Sunday, September 27, 2015

2nd Annual Festival of the Drum

I remember a friend of ours who enjoyed bringing drums as gifts to children probably so that they could drive their parents mad when they played in the house.  My son, Danny’s, first torture of his parents was playing the violin, which drove his poor baby brother to distraction at a few months of age.  So Danny’s solution was to stuff cotton into Hunter’s his ears.

Therefore, I guess, it was perfectly logical for him to eventually take up the drums and that he did.  He did this more seriously and still plays today.  He even put together a small band called Pockets of Wonder in his town of Traverse City, Michigan.

When I told my wife I was going to write about the 2nd Annual Festival of the Drum,  she said, “Oh, you have done that before!”  True, see it here.  Then again, I have written about some art fairs annually for a period of time and I think the festival of the drum is more fun and a lot shorter!  Unfortunately, some of my favorite performers from last year did not make it this time but there was plenty to keep us entertained.  There also did not seem to be as big an audience as last year, but that may have been deceiving since everyone was trying to find shade under the portal or among the trees on this very hot autumn day.  The Museum Hill Café was also full, hiding a lot of people who were enjoying their lunch with entertainment.

We did not stay for the entire 4 hours of drums but we did see the majority of the players.  There were 2 sets by Native Americans, as well as one group playing Japanese drums and another Vietnamese group.  The latter was from Albuquerque.

We arrived when the Japanese drums were in their final frenzy, which was most exciting with its different sized drums.  Taiko Sol is a collaborative drumming project in Santa Fe.  The participants are born in the U.S. and their interpretations of the music are distinctly American.  Taiko in Japanese refers to various percussion instruments, but outside of Japan usually refers just to the drum.  Sol is the Spanish word for Sun.  Their teacher is of Lithuanian and French Canadian heritage. One of the performers, Alliyah Noor, who gave me the players backgrounds is of Pakistani and German heritage, and another performer’s family came from Japan.   American ensemble Taiko has evolved in the States from the older more traditional form.

There were two Native American Groups.  The first we saw was the Black Eagle Drum Group from Jemez Pueblo.  As it was put on line they”…brought honor, big time, to Jemez Pueblo and to all of New Mexico when they won a Grammy for Best Native American Music Album…, Flying Free”  They have also won other awards.  They are now writing their own songs in their ancient Towa language.  Their leader, Malcom Lepa, explained that when they started out in 1989, at first, they “sounded like a bunch of coyotes in the river”.   They have vastly improved but I was quite happy that we heard them outdoors since the sound of large drums can be very loud and all encompassing.  By the end of the set people were getting up to dance.

The other Indian group was from Pojoaque pueblo, the Red Turtle Dancers led by David Trujillo.  The group started about 6 years ago.  These were 4 young Native Americans, 2 boys and 2 girls who first did a Buffalo Dance and then a Butterfly Dance to traditional songs, which, of course included the drum.

Probably the most fun and exciting drum performance that we heard was founded by a Vietnamese group, called Van Hanh Lion Dance of Albuquerque.  The music was performed by drummers and cymbalists and the leader was about 10 years old.  He had to stand on small stand to be able to reach the drum but he was amazing.  I was told that he has been playing for two or three years.  The lions are formed by a taller young person as the head and a smaller child behind as the tail.  They would dance around and go up and nudge people.  I did not understand the purpose so one of the animals literally took my head into his mouth… thank goodness he did not bite it off!  The concept was to feed them money.  My wife really got into this and fed them several dollars during the dance.

The event was sponsored by the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC) but it was truly international in musical tastes.  I am going to keep writing about them in hopes that they come back every year and grow!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Wine Taster

At breakfast every morning my parents, who were from Germany, and I would clink our orange juice glasses and say, “Prosit” or “Prost” (pronounced brost).   Many years later, I was corrected by a German aristocrat who told me that was an expression used in the beer hall and the correct saying (he did not say, in refined society) would be “Zum Wohl” or “To health”.  My wife and I have continued the tradition since we find it a very nice way to greet the day.

