Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year’s Resolutions

We have all made New Year’s Resolutions at one time or another and this is a subject that hits the news every year at this time.  So what is a New Year’s Resolution?

Our tradition of resolving to change undesired behavior or accomplish a personal goal is probably directly attributable to ancient religions where people made promises to their gods. I remember a time in my life when every morning on my way to school I would resolve not to go to the nearby Cake Masters Bakery to buy a slice of chocolate layer cake.  I broke that resolution several times a week!  So much for my will power!

What started me thinking about this subject was an article in our local free paper, The Santa Fe Reporter, whose front cover banner said, “2018 Resolutions”.  After last week’s Missive titled “Charities” for Christmas, “Resolutions” seemed perfect for January 1. The Reporter article, however, was mainly asking known personages in Santa Fe and nationally for their predictions and aspirations. I cannot resist repeating the one that might be closest to my way of thinking after this most depressing year: Kenneth Baumann, a teacher in Santa Fe, said  “I’d like to see less fascism, more decentralized institutions.  Less authoritarian impulses, less violent persecution of minorities.”

I did, however, want to look up some of the most popular resolutions on line and found that every article had a different slant.  Being more careful with money or getting out of debt were, of course, near the top of any list. Also, there was losing weight, eating healthier, getting in better shape (ie going to the gym) and drinking  less alcohol, which could all be considered the same resolution. The one that amused me was spending less time on Social Media: it sounds so new how is it already a bad habit you want to get over!  Here is a cartoon you will relate to if you have ever thought, “I must listen to my mother more”.

If people have made resolutions for thousands and thousands of years, why have they found them so difficult to keep?  For one thing even if you continue to work on a resolution for a long period of time eventually you stop and go back to your old ways.  I know that half a century ago I lived in London for 9 months and walked everywhere often 9 miles in a day and lost 45 lbs.  I actually went to a Saville Row tailor to have my clothes taken in because it was cheaper than buying all new suits.  When I was back in New York and still walked and pedaled a lot it was never the same. After some time I gained much of the weight back.  If your patience and stamina don’t pay off sooner or later you say “What’s the use?"

I found this article from Psychology Today titled, “Why People Can’t Keep Their New Year’s Resolutions”. It looks at what researchers and the psychologists have to say.  Articles from various publications are quoted with links as references. It is an interesting method of internet footnoting! The article actually explains my weight problem as my having been discouraged after really trying  but also that resolutions require a “rewiring of the brain” which is not easy to do on your own.  I am attaching a link to the article where you will not only find many reasons why people give up on their resolutions but some suggestions for having a better chance of success.

Monday, December 25, 2017


Charity should be a good subject for Christmas.  If you are on any mailing lists you receive appeals at this time of year from all sorts of worthy causes and, if you happen to have given to any in the past, there will be twice as many at this time of year.

You might be able to classify some of these as, in alphabetical order, Arts & Culture, Education, Health and Hospitals, Protective Services such as Police and Firemen, Social Well Being and probably 20 more.  You may want to give to everyone who asks but you have to limit yourselves according to your means and inclination.  In New York I used to contemplate how much it would cost on a daily basis if I gave a dollar to every beggar I passed that day!

I never used to understand why the Billionaires hired people to help them decide what charities to give to until I semi-retired and had time and some disposable income.  In addition to the merit of the cause there is the issue of where will your gift do the most good. I am assuming for this piece that we are only speaking of legitimate charities and not analyzing individual ones.

Obviously the choice is personal. Everyone has had experience of illnesses and hospitals so health-related causes naturally get wide support. The arts get a much smaller percentage of charitable giving, and since the arts have been our field it is the focus of our giving.

When I moved from New York to New Mexico I found that there were cultural causes I never knew about or understood properly.  Though I certainly knew about the terrible things the Anglos did to the Native Americans over the centuries I did not understand all their needs still today, and also, the need to communicate their culture to the Anglo world.  Out west I have discovered the Native American museums.  The only one I knew before was the Museum of Natural History but without understanding it had little meaning to me. Beyond preserving and displaying their arts the cultural traditions of Native Americans need to be supported in their schools.

