Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Fifi White Collection

I came to the Fifi White Collection of Ancient Peruvian Textiles by a long route. I was on the internet early on.  My company website was first set up in 1996 but I was on the dial-up web years before that.  I remember in the early 1990’s joining CompuServe’s Art Forum.  The first time someone wrote to me I did not even know how to respond until I was told you have to hit “Return” as the old electric typewriters used to say.  These days on the computer the same key says enter which is clearer!  The art forum used real names and shared real information about art and I even remember when we had our once a week “live meeting” with time zones from China to Alaska all up at the same time.

I made a point of meeting CompuServe friends when I travelled, so on one of our early visits to Santa Fe I looked up an Art Forum participant, a dealer by the name of William Siegal, aka Bill or Billy, who specialized in Aymara Bolivian and Peruvian textiles.  He lived out of town and in his spacious and beautiful home he started pulling out these breathtaking Bolivian Aymara creations.  Eventually we had a home here and Billy had a gallery that I would visit from time to time.  

If you have read my missives you know by now that we have collected in a number of fields but due to disposable income and space one has to draw the line somewhere,  so I admired but never bought one of his textiles.

At his gallery I would see textiles that looked just like the Abstract Expressionist paintings.  I often asked Billy if he would do a show of textiles with visually comparable paintings, but he did not wish to go in that direction. However, the Fifi White collection that he has recently acquired was put together with an eye to the similarities of examples of weavings from Peru to 20th century modernist paintings.

Fifi White was already a serious textile collector when she teamed up in the late 70’s with Elizabeth Wilson, an art historian and wife of Marc Wilson, the Orientalist and Director of the Nelson Gallery in Kansas City. Together Fifi and Elizabeth launched a designer clothing line using Japanese fabrics. Women from all over came to assemble wardrobes from their unique garments!  They called their company, “Asiatica” Here is a photo of Fifi and Elizabeth on their annual buying trip to Japan.

With her increasing focus on Japan, White’s Peruvian material was shown in 2005 in an exhibition at the Johnson County Community College Gallery in Overland Park, Kansas nand was sold soon after.  It then went into storage for the next 14 years.  Billy has been after it ever since.  When I asked him, what was so special about this collection he said that each of the works was either unique or the best in its category.

Naturally, after that back story you want to see what I am talking about and here are a few samples from the collection at the Siegal Gallery. Let’s start with what I heard Billy describe as his “Mark Rothko”.  It is a Tunic from the Nasca (or Nazca) Culture that flourished from c. 100 BC to 800 AD beside the arid, southern coast of Peru.

This ceremonial cloth also from the Nasca Culture reminds me of a painter’s palette.  I have always found palettes somewhat satisfying and sensuous when the paint is thick on the palette.  Here the daubs of color seem more like a watercolor chart.

This large stepped tunic from the same culture Billy referred to as an Art Deco design, but according to an expert in that field, the stepped diagonals are just small part of Art Deco. This piece reminded her more of Mayan and Aztec architecture and archeological Southwest pottery designs.  What fun to have an art form that you can see every day in a different light.

My final example, as usual is a favorite of mine, if only I had the room… a mantle from the Paracas Culture on the South Coast of Peru 500 - 100 BC using shellfish dye on cotton 48 x 58 Inches.  This reminds me of cave painting or petroglyphs, also from prehistoric times.

If you like an exhibition where your imagination can run wild in a very satisfying manner get over to the William Siegal Gallery, 318 South Guadalupe Street in Santa Fe, New Mexico. What has not been sold you might be able to acquire and enjoy at home!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Mayor Pete

I read Elizabeth Warren’s book and that of Pete Buttigieg and even though they are both worth reading the latter is the better written, softer in tone and easier to digest.

When I heard that Mayor Pete was going to be in Santa Fe, I decided to do something I don’t believe I have ever done before:  I signed us up for his local fund raiser.  I did not pay enough to have the privilege of having a photo with Mayor Pete but just enough to attend a brunch with him!  Another lesson of American politics, the almighty dollar.  As a British citizen who recently moved to this country once said, “You don’t have elections in this country you have auctions.”  Sad but true.

Two days before the event we were emailed directions a to the hosts’ estate, happily just 2 minutes from our home (which is in a more modest setting).   I was encouraged to see the large garden crowded with more than 150 people. From what I gathered from our Mayor, Alan Webber, who was also at the earlier, higher end event, it too was well attended.  In fact, they announced that they raised over $100,000, which for our small town, is amazing.

