Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Whitney? Met Breuer? Frick Whitney Met Breuer?

I love it when museums cooperate with each other.  It never makes much sense to me when museums in the same town compete with each other in the same areas.  New York is lucky enough not just to have a number of great museums but also some private collections that are now open to the public.  Sometimes these collections are given to museums on condition that they be presented apart from the rest of the museum’s holdings, like the Lehman Wing at the Metropolitan Museum.  Henry Clay Frick and J.P. Morgan, however, left mansions with their collections.  But even mansions run out of space eventually and so it was with the Morgan that expanded onto Madison Avenue and now the Frick Collection.

Morgan Library
Frick Garden Court

Actually, the Frick has wanted to expand under several directors. A 1977 the neighboring mansion was purchased and torn down to create a garden and reception area, and in 2011 the portico was glazed to create an additional gallery.  The current aim is more ambitious and it took a while to come up with a feasible plan that was acceptable to the Frick administration, curators, the Frick’s public, neighborhood and the planning commission of New York City.  One thing that should make all Frick fans very happy is the opening of the rooms upstairs where the Frick family used to live and have since been occupied by administration offices.  The grand staircase behind the organ has always been cordoned off and visitors strained to see what was above but alas that was not possible. What was once Miss Frick’s Boudoir and has been the Director’s Office and will be used to display small scale works from the collection .   There will, of course, be a new gallery space created for special exhibitions.

To every upside, however, there is a downside and the most common one for expansions is that the museum must shut down and remove their collections while construction goes on.  Of course, some museums like the Hispanic Society in New York currently, set up large travelling shows of their masterpieces so that they can get not only publicity around the globe but also some pocket change in the form of fees that they may charge.  The Frick is constrained by the conditions of Henry Clay Frick’s legacy that nothing from his collection can be lent out.

It was recently announced that the Frick Collection, the Whitney Museum and the Metropolitan Museum are all cooperating in giving the Frick space to show their great collections while they are closed.  Maybe, you have already guessed that the solution lay in the one museum space in New York that is in flux,--the 1966 building designed by Marcel Breuer (1902-1981) for the Whitney that was always described as Brutalist architecture.  The Whitney tried for many years with their neighbors and the city to expand their lot but  they failed, and abandoned the Breuer for a much larger space down town on the west side, designed by a contemporary super star and popular museum  architect, Renzo Piano (1937 -).

Whitney Met Frick Breuer?

The Breuer is currently leased to the Metropolitan Museum for contemporary art programming but Max Hollein, the new Director of the Met, believes the museum’s modern and contemporary collections should be included within the main building.  In Frankfurt, Germany where Hollein directed three museums at the same time (The Städel,  a museum for paintings, sculpture and photographs showing a continuum of the last 700 years, the Liebieghaus, a museum of sculpture from Antiquity to Neoclassicism as well as The Schirn Kunsthalle devoted to a  variety of special exhibitions)  Hollein insisted that the contemporary collection stay within the Städel and it was seamlessly done.

In this case the interests of three museums and their directors have coincided.  The Met rids itself of the burden and the expense of another building.  The Whitney continues to have a tenant and the Frick prevents the public from losing access to the fabulous works of art in its collection. 

When I had a gallery I learned that installation and ambiance were everything.  If I put a great three-dimensional work of art in a large room people often did not notice it but, put in a small fabric lined room with proper lighting and it would fly out the door.  Of course, this is true for a restaurant as well which depends on ambience, almost, on an equal plain with their food.  Just think what happens when you take a collection out of a mansion and put it in a modern building suddenly the old ambiance is gone and replaced  by a modern box. The works of art will either be lost or speak clearly without assistance from their setting.  I believe that when you have a great collection like the Frick’s individual works will stand the test  I am sure long-time visitors to the Frick will suddenly make “discoveries” within the collection that they never noticed before.  Of course, it will be a relief when they come home again  to the refurbished mansion.

