Sunday, October 29, 2017

Too Many

Years ago a friend of ours wanted to show off how his two year old could count.  She stood in her PJ’s in the bottom drawer of her chest of drawers and started, “1,2,3,4,5,6,7, too many”.  Ever since it has become a family saying and that is just how I feel about our up coming trip to New York.  Even though you will read this after we arrive, this is what we are facing.

In major cities when there is a big art event planned others try to pile on so that there is an incentive for as many as possible visitors and art interested individuals will come to town.  Such an event may very well occur on the day after we arrive.  It is the opening of TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair or Art Foundation) at the Park Avenue Armory.  I have written several blogs about this international fair, which started years ago in Maastricht, The Netherlands. It now has two incarnations in New York.  The Fall event concentrates on the old master world.  At the Javits Center The International Fine Print Dealers are having their annual event and The New York Satellite Print Fair is taking place across town.  Up on Park Avenue The Art & Antique Dealers League of America (I believe the oldest art dealers association in the U.S. is  having a fair  in a hall at a well known church and school.

TEFAF Maastricht 2013

Those are just the fairs.  If you are reading this you probably are aware of the plethora of museum exhibitions around  town. The night we arrive is an opening at the Neue Gallerie of an exhibition, “Wiener Werkstatte 1913-1932: the Luxury of Beauty” We have always had an interest in this field my wife curated at the Metropolitan Museum. The Morgan Library is showing “Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from The Thaw Collection”.  Gene and Clare Thaw have arguably given more drawings to the Morgan than J. P. Morgan himself.  Not to be out done, the Metropolitan Museum is having a show “Leonardo to Matisse: Master Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection”.  This is from a very large collection of many fields given to the Met by Lehman’s estate on the condition that it be kept together in its own space. Though it is an integral part of the museum, loan papers have to be made out if pieces are shown in another part of the museum.  Needless, to say the Met will have several other shows within its walls at that time.  A monographic show which I am looking forward to is at the Frick Collection, “Murillo: The Self Portraits” celebrating the 400th anniversary of the artist’s birth.  Because of my interest in Native America I hope to see a show at the Whitney Museum, “jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World”.  The reviews I have read have been positive but there has been controversy, particularly in the Native American World, over whether he has the right to call himself an Indian and why he should get a solo museum show when there are so many other artists who are as good and more Indian than he.  This is a subject one could devote at least a chapter to.

Robert Lehman Wing at the Met

I am not even going to touch on individual dealer exhibitions which are up in galleries 365 days a year and you can spend that time going to a different one every day.  I do have my eye on at least one Old Master show and one from the photography world.

We will be in New York for 6 full days and we already have several lunches and dinners planned, and might catch a show or two.  If your head is not swimming, mine is.  There is no way to do it all but we will get to as much as is possible.  Then I will have to make choices for Missives. Which ones would you write about?

Oh yes, we go to Mexico City from New York to be on the postponed “Frida Kahlo in Context” tour.

As I said “Too Many” but I will let you know about some of the highlights!

Sunday, October 22, 2017


What is the TGP? It sounds like the acronym for a complicated chemical formula or something they put in your soda!  Searching on line the first thing that came up on my computer was “The Naked TGP”. I don’t want to know what that stands for.  In this case, however, I am referring to the “Taller de Gráfica Popular” (The Peoples Graphic Workshop) which is the subject of “Mexican Mirror” a small but exquisite exhibition at the New Mexico History Museum.

The TGP started during the tenure of President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940).  This progressive administration saw social and economic transformations initiated by popular demands of the Mexican Revolution. As often happens, out of this came a new art movement.  The TGP mostly created prints and posters and it is these that are being shown.   The inspiration came from Jean Moss, co-curator for the exhibition who had the opportunity to see the collection of Jeff and Anne Bingaman.  He was our five-term senator from New Mexico, a much beloved individual in this town.  His wife says this is entirely the Senator’s collection which he started when he found a book on the artist Leopoldo Méndez and the TGP in a used bookstore in Zacatecas, Mexico..   I asked the Senator, who wants to be called Jeff, how many prints were in his collection and he modestly said not much more than 60.  While the exhibition is not confined to Anne and Jeff’s collection the vast majority are theirs as are all those illustrated here.

