Sunday, December 27, 2015

Truth in Marketing

I may have mentioned before that about a dozen years ago I went to a symposium on the Market for Native American Art at the British Museum in London.  To my surprise one of the speakers was a Japanese gentleman by the name of Ito Atsunori, who was still a student then and is today an assistant professor at the National Museum of Ethnology in Japan.  He had been working on his thesis on Hopi Indian Jewelry and the fakes that were being made in his country.  He had developed a catalog of objects that were by Native artists and fakes.  Unfortunately, that jewelry which is also faked in many other parts of the world, finds its way into this country and much of it to the Southwest and Santa Fe.

It has gotten to the point that a good deal of the imitations of Indian art is sold in  galleries owned and run by non Natives right on Santa Fe’s Historic Plaza.  While there are a number that are excellent legitimate galleries there are also some that sell knock offs of the real thing.  The Mayor of Santa Fe, Javier Gonzalez, has come to the conclusion that the town could use a Truth in Marketing Law to protect our many Native American Artists who make their living from their art.  The occasion of the Mayor’s announcement, billed as a press conference, was thought important enough to be covered by the print media and also television.  The print  press just walked in with notebooks and cameras: video and sound equipment was another matter.

The Mayor made his announcement at the Art Gallery Sorrel Sky owned by Shanan Campbell Wells, daughter of former U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell from 1993-2005 who is also a very well known Cheyenne jeweler.  The Mayor was introduced by Ms. Wells and she outlined the announcement, “The Act is a Truth in marketing law to protect Indian Artists and their creative work, and to protect Indian art collectors, consumers – and visitors to our great city.”  Senator Campbell was the first American Indian to chair the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and he sent along a brief statement.  In it he stated that though there have been laws since 1934 against false representation of Native American Art, they have had lax enforcement and he commended the Mayor on seeking this action.  Other speakers were The Cultural Affairs Secretary, Veronica Gonzales and the Director of the Indian Arts Research Center at the School for Advanced Research and Arts Commission member, Brian Vallo from Acoma Pueblo.  He pointed out that due to the increase in tourists, marketability and interest in Native American art, the marketing of counterfeit wares has increased geometrically.   Needless to say, the latter are less expensive and therefore more tempting to the tourist.  The stores that sell these have every right to do so as long as they are properly labeled.

Sharon Campbell Wells & Brian Vallo
Mayor Gonzalez & Department of Cultural Affairs Secretary, Veronica Gonzales

The Mayor’s office was kind enough to forward the Mayor’s entire press conference including the question period. It lasts under 40 minutes and can be found HERE.

According to a 225 page report by the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research close to 10% of the total employment in the State is in the cultural  economy which adds 5.6 billion dollars in revenue annually.    A great percentage of this is cultural tourism so it is in the State’s interest to protect the arts in any way they can.  One of the great resources of the State is its Indian population and the unique artistic heritage that Native Americans impart.

This legislation is not yet reality but the Mayor plans to submit to the City Council a bill proposing a cultural district around downtown Santa Fe within which all Native art must be sold with certain information including name and affiliation of the artist, if known, with the tribe or pueblo identified.  The type and source of the materials would also have to be disclosed.  Tourists who come to Santa Fe are not necessarily expert in the field and do not know, for instance, that there are many types of turquoise and that what can also look like turquoise may be made from synthetic materials.

In his remarks the Mayor said, “It is both our duty – and it is in our interest and in the interest of the artists themselves – to do what we can to help protect these traditions and ensure that artists can continue to build a livelihood from their craft.”  He pointed out that the City does not have the right to prosecute violators, that is up to the Feds, but it can withdraw business licenses.  The Mayor concluded, “As far as we know we are breaking new ground.  This is the first piece of legislation like it in the country, especially at the municipal level, and we will be relying on all of our partners here and in the Native, gallery, museum, retail stores and cultural institution communities to help us perfect it and insure that the specific requirements we put in place are meaningful.”

I am particularly pleased with this initiative not only because I think it is good for the community but if you can trust the trader that you are buying from you can gain so much from her or him and learn to trust your own eye to a greater extent.

Wishing all my readers a most happy and healthy 2016!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

There are Parties … and then there are PARTIES!

The other evening in spite of the beginning of a snow storm we went to a mountain top the likes of which I have rarely seen.  Starting with the view from the doorway and it’s outdoor fireplace aglow and the spectacular panorama of town below.  Happily there were valets to take our cars after we arrived up the single lane curvy road, but where they parked the cars I have no idea!

It was both a Christmas Party and a benefit for the Spanish Colonial Arts Society & Museum. Jolonda & Henry Field teamed up with Thomas Getgood & Blake Franklin who used to own an Inn in town.   When they retired and sold the inn they moved into this amazing house of about 7,400 square feet on 5 acres of land. It was the ultimate party palace.   The guest were invited to see all the rooms and I took a photo of the bath and dressing room to give an idea of the grandeur of the place.