Ian Wardropper, the Frick Director and formerly a curator at the Met, has been a good friend over our professional careers, so I asked him what he thought of this possibility.  In his own words, “It presents an ideal solution for the period when the Frick will have to close its 70th Street building … This allows us to display a substantial portion of our art collection and store the rest of it under one roof; continue education programs and library service; provide office space for a significant number of our staff; and maintain the connection with our visitors and members; all within five blocks of our site.” 

How often do you find a solution that makes everybody happy?

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Hidden Treasures – The Carl & Marilyn Thoma Foundation

When I asked my wife just over 20 years ago which part of the Southwest  we should buy a home in … not thinking of moving permanently,  she unhesitatingly said, “Santa Fe, its an arts town!”  Little did we know that our many visits here had only scratched the surface.  There are roughly, 80,000 residents in the “City Different” and 150,000 in Santa Fe County. The town has four State owned museums and four private ones plus two kunsthalles presenting contemporary work.  Many have heard about the galleries here but then there are also interesting art spaces worth seeing.   The Ralph T. Coe Center for the Arts which I have written about qualifies as one.  The other day we “discovered” another.

Of course, we did not “discover” it as we had often heard of the Thoma Foundation. We knew it was contemporary art which we have mixed reactions to, so it was not at the top of our priority list.  We recently decided we were finally going to go, a whole 7 minute drive from our home.  It is in a small historic house on Delgado Street which has a number of galleries leading up to the famous Canyon Road, the art street of town.

The Carl and Marilyn Thoma Art Foundation is active both in the couple’s home town of, Chicago  and Santa Fe, where they also have a house.  Carl is a venture capitalist and Marilyn started out at Quaker Oats becoming marketing manager and then moving on to do marketing for  communications companies.  They started the Foundation in 2014.

The Thoma’s main collections are in Chicago, but they keep their collection of Digital Art in Santa Fe and it gets rotated in their exhibition space here.  When I heard digital art I wanted to run but visiting the Foundation I was quickly drawn in by some of the works.  I will admit upfront that some of the pieces and their labels made me equally dizzy but then others pieces were intriguing, so much so that one might feel comfortable living with them long term.  These are not action images by any means, but rather slow moving contemplative ones.  Some concepts are explained in labels in art-speak, a language I never learned.

A work in the first exhibition room reminds me of a traditional weaving.  It is a cotton tapestry by Laura Splan (b. Memphis, 1973)  woven on a computerized jacquard loom. It is called appropriately, “Squint” (2016). Of course, I interpreted it quite differently from the label which says in part, “The Squint tapestry is the result of the artist conducting a biometric reading of the electrical activity of the muscles surrounding her eyes (orbicularis Oculi) as she squinted….”  This is just the easier part of the procedure to understand! I do see that if you understand science and have the right equipment you can do this, but it seems a long way from where I have always believed art comes from.  Obviously, I have lots to learn!

Some digital images turn out to be calming and quiet such as Daniel Canogar’s (Madrid, Spain 1964 -  ) “Gust”.  It is a digital sculpture with flexible LED lights, custom software and the internet. It uses real-time wind data in Santa Fe to generate a live, responsive light animation.

The piece I most related to is by the well-known theater director and designer, Robert Wilson, (Waco, Texas, 1941 - ).  To my astonishment and pleasure he picked a neo-classical theme.  His model is Lady Gaga and his guide is the artist, Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres who painted the portrait of Madmoiselle Caroline Rivière in 1806 which hangs in the Musée du Louvre.  Wilson’s portrait Lady Gaga: Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière”, 2013, is created in high-definition video on plasma monitor with music by Michael Galasso.  It is extremely slow moving.  Here is an image of Lady Gaga with eyes open and then a video where if you look carefully a bird flies across the sky.

Wilson’s work is hung beside an 18th portrait of a woman by Andrés Solano (Carribean, active (1732-1789) from the Thoma’s Spanish Colonial collection. It makes a conscious and interesting and maybe, even shocking, juxtaposition.

