Sunday, July 29, 2018

Tony Price: Atomic Art

As promised last week I wanted to continue about the artist Tony Price (1937-2000).  During what has become known as “The Atomic Summer” in Santa Fe, The Friends of Tony Price have put on an exhibition with about one third of the 150 works which were still in the artist’s studio after his death.  The Friends formed a Not for Profit with the goal of realizing Price’s dream of having a space in Santa Fe devoted to his work.  He was an activist against Nuclear Power and felt that was what his work was all about.

Tony Price, note the glasses

Not a great deal has been written about Tony Price and not all of it is consistent, so this Missive is put together from interviews, articles and a catalogue for the exhibition “Tony Price Atomic Art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe in 2004. The artist is quoted in the catalog as saying, “The nuclear sculptures shaped into our American Indian Kachina masks – the spiritual energy images – plug into the vast amounts of native Indian energy lying stored up in the Americas for centuries.”  Here is the piece Price named "Nuclear Hathor".

After the show here it went on to the United Nations in 2005. From an article in a web based publication,, “NEW YORK.- An exhibition of 19 sculptures by Tony Price (1937-2000), created from nuclear weapons salvage, will be on display at the United Nations through June 9th in the South Gallery of the General Assembly Visitors’ Lobby…There is wit as well as prophecy in Price’s vision, and he uses irony as a way of slipping past our guard … (it) is being presented in conjunction with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference and the 60th anniversary of the UN.”

 Price was born and grew up in Brooklyn and Pelham, New York.  In spite of his father being a stock broker he was drawn to the arts and started by selling painted kites on the streets of Greenwich Village.  He was for a time in the Marines and when he got discharged in 1960 started to travel.  According to the President of The Friends of Tony Price, James Hart, Price wanted to go to Europe so he hopped a freighter where he found welding tools and scrap metal. He started to create huge sculptures on the deck. When he finished one the deck hands would get together and have a party ending by hoisting the sculpture up on a crane and tossing it over board.

Returning to the States, Price first went back to Greenwich village and the Counter Culture scene there, and then on to the Haight Asbury district in San Francisco.  At some point, probably during what became known as “The Summer of Love” in 1967, Haight Asbury became a dangerous place with drugs such as Crystal Meth taking hold so he moved, as did other artists, to New Mexico.

By 1968 he found himself in Santa Fe, actually it was a small bedroom community 20 miles north of Santa Fe called El Rancho. It was also less than 15 miles from Los Alamos.  Here he found the Zia Salvage Yard where he could pick up metal that the Los Alamos National Laboratory was discarding from its nuclear programs.  It was not just from bombs but the machine parts that were used.  Another attractive element was that he could buy the materials at the going price for scrap metal. He must have stock piled quite a bit because he continued to make what he called his “atomic sculpture” into the 1990’s though the Lab had subcontracted the disposal of the scrap and were no longer disposing of the kind of metal Price was looking for.

We originally were attracted to Price’s work by a sculpture in the New Mexico Museum of Art here in Santa Fe.  It is titled, “Hopi Nuclear Maiden”.  We did not need to read the label to know that it related to the Hopi art we were collecting.

I was impressed by another very large mixed-media sculpture I saw in the permanent collection of the Albuquerque Museum called “Atomic Thunderbird”, 1994.  One does not forget these pieces but as we know much art remains regional. I have never seen works by Price elsewhere, though we know he sold pieces to his friends and neighbors.  Like many artists the creating of the art was all important to Price, and selling it was only to subsidize his habit of creating more art.

We are now lucky to have an exhibition at the Phil Space Art Gallery on Second Street in Santa Fe (Monday to Friday 12:00-5:00).  James Hart is also the proprietor.  He sees himself as the bridge between The Friends of Tony Price and the current generation, since the original group are all the age that Price would be today.  As said before Price always wanted to have a permanent space in Santa Fe where his work could be seen and that is the goal of the Friends.  Price’s three children were quite young when he died and, though they have now dispersed, they agreed to follow through with their father’s wish.  Here is a short video clip of the Atomic Sculpture exhibit at the gallery.