The kitchen, which was relatively small, had an open plan, which split the area into two additional spaces that could be used for entertainment.

In a nook from there you could go down a staircase to what was labeled for that evening as the “Rum Room” where you could taste rum from 10 to 21 years old… or just drink some fruit punch.  It made for a cozy place to congregate or put the naughty children when there were no guests in the house.  There were also several bars around the house so you need not go thirsty for a minute just taking your glass from one room to another.

Our hostess, Jolanda Field, who is on the Board of the Spanish Colonial Museum, is originally from Guyana, (she pronounced it “Guy Anna”), wanted to be sure that her guests learned something about her homeland.  I must admit that I was rather ignorant about it, myself.  Guyana is in South America bordered by Venezuela, Brazil, Suriname and the Atlantic Ocean.  Her pronunciation of the country’s name also baffled me since I had been taught “Gee Anna” and can also be spelled Guiana.   Guyana was initially inhabited by several indigenous  groups and originally settled by the Dutch.  It came under British control at the end of the 18th century so the official language is English. The majority of the people speak Guyanese Creole, however, which is based on English.  After Guyana achieved independence in 1966 the pronunciation of the name changed.  Our hostess is here in her striking red dress.

As at all fundraisers, there needed to be a pitch and thank yous to the multitude of people who went to great efforts to make the evening a success.   One of the surprises in the list was Jolanda’s mother who was given full credit for the delicious meal.  Somehow I imagined this slender woman slaving away in the kitchen for days over the hot stoves.  I am hoping she had some help, however, from the large and energetic staff.  Here the director of the museum, David Setford is making his pitch.

Our hostess wanted us to understand the polyglot nature of her country so she offered us a sampling of the cuisine of each segment of the population.  The staff was plentiful. They seemed to be everywhere and served finger foods as appetizers from China, East Indian, Portuguese British and European.  The main coarse added to the above Amerindian and African, and featured a Caribbean “pepper pot” of a variety of meats slow-cooked with spices.

Entertainment included a brief performance of an operatic aria, a singer of lighter fare, and the piece de resistance was a Marimba band which played most of the evening.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Image is in the Eye of the Beholder

A few months ago I wrote a Missive about the Vilcek Collection exhibition at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.  I want to return to it as a jumping off point in order to concentrate on the vision of the artist for whom the museum is named.

I remember when Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) was ridiculed and thought to be a minor artist.  I could never understand it because I found her so evocative and almost always managed to pique my imagination.  This happened again when I saw the Vilcek exhibition though my Missive focused on their collecting.

When people come to town now their first question is always where is the O’Keeffe Museum and why are there not more paintings by the artist on view.  To the credit of the current administration the museum is trying to broaden the scope of the Museum and place O’Keeffe in the context of her time.  O’Keeffe is very quotable and many interviews have been published.  She was married to one of the greatest photographers of all time, Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946),  and once said, “I believe I would rather have Stieglitz like something - anything I had done - than anyone else I know.”   Yet she once claimed that photography had no influence on her career!  I would propose exactly the opposite.  As Cody Hartley, the O’Keeffe’s Director of Curatorial Affairs and co-curator of the Vilcek show said, “She is a photographer who uses paint.”

I believe we all develop our eye in our own way through influences on our lives.  There are various images or thoughts that appeal to us and we see things in those terms.  For instance, a beautiful woman or handsome man inform us as to what beauty is and we think of images in those terms, though my wife and I may define those images differently.   O’Keeffe also denied that her imagery was sexual, yet often when looking at her flowers many relate the images to the vagina.  I remember being at an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum where they showed their O’Keeffe of “Black Iris” from the Stieglitz collection when one young fellow dragged his friend over to see the “private parts” in the painting.  “The evil is in the mind of the beholder” I would venture whether knowingly or not in the mind of the artist, as well.

We are influenced by early images that define and refine our view of the world.  During her formative years as a painter, 1916 to 1918 O’Keeffe taught at what is today West Texas A&M University.  During her stay in the town of Canyon, Texas she would hitch rides, sometimes in a hay wagon, to Palo Duro Canyon.   She did a series of water colors there which are now in the Amon Carter Museum but one picture “Red Landscape” 1917 remained behind and is now in the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum at the University.  Here you see another of O’Keeffe’s favorite subject, the canyon.

Later on she related this concept to the city.  Look at her painting of “A Street” 1926 from the O’Keeffe Museum’s Collection, Gift of The Burnett Foundation, shows the city as a canyon created by the skyscrapers.  This picture would fit extremely well into the Vilcek exhibition, Masterworks of American Modernism.  Here you have all the feeling of the idealized city through it’s skyscrapers uninterrupted with the cacophony of what is going on down below.   It is a bit like going out in New York at dawn before rush hour begins.  Even though it is known as the “City that never Sleeps” once in a while it takes a nap!