On the opposite wall an interactive video by Daniel Rozin (Jerusalem, 1961 - ) shows the two portraits and you, the viewers, who materialize and disappear while the portraits remain. It is called “Selfish Gene Mirror” (2015) it is done with custom software, webcam, computer and monitor.  Quoting the label “In Selfish Gene Mirror, the artist’s customized “Darwinian Algorithm” creates a didital gene pool in which lines of approximately ten pixels behave like competing genes.  Of the 10,000 or so pixel groupings, only half will survive this competition to replicate and blossom into the viewers image.” Mr. Rozin is stated to be working from a 1976 book “The Selfish Gene” by a philosopher, Richard Dawking,  but we don’t have to know that to enjoy the piece.

It often takes a while to accept a new form of art. We all like what we know and are used to, but when push comes, sometimes, to shove (by my wife or a friend) I may find that my prejudices are ill-founded and I actually enjoy it.  Who knows, maybe I will return to the Thoma Foundation in order to understand what I saw better than on my first exposure.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Trip to Albuquerque

My parents went to their country club every weekend most of the year to play golf and it took 45 minutes to an hour.  Yet a trip from Santa Fe to Albuquerque which takes a similar time seems to be a far rarer occurrence for us.

Last weekend, however, we joined a group called “Conexiones” started by the Spanish Colonial Society in Santa Fe to make the journey.  Joseph Diaz, director and Jana Gotshalk, curator were with us.

Our first stop was actually to old friends of ours Judy and Ray Dewey.  They used to live in Santa Fe and Ray was a dealer here, one of the most honest dealers I ever met.  We became good friends and for that matter clients as well.  Even though he kept repeating that they had sold and given away so much in the last years it was still a collector’s dream to walk around the rooms ogling the collection.  Though we were told nothing was for sale… you never know! People in our group even made discoveries of objects they did not seem significant enough to show but were true treasures even if not worth great amounts.  Judy and Ray enjoy talking about the chase and the capture of works that they had been looking at in other collections for long periods of time.  This is, of course, a time honored theme for collectors.  Here is a sample of the many fields that the Deweys are interested in including their most recent in modern Mexican painting.

From there we went on to a well known restaurant in that area, El Pinto, which was a huge place with several patios and rooms.  The food was good southwest though like on many group trips the service was exceedingly slow meaning we spent more time for one course at the restaurant as we did at the collectors’ house!

Our final stop was at the gallery of Martha Egan in Corrales, also a suburb of Albuquerque.  Her card says she is with the Department of Cultural Affairs for the State of New Mexico as a “Research Associate” at the Museum of International Folk Art.  Marth was well known by many because she had had a gallery in Santa Fe called, Pachamama, named after a goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes.

Martha talked about collecting, a disease that most of her audience suffer from!   She had restored an 18th century building and put back the Vineyard that had originally been there, quite a beautiful spot.  There was a main room and a number of smaller ones; everyone enjoyed poking their heads inside to see how the objects fit into the realm of Spanish Colonial Art.

One of the pleasures of these trips is to meet new people and sometimes you even find you have interesting tangential connections with them.  I was chatting with one lady who was very well versed in Spanish Colonial art and her son worked on a news desk for Fox news… I told her I would forgive her that.  I was happy to hear he dealt with less inflammatory news than we sometimes here!

I don’t know about you, but I find that whenever I do something that I rarely do I am doomed to do it again in very short order.  So, 2 days later, sure enough, we were back to Albuquerque.  Medicine in this part of the world is not what it is in the big cities back East.  Sometimes finding the right doctor means driving a bit.  We had planned it out and after the doctor we were headed for the art museum to see an exhibition of New Mexico Jewelry.  We just forgot one thing.  The Museum is closed on Mondays! 