As we waited for Mayor Pete small bites of healthful food were passed, but this was not a sit-down brunch!  People chatted with old friends and people who had just met started conversations.  We had an interesting talk with a vintner, who had just moved to Santa Fe from Portland, Oregon with his wife, a retired judge.

I wondered why Mayor Pete would come to our small and Democratic town.  Turns out his parents met when they were both teaching at New Mexico State, and his mother, who was brought up in Santa Fe, is a regular visitor.  Mayor Pete’s husband, Chasten, came here with him.  I wanted to speak with him since his home town is Traverse City, Michigan where my son, Dan, lives with his family.  Traverse City is known as the “Cherry Capital of the World”.  When I had the chance to chat with to Chasten after Mayor Pete had spoken, I mentioned “The Cherry Republic” a Traverse City shop there that sells everything cherry.  We visit to sample its products on every trip and often get gifts from there. Chasten smiled and said, “I worked there”.   A split second of bonding!

“It’s easy to make a combination look difficult but it’s difficult to make something hard look easy, and that is the goal.” Those were words of New York City Ballet’s Daniel Ulbricht speaking before a performance of his “Stars of American Ballet” touring troupe. Mayor Pete can do it. Buttigieg was in Nevada the day before he came to Santa Fe. I cannot imagine going from one event after the other giving a similar speech at each and making it sound fresh and natural. Even, what I assume was a stump speech, sounded fresh and genuine. He talked about bringing the country together and that it was not right that while our gross national product goes up, life expectancy goes down.  Of course, he also spoke of gay marriage where he said, people had a right to choose, rather than be told by a county clerk whom one can and can’t marry.   Here is a brief clip and this was all he had to say on the subject of our current president, whose name was never mentioned.

Time was left for questions and our new found-friend, the vintner, said he had been an independent voter for 20 years and would Mayor Pete, if elected, be willing to hire Condoleezza Rice or Nikki Haley.  Now, this, was the most impressive moment for me.  Buttigieg did not say a word for over 30 seconds looking down with his hand on his chin, clearly thinking.  Then he said, “I have Republicans in my administration in South Bend and they are excellent, but I don’t think I would hire anyone who was involved in decision-making in the Iraq war.“ Personally, I like someone who thinks before he or she speaks, then gives a considered opinion.  Maybe I should refer to Mayor Pete from now on as “The thinking man’s candidate”!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Luciano Pavarotti: The Movie

I have written little on live theater over the last decade and even less about film but sometimes I cannot resist!  Recently, we went to see the movie “Pavarotti”.  I was dubious about seeing it since I believed it was all about his voice and doubted that a movie theatre would have the best sound equipment. Then we, serendipitously, sat next to a couple at the Lensic Theater and, unrequested, they started raving about the film and they had no problem with the sound.  When this “review” was confirmed by a friend we decided to go. 

Miracle of all miracles my wife and I agreed, what a wonderful film it was. Bottom line it is a documentary directed by Ron Howard (and he may have had a heavy hand in the editing) which was superb.  

Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007) was born in Modena, Italy where he always returned in later years for family and to perform. Ron Howard used the background of Modena together with stills from the family album to tell the story of the childhood of the future superstar.

His father was a carpenter but sang in the church choir and was said to be an accomplished tenor. When he was old enough, Luciano joined him in the choir.  His mother was a teacher and his family convinced him to follow in her footsteps.  So, he did teach for a while. He could not resist his calling, however, and his opera debut came in 1961 at the Teatro Reggio Emilia.  In 1963 he made his International debut at the Royal Opera House in London as Rodolfo in Puccini’s “La Boheme” and quickly added all the major opera houses of Europe including the famed La Scala in Milan.

I remember in the early 1970’s when he sang with Joan Sutherland at the Metropolitan Opera.  In those days the singers did not have to be actors as well which we all expect today.  It was enough for them to stand at the front of the stage and belt out an aria.  But Pavarotti and Sutherland never belted anything out, they had the most lyrical voices one can imagine.  

In addition to his on stage charisma Pavarotti had this captivating personal style. The film speaks of his friendship with Princess Diana.  Here is a clip:

I had a friend and client, Nelson Shanks, who was a portrait painter and did a number of portraits of Pavarotti. He also did one of Lady Di when he was working for a summer in the studio of John Singer Sargent in London. I wonder whether Pavarotti introduced them. Here is an image of Nelson and Pavarotti with the portrait.

Everyone compares Enrico Caruso, the legendary tenor from the early 20th century with Pavarotti with neither coming out on top.  In fact, when I looked up the former on line I saw arias listed for both of them on the same page.  It took half a century to find a comparable, voice demonstrating how rare a tenor like this is.