We took for granted the countless theaters and concert halls we had to choose from in New York, but in Santa Fe we have only a single performing arts center (the Lensic). Without that venue we would not have a location in which to enjoy visiting musical artists of national stature, or our own dance company or symphony or any live performance, so naturally we support it.

Here donated dollars go farther. I have to make a cost comparison from personal experience.  I have belonged to gyms in New York and Santa Fe and attended them in a number of other places.  To belong or bring a guest is 2 to 3 times more expensive in the big cities than in Santa Fe, which is considered quite expensive for New Mexico because a lot of the inhabitants are retired transplants or have a second home here. It is the same with museums: although individual memberships start around the same figure, higher levels can cost 10 times as much in a large art center .

Support is much more appreciated locally. The same amount of donation to an organization in a major center that would only be recognized by a formal letter of receipt from the development office, here is recognized not only with the formal letter but often a hand written note from a trustee, and, in one case, from the founder of the organization, or even a luncheon invitation!

As I was finishing this up I saw that my subject of Charity accounted for a section in the December 18th issue of the magazine, Bloomberg Business Week, The main thrust is  practical advice on giving to charities, but there is also a part about diving in and enjoying the process.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Pockets of Representation

"The Strange Life of Objects” is the title of a book written by Maurice Rheims (1910-2003), a French novelist and auctioneer who administered the estate of Pablo Picasso. The book traces what happens to a work of art after its creation. The tastes of collectors, changes in fashion, and fluctuations of value have a great bearing on the fate of a work at any given moment.  The subject has been written about often and I was thinking of the collections that are in museums where you would not expect them.

We all know that you can find great collections and a wide variety of art in the large museums in this country such as Metropolitan in New York, The Cleveland Art Museum, The Los Angeles County Museum, but I am interested here in the more obscure treasure collections you can find around the United States.

One of the greatest gifts of art ever given in this country comprised over 3,000 works of European art with the emphasis on Italian Renaissance paintings given by the Kress Brothers through their foundation The largest single portion went to the National Gallery of Art in Washington but the rest was dispersed to locations where the Kress family had 5 and 10cent stores that were the source of their wealth. You can find the list of scores of regional and academic art museums throughout the United States that have received Kress donations HERE.

I remember getting a phone call from a client asking for me to intervene with the estate of another client of ours Eugenia Woodward Hitt.  She was the daughter of an important Birmingham family and she had left her wonderful collection of French 18th century decorative arts to the Birmingham Museum of Art.  The client wanted me to find out if Birmingham would give up the drapes in the apartment because the first mentioned client wanted to buy the apartment and thought the drapes were perfect.  I must tell you I saw the apartment several times and it was not the drapes that stood out in my memory!   The level of the collection was exemplified by a gilt bronze clock, which did not go to Birmingham but rather to the Chateau de Versailles.   Here is a commode (chest of drawers) in Birmingham by Jacques Dubois from the Hitt Collection.

Who would expect to find one of the finest collections of the German porcelain from the Royal Factory of Meissen in Jacksonville, Florida?  But there it is, in The Cummer Museum and Gardens, thanks to a gift from Constance I. and Ralph H. Wark to the museum in 1965.  Another important collection of German Porcelain can be found at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tennessee given by Warda Stevens Stout.

In Cincinnati who would expect to find a world-renowned collection of Limoges Renaissance Enamels?  Well, one is housed in The Taft Museum of Art in the Baum-Longworth-Sinton-Taft House, a National Historic Landmark built around 1820.  They don’t tout it on the museum website, but take my word for it and, If you are in the neighborhood go see it.  When I asked they sent me three images: two by very famous artists Pierre Reymond and  Léonard Limosin  but I chose to illustrate the  complete tryptich with Calvary, Saint James, and Saint Catherine of Alexandria, about 1484–97, by an anonymous master artist known as Monvaerni Master.

