers get into the act and here is a pair, Chanel, Heel, Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2010 designed by famed fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel and shown here thanks to the latter.

There were a number of shoes that were a hoot and maybe the funniest in this category is a pair of hooves. The design is by the German, Iris Schieferstein, called “Horse Shoes 3” 2006, and lent through the courtesy of Iris Schieferstein and Frosch & Poortman.

The exhibition being in New Mexico the Albuquerque curator would want to represent innovation in heels in this part of the world so there are a pair of Beaded High-Heeled Boots, 2011 by Luseno/Shoshone Bannock Native artist, Jamie Okuma, lent by private collectors and a pair of beaded high-top tennis shoes with leather heels by, Kiowa artist Terri Greeves, lent by the Home & Away Gallery in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Everyone who goes to this exhibition will have different favorites and there is something for everyone. The show closes on August 9 in Albuquerque.  From there it will go on to the Palm Springs Art Museum, the Currier in Manchester, New Hampshire and the Frick Art & Historical Center in Pittsburgh.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Photography @ The Spanish Colonial Museum

Last year we went to a benefit for the Spanish Market in Santa Fe and as is often the case they were holding a benefit auction.  One of my favorite photographers is Ansel Adams and one of my favorite photographs by him is his Ranchos de Taos Church.  It has been photographed often but as far as I was concerned only one was successful and that was by Adams.

Then at this auction I saw another.  It shows the Ranchos de Taos with birds flying off and landing on it.  It is not a want-to-be Adams but an original vision of the church called “Flight of the Angels, St. Francis of Assisi Church, Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico” 2014.  I bought it at the auction and I saw another print of the image recently at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art.  Anne and Bill Frej (pronounced Fray) are very passionate collectors in several areas but particularly photography and Bill Frej is the extremely talented photographer who took that photo.

The show mentioned above is 80 years of black and white photography from New Mexico and Mexico and features works from the Frej collection.  The idea for the show was Anne and Bill’s because they saw the perfect fit between their collection and the Museum on whose board he now serves.  Also, it can introduce the field of Spanish Colonial Art to a broader audience interested in photography. 

During the 16th century Spain conquered much of South America, all of Mexico and parts of the United States.  Spanish Colonial Art is derived from Spanish art combined with the indigenous styles of its colonies and they naturally developed their own style within the Spanish vernacular.  For someone, such as myself, where Spanish Colonial Bultos (painted wooden sculptures representing images of Christian Iconography) and Retablos (devotional paintings) are completely unfamiliar, photography becomes a natural bridge to the Spanish Colonial world.

An idea, however, is not enough, every exhibition needs a lot of planning after the images have been chosen.  The Frejs came up with the title,”Traditión, Devoción y Vida”; the director of the museum, David Setford, selected the works from their collection, amplified by loans from the New Mexico Museum of Art and the artists themselves for the various sections; and Reine Mouré, a volunteer at the Spanish Colonial, did the installation.  If you just start putting works of art up on the wall you will end up with extras that don’t fit or a huge gap so you first need to make models.  Here is one that Reine prepared before starting to tack images to the wall.

Just as European Old Master art is predominantly religious, Devotion overlaps the categories of Tradition and Life in this photography exhibition. To mention just a few of my favorites among the almost 70 works, I will start with another photograph by Bill Frej.   This one is the cover of the catalog and is called, “Calvary Hill, The Road from Chimayo”, 2014.  This image shows a Cross overlooking the valley and the sculpture of an angel admiring the vast New Mexico landscape.  It captures New Mexico in a way that is not easy to do.

Continuing on a theme is “Praying to Mixe God, Oaxaca, Mexico”, 1980 by Sebastião Salgado (1944-), a Brazilian social documentary photographer.  It reminds me so much of my favorite 19th century German artist, Caspar David Friedrich.  Look at this image for instance, “Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog”, circa 1818 from the Hamburg Kunsthalle with the added element of the religious crosses echoed in the landscape.

The most moving image in the category of devotion is the “Penitente Services during Holy Week”, 1987 by Nancy Hunter Warren.  Penitentes are members of a lay brotherhood who practice self-flagellation. The ancient rite remained strong in rural New Mexico. The artist, though elderly, attended the opening and talked to all comers.  Quite a number of books of her work have been published with images of Native Americans and Hispanic Villages of New Mexico.  In fact, throughout the exhibition were separate cases near the images with books turned to the page of the image that you are looking at.  It is an innovative touch, which makes sense and adds an imprimatur for an unfamiliar field.