We went then to the Science Museum where they had a summer show on the scientific models of Leonardo da Vinci’s scientific instruments.  Only problem was that exhibit had closed the week before!  We contented ourselves with looking at the permanent dinosaur exhibition.  My wife who had to help our son when he was in second grade with his science project on dinosaurs took far more interest than I did though this 2-story model was impressive.

Our final stop on this journey was lunch where we were invited by Emily Blaugrund Fox.  Emily is the President of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.  I was fascinated by the name Blaugrund because it is a German word and means blue ground.  What was the derivation of that name I wondered.  Maybe, a painter?  Who knows?  You learn something every day and I found out that all the Blaugrund’s are related and there are some all over the country … who knew.

The Albuquerque Museum is opening a major exhibition in early November of Treasures from the Hispanic Society in New York.  The latter is something of hidden treasure there, as well, since it is on West Broadway taking up the block between 155th and 156th Street.  I will leave the details for when the show comes to town but suffice it to say that while the Hispanic Society Museum is closed for major renovations they have created an incredible loan exhibition which showed at the Prado Museum in Madrid and will come to Albuquerque possibly being it only U.S. venue.  That should bring a few of our friends to town!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

John Sidney McCain III (1936-2018)

I was going to write about an exhibition that is coming soon to New York. I looked at my list of possible Missives and had a number of ideas, but I could not get the weekend of John McCain’s funeral out of my head.  I then wondered if a septuagenarian like me who has been to the left of … (there does not seem to be an opposite of “to the right of Atilla the Hun” so let’s say my German Jewish Parents) had a right to speak of a very conservative Senator who had served his country for 60 years.  Finally, after seeing his televised funeral service I realized though I had never met Senator McCain he would have told me to go ahead and write what I believed in.

I did, however, put a toe in the water first and wrote the following on Facebook, “What's on Your Mind?” (a question that pops up whenever signing onto Facebook) How can anything other than the funeral of John McCain be on our minds. I fervently hope that anyone who reads this and has young children tells them of John McCain, one of the too few who treated all people equally. I probably agreed with McCain hardly at all on political and social issues, yet he was always ready to listen, something that seems totally lost in our new political age. Politicians on both sides have only one interest which is to oppose anything and everything that the other side says. I am sure that ‘Mr. Smith’ would have no interest in going to Washington today. It is no longer a swamp but a stink hole with no principles. Never forget that John McCain was willing to walk across the aisle.”  With this posting I had more positive reactions on line, from more friends and strangers, than ever before!

I remember being most impressed when McCain crossed that aisle to work with his political opposite, Senator Hillary Clinton, of New York.  I did not realize that they genuinely liked each other and once even exchanged vodka shots on an official trip!

We have heard often the stories, particularly in recent weeks. of his failures and his errors, not only from the left but also from the right.  So why was John McCain considered a hero.  After all, as the current president once pointed out, cruelly, that he was not a hero because he was captured and a prisoner of war.  Personally, I can think of nothing worse that could happen to a person.  He was held and tortured for five years in a Vietnamese Prison camp. When he was offered the chance to get out because he was the son of an Admiral,  he refused to leave  without his team that went down in the plane with him.  He must have known he was going back to prison to have even worse torture inflicted on him, but he was an honorable man.

 He also lost in two runs for the presidency, first in the 2000 primaries against  George W. Bush, and then against Barack Obama in 2008.  For reasons I will never understand, some sort of death wish, he chose Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential running mate.  Yet, after losing, he did not stomp off and do everything he could to undermine his opponents, but exited gracefully and continued the good fight for what he believed in. We learned listening to Obama’s eulogy at McCain’s funeral that they would get together from time to time in the Oval Office, with no one else around, to discuss family as well as policy.  They could even laugh together.  We have no information on exactly what they discussed but I believe when people get together with no agenda they inevitably influence each other.  If we do not know what the other is thinking how can we come to a successful agreement.