I have to thank James Hart President helping me to get a more complete picture of the artist. Hart would very much like to find out what other material is out there. If anyone reading this would know of works by Tony Price in private collections I would be pleased to forward the information.  The creation of a catalog raisonné would prove a great asset In gaining the recognition I believe this artist deserves.

NOTE BENE:  Last week I said that the government gave no funds to the Los Alamos National Laboratory for clean-up of nuclear waste and have been corrected.  I understand that about 10 % of the funds given to the lab are given to a separate entity for such clean-up.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Dr. Atomic

The opera Dr. Atomic, with music by John Adams libretto by Peter Sellars, was first produced at the San Francisco Opera in 2005.  There has been a whole lot of hype as it has come to New Mexico, home of the atom bomb,  in a new production staged by Sellars for the Santa Fe Opera. 

I was seduced by this, knowing full well that contemporary music has often been difficult for me, but my wife reminded me that I had enjoyed Nixon in China by the same team. So we got tickets.  Little was I prepared for the assault that was awaiting me.  The set is simple, a silver ball hanging mid stage.  As it reflected the lights shone on it  I  was reminded of a disco night club. ,Of course, it symbolized the core of the atom bomb that hung on the tower at the Trinity site in the desert of New Mexico where the first test took place.  Here is the image of the set and a link to part of the overture.  You can let me know what you think.

“The Manhattan Project”, was a military operation headed by General Leslie Groves with a team of scientists under the direction of the American theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer.  They displaced a small boys’ school to build in the utmost secrecy what became known, in the post war era, as the Los Alamos National Laboratory. To accentuate the previous statement about secrecy, wives of the scientists and all the support workers brought to the new makeshift community could not know what was going on, other than it was a top-secret government project.

In the 1930’s Oppenheimer professed his very leftwing views and was never totally trusted by the government.  In later years he said that he did not feel guilty about creating the bomb just the use of it!  In his defense, of course, was the fact that the Allies knew the Germans had already discovered how to split the atom in 1938 and were sure were also working on creating an atom bomb. The Manhattan Project continued, however, after the German surrender. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought an end the waning war with Japan. The timing was significant since because Truman was going to have a summit meeting with Stalin… effectively inaugurating the Cold War with “see what we can do”!

The Real J. Robert Oppenheimer

The hype here has been more about the story of Los Alamos, Oppenheimer and the atomic age than it has been about the opera.  We saw a showing of “Wonders are Many”, a documentary about  the making of Dr. Atomic and its first performance in San Francisco. The original production was set in the historic moment and it made a lot more sense. In San Francisco the bomb was realistic with all its actual surface paraphernalia: not abstract, representing the broader idea of nuclear weaponry. The setting was literal and did not depend on the mountains and lights of Los Alamos that you could see in the distance beyond the open stage, an effect which was admittedly awesome.

Also, the orchestration here seemed to depend a lot more on the percussion, which probably had much to do with poor miking since the greater number of strings in San Francisco seemed to lend themselves to a more peaceful effect. The horror of the atomic bomb was quite tense enough.  Trying to sing over the orchestra was a chore some of the singers were not up to, again poor miking, leading to what I heard as screeching.

One of the star singers in San Francisco said, “I had to be counting all the time.  You don’t need to count for Mozart.”  That summed up the music for me.

There were protests in town which I thought at first were about the opera which is plenty dark and does not at all romanticize the “Manhattan Project.  Rather the justifiable resentment was aimed at the official tourism campaign that promoted this summer as the “Atomic Summer” in Santa Fe.