Remember, “Go West Young Man Go West” most often attributed to newspaper editor Horace Greeley (1811-1872)? Art too has gone West.   I have given examples on the east coast and the center of the States but one venerable West Coast example, the Huntington Library, Art Collection and Gardens in San Marino, near Los Angeles is an absolute gem. It was  founded in 1919 by railroad pioneer Henry E. Huntington  who combined an enthusiasm for paintings with a love of botany and  rare books and manuscripts.  It is worth it just to walk around the grounds but the collection of European and American paintings is superb as well.    To name a work of art you have surely heard of, Thomas Gainsborough’s (1727-1788), “Blue Boy” that caused such public outcry when it left Britain in 1922, can be found there.

By now everyone has heard of the Getty Center built by the architect Richard Meier to house the European art collected by J. Paul Getty.  His classical antiquities, however, remain in the Malibu location that was his original museum. The installation of ancient masterpieces in Getty’s recreation of a Roman villa is well worth the visit.

I remember when I was young the Los Angeles County Museum was considered a joke but today it is a fabulous museum thanks to its curators and a growing number of major donors.
LACMA has become such an active collecting institution on many fronts that you find new acquisitions on every visit to the galleries. European Art curator Patrice Marandel retired this year after 24 years that were marked by his purchases of outstanding paintings funded by the Ahmanson Foundation. One of those acquisitions is a “Musical Party by Valentine de Bologna.

You have heard the expression “coals to Newcastle”. It can be applied  to art as people love the art made in their part of the world.  So if you are looking for Northwest Coast Native American Art go to the art museums of Portland , Oregon or Seattle, Washington or cross the border and head for the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver.

Much of this treasure hunting can be done on you computer where you can seek out what is viewable where.  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

When Modern was Contemporary

When the presence of their new-born son (me) made it impossible for my family to continue art business from the one bedroom apartment they had occupied since they arrived in this country they took a small gallery space at 32 East 57th Street. It grew to a full floor of the building and then a second floor as well.  A late- comer to the building was Arnold Glimcher’s Pace Gallery which eventually took over most of the building.  So it became known as the Pace building though I would regularly tease Arnie that it should really be known as the Rosenberg & Stiebel building. I must admit that is not as catchy sounding!

Pace often left crates in the downstairs hallway waiting to be picked up and I started to notice the name Roy Neuberger on a number of them and was always curious - with an inheritance from his parents who died when he was 12 Roy Neuberger (1903-2010) spent years leading a bohemian life in Paris.  He came back to the States, became a financier and co-founder of the investment firm of Neuberger Berman.

In Paris he became well acquainted with the Louvre and brought a love of art back to the States with him.  In 1939 he bought his first painting and became friendly with Nelson Rockefeller.  In 1967, as Governor of New York, Rockefeller  established the New York State University system. He convinced Neuberger to give what eventually numbered 500 works to a new museum designed by Philip Johnson on the on the NY State University campus in Purchase, NY. It was named the Neuberger Museum.

The travelling exhibition “When Modern was Contemporary”, currently at the Albuquerque Art Museum, presents selections from the Neuberger collection.  The title “When Modern was Contemporary” is brilliant because contemporary ceases to be contemporary quite quickly. Today we refer to much of the art of the 20th century as Modern,  though Neuberger bought what was contemporary.

In a vitrine at the center of the first section of the show is Roy Neuberger’s “Black Book” in which he recorded his acquisitions.   In my family gallery my father kept a black book almost identical to this with one inventory item per page but it was handwritten.  My father called the sheets “laufzettel”, which translates literally as walking or running slips, on which he put the inventory number, object title, information about the piece including those clients interested.  Unfortunately, when the computer came in and my father had died we went to digital information without paper records.

Neuberger was interested in documenting the artists of his time as well as supporting them.  It did not matter if the artist was of a racial minority as long as the art seemed important to him.  One of my favorite artists is Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000).   In the first section of the show is a guache by him, “In the Evening Evangelists Preach and Sing on Street Corners”, 1943.  Lawrence is best known for his “Migration” series (1940-41), which the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C and Museum of Modern Art in New York agreed to divide when it was on view at the Downtown Gallery in New York.  Lawrence was the first African American to be represented by a major gallery.  Other black artists are also represented in the Neuberger exhibition including Romare Bearden.