Now compare it with another painting in the O’Keeffe Museum’s collection, “Untitled (City Night)” from the 1970’s.  Here we have a more idealized version of the City but again without the crowds; just the stars above the skyline.  It is also indicative of the glimpses that are all you get of the sky in the city. No wonder O’Keeffe loved it in Texas and New Mexico.  Just like we feel about the great southwest skies with no obstructions.

Segway to another picture “The White Place – A Memory” 1943 which is in the Vilcek exhibition borrowed from another private collection.   There is clearly a relationship between this picture and the city canyons in O’Keeffe’s mind whether she realized it or not.

Now, for one last image, look at a picture from the Vilcek collection.  It is called “In the Patio IX”. It too is a canyon like image with blue sky above.  So what was O’Keeffe thinking regarding her Patio in the title?  Also, if you look at the image another way it looks exactly like an envelope!

We often speak of the artist’s eye and Georgia O’Keeffe gives us plenty of opportunity to study how she looked at the world.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter’s Eye

There had been discussions for several decades about expanding the original 1972 Louis Kahn building at the Kimbell Museum of Art in Fort Worth Texas, but who wanted to fiddle with perfection?  They finally concluded that a separate building across the Kimbell Campus was the solution.  Since they had had one starchitect to do their first building they decided that they needed another for the addendum and decided on Renzo Piano (1937 - ).  In 2013 the Renzo Piano 101,000 square foot Pavilion opened.  Here is a corner of the Piano Pavilion with the  Kahn building in the background.

In the past when the Kimbell decided to do a special exhibition they would have to put most of the permanent collection in storage.  This was not only a shame for the public but also for academic visitors who wanted to study specific works of art as well.  The Piano Pavilion, as it is called, allows the museum to store far less of their collection and hold the block buster exhibitions that the public now expects while keeping the permanent collection on view in the Kahn building. 

My wife never interferes in which subjects I decide to write about so when she so rarely does, I take note.  She was concerned last week when I wrote about the Kimbell but neglected to mention the wonderful exhibition, "Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter’s Eye" that I had decided to omit.  Far from it, I thought the show was very much worthy of its own post.

As our group from the Spanish Colonial Museum in Santa Fe drove in their van from Dallas to Fort Worth, the Director, David Setford, gave us a brief history of the artist.  When he mentioned that Caillebotte was only recently re-discovered, I objected stating that I remembered his work from my 1960’s “History of Art” by Horst Jansen which was a standard text for anyone taking Art 1 at college or university.   As soon as I got back home I looked at my early art history books and I was totally wrong.  Caillebotte was either unknown or not thought important enough to write about.

The exhibition is co-curated by Mary Morton, curator and head of French Paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, where the show opened, and George T.M. Schackelford, Deputy Director at the Kimbell.  The curators decided to focus on the best years, 1875-1885, in the artist’s short career, making the exhibition a strong one of masterpieces.  I cannot say I fell in love with all of them but I certainly admired many of the 50 paintings shown.  I will concentrate on a few that spoke the loudest to me.

Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) was a lawyer and engineer before he began his artist training after serving in the Franco-Prussian war 1870-1871.  Afterwards he became a serious art student.  Though part of the group called the Impressionists, his style was generally more realistic.    The most universally known of his works is the large painting in The Art Institute of Chicago,  “Paris Street: Rainy Day” 1877 which is 6 ¾ X 9 feet.  Outside of the exhibition the museum put a large facsimile of the painting where one could pose for a photo under an umbrella.

A slightly less known work is the painting in the Musée D’Orsay in Paris of the “Floor Scrapers”.  This is a painting even earlier in his career, 1875.  He presented it for the Salon of that year but it was rejected by the judges who were shocked by its realism, and not used to seeing city workers as opposed to workers in the fields.  He, therefore, showed it the following year together with the Impressionists many of whom were his fans. This certainly is a realist impressionist!

Not to be missed is the Kimbell’s very own “On the Pont de l’Europe”.  Why the title had to be translated I am not sure, but so be it, the picture, nonetheless, is a masterpiece.  The artist so often seems to grab the viewer and lure him into the picture.  What could those people possibly be looking at? the train on the bridge in the background? the activity in the rail yard below? did something fall on the tracks?

My personal favorites perfectly hung opposite each other are a female “Nude on a Couch” from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and a semi-nude “Man at His Bath” from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  There is nothing lecherous about either one of them, which make them all the more enticing.  You keep waiting: will the man turn around? will the woman summon you?... but that could be male wishful thinking .   They are certainly not the ideal of a nude but neither would I describe them as naked.

The first chapter of Sir Kenneth Clark’s book, “The Nude” is titled “The Naked and the Nude”.  He writes, “To be naked is to be deprived of clothes and the word implies some of the embarrassment which most us feel in that condition.  The word nude, on the other hand, carries, in educated usage, no uncomfortable overtone.”  Further on he writes,  “No nude, however abstract, should fail to arouse in the spectator some vestige of erotic feeling.".  For me these two pictures qualify in both respects. 

The show will be up through Valentine’s Day 2016, interpret as you will!