Obviously, our aristocratic friend was thinking more about clinking glasses of wine and not OJ!  Which brings me to the topic of the week.  My parents always had wine, usually red, on the table and I remember for years being given a few teaspoons of wine in my water glass so it would be red like my parents’.  I would guess that when I was a teenager they began to let me have it straight and, probably because I was never told not to drink, I never particularly cared if I had any wine or not.

Truth be told my parents drank "vin ordinaire", everyday wine, most of the time and I can not remember any that they considered especially important, though there may have been a few.  My education in wine was therefore quite limited.  Then I went to a lunch in Paris that opened a whole new world to me.

Celebrity to me has always been quite different than to most.  I was never much into the sports or entertainment celebrities that most people recognize.  In fact, my children are often in awe of how ignorant I can be about some of the celebrity names that they might mention.  For me celebrities were captains of industry such as Henry Ford, John Paul Getty or members of the Rothschild family that originated in my parents home town of Frankfurt Germany.  I have been lucky enough in my life time to have met all these people.

In my early 20’s, however, I had not met a Rothschild though I had met several who were cousins or relatives of the family.  Then, when visiting Paris one year, I received a phone call from Baroness Renée de Becker, a Rothschild cousin, who had actually crashed my first wedding since my parents would not have presumed to invite such a personage.  She wanted to know if my then wife and I would like to attend a luncheon that day at the home of Baron and Baroness Elie de Rothschild.  It was not an intimate affair but rather a luncheon for some society group.  My uncle, Hans Stiebel, a debonair gentleman also in the art business, had lived much of his life in Paris and was very popular with the Rothschild family.  It was through him that I was a known quantity to the Baroness Elie who sought me out after lunch.  I wanted to say something nice about lunch and I honestly said how good the wine was.  The response was, “Oh it’s just a little house wine”, something she would repeat at other more private lunches over the years.  From a video we made in 1989 here is Baroness Elie speaking of when she met my father’s partner and cousin, Saemy Rosenberg and my uncle, Hans Stiebel.

Believe it or not the penny did not drop immediately but the first time I repeated the quote it dawned on me that I was in the home of the proprietor of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, one of the most famous and best wines in the world, and suddenly I was interested in the subject.  Years later when I was joking with the Baroness Elie on the subject she told a story about her son Nathanial, when he was very little.  He had gone with his nanny overnight to a hotel and according to the Baroness the nanny was “a bit of a tippler”.  She had ordered wine with their dinner from room service.  Nathanial was given a taste at which point he pronounced “afite pas bien nana” “ Lafite not good, Nanny”.  Mind you that the family did not always dine on the best of the Lafite wines but one of the offshoots, in other words, “little house wines”.

I wanted to learn more so when I was back in New York I signed up for a wine course with Peter Morrell.  His boutique enterprise is now located at One Rockefeller Plaza and run by his sister Roberta since his retirement.  In the late 1960’s it was all the way east in the 50’s started by his father in a large all wood barn like structure that made you feel like you had gone down into an old wine cellar.  I remember learning about the different regions of wine in France, Germany and a bit about American wines.  Back then American wine was not yet considered serious, though Peter, the younger generation, at the time, was definitely promoting them. Here is a photo of a silver French 18th century tastevin that belonged to my father.  It was used for tasting wine and often hung around the neck of the sommelier.

Some time later, I worked on an appraisal for a member of the Rothschild family and was paid in wine.  Some of those little house wines as well as a bottle or two of Lafite.  At this point I bought a “wine cave” and collected some better French wines.   I did not have room for what amounted to a very large constant temperature refrigerator in our one bedroom apartment so I kept it at my gallery.  After moving to a larger apartment I installed the wine refrigerator there, but one year it became so hot during a New York summer the coils froze.  I boiled a lot of wine!  Interestingly, only the best wines with long corks survived, such as the Lafites.  They were no longer great but they were still drinkable.  I have never had a wine refrigerator since.  Happily in Santa Fe our basement remains at a pretty constant and suitably cool temperature.  But once burned twice shy and I have never since tried to really build a wine collection.  I no longer remember exactly which vintages I received and certainly hope one was not from 1969.  I just read the price of a bottle at $11,880… but for what occasion does one drink it.