“Devoción de Mano Lupe Tomé, New Mexico” 1989 was lent by the artist Miguel Gandert. Born in Española, New Mexico in 1956, a descendant of Spanish settlers of Mora, New Mexico and Antonito, Colorado.  Gandert is a professor at the University of New Mexico. Beaumont Newhall (1908-1993), the Museum of Modern Art’s first photography curator who was the first to see photography not from a technical point of view but an art historical one, taught at UNM and was instrumental in developing the university’s stellar collection of over 10,000 photographic images.

In the section of the exhibition that focuses on daily life the Mexican photographer Humberto Suaste, (1954-) translates the title of his photograph “Recuerdos”, 1970s as Remembrance.  The word in context can also mean to “take this as a keepsake”.  The figure leaning out of the window of the train looks wistful; is it a good memory?-- maybe he is thinking of family left behind.

As you have heard this is the “Summer of Color” in Santa Fe.  Museums and exhibition spaces have picked various colors and Spanish Colonial’ Museum’s official Color exhibition is “Blue on Blue: Indigo and Cobalt in New Spain”, including bultos, retablos and textiles.  It seems fitting to me that Santa Fe should have a Black & White show as well.

All the photographs are from the collection of Anne and Bill Frej unless otherwise noted and I thank them for sending me the images for this Missive.

Sunday, July 12, 2015


I met Robert Rhodes (aka Bob) at least 15 years ago through a mutual friend on the Hopi Mesas. IN 1971, with a Bachelor and Masters degrees in Music Education from the University of New Mexico and a Doctorate in Education from Arizona State University, he began his career as a Teacher and Business Manager at Hotevilla-Bacavi Community School on 3rd Mesa, Arizona which is one of the most conservative mesas on the Hopi Reservation. He has lived there ever since.  

A few years after he arrived at Hopi he met an artist who became a very famous jeweler, Verma Sequaptewa, known as Sonwai.  He married her in 1977 and has been her business manager for the last 25 years.

We haven’t been up to the Hopi Mesas for some time but an email I received recently brought back many good memories. It was a press release from Bob that the school he started, Hopitutuquaiki. This can be translated as simply Hopi School, or going one language layer deeper, the place where you learn Hopi things.  The Hopi School, had received a grant of $19,724 from the First Nations Development Institute out of Longmont, Colorado.  The school at this time has a summer arts and language program for which their non-profit must raise $40,000 a year.  Their ambition is to become a year round arts-magnet school, but for that they will need to raise $350,000 a year.

Sometime after we met, Bob sent me a research paper he had done in 1999 on the role the arts play in Hopi commerce, which is major both on and off the reservation.  He concluded that arts and crafts were as important a source of funds for the Hopi as government jobs!  At the time he sent me the report in 2003, he felt that few had seen his paper and that it had not fulfilled his hoped for function.  I see it differently.  He took what he learned from this research in and together with his education background started a school teaching one of the most important aspects of the Hopi economy, the arts.  They are teaching language and history as well, not as in a traditional classroom but in a manner that it will be far better absorbed by the students.  He wants the students to be able to function, not just within the Hopi society, but also in the Anglo world (BTW, Bob is Anglo).  He understands, however, that one must start this education from within the Hopi belief system.

Years ago one Indian, a total stranger, on the Rez confided in me that he had been away in Phoenix for a number of years and had forgotten much of his language.  As a result his family had still not totally accepted him back.  This is how important the language is within the society, though English is a necessity as well.  We have only met a few much older Hopi who could only communicate through the younger members of the family who would translate for them. Years ago Hopi raised funds in order to establish its own Hopi language radio station and we actually own the small print 900 page Hopi dictionary, which I used to translate the title of this blog! 

At Hopitutuquaiki preschoolers learn how to pursue their tribe’s traditional crafts with an emphasis on weaving and basket weaving and in the process learn their language and culture.  In this image the little ones on the floor are in an emergence class learning the Hopi language through numbers, parts of their body and such.

 Students in the school range in age from 3 to 72. The youngsters are encouraged “to complete at least one kilt (pitkuna), sash (mutsapnguenkwewa), sifter (tutsaya) or wicker plaque (yungyapu)” during the summer.  What I found fascinating and wonderful was that often the younger students help the older ones, who may be infirm in one way or another, make their art while the older ones tell them about what it was like at Hopi 30-40 or even 50 years ago. I have always thought that a home for the elderly should be combined with a school.  The generations have so much to give to each other.  I knew one 90 year old who said I don’t want to be with old people, just young ones!  Here is an image of 3 men weaving.  One is just out of high school another in his 30’s and they are working alongside an older gentleman.