Tucked high in a corner of the Albuquerque installation is an Alexander Calder (1898-1976) mobile titled “The Red Ear”, 1957.  Calder also made large stabiles but is known as the inventor of the mobile.  This is the only one that Neuberger bought.  I wondered why such an important piece wasn’t front and center but then I noticed the lighting creating shadows on the wall which actually give the piece far more prominence than if it had just been hanging in the middle.

Will Barnet (1911-2012), lived to a ripe old age but his portraits always seem youthful.  Here is “Child Reading-Yellow”, of 1967.  The subject of family informed a great deal of this artist’s mature work.  Maybe the reason I identify so with this image of a girl reading in bed is because my daughter could always be found with a book in her hand be it in bed, in an armchair, or even in the bath.  As I have written before today she owns and runs a bookstore!

As evidence of Neuberger’s ecumenical approach to collecting is the painting by the Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) representing “A Woman Spinning”, 1943.  Tamayo was well travelled and learned from the Cubists, but also used pre-Columbian and Mexican forms. Yet his work is truly his own and recognizable without too much difficulty.  He became one of the most universally recognizable Mexican artists of the 20th century.

My final illustration out of the many I could have chosen is a late picture by another major figure of the 20th century Marsden Hartley (1877-1943).  “Fisherman’s Last Supper”, Nova Scotia, 1940.    Hartley traveled to Nova Scotia in 1935 and stayed with a family called Mason.  They took him in and made a very pleasant home for him.  He became particularly close to their two sons who tragically died in a boating accident the following year.  Overcome by grief, Hartley not only painted “Fisherman’s Last Supper” but wrote a poem with the same title.  Neuberger bought the painting shortly after Hartley’s death and in in his own words, “When I brought it home I felt that I now had an American masterpiece.”

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Drawn to Greatness

“Drawn to Greatness” is an exhibition at the Morgan Library and Museum of a selection of the Clare Eddy and Eugene Victor Thaw Collection of drawings.

I have known Gene Thaw and his late wife Clare for close to half a century.  I met Gene because a friend of mine, who I had gone to camp with, was working for him at the time. My father asked me to find out about this young dealer (Gene) who had a reputation as an up and comer.  My father’s cousin, Jakob Rosenberg, the Harvard professor and renowned art historian had mentioned how promising Gene was even though he did not attend Harvard but went to my alma mater, Columbia University for graduate school.

Gene was one of the very few art dealers in New York who I would consider brilliant.  He had an incredible discerning eye and advised some of the major collectors of the second half of the 20th century.  He did have one problem though.  He could not stop collecting.  As has been often said collecting is a disease.  The first chapter of the sumptuous catalog that goes along with the Morgan exhibition has a quote from Gene.  “I can’t create the objects I crave to look at, so I collect them”.  Since I am writing about a drawings show you might assume that he just collected drawings, but far from it.  He started out with a collection of 18th century French faience from Moustiers. He also put together collections of Nomadic art of the eastern Eurasian Steppes, which I believe went to the Metropolitan Museum and a collection of historic staircase models, which went to the Cooper Hewitt Museum and a great collection of Native American Art which is installed in his own wing of the Fennimore Museum in Cooperstown, New York.

People decide on what they will acquire for their collections for a variety of reasons.  I am drawn to what grabs my short attention span, and particularly when it is a work of art that  makes me smile.  Of course, Gene had to be taken with the work but then he insisted it be the best possible available by the artist, and better than any similar work in a museum. This kind of collecting is ideal if works are ultimately given to a museum, and Gene’s collections have gone to the best.

The Thaw exhibition is the largest the Morgan has ever done with 150 works of art.  Those were selected by Gene, in conjunction, and after lengthy discussion with Jennifer Tonkovich, the Morgan’s Eugene & Clare Thaw Curator.  The Thaws have given a total of 400 drawings to the Morgan over the years, all of very high quality and interest.  I always pick a favorite, here I can’t.  There are so many that I think are wonderful.  Those I am illustrating all come from the 16th to 19th centuries but the Thaws also gave images by Ellsworth Kelly, Jackson Pollock, Picasso and many other established modern masters.  All the images are compliments of the Morgan Library and Museum with the exception of the Monet drawing, which comes from the Rosenberg & Stiebel files. 