Everyone has a story about wine and the references in songs are legion. If you don’t believe me see:

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Painting in the Albuquerque Museum

I have been thinking about writing about this picture for some time.  It is by Patrick McGrath Muñiz and is called, “Disneyfication of a Hero”.

At the end of 2013 I wrote a piece on Muñiz, after we had bought a painting by the artist, and there you can learn more about his background.

But first things first, my spell checker doesn’t like the word "Disneyfication" yet one can find it in Wikipedia!  To me it is quite obvious that it is not a positive commentary and Muñiz is all about social satire.  If it’s Disney it must be about consumption, merchandising, taking the real world and sanitizing it to make it acceptable.  Other words that the artist suggested to me when I corresponded with him recently were “Cocacolonization” and “Walmartization. You get the idea. 

The picture was painted in 2010 and first shown at a gallery in Florida and in 2012 at the Jane Sauer Gallery in Santa Fe, now owned by Jen Tansey.  Announcing the exhibition at Jane Sauer the artist wrote: “Saints Heroes and Corporations is the title for my upcoming solo show … As the title suggests the work is about "larger than life" historical and contemporary figures, including Corporations that under the U.S. fourteenth amendment enjoy special "personhood" rights.”  Clearly from that statement alone we catch his drift.

According to the label in the Albuquerque Museum where the painting is now part of the permanent collection, “Muñiz creates historic puzzles linking disparate images from history and art history, popular culture, Christianity”.  The artist has clearly studied the Old Masters and he has updated the iconography in this picture.  The Hero of the piece is Hercules with his club being submitted to a neo-colonial consumer driven transformative process called, “Disneyfication”. 

Here is a legend to help you identify all the characters you might not recognize.


The only obscure character if you did not grow up in what Muñiz called “the oldest colony in the Western Hemisphere (Puerto Rico) claimed by Spain in 1493 and seized as a U.S. Territory in 1898, is #4 Diego de Landa who is shown destroying Mayan history.

There is so much Old Master in the picture and Donald Duck, lower left, sitting on the toilet reminds me of a Breughel figure pissing on the wall of a building.  Donald is being handed pages, torn from a book by a Renaissance boy to use as toilet paper.  Note that Hercules is heading toward the gypsy who has three Taro cards by her side showing the fool, the hanged man and death cards.  These represent part of the hero’s journey from the beginning of his quest to sacrifice and death.  You will note other figures in the painting representing death and father time behind the hero as well.

I asked both the artist and the curator of the Albuquerque Museum, Andrew Connors, why the former decided to donate and the latter accept this masterpiece.  Muñiz had decided early on that this was the kind of important painting that delivered his message better than many of the others he had done, and that people could learn from it what his message was.  Connors, a great admirer of the artist’s work, felt it would fit in well as supplement to a couple of exhibitions that the museum had planned.  It was first shown with the exhibition, “Behind Closed Doors” showing the art in the Spanish American Home between 1492 and 1898.  Then it was along side the exhibition of “Masterpieces from the École de Beaux Arts, Paris.”  Regarding the first show it is Spanish Colonial Art that might be shown in a contemporary home and in the second it shows that there are still today artists who paint in the style of the Old Masters but updating subject matter.  Quoting the curator, “Although the focus of the Albuquerque Museum’s art collection is ‘art of the American Southwest and its influences’ Muñiz provides such a complimentary vision of the world to that of a New Mexican perspective, we thought it had to be included in the collection… Since it was installed in early 2014 the painting has been a consistent favorite with our visitors, particularly young visitors (who get many of the pop culture references) and families (because the painting sparks so many intergenerational discussions with different generations understanding different historic or cultural iconography.)”

