Sunday, September 29, 2019

“Me Too” and the Arts

Like so many concepts, ideas and even laws, good intentions often have unintended repercussions.  The idea was or is that if enough people (95% women) say they were sexually harassed then it would call attention to the issue.

The principle that people should not take advantage of others is undeniable but there are always people who do so be it for money, real estate or sex.  The issue is the fact that the humans are built to be attracted to each other for the perpetuation of the species and one must initiate the interaction making the other the victim, if you will.  Of course, in the modern age, we expect the overture not be pursued if unrequited. 

Where that boundary is, is not my concern here. What I find a tragedy is that we are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The situation has become so toxic that we have lost too much talent as organizations are frightened to continue association with any accused individual.

 I am sure that the sex drive has something to do with ambition, success and the sense of power.  We have a perfect example of this in our president, --you know what he has said about and done to women but with no repercussions.  He is certainly not the first and won’t be the last.  One of my heroes, President John F. Kennedy, was a famous womanizer as well.  In fact, I knew one woman whose apartment in New York he stayed at regularly, who complained that every time he came to stay in the apartment, he had a different woman with him!

But look at all the good people we have lost in this frenzy to change others’ behavior. One of the saddest “Me Too” victims was James Levine, Music Director at the Metropolitan Opera for 40 years.  Levine was fired as Music Director Emeritus the day after the New York Times published allegations of his sexually harassing several performers early in their careers, male by the way.  Am I saying that is OK? Of course not, but this came out in 2017 about events that happened from the 60’s to the 80’s. It seems trial and punishment with the trial missing.  Banishment from music as orchestras elsewhere have followed suit? That is not only a life sentence for the performer but also punishment for all who enjoyed his talent. Levine sued the Met for defamation and breach of contract and a settlement was recently reached but I resent the fact that Levine was not allowed to continue to conduct.

James Levine still conducting from his wheel chair

On January 2, 2018 Senator Al Franken resigned from the House after allegations of sexual harassment.  He denied that one of these accusations ever happened but was obviously complicit in a photo of him on a military transport coming from a USO tour during his earlier career as a comedian.  He posed as if about to put his hands on a woman’s breasts when she is clearly asleep but wearing at least three  layers of clothing, including what seems to be a life vest There is no question that this photo is in bad taste but  is in keeping with his humor as a contributor to Saturday Night Live where he often pushed the boundaries of taste.  I do not believe it was justification for the Democrats to force out one of their most dedicated and effective colleagues in the Senate.

Just this past week one of “The Three Tenors”, Placido Domingo, arguably the three most famous opera singers of our time has left the Metropolitan Opera.  The New York Times reported “The star singer, accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct, dropped out of Verdi’s ‘Macbeth’ and indicated he would not return to the Met”.  An excerpt from Domingo’s statement “I strongly dispute recent allegations made about me, and I am concerned about a climate in which people are condemned without due process” echoes my concern.

Sunday, September 22, 2019


I have been hearing from more and more readers that they enjoy the old stories so I thought I would write down a few, including names, at the risk of name dropping, so my readers can identify.

Shortly after I was born I became part of the art world.  When my parents arrived in this country in 1939, they were given a limited budget by the family firm and found an apartment at a prestigious address on Central Park South, but it was a one bedroom in the back with a wall for a view.  There was a living room, which served as the office, a kitchen they could eat in, and a bedroom with the bathroom off it. I was put in a crib in the living room at night and in the morning, I was rolled into the bedroom in case a client came in.  One time a member of the Rothschild family came, and he needed to use the loo. Heading, as instructed, through the bedroom he tried to pull open one of the doors. It happened to be the closet which my mother, still not dressed, had jumped into and was pulling on the handle on the other side!  I guess he got the hint … Wrong door.


J. Paul Getty was said to have frequently “gone shopping” with my uncle, Hans Stiebel, for French 18th Century Furniture.  The most famous piece being the double desk that had belonged to the Dukes of Argyle and was acquired from Sir Robert Abdy.  I visited Getty twice at Sutton Place, his manor house near London.  The first time was strictly business, though he was having tea with his current girlfriend and decorator, Penelope Kitson.   I had been rehearsed by his advisor and his curator from his museum in Los Angeles.  The only thing they forgot to remind me of was that Getty always had to bargain. Happily, a 10% reduction satisfied him.  Thank goodness since any more of a reduction and we would have taken a loss.