The documentary includes a clip of Pavarotti at the Met singing “Ah mes Amis ... Pour mon âme” from Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment” which requires eight high C’s one of the most difficult feats for a tenor.  When Pavarotti is asked, if he is sure he can do it when he goes on stage, he says matter of factly, “No”.  Here is a recording of his 1972 Met performance that was a career breakthrough. 

Pavarotti reached the summit of his popularity with the series of Three Tenors concerts with José Carreras and Placido Domingo.  Their first performance at the World Cup Finals in 1990 was at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. (This was where, as a child, I saw my first full opera. It was Aida and I will never forget the production  with live animals on the stage. But I digress. ) 

In the film Carrera recounts that in 1987 he was diagnosed with leukemia.  After going through a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy he made a full recovery.  He says that during that time he was thinking about a concert he could do in order to make a comeback and the Three Tenors was the perfect vehicle.  The original performance was such a success that it was repeated in many other venues.  We managed to watch on our television, which was exciting enough but in person it would have been even more exciting, except in an outdoor setting sitting among such a crowd the sound might not have been as good!

After footage of the artist’s final years and funeral Ron Howard closes his movie with the aria “Nessun dorma” from Turandot sung by Pavarotti in his prime.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Museum Protests

There is always protest, particularly in a free society.  There are different points of view and, if it affects your personal world, you are apt to take sides.  You may have heard of protest art. Since the 19th century artists have used their media to express themselves in ways that countered the art establishment. In Nazi Germany this was labelled “Degenerate Art”. Then there is art expressing direct political protest like the Mexican popular prints of the 1930’s. What I am thinking of is a more recent phenomenon, --- Artist-led protests against museums on the basis of the institutions’ supporters.   

Once upon a time there were only private museums opened by the royalty or aristocracy of a country.  There could be no protest there.  After all it was an honor to be allowed to see what the Elector of Saxony or the Queen of England collected.  The Royal collections of the latter can still be seen in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace.

Today, in this country, we have both government and private museums. Even the  museums are run by a boards of trustees who have the power of the purse. The concept of art being free of the purse is preposterous.  As romantic as it is to think of the “starving artist” they need to eat too.  Michelangelo had to be paid to lie on his back for months on end painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling!

To keep the doors of the museum open you have to pay for the building maintenance, guards, art handlers, curators and the director, not to mention the millions it can cost to put on major museum shows, particularly if you are borrowing works of art from all over the world. So where is the money to come from if not foundations, corporations and wealthy individuals?

It is not always the nicest people who have made a fortune.  I am sure you can think of a bunch of very wealthy people you don’t care for and fewer that you do like by reputation or in person. Some of the more unpleasant millionaires or billionaires may wish to use donations to the arts as a way of making amends to society, or maybe they just like art, or maybe they wish to influence the direction of the museum’s activities towards their own field of collecting. Their individual influence will depend on the size of the board and the size of their contribution. The story goes that when the Museum of Modern Art was looking for an architect to build a new wing on the museum one trustee took all the others on his plane to see an architect’s work and on the flight the trustees challenged each other to pledge more and more for the project.

Starting in the early 1990’s artists led protests against museums around the country, including the Metropolitan Museum, which was accepting funds from Philip Morris for their exhibitions.  How could a public institution help promote something so foul as smoking?  Lately protesters have demanded the Sackler name be removed from museums whose family members have supported the arts since long before the invention of the opioids their pharmaceutical company promoted. Even the Louvre in Paris has taken the Sackler name off its walls. Most recently it happened at the Whitney Museum that a trustee was hounded off the board because his company made the tear gas used on immigrants at the Mexican border.

In London there is another bête noire, British Petroleum.  It started at London’s National Portrait Gallery but on the same page as one of the articles about the protest there is a picture of the winner of the BP prize for art which a friend of mine, won years ago and she did not complain!  BP protests have now moved to the British Museum but so far the Museum is standing firm.

I don’t like the politics of the Koch Brothers who paid for the plaza outside the Metropolitan Museum, but I can still enjoy the fountains and we can debate whether you like their style or not.  Is it better to have fountains outside the museum or a Leonardo exhibition inside the museum or have neither?  Many may  disagree with me, but I believe beggars can’t be choosers.

I am not suggesting investing in companies where we don’t approve of the products or their use, but if some of those who have profited from these enterprises want to use their money for public benefit through arts institutions, is it excessive righteousness when  activist artists demand it be refused?