In another image that Bob sent me the students are making a ceramic tile mural on the side of Verma’s House.  Piki is a flat bread made from blue corn by the women in the Southern pueblos.  It is often  used for ceremonies such weddings, but it is sold as well, and we have bought it from a woman at Acoma.  One does not, however want to make this in one’s home because of the smoke and smell, so many Natives have a separate Piki House.  Verma’s is on the other side of her uncle, Charles Loloma’s, house.  He was the most famous Hopi Jeweler during the second half of the 20th century.    She inherited his home and the school also uses it for classes.

Two more images of the girls weaving traditional baskets and the children making traditional patterns in watercolors show further the serious activity at the school.

No one is turned away and students do not just come from Hopi.  They may be from a neighboring tribe such as the Navajo or Zuni, but also Anglos enroll once in a while.  If you think it is as wonderful an endeavor as I do you can find out more at where you can also find an address to which to send a tax deductible donation. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Huntington in San Marino

A short while ago I went to Los Angeles to visit my son, Hunter.  His girlfriend, Mallory, suggested going to the Huntington Museum which Hunter could not remember ever having visited and I had not been to for a very long time.  The entry fee is not cheap but still less than  full fare at the Metropolitan Museum or the Museum of Modern Art in New York and you get a hell of a lot for your money.

The Huntington covers 207 acres with a great library, 2 museums and a number of gardens.  It was founded in 1919 by Henry E. Huntington (1850-1927) and Arabella (1850-1924),  his second wife, widow of his uncle.  Their fortune came mainly through railroad stock as well as utilities and real estate in Southern California. 

The Huntington is known first for its library that has 420,000 rare books and 7 million manuscripts.  They do regular exhibitions there and the current show is “Magna Carta: Law and Legend, 1215-2015” celebrating the 800th anniversary of this famous document.  The center piece is the Huntington's own 13th-century draft of the charter.

From my point of view the main event at the Huntington is their 55,000 square foot mansion designed by Myron Hunt finished in 1911.  It opened to the public as a museum the year after Henry Huntington’s death. It has a major collection of Old Master paintings and decorative arts with a large emphasis on English art.  I remember being at the Huntington with Penelope and a museum director and suddenly both of them yelled “Wow!” at the same time.  Of course, I immediately went to see what was so fabulous as well.  I found Penelope on the floor staring at a piece of French 18th century furniture and the director standing looking at the painting above it.  Unfortunately, I could not find these pieces this time to show Hunter and Mallory. The most famous work in the collection is a full length portrait by Thomas Gainsborough called, “The Blue Boy” sold to Huntington by the famous art dealer Sir Joseph Duveen from whom he bought many pictures.  Though we toured these galleries I wanted to see things that I had not seen before.

There are some 15 gardens and we visited just one, the Chinese Garden, which is not just a bunch of plants but an entire architectural setting, with several places to sit and get away from the hot Southern California sun.  Called the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, Liu Fang Yuan, it is among the largest Chinese-style gardens outside China.  Architects and artisans from Suzhou, the renowned garden city of southern China, worked alongside California builders and gardeners. It is a true oasis that would be a perfect place to picnic but it is not allowed in the park though you can bring your own food to an area of outdoor tables and chairs at the entrance to the estate.

Mallory Gross and Hunter Stiebel

Though I had been to the Huntington in the last 20 years I was not aware of their growing collection of American art.  The Huntingtons did have some American paintings but they were mainly early American art that related to their great English collection, which was their first love.  In 1984 the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art were opened and Ms. Scott kicked off the galleries with a donation of 50 paintings. 

One learns that when one travels one must be prepared for disappointments and in this case a number of the galleries were closed for a major renovation.  A goodly number, however, remained open with plenty of  19th century art to see.  Here the most famous painting is by Mary Cassat (1844-1936), “Brealkfast in Bed” (circa 1894) donated by the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation.

Always, being interested in decorative arts I spotted a dining table and chairs designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), in a gallery of Arts and Crafts furniture.

As I may have said before I had been prejudiced against American art by both my family and professors but over the years I have grown to enjoy it more and more.  I also like artists when they are painting their own studio and here is a marvelous example of William Merritt Chase’s (1849-1916) “The Inner Studio, Tenth Street”, 1882, also given by the Virginia Steele Scott Foundation.

There are also paintings by artists that would be more familiar to Southwest readers such as Robert Henri and Georgia O’Keeffe.  I was amused to see that of two loans by O’Keeffe the better one was in the mansion among the European works, where it was completely out of place.  I wondered if the lender insisted upon it. 

Another artist from these parts is Maynard Dixon (1875-1946) born in California travelled through Arizona and New Mexico and had a winter home in Tucson.  I know you can find his paintings at the Medicine Man Gallery both in Tucson and Santa Fe.  Here is a painting Campo Santo (1931) near Taos, NM lent from a private collector.  The picture totally captures the incredible skies and scenery of the southwest… and people ask me why I love it out here!