Regarding the parsimoniousness of J. Paul,  I did not see the  pay phone that was he was supposed to have had installed in his lobby, but when the new Getty expanded from just Greek and Roman art in the villa, his curators had to buy their own office supplies.  When I went back to Sutton Place with my wife some years later I asked if I could show her the model of the new Getty where the curators placed miniatures of the pieces that Getty could buy for the museum to show him how they would look in the rooms.  Getty told us that he only heated half the house in the winter so, not wanting to leave the heated section, he said, “You know the way, show Penelope”.  I had been in the house once before, so we went wondering off until we found the model.  We just followed the breadcrumbs back to the living room!

J. Paul Getty at Sutton Place


This past weekend we saw a snippet of a play where one of the characters was Henry Ford I.  He was portrayed as the anti-Semite that he was.  It  reminded of Henry Ford II, who we knew as a client.  This man was definitely no anti-Semite, --he was just too nice to both my father and me.  I remember one time he came in during the lunch hour. When I opened the door for him, he said, “I bet you were just eating lunch.”  I replied in the affirmative and he laughed patting his tummy and saying, “This is how I diet”.  He proceeded into the gallery and bought several pieces of turquoise Sèvres porcelain and paid the next day.  Later, I approached him when I was raising funds for a dealer exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, under the auspices of The International Confederation of art Dealers (C.I.N.O.A.). Most people gave a few hundred dollars or a thousand at the most, He contributed $5,000!

Henry Ford I

Anne & Henry Ford II


I had a couple of elderly lady clients that I adored.  One was Miss Frick who I have written about ( and another was Anita Young. 

Mrs. Young was the widow of Robert R. Young, a financier and innovator of the railroad business.  His only failure was the New York Central Railroad which he took over in 1954. He had to suspend dividends the following year, the stock price fell and, scared they were headed towards bankruptcy, he committed suicide in 1958.  His personal finances seemed to be in fine shape, however, and left his widow Anita with homes in New York, Newport and Palm Beach.

Anita & Robert Young

As a client Anita Young knew what she wanted and told her decorator rather than asking their advice, as so many of our clients did.  She only bought French 18th century furniture and furnishings from us.  As the very old and very young get along well, one day I mustered the courage to tell her about our French 18th century paintings which would go so well with her collection.  We would take them out in the paintings viewing room, on request.  Mrs. Young said, “I am quite happy with my sister’s paintings.”  I first thought, oh dear what have I gotten myself into! But then I thought, the lady has too much taste and flair to want a poor artists work on her walls.  So, I took the plunge, “Mrs. Young who is your sister?” “Oh” she responded, Georgia O’Keeffe”.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

My Lament

I found an old file where I kept quotes and humor before everything went into the computer. Going through it piece by piece I found this anonymous poem I could not resist sharing:

My Lament, “I’m Fine, I’m Fine”

There is nothing whatever the matter with me
I’m just as healthy as I can be
I have arthritis in both my knees
And when I talk, I talk with a wheeze.

My pulse is week and my blood is thin
but I’m awfully well for the shape that I’m in.
Arch supports I have for my feet
Or I wouldn’t be able to walk on the street.

Sleep is denied me every night
And every morning I’m sight
My memory is failing, and my head’s in a spin
I’m practically living on aspirin.
But I’m awfully well for the shape I’m in.

The moral is, as this tale we unfold
That for you and me who are growing old
It’s better to say, “I’m Fine,” with a grin
Than to let them know the shape we’re in.

“Old Age is Golden,” I’ve heard it said.
But sometimes I wonder as I go to bed.
My ears in a drawer, my teeth in a cup.
My eyes of the table until I get up.

Ere sleep dims my eyes I say to myself
“Is there anything else I should lay on the shelf?”
But I’m happy to say as I close my eyes
My friends are the same as in the days gone by.

When I was young my slippers were red.
I could kick my heels right over my head.
When I grew older my slippers were blue
But I could still dance the whole night thru.

Now I am old and my slippers are black.
I walk to the corner and puff my way back.
The reason I know my youth has been spent
My get up and go has got up and went.

But I really don’t mind when I think with a grin
Of all the places my “get up and go” has been
I get us each morning and dust off my wits.
I pick up the paper and read the obits.

If my name is missing, I know I’m not dead
So, I eat a good breakfast and go back to bed.

- Author unknown.

The poem sounded familiar and I found an old Pete Seeger song which was an adaption.  Like so many things that come to us anonymously through the ages there are a number of versions around. Here is Pete’s (the song starts one minute in) ...

Sunday, September 8, 2019

David Ligare, Artist

If you have been reading my missives, you must know by now, we live in an arts town, with possibly more art per capita than anywhere else in the world.  We cannot do everything, so we do not attend openings randomly.  But when we noted an opening of one Native American Artist who is world famous, Fritz Scholder, together with another whose work we recognized and liked, David Ligare, we decided to go.  The show which is up until October 12 is at the LewAllen Gallery in Santa Fe.