The most recent in date of my image choices is Two Lawyers done in 1862 by Honoré Daumier
 (1808–1879).  Daumier is known for his political satire and cartoons making fun of the professions,-- including art dealers.

Of a similar period is Claude Monet’s
 Figure of a Woman, 1865.  It is the figure of Camille, a favorite model who became his wife.  You will find this figure together with the artist Bazille in a painting by Monet in the National Gallery in Washington as well as many others.  I have a special connection to this drawing in that I had it on consignment from a friend and sold it to Gene.

An artist that I rarely care for but is important with a capital “I”, is J. M. W. Turner
. This watercolor The Pass of St. Gotthard, near Faido, 1843 is certainly impressive.  I wrote about Turner’s series of Ports of Europe when there was an exhibition about them at the Frick earlier this year.

Next up is an artist who is not a household name, Etienne-Louis Boullée
and his drawing of the Interior of a Library, ca. 1780–85.  I have loved this drawing since I first saw it in an auction sale in Paris over 20 years ago.  It totally absorbs you into the incredible space.  You might have guessed that Boullée was an architect who wanted to be a painter but his father insisted he do architecture.

My earliest pick in date is Two Lovers by Albrecht Altdorfer
(ca. 1480–1538).  He is one of a small number of my very favorite artists possibly because at an early age I saw his Alexander Schlacht  (The Battle of Alexander at Issus) in Munich.  His other dream-like works always transport me to fantasy land!

I thought I would ask Jennifer Tonkovich which her favorite drawing was. and Naturally she had several but there was one we totally agreed on that was very high on my list as well, Antoine Watteau’s
 (1684–1721) Young Woman Wearing a Chemise ca. 1718. You can see how Watteau led the way into the age of Rococo in 18th century France.

If you are in New York before the exhibition closing date of January 17, 2018 at the Morgan, do go.  You will, however, have a second chance if you can get to The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts where it opens on February 3. 2018. A great addition to the exhibition is the catalog edited by Jennifer Tonkovich.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Adventure Continues: Mexico City

As said in my blog two weeks ago, scholar James Oles was a fabulous guide but we had to sing for our supper.  There were extended periods of walking in the historical zone but mostly it was standing and most important listening and seeing, which also take some effort.  Former Cleveland Museum Director, Sherman Lee, used to say if just going to a museum every day you could become an art expert then every guard in a museum would be one.  You actually have to see what you are looking at and Jay was determined that we should see AND understand.

In Mexico City one can gain a full appreciation of Diego Rivera as he was first and foremost a muralist and a number of the government buildings are heavily decorated by him. Working In the Palacio National in 1928 and 1929 he created a monumental mural that went around the great staircase. He was trying to tell the entire history of Mexico: on the right side wall, the Aztec past; on the left wall, the future; and in the center everything in between. Here is a view of the center wall:

In the Palacio de Bellas Artes we saw Rivera’s recreation of mural that was commissioned in 1933 by the Rockefellers for their new center in mid-Manhattan, something New Yorkers may have heard about  but never seen because it was destroyed. The artist ,who was a devout Communist, though  in and out of the party, insisted that a portrait of Lenin be in the composition and that could not be tolerated by the rental agents for Rockefeller Center. The best example we have of his work in the States is his mural for the Detroit Art Institute commissioned by the Ford family showing the toil of the workers with no obvious communist symbols.

Someone in our group asked Jay, “Wasn’t the Mexican government anti-communist?”  Jay said they were, but left the artists pretty much alone, figuring if they were busy with their art they would not be a danger to the government.  The ones they were scared of were orators who went around the country organizing workers.  According to Jay there were really two revolutions in Mexico,-- an agrarian one and later an industrial one.  Both are illustrated in the mural cycles lining the patios of the Secretaría de Educación Publica building.  Of the many, many panels Rivera painted between 1923 and 1929 there were several that stood out ... here is the one where the themes of our tour came together as Diego painted Frida handing out weapons to workers.

When we visited Diego and Frida’s international style twin studios we began to focus on their relationship and learned that while sex was obviously involved, Diego and Frida were held together by their intellectual bond.