Jean Moss suggested the exhibition to Tom Leech, long time Curator at the History Museum and Director of the Press at the Palace of the Governors. He loved the idea as it gave them the opportunity to do a show that was not only interesting for the art but related to issues of our time on both sides of the border.

Political commentary in art is always fascinating and this is no exception.  Jeff summed it up, writing “the main themes are the dignity and nobility of the Mexican people, oppression of the people by the government and the Catholic Church, U.S. imperialism, the greed and inequality resulting from capitalism, and the condemnation of fascism and corruption in all forms.” His appreciation grew after he learned that it was a collaborative effort of artists from many backgrounds and, though most were Mexican, there were artists from the States as well.

The image that is right up front in the show and says it all: it is a linocut by Leopoldo Méndez (1902-1969), one of the founders of the TGP.  It shows the printer, José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) in his workshop looking out on a scene of armed response to demonstrators around 1900. This linocut was done a while after the fact, 1953.  Posada was working during the Mexican Revolution producing broadsheets and political commentary.  His work had a great influence on the TGP.

A 1960 linocut celebrates the Contribution of the People to the Expropriation of Petroleum in 1938.  The people are donating their property to be sold to buy back the petroleum interests from foreigners. Note the oil rigs with flags behind the crowd.  The artist, Elizabeth Catlett also known as Betty Mora, (1915-2012) was an African American who moved to Mexico and joined the TGP where she met and married the Mexican artist Francisco Mora. She was born and raised in Washington D.C. and is also known for documenting the African American experience.

In 1947 Alfredo Zalce (1908-2003) did this linocut titled “The Criminal Victoriano Huerta Seizes Power”, still today he is known as “The Jackel” and “The Usurper”.  He was a military officer and 35th President of Mexico, but for only 17 months, since his family coup was then overthrown and he had to flee the country in 1914.

My last illustration is by Guillermo Bonilla of The Vegetable Carrier.  Does it remind anyone else of Goya?  To me it shows how closely Mexican Art can still echo that of the old country.

Impressed as I am by these prints I neither have the room nor the stamina to start yet another field of collecting, but ... as I have learned ... never say never ...

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Tale of Two Performances

I guess the performances we saw were what my kids would call concerts, that is if they were outdoors and there were a few thousand people but these were much more intimate affairs. They took place in the Lensic Theatre which only seats 800 plus but audience member shouted out as they might in a stadium.

The performers were Robert Mirabal & Ethel and Loudon Wainwright III.  My father used to say that by being a pessimist and not expecting anything he was never disappointed.  That may have been wise advice. I expected to feel ambivalent toward the first but I loved it; and the second one that I was really looking forward to, I found disappointing.

In the case of Robert Mirabal & Ethel, I had no idea who or what Ethel was and found out they were a group of musicians who played string instruments.  They play several but the main ones are, violin, viola, mandolin and cello.  The group was founded in 1998 and they often collaborate with solo artists.  In this particular case it was Robert Mirabal, a Taos musician who not only plays a number of different kinds of flutes, he makes them as well.  For this performance he also played piano and the didgeridoo.  This latter instrument comes from the indigenous peoples of Northern Australia.   It was invented, according to various sources, either more or less than a millennium ago: in any case it has been around for awhile.  From what I could see it was as difficult to play as a shofar … it takes a lot of air to make a sound, which is not entirely easy on the ears.

Photo by Tim Black

I knew I liked Mirabal having heard him before.  I love Indian flute music.  Somehow it transports me to the Hopi Mesas in Northern Arizona.  I thought the different ways that Ethel made their instruments work together was incredible.  Having mostly heard string instruments in a classical music orchestra I did not think of them working in an innovative manner and not just all creating one harmonious sound.  This was so exciting.  The video below will give you a taste of the music we heard and most of the instruments including the didgeridoo.