In the now famous anonymous editorial by a high ranking member of the administration in the New York Times regarding the inner workings of the White House he/she sums up my thoughts extremely well. The author, who may have been identified by the time this goes on line, writes, “Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation.”

Sunday, September 2, 2018

A Catered Affair

Some years ago, I wrote a Missive about a chocolate party and was chastised by an art dealer friend that this was not about art.  Maybe, because I am both a gourmet and a gourmand I begged to disagree.  Once upon a time I cooked regularly and in my library was “The Art of French Cooking”, the book by the iconic chef, Julia Child.  Of course, today you can find pages on line about the art of cooking.  Chefs, very much like all artists, try many experiments with food adding and subtracting ingredients until they find the formula that works the best.

To create a good dinner party you need to mix the food with the right ingredients to make it a success and the most important ingredient is the guests who need to be able to discover common interests.  To state the obvious, you might not wish to invite people who speak about sports all the times and others who are only interested in opera and classical music.

Usually We have dinner parties with another couple or two where my wife grills on our barbeque and I assist with setup and service.  It is probably the best way to entertain friends and people you want to get to know better.  The problem is, when one of us is up working on dinner we miss out on conversation.  Of course, if you have only one other couple inevitably they will be up trying to help which is not ideal either.   If there are two other couples at least they can speak with each other while we are up and about.

Recently, we decided that we had a guest from out of town and we wanted him to meet several people. We are limited by our table size which seats a maximum of 8 but still that is a lot of people to serve at a sit down dinner.  Mind you we have had close to 100 friends in the house, but they were grazing and it was most definitely buffet style.

In this country and abroad I have been served by staff but that is rare among our friends here.  We had catered meals when we lived on Park Avenue in New York but that was de facto formal and usually clients were involved.  In Santa Fe everything is much less formal.  Our caterer for the few formal meals we did in New York was actually the chef and owner of an excellent local French restaurant a block away from us.  We learned later that she hit one of our guests for a loan that she never repaid!

Santa Fe has several caterers. There is, of course, the one that “everyone uses”, but then you might find that you are serving the same meal people have recently had elsewhere.

We had learned that a local not for profit which I have mentioned before, Youth Works, had a culinary arts training component.  Chef Carmen Rodriguez, who was chef at a major restaurant in town and a former New Mexico Chef of the Year, with his wife Penny, started their own catering company and kitchen.  Youth Works was looking for a kitchen and so the Rodriguezes began a program training young folk on the art of cooking and serving.

Chef Carmen Rodriguez and his wife Penny far right

We had sampled their handiwork both at a luncheon the Mayor gave and at  a party at the Spanish Colonial museum. Everyone said that they were easy and pleasant to work with. So we figured if we could do a good dinner party that was both of a formal nature with full service and have pleasant people to work and help out and with a “not for profit”, to boot, it was definitely a win, win situation!

We were not disappointed.  It could not have worked out better.   Our guests, who actually all arrived on time, seemed to enjoy each other’s company and the dinner flowed along as if it was no work at all.  Chef Carmen and Penny brought two students along teaching them as they went how to prepare the meal, set a table and serve.  The guests saw none of this, even though we have an open kitchen/dining room set up so everyone was visible to all.

Chef Carmen choreographed the meal in what he terms “Global Latin” cuisine and acted as Master of Ceremonies as well.  Before the first course was served he told the guests briefly about Youth Work and their role there.  He then explained each course as it was being served speaking of the natural foods and the farm in Santa Fe that their supplies come from.  The Chef’s use of Tequila as an ingredient seemed to particularly interest our guests and they acted disappointed when they learned that they would neither get high nor actually taste the tequila.  Before the meal Chef Carmen had told me a secret that, while for sipping one bought the best tequila one could afford, as a cooking tool one should find the cheapest available.

By now you might be thinking what about the cost of this extravagance?  We figured it out later and realized that while this methodology of having guests was not inexpensive it was still less than if we had taken all out to dinner in a restaurant.