Dolores Olmeda was a major patron  of Diego’s. The Dolores Olmeda Museum, in what was her home, has, in addition to major works tracing Diego’s career, the most paintings by Frida anywhere. This is because on Frida’s death Olmeda acquired the paintings the artist had kept for herself. Although it is a small work. I was particularly moved by the painting titled “Henry Ford Hospital” where Frida suffered a miscarriage  or abortion . In the distance are scenes from the factory that Diego was studying for his Detroit mural.

In the Museum of Modern art we saw Frida’s most famous painting, “ The Two Fridas”:  twin portraits where one Frida is wearing a European dress and the other a traditional Tehuana dress. It could refer to her two heritages since her mother was Mexican and her father German, but it was painted in 1939 when she and Diego were in the process  of divorce and she identified the figures as the Frida Diego loved (in ethnic attire) and the Frida he no longer loved.   If it had not been pointed out I would have missed the fact that in the Mexican portrait Frida is holding a locket with Diego’s portrait as a child. Here is the painting and detail.

Our formal tour ended with a private visit to the Casa Azul (The Blue House) Frida’s family home which she continued to go back to. The wing she and Diego added has been kept exactly as it was when they lived there. The original house shows drawings, paintings and much of her written and photographic archive of which they have facsimile’s on the walls. Here is the inner courtyard and her easel do note the wheelchair in front.

I have only scratched the surface of all we saw and I am sure, for me and my companions, the concepts and memories will live on with me remembering things I didn’t even know I heard!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Murillo: The Self Portraits

We had a rare opportunity, since we are so seldom in New York, to attend a press opening where the curator, Xavier Salamon, Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator at the Frick talked to us about the exhibition, “Murillo: The Self Portraits”.  It is the only show in the U.S. commemorating the 400th anniversary of the artist’s birth.  Salamon co-curated the show with Letizia Treves, curator at the National Gallery in London where a larger version of the show will be in the spring of next year. 

Salamon is an excellent speaker and could make the exhibition absolutely clear to us.  Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), a baroque Spanish artist spent his life in Seville. Artists often paint many self-portraits because that is whom they are most familiar with and is always available.  Murillo, however, is known to have only painted two; in fact the artist only painted fifteen  portraits and the Frick is showing five of them including the two  self-portraits.  One belongs to the National Gallery in London and the other, which Henry Clay Frick, himself, bought in 1904 and stayed in the family, was given by Mrs. Clay Frick II in 2014.  

It is said that on Facebook we project our image as we would like people to think of us.  There we can use images and words but the artists of yore had to do it with paint and brush or chisel and marble.  In Murillo’s first self-portrait painted between 1650 and 1655 now in the Frick Collection, the artist is surrounded by a trompe l’oeil frame, a hollowed-out stone block, chipped away and eroded by time. The block, in turn, is propped up on a stone ledge.  This fictive frame is unique in concept and not found on any other work by the artist or his followers.  It also shows the artist with some gravitas even at the relatively young age of about 35.

Photo by Michael Bodycomb

Murillo’s second and last self-portrait, lent by London’s National Gallery, was done in 1670.  He wrote below it in Latin as if it were the label for the painting, (translated) “Bartolomé Murillo painted himself to fulfill the wishes and prayers of his children”.  Interesting that he felt he needed an excuse to do another picture of himself or maybe since their mother had died some years before they did not want him to die without a rendering by which to remember him.  Murillo’s wife had given him 9 children 5 of whom had died: that does given one a heavy burden and the necessity of coming face to face with mortality.  My mother asked my father to have his portrait done by fourth generation photographer, Louis Fabian Bachrach. He complied but I don’t remember her ever putting it up, he would not have wanted it!

Photo by Michael Bodycomb

As we know politicians are often elected on the basis of their name and image recognition so is with artists as well.  It is clear that Murillo was thought of as important in his own time for shortly after his death engravings of his early self-portrait started to be made and disseminated.  A sampling of these has been included in the show .

One painting that I cannot resist illustrating is the artist’s “Two Women at a Window” circa 1655-1660 from the National Gallery in Washington D.C.  Salamon explained that women would not have done this at the time unless they were looking for business and they were most probably prostitutes presenting themselves to the gentlemen walking by.  His point of including it was Murillo’s highly original use of trompe l’oeil: a woman leaning out from the stone ledge of a window, comparing this with the artist himself grasping the faux stone fame around his image.