Why are passions high?  They center around a group I was not acquainted with before, known as “the downwinders”. These are the people who are still affected by the radiation spread by the atomic tests.  Today the Lab continues to work on weapons of mass destruction since the government will only give funds for that purpose and none for environmental cleanup of atomic waste!  Maybe Santa Fe’s “Atomic Summer” is not all bad if attention is called to the fact that these issues still exist after almost 80 years.

Needless to say, with the eight pueblos in the neighborhood they are a very significant group of down winders.  To relate the opera more to the locale as an introduction to the opera members of the Santa Clara, San Ildefonso and Tesuque tribes danced together for the first time ever in an abbreviated version of the corn dance.  Indian dances are not known for their melodies, but this seemed far more melodious to me than the score of the opera!

In life there is often a plus side to every negative situation and one of the plusses of the “Atomic Summer” is an exhibition put on by the Friends of Tony Price, an artist who moved here from New York in 1968.  At the time the Los Alamos lab sold surplus and the artist could go in and buy copper and steel at the going price of scrap metal.  He made some wonderful sculptures out of this discarded material.  More about him next week.

Mercury Communication God by Tony Price)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Return

As I am re-acclimatizing to Santa Fe life and the art world in general I want to mention some thoughts of returning home.  Many of us travel and it is the one case where you can go home again!  Some travel to the other side of the world, others cross a continent and some just drive an hour from the beach.  In all cases it requires some adjustment.

Our trip home from Hawaii was, in travel time, just about 10 hours but it was a red eye which is not pleasant for anyone.  There is, of course, the need for an early arrival at the airport which in Kauai was quite unpleasant.  There are separate inspections for security and two more for agriculture.  Since we were flying to the mainland we were told to be at the airport 2 hours ahead of the 10:00 p.m. flight.  The airport was stifling with no air-conditioning or fans, and, as this is a family vacation spot, there were overtired, screaming children. There was no notice of our flight as other flights appeared on the board. Suddenly a loud speaker announcement came that our flight was at the other end of the terminal and we rushed to arrive at a mob of people with no organization what so ever.  Of course, there is the layover time between the two flights needed for our journey.  Since we had been up for 14 hours before the flight by the time we were done we had been up for 29 hours.

Scene at Lihue Airport in Kauai

A short nap was required on arrival home.  Because you need to readjust to local time, you cannot sleep too long.  The following day, having slept all night and then some, there is a good chance that re-adjustment will remain elusive as it did for me.

As you begin to retrieve your “land legs” you start to focus and find, in direct correlation to how long you have been away, a small or large mountain of mail. It gets somewhat reduced by the number of catalogs and solicitations you discard.  Business mail isn’t overwhelming since that comes by email these days but there are always bills to pay and matters that need straightening out such as a lost credit card and incorrect charges to be rectified.  Then there are appointments to be made that you may have thought about for 10 days but were not going to make on your holiday, and emails that may or may not have been read but not acted upon … which reminds me …

As I am writing this I see an email from an old friend referring to my second Hawaii Missive.  He writes, “You say you went back to reality?  That was unwise.  How long before you can get out of there and back to Santa Fe?”   I received another email that said, “Santa Fe must seem dry and dull after Kauai!”.  

Let me try to reply to both at the same time We have been having quite a bit of rain since our return breaking Santa Fe’s awful drought.  As for being dull, we live in such an arts mecca, --it is never dull!  A few days after we returned from our trip we went to the fabulous outdoor Santa Fe Opera where we saw Leonard Bernstein’s, “Candide”.  I won’t try to give a revue but let me say I quite disagreed with the local critic who panned both the opera and Mr. Bernstein who had written some very melodious music.  We seem to want our opera to be heavy and serious, with music difficult to hum.  This, on the contrary,  was the definition of a comic opera with wonderful singers.