The second performance was Loudon Wainwright III.  I was looking forward to a musician  whose sound was something between Country and Folk music.  It turned out that was not the performance he was doing for us.  Basically, we heard a comedian who did some of his own songs and recited stories his father had written (the latter was an accomplished writer who was on the staff of Life Magazine).  Unfortunately, I did not find him very funny.  My wife, however, loved the stories, which, I must admit, were often touching, particularly coming from the son of the author.  By the way, the audience obviously knew what to expect and just loved him.  He is, as I thought, extremely well known.  He has made 26 albums and his songs have been sung by the likes of Johnny Cash and Bonnie Raitt.  Here in a PR photograph ...

Photo by Ross Halfinn

That might explain my confusion.  At the age of 70 plus he may feel more comfortable not doing a great many songs.  We heard Joan Baez, some months ago, tell the audience that she would not do her songs with the high notes anymore and I remember a point at which Pete Seeger spoke more that sang his songs.  Below is an example of a song without the humor.

I first titled this piece, “That's What Makes Horse Racing” and decided that was too misleading a title.   My wife could well write a rebuttal to my opinion since she felt almost 100% the reverse.  When our son Hunter was still at home he would usually referee these discussions and try to explain it to us by saying things like “For the actor, it's a question of choices”.  Today he is an actor, writer and director.   As I said, that’s what makes Horse Racing” and can add to the enjoyment of art.  Having differences of opinion gets your mind working and can be quite rewarding.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Education of an Art Dealer

By the time I finished my BA at Long Island University I realized I was not cut out to be the lawyer I had wanted to be since my high school French teacher gave me his collection of Perry Mason mysteries. There was an easy way out, a family art dealership, Rosenberg & Stiebel (R&S).  One partner, my father’s brother, had just died; the head partner, my father’s cousin, was on the brink of retiring; and my father had just had a heart attack, for which 50 years ago they put you in the hospital for weeks.  I always liked my father’s gallery, which we always referred “the office” so, at my mother’s urging, I decided to join the firm.

I set out to learn more about art history, even though I had visited many museums with my parents, I went to Columbia University for an MA, where I got the great advice from one of my professors that I could learn more in two months at the family firm than in 2 years at Columbia going for a PhD.

Before that however, I took what today is called a gap year.  During that time I went to England where I took courses at the Courtauld Institute and studied at the Study Center for the Fine and Decorative Arts (1955-75). The courses were mostly taught in the great London museums like the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and The National Gallery.  I also remember the ceramics curator at the Wallace Collection teaching about French porcelain in front of their great collection. French furniture was taught in the Wallace and the V&A. That is how I learn best, from the original pieces. I did miss the architecture section because of schedule but read the course material, and, in the end, managed to pass all the exams. I received a certificate definitely worthy of framing since it was signed by well-known authorities including John Pope-Hennessy, the famed Renaissance Scholar, who was director of the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) at the time.

After London I went to Paris.  I was there to learn the art dealer trade, at least from the French point of view, as well as French 18th century furniture which was one of several fields my family firm concentrated on.  There was a Paris dealer, René Weiller with whom there was always an open account: we bought from him, he bought from us and we gave each other objects on consignment.  He was the ultimate connoisseur and sold to the best dealers in London, Paris and New York and I am proud to say we were his choice for New York.  Of course, we had the advantage that when my uncle lived in Paris in the 20’s he had befriended and dealt with René.  Though my uncle made it to the U.S. during World War II, he went back to Paris and resumed the relationship by 1950. (I remember because my uncle’s 1949 Buick became my parents first car!)

I was basically apprenticed to René Weiller.  My parents were loathe to invite him socially because he lived and breathed French Furniture and objects and did not like to speak of anything else!  In Paris I stayed in his home with his son, Patrick, who became a dealer in Old Master Paintings and later a novelist revolving around the art trade.  When I was there in the 60’s he was finishing up his Baccalaureate.  It was the closest I got to riding a motor cycle because I rode on the back of Patrick’s small motorcycle together with his school books!