Photo by Michael Bodycomb

The show is an interesting insight into an artist who was famous in the 18th and 19th centuries but who fell from favor in more recent times. It is another example of the Frick Collection’s small, very focused exhibitions, which are often the ones you can learn the most from.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Mexico City, After All

Our original journey to Mexico City was cancelled because of the earthquake so we tried again. After a smooth flight from New York’s JFK we landed in the valley between the mountains which holds one of the largest cities in the world with a population of 9 million, Mexico City.  We met up with our son Hunter who had flown in from L.A.  We were there for the tour Penelope had worked on in conjunction with an exhibition of photographs of Frida Kahlo at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art in Santa Fe.  It was just after the celebration of the Dead but there were still some vestiges remaining.

We arrived a day before the group and headed directly to the Cathedral, which was not on the established itinerary.  We went by subway which was quieter but even much more crowded during non rush hours than New York.  The Cathedral is incredible in size and decoration. Mexican gold was a large reason for the Spanish conquest and you could see that there was plenty to spare in that the gilding was so thick in the Cathedral that the altars have not needed re-gilding since the original in the 18th century.  Unfortunately the paintings were so black with years of soot, that without strong light, one could not see them.

Only in the sacristy were they viewable. The sacristy was what Penelope wanted most to see as its walls are covered with huge canvases painted in the late 17th century by Cristóbal Villapando (ca. 1649-1714) and Juan Correa 1646-1716). Here is a panorama of the Sacristy, a detail of the Correa and a detail of the Villapando (in that order).

Across the street from the Cathedral is the Templo Mayor.  The Spaniards had destroyed the great Aztec pyramid, using its stones to build the Cathedral.  Only in 1978 did electrical workers digging in a residential block near the Cathedral come across the remnants of the Temple.  When Archeologists took over, slowly but surely more of this important archeological site was revealed.  The Aztecs had kept building pyramid upon pyramid as they continuously enlarged their most important temple.  Within its precincts archeologists have found a ball court and the sacrificial remains of humans as well as every species of animal known in Mexico.  There is, of course, a museum attached and here is Penelope in front of a group of skulls.

Between the Cathedral and the Aztec excavation there is a small plaza where there are Aztec drummers and dancers in constant performance.  They are not necessarily descendants from the Aztecs, nor are the dances authentic, but they take their work very seriously. Here is a brief example.

The next day the official tour called “Frida in Context” commenced with James Oles as the scholar leading us.  Known as Jay, he grew up in Connecticut, got his degrees including a PhD from Yale and threw in a JD at the University of Virginia to boot.  Today, he is a professor at Wellesley for one semester a year and spends the rest of his time in Mexico.  He is curator at the Davis Museum at Wellesley, has written several books on Mexican art and Modernism and arranged important exhibitions on the subject.  We were lucky enough to have him give us the three intensive days in Mexico City devoted to Diego Rivera (1886-1957) and Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) - he is a phenomenal teacher!

Suffice it to say that to write about everything we have seen and the information gathered would be impossible.  But here goes - we started with Diego’s last large fresco from 1947-48 called “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park”, which was originally done for a hotel on the park that  was destroyed in the 1985 earthquake. The mural was thought important enough to save and restore.  Moving a fresco is not like moving a painting on canvas as the paint is applied directly onto wet plaster and becomes part of the wall. In this case the entire wall was moved to an exhibition space constructed for it.  The work shows important personages of different periods around images of Diego as a child with grown-up Frida behind him.  It is impossible to show a good illustration of the 50 foot painting so here is a detail.

Jay, like every good teacher, believes that one first must put the subject in historic context so we went to the Franz Mayer Museum.  Immigrating to Mexico in 1905, Franz Mayer became a very successful banker and stockbroker and an avid collector. He amassed not only decorative arts of colonial Spanish America but European and Asian works too, everything that was popular with the elite when the Mexican Modernists came onto the scene.

