Sunday, July 10, 2016

Dragged to Art

A few weeks ago I thought “Dragged to Art” would be an interesting subject to write about but then forgot it again.  Meanwhile, my associate, Vince Hickman, sent me a transcript from a film we did in 1989 celebrating our Gallery’s (Rosenberg & Stiebel) 50 years in the U.S.

There I found the following:  “I remember it was a great treat whenever I could go to the office,  (it was never referred to as the gallery).  I came to the “office” but there were wonderful objects there. My favorite experience was to be shown all the secret compartments in the French 18th century furniture.  When my parents went to Europe I was often taken along, which might sound like a great treat, but it really wasn’t.  I was literally dragged from museum to museum, from church to church, which I was not very pleased about.  But it seems that I got a lot out of it anyway.”

Some 25 years later we would take my kids, Danny and Cathy, with us to Parke-Bernet (bought out later by Sotheby’s) as well as to exhibitions.  I remember when at the auction house my daughter ran into a fellow student, when they were about 10, who asked her.  “Do your parents drag you here every week too.”  We laughed but Cathy probably did not. Ten years later, however, Cathy was at the University of Pennsylvania complaining bitterly that her art history teacher had questions on the exam that he had not covered in class but she added, “don’t worry, dad, they were on French 18th century.”

Our children are dragged to art mostly for our own convenience but we justify it by saying it is important for their education, which, of course, is true.  My wife, Penelope, was a curator at the Metropolitan Museum at the time and every once in a while, when it was our turn with the kids, she had them with her at the museum.  There were no accommodations for children in those days but her colleagues were very tolerant of the situation.  She tried to make it as much fun for them as she could such as playing with models that had been used in putting on exhibitions and taking them into the secret places such as storerooms and vaults where visitors never went.  I remember for me as well the excitement of being allowed into the storerooms, which I find just as exciting for me today as it was then.

When Danny was with Penelope they would look at paintings and Penelope would ask him to tell her what he thought was going on and he made up these very funny stories about the pictures.  It made no difference if he did not know the story the artist had in mind but he was actually looking and and seeing the paintings.

Danny at the Nassau County Museum in Long Island

Our son, Hunter, was dragged to art for the first time when he was just a couple of days old.  He had trouble when he was born moving his head to the left side so the doctor recommended keeping him on his side.  How do you do that??? We found he was mesmerized by the artist Chuck Close on the cover of “Art News” which we had in the hospital room so we put it on the side of his plastic tub and he stayed that way!

His next experience was when he was a few months old and the only day in her entire employ Hunter’s nanny did not show up for work.  That day Penelope had a Press opening for an Exhibition called, “New Glass” at the Metropolitan Museum so we had to bring him along in his carriage.  Remember the W.C. Fields’ quote,  "Never work with animals or children."!  Well I am not sure that the press paid proper attention to “New Glass”

When Hunter was in kindergarten the headmistress called Penelope in because Hunter kept talking about what various things meant and it was not necessarily about what they saw.  Penelope asked if she meant symbolism and said that they had discussed the significance of the Cross outside of a building nearby which had been converted into a church. Although it was just two perpendicular bars it represented the cross on which Christ was crucified and the belief of people who follow his teachings to this day.  The head mistress did not think that was appropriate for a 5 year old.  Good that she was not around when we later took him to Europe and he saw reliquaries and became fascinated by them! 

In high school the headmaster at his school, believing in a Classical education, dragged all the students to the Metropolitan Museum.  They had to first go around the museum and pick out one object and learn about it and then tell the class about it.  From then on when they went back to the museum with the class to different departments they had to find “their object’”. Hunter took the relatively easy way out and picked an object from his father’s gallery but he still takes people to the same piece today, twenty years later.  It was an imposing cabinet by Fremiet and Diehl.

In hindsight, one does realize, when it came to art, how incredibly spoiled we were.  When I was working toward my Masters degree in art history I had a seminar on medieval art.  I took advantage of the fact that the curator of medieval art from the Boston Museum of Fine Art, Hans Swarzenski, came into the gallery and gave me a number of leads for a paper I was working on.  No surprise, I aced the course.  Maybe, you remember the movie “Back to School” with Rodney Dangerfield, who decides that when his son goes to college, maybe he should get that degree he never had.  So when there is a paper given on space he calls in the scientists from NASA!   Obviously, this was meant comically but realistically he had learned that in business you find the best expertise you can find.

When it came to art my children had it from day one, and so did I with  that resource and expertise at my side throughout my youth and through most of my business career, my father.  It just took me some years to appreciate it.

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