Alek Shrader and Brenda Rae in Candide at Santa Fe Opera.
Photo by Ken Howard

The following day our new mayor, Alan Webber, who has taken both praise and abuse in our local paper, invited us to a pot luck garden party he gave as a thank you for all those who had worked on his campaign.  Penelope had made phone calls, canvassed and carried a poster at the gates of a polling place on election day and I had arranged a meet and greet for the prospective mayor.  There must have been around a hundred people who had all contributed to the Mayor’s success.  The pot luck food was wonderful with people binging fried chicken, roast beef, turkey, meat balls, corn muffins and a myriad of salads.  Additional catering was done by Youth Works, a local not-for-profit that helps younger folk who are trying for their GED’s with academic coaching and vocational training. An award-winning chef known as Chef Carmen and his wife Penny Rodriguez, who had owned their own catering company, head the Youth Works catering program.   So, with the latter as guides the young people baked delicious deserts and acted as wait staff for the mayor’s event.  They also participated in the car shuttle to and from a nearby church to his home.

Mayor Alan Webber on the right

Everyone had opportunities for their one on one with “His Honor” and he gave a brief speech, jokingly taking credit for the recent rains.  Needless to say, after he was finished the heavens opened and there was a wonderful downpour!  As an added bonus we were all urged to take home left overs, so further samples from the buffet rounded out our dinner.

In reply again, to my first emailer, we have re-found Santa Fe!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Dream Realized (Part Two)

I cannot explain the foreignness of the island of Kauai. We are staying in a condo on a resort property but  those who do not come from the mainland and are native, who can trace their Hawaiian heritage back speak English fluently but with a heavy accent. Besides the official Hawaiian Polynesian language, there is the widely spoken Pidgin, a  patois mixing the Portuguese, Japanese and Chinese of laborers brought in to work the sugar plantations.  On tours we were always given the Hawaiian names but  I couldn’t spell them and you probably could not pronounce them!     The clouds and rain and jungle surroundings are certainly a far cry from the arid climate of New Mexico.  Kauai’s average yearly rainfall is 400 inches while in Santa Fe it is just over 14 inches!  Then there are sights that I would say were uncommon anywhere: where else would you see two men chasing a pig down a main road and then leaping after it into the jungle? That was what we saw on one of our car journeys around the island.

This is definitely an outdoor paradise. The beaches are the main attraction but they are still not crowded. The resorts, of course, have multiple pools. In the water there is no end to the sports you can do. Kayaking seems to be at the top of most peoples’ list after swimming. Of course, there is great hiking through the rain forest, though it can get rather muddy. The ground is so fertile that golf courses abound, and they do not appear to be crowded either.

Being more the passive sort and not participating in the hiking, the kayaking and zip lining that our son and his fiancée, and even Penelope did, I was looking forward to the helicopter tour around the island.  I have been in a private helicopter before going from Manhattan to the estate of a client on Long Island … this was slightly different!  We had opted for the helicopter with no doors since the four of us would not have to share our adventure with anyone else.  We were given life preservers because part of the flight was over water and earphones, so we could hear the pilot’s tour over the gale force winds that occur when you are flying with no doors or windows.  We were securely buckled into our seats, but I still felt I was slipping off the seat which had no give to it.  I thought it might just be me but we all felt the need to hold on sometimes with both hands!  Our pilot also enjoyed heading directly for the mountain and then going up at a precipitous angle to give us an extra thrill, which was totally unnecessary!  The big plus to this adventure was the incredible views we had.  I have never seen a rainbow beneath me.  Clouds yes, in the alps, but not a rainbow over the water and beach.  We saw the mountains literally inside and out as we flew into the the canyons and volcano crater and out again.  We were not surprised to learn that a James Bond movie was filmed in Hawaii but on another Island.  However, Pierce Brosnan, a former James Bond, has a home here.  Lots of major films have been done on the island such as Jurassic World, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and South Pacific.  In fact, if you want you can take a tour of the Kauai movie sites.

Another highlight for me was a short river cruise on the Wailua river with the goal of seeing the famous Fern Grotto It is a naturally-formed lava cave at the base of Mauna Kapu, (forbidden mountain), named for the ferns that grow down from the the grotto walls. It has become known as a wedding location and thousands of couples have decided to get married here.