In the near future I will get into more detail on Frida and Diego and what we saw in the last two days in Mexico City.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

TEFAF New York, 2017

TEFAF stands for The European Fine Art Fair organized by the European Fine Art Foundation.  The Fair became known in the art world as simply “Maastricht” as it started in that city in the Netherlands in 1988.  I wrote about it several times when I was still traveling in Europe.  It had been a dream of many of the exhibitors to stage such a fair in New York but there had been no suitable  venue until two years ago when the Haughton Fair at the Park Avenue Armory closed.  Also known as the 7th Regiment Armory it was  built in  1861 in response to President Lincoln’s call for troops.  It has long been New York’s primary art fair venue.  A new administration at the Armory refurbished the building allowing the great rooms to shine with their original splendor so that bigger and better shows as well as performing arts could take place there.

The first “TEFAF, New York” took place last year and I wrote about that from a distance using press and dealer reports and images.  The positive reports lured not only me to New York this year, but also a lot of dealers who had been dubious and did not want to be pioneers. TEFAF now has a very large waiting list of dealers.  I participated in an art fair at the armory for the first time about a half-century ago and the armory had not changed one iota until last year.  It was an amazing transformation and we got totally lost more than once on this visit.  Since the period wood paneled rooms had been restored they could now be used and even the upper floor opened for exhibitors.  There was also room to pass food upstairs while below there were food stands.  TEFAF creates the most lavish fairs so they are naturally very expensive to participate in.  Opening night the food, wine and drinks are gratis.  We ate our fill of shrimp, duck paté, burger sliders and other delicacies.

People always think that the original was better (“in the good old days”) and while that often may be true, it does not have to be.  Yes, TEFAF in Maastricht is much larger, which allows for larger booths but, as one colleague said, the smaller booths in New York forced the exhibitors from all over the world to show only their best works of art!

Since the armory, even with the second floor, is so much smaller than the modern exhibit hall in Maastricht, there are 95 dealers exhibiting as compared to around 260 in the Netherlands. In New York in the Fall you see mostly older art from around the world: the organizers bill it as Antiquity to 1920.  In the Spring there will be another “TEFAF”, New York” with mostly modern and contemporary art exhibited. I liked that categories were mixed, making every booth seem different,-- silver, next to painting, next to furniture, and on the opening day, next to food!  Yes, some of the exhibitors thought the latter got in the way of the total art experience, but the way the visitors were storming the food tables, they did not see to have a problem with it.  The day after the opening there was no food on the main exhibit floor.

Among the visitors almost 30 museums and institutions were represented from all over the States as well as the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Kunsthistorischesmuseum in Vienna and the Palazzo Stozzi represented by their Foundation in New York.  Among the celebrities present were Anderson Cooper who was spotted here last year as well.  A big hit was Whoopee Goldberg.  Famous collectors such as Jo-Carole and Ronald Lauder (Ronald was co-founder of the Neue Galerie Museum) and Anne Bass attended.  The lists go on and on.

My wife now being on the board of the Spanish Colonial Art Society and Museum in Santa Fe we were particularly aware of wonderful pieces from Spain, Mexico and various places in South America, which we had not seen in Maastricht last time we were there.

At the S. Mehringer gallery from Munich we saw a small altar with Madonna in soft woods including  boxwood by the Spanish artist Benito Alonzo Da Vila done around 1740.  It could have been made for a private chapel or as a master-work to show the skill of the artist.  I have included a detail behind the virgin and child but since I was using an old iPhone I could not capture the detail in the candle sticks or chandelier.

For me another sign of moving on was that I was more drawn to fields other than the ones that I had spent my life dealing in.  When I saw this bronze fulcrum fitting from Cahn International in Basel, Switzerland  showing Dionysos, god of wine, joined by a panther , I fell in love, --of course having no idea what it was.  I learned It was a furniture fitting probably for one of the four corners of a bed.  A few of the drill holes were surely to attach it to the bed but the rest would have been fitted with colored pieces of metal to make them even more decorative.

We become exhausted after 4 plus hours at a fair, imagine how the exhibitors feel after 8 or 9 hours… but there are parties as well, and, being almost Halloween, there was a costume party given by the Naumanns and Agnews, where the fare was oysters prepared by a professional oyster shucker from The Netherlands, pizza and, of course wine … what a way to go!