Before I finish I want to point out the detail of the carving of the frame. With heraldry, soldiers, a cathedral … I could write a piece just on the symbolism in the frame!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Colors of New Mexico

I am going to end my coverage of Santa Fe’s group of shows under the rubric of “Summer of Color” with an exhibition at the New Mexico Museum of Art called, “Colors of the Southwest”. It is a show chosen by the museum’s new Curator of Art, Carmen Vendelin who comes to New Mexico from the LaSalle University Art Museum in Philadelphia.

What Carmen has done is pick out an exhibition from the museum’s own collections. Though less of a phenomenon than it used to be as a result of the recession, I find it most refreshing.  So many museums have vast storerooms of material but feel that they must borrow from all over the world at vast expense in order to attract an audience.  In my opinion it is all in the marketing.  A good title or lead line will bring an audience.  “Shown for the First Time,” “Discoveries Made At Home,” “Found Underneath our Museum”, these will all bring people in. I remember attracting visitors to my gallery with, “The Lion’s Share” , “Objects of Desire” and “Behind the Red Velvet Curtain.”

The exhibition concentrates on the art of the 20th century.  The title was chosen early on because all the museums in Santa Fe wanted to join the “Summer of Color” so the art museum decided just to take them all!  The PR concept has helped bring many more tourists who visit Santa Fe at this time of year to our eight museums.

Carmen was tasked with picking from 800 possibilities in the collection to come up with a cohesive exhibition.  She was aware of the catalog of the former curator, Joe Traugott’s, exhibition, “How the West is One”, but her idea was not to do a historical show but look at how various artists looked at color.

In this show we view color but also some history as well as the myth of the Southwest.  Ignoring the bloody history of the second half of the 19th century starting with the Civil War and the Indian wars and the lack of law and order, in the 20th century we have managed to glorify and mythologize our Western story.

In recent times, especially since the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum opened in Santa Fe in 1997, the concept has developed that Georgia O'Keeffe was the first artist to discover the colors of the Southwest.  Though Ms. O’Keeffe often denied all influences ascribed to her work, I will dare to say that much of what came before was adapted in her work.

Gustave Baumann, (1881-1971) for instance, who came from Germany, studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and returned to Germany to learn to make wood block prints, settled in Santa Fe and became a painter and print maker par excellence capturing the nuance of color like no other.  Here I found a guache he did in 1918 called “Day of the Deer Dance” showing mountains and trees as you might see at O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch.

Things change and after this show was set they decided to do another show in the Museum just on Baumann so the gouache was taken out of the “Colors” show and moved upstairs with the Baumann show so that it could be shown with the woodblock and print of the same subject.  Another picture now missing since my first viewing of the exhibition is a Georgia O’Keeffe because later this week it will be in a large O’Keeffe show at the art museum largely borrowed from the O’Keeffe Museum.   Why you may ask? Because the O’Keeffe Museum is small and they needed to make room for another show,“From New York to New Mexico: Masterworks of American Modernism from The Vilcek Foundation Collection.”

Another artist following a similar path as Baumann, E. Martin Hennings (1886-1956) was born in New Jersey and went to study at the Art Institute in Chicago and then did his further study in his parents’ native Germany.  The painting “The Rendezvous” represents a meeting among the Aspen Trees not that different from the Baumann gouache but was surely done later in the year.  It also shows the vivid colors of fall in New Mexico, which I have written about before.

B.J.O Nordfelt (Tullstorp, Sweden 1878- Henderson, Texas 1955) moved to the United States with his family in 1892.  He too studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and later taught in many universities of the Southwest.  He made his first visit to Santa Fe around 1919 when he painted the picture, “Antelope Dance”.  He is known as an American Expressionist as he owes a lot to the likes of Cézanne and Gauguin.  Though not exactly Tahiti, the images of the Indians in this verdant scene are quite different from the reality of the dry high desert, which is the normal habitat of these dancers.

The last painting that I want to touch on brings both the Myth of the Southwest and the Kitsch of the Western film together to form a striking picture in Bill Schenk’s (1947-) 1993 painting, “Coming Down from the Mountain”.  We have all seen the Western film of the cowboy riding into the sunset and here he is in all his glory!

The show closes on September 20.