René Weiller from Connaissance des Arts
René spent at least 14 hours a day working on his passion.  You could only find him in his office after 7 pm, but he started at 5 AM with his furniture restorers who were working on the pieces he had found, often in the countryside.  René never kept anything for long.  He was happiest when he could buy in the morning and sell it in the evening. I caught him in his car one evening where he was holding a miniature gilt bronze cartel clock, which I bought on the spot and took for my home.

 I remember one piece, a black desk that when the restorer started to clean it, he had a shock.  It was coming out red! René called my father and asked what to do, keep going or cover it up again.  The reply was “Bring it back to its original state”.  It turned out to be the red lacquer desk made for Louis the XV with the royal inventory number underneath.  It is now in the Metropolitan Museum, thanks to Charles and Jayne Wrightsman,

I have always believed in apprentice programs and still believe that one can learn from professionals at least as much as in University.  Of course, art dealing was different then, especially in France.  René once pointed at the Louvre from his car and said to me proudly “I have not set foot in that place for 20 years”.  No dealer would dare say such a thing today!

You can learn the most by seeing art in the original and discussing it and one learns from doing and watching others.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Change of Plans

We were headed for Mexico City in 2 days for a tour of artist, Frida Kahlo's world when we heard that there had been an earthquake south of the city so at first we thought there would be no problem but it soon became clear that our trip would not come to pass.

My wife is a wiz when it comes to travel emergencies and by the next morning she had our son from Los Angeles who was going to join us rerouted to New Mexico.  The idea was to take a short road trip through Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado.

Our first stop was in O'Keeffe County, the town she settled in, Abiquiu.  We stayed at the Abiquiu Inn we knew from our visit to her house some years ago.

Going into the village we discovered a 5 room shop with every kind of artifact you can imagine from around the world on view.  Alas, nothing for us. Most everything else was closed but there was a wedding in the church for a Hispanic couple who were very nattily dressed.  We also drove to the nearby white limestone rock formation that O'Keeffe loved to paint, the Plaza Blanca.  Our son, Hunter took this image of himself and his mother, Penelope at the White Place as O’Keeffe call it.

Photo Credit: Hunter Stiebel

The following day we decided to do something more adventurous and went off on a dirt road for 13 miles, not the thing to do in a BMW sedan even if it has 4-wheel drive!  It went through mountains with hairpin turns but at the end of the road we had our reward.  In a green valley was the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, designed by the famous Japanese-American woodworker and designer, George Nakashima.  It is beautifully snuggled against the rocks with a glass clerestory so you can see the rocks from inside the church .  We entered just as the monks were getting ready to rise, put on their hoods and exit bowing to the altar and tabernacle as they left.  Quite an image that I wished I could have photographed, but here is a photo of the Church.

It was clearly a pilgrimage site for those seeking sanctuary and guidance as well as tourists.  One could even have a room for a few nights. There was a small cemetery with simple wood crosses which seemed so ideal for repose.

Our ultimate goal was Pagosa Springs, Colorado,  and a resort with hot springs.  Our son said our suite at the Springs Hotel was bigger than his apartment in LA:  2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a sitting room and kitchen.  We must have been there off-season because it is not hard to spend the same money on a just  O.K. room in New York.  Here is a photo of the hotel and outside at night.

The next day I walked along the river-bank watching the waters rush by while Hunter and his mother took a mountain hike.  Later, we all went to the Pagosa Springs pools.  There are quite a number and they have different temperatures.  The coolest is 89 degrees, going up beyond 110. Needless to say that one was called "The Lobster Pot"!  For me 103 was plenty.  There was much discussion between the visitors about what the hottest temperature felt like and there were those who were happy with the cooler ones.  It is novel and amazing from Nature's point of view but personally it was not something I would want to do on a regular basis.  The locals, however, could buy monthly passes and did.

What a treat those few days with nature were.