Returning down river the captain gave us some history of where we were while outbound we had entertainment of song and dance by a talented native family.  Here are three snippets of song and dance.

No visit to Hawaii would be complete without a rum tasting since Mai Tai’s and Pina Coladas are l Hawaii’s signature drinks and are served everywhere.  I used to love rum but now my palate has become more atuned to  tequila! Before lunch at Gaylords, a former sugar cane plantation, we went to their rum tasting. The Koloa rum that that is actually made right there, we all agreed was the best on the Island. We learned about the sweet and drier rums and why the former should just float on top of the latter for a proper Mai Tai.  It  The tasting ended with a coffee rum which would be fabulous over ice cream as a desert for company!

All good things must come to an end and so it did for us with a red-eye flight back to reality.

Hunter Saying Goodbye to the Sea

The Sunset

Sunday, July 1, 2018

A Dream Realized (Part One)

My business always took me to Europe, so, vacations were usually in Switzerland which I loved, and I was not much of a beach person… too much sand!  Things changed when we had children and they had an institution called spring vacation.  Then we started to explore the Caribbean. After the kids grew up because of my wife’s work and mine we rarely took this kind of vacation.

I had always heard of people going to Hawaii for holiday but from New York it seemed terribly far away while the Caribbean was a relatively short trip.  Then when we started to live in the Southwest and it seemed everyone and their neighbor had been to Hawaii. Now, at the age of 73 my wife and son, Hunter, planned a “surprise“ trip for me and Hunter’s fiancée, Mallory, to the island of Kauai. 

Truth be known, I wasn’t even sure exactly where Hawaii was, other than somewhere in the South Pacific. So, a few days before we left I looked at the globe in my office and it sank in that actually it is in the Central Pacific. Geographically it has nothing to do with the United States but it was made a U.S. territory in 1898.  A referendum in 1959, where more that 93% of the voters opted for statehood, and it became the 50th state. The huge book by James Michener called “Hawaii” (that I am listening to on my I-phone) was published in that year.

There are 8 or 9 islands that make up Hawaii, depending who is counting since one of them seems to be extremely small.  Volcanic activity created the islands and the minerals in the lava and ash combine with a wet climate make a lush paradise.  We are not staying on the main island, where the volcano has been erupting recently, but on Kauai, where they actually had almost 50 inches of rain in a single 24-hour period this past April.  Yes, you read correctly, truly incredible and parts of the island are still closed for repairs.  There is so much jungle all around us we are aware that the habitable parts of the island have been carved out of the rain forest.

Though I know there are others, the only wild animals we have seen so far are fowl.  Roosters, hens and a Hawaiian goose, an endangered species known locally as the Nene Goose.

With so many beaches this is obviously a children’s paradise.  Never seen so many little ones running around the many condominiums rented out to house them!  Our accommodations have a picture postcard view of Hanalei Bay.

I am sure no trip to Hawaii would be complete without a Luau so we booked one.  We did not have a great deal of hope for one that billed itself as, “We Put the Wow in Luau” but miraculously it lived up to that.  When our bus arrived we were greeted by a Hawaiian drummer.

There was a huge edifice which was built like an open tent seating over a thousand people at a great many tables.  Before we sat down we visited a small craft fair outside where I bought a great souvenir, a fountain pen made of Koa wood, unique in the mountains of Hawaii.

Then there was a hula demonstration and lesson for the younger folk and others!  During the meal of pulled pork and all the fixings various dances were performed by the professionals. After pork and all the plates were cleared, we were treated to a one-hour production on the early history of Hawaii, told mainly through dance.  It was extremely well produced and performed by a company made up entirely of native Hawaiians.  Naturally the most impressive fire dancers were left for the grand finale!

We have only been here three days including our arrival day.  There is definitely another Missive left in this trip. ‘Till next week….