I recognized David Ligare’s work but could not place it.  I thought I had seen it at a gallery my cousin worked at in London.  Wanting to check that out with Ligare who attended the opening, I introduced myself saying, “You don’t know me” at which point he interrupted and said, “But yes I do”.  I started to argue with him but before I could, he said, yes Gerald Stiebel, Stiebel Modern and then mentioned my wife’s name, Penelope.  How embarrassing! He had exhibited at my gallery, or rather its contemporary art subsidiary which I was only able to keep going for 5 years within Rosenberg & Stiebel’s walls.  Our gallery manager for this section, at the time, was Deven Golden who scouted and picked out the artists and brought them to the Stiebels for consideration, and for the most part, we were on the same wavelength.

David Ligare is a California-based artist, born in 1945 in Oak Park, Illinois.,who  received his formal arts training at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. His work can be found in many museums in this country and abroad, to name a few, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, The Uffizi, Florence and the Thyssen Collection in Madrid!

Ligare’s paintings could be seen as a quest for a classical  ideal of visual perfection. He draws his inspiration from the philosophers of old like Plato, Aristotle and the more recent, Nietzsche.  His figural subjects also reference Greek mythology as his 2016 monumental painting which is the PR image for the exhibition.  This is what the artist writes about this piece, “The Falling Man (Icarus) was inspired by my thinking about the dangers of our dependence on modern technology.  In the Greek myth of Icarus, the young man is given wings made of wax and feathers in order to escape from the island of Crete where he has been held captive.  He was told not to fly too high because the sun would melt the wax, and he would fall.  He did not heed the advice and fell into the sea.”  

Despite this cautionary tale and the artist’s claim to be a luddite he does carry a smart phone on which to do his email.  He is a wiz with his thumbs! There is no telling what inspires us but what is nice about art you cannot be told how to enjoy a painting and if you wish to think of this as someone who just jumped off the high diving board throwing his clothes off, no one can stop you!

I love this 2018 cloud study probably because in this part of the world it is all about the clouds.  Not a day goes by that we don’t comment on their color, formation or just breathtaking beauty.  David writes, “Landscape with a Cloud suggests ephemerality and evaporative, ever-changing nature of culture.”  We spotted him outside the gallery photographing our clouds.

David reminded me that one of the paintings in the LewAllen show was also in the Stiebel Modern exhibition.  It is the painting on the left.  David writes “It’s called Hercules Protecting the Balance Between Pleasure and Virtue.  This image is from the retrospective that the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento did in 2015 and it traveled to four other museums.”  When your work has received critical acclaim, flaunt it!  That is called marketing and every artist has to learn to do that and then find a reputable gallery to promote their work.

As usual I will end with a personal favorite, Rock & Shell, 2016. My wife finds “its clear light and fragile balance of opposing objects, breath-taking”.  David wrote, “Fine to use this picture but it is one of the rare still life’s that doesn’t adhere to my usual project of specific meanings.”  At first, I thought, in that case, maybe I should not use the image.  Then I realized that it helps make a point that I have tried to make often.  In art it is up to the viewer to make up their own mind and not just what the curator or artist want us to think.  Then if the work of art speaks to one, then it is interesting to learn what the artist, the curator and the critic have to say.  But, here is the hard part, these other thoughts should not interfere with your feelings about the work of art!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Art Batala Commission

For the collector, commissioning a work of art, essentially asking an artist to create a work to order, is a risky business.  What if you ask an artist to do something that turns out totally different from what you envisioned?   Therefore, we have done it less than a handful of times in all our years of collecting.

For several years I had an office in an arts institution here in Santa Fe and had no need for a business card holder, so I donated my silver overlay example to the institution.   I had purchased it 25 years ago at a shop on the Hopi Reservation.  Then, when I moved to an independent office again, I missed my card holder.  Well, once you have received a tax deduction for a contribution to a not-for-profit, you cannot ask for it back!

For a year I searched websites and galleries to find another Hopi card stand without luck.  I asked a friend on the reservation if he could ask the artist, Art Batala, a silversmith from 2nd Mesa who had made my first one, if he could make another, but that did not happen.  Finally, after about three years we went to a fair of Indian Art and there was Art Batala.  I had photographs of the first stand and showed them to him, asking whether he could make me another one, but not just a copy.

The artist asked what my favorite motifs were.  I looked at a wedding ring I had commissioned for my wife from another Hopi artist and told Art that I liked the sun and rain signs, Kokoppelli (the fertility deity), and the kiva (square walled, often underground structures where spiritual ceremonies are held). 

What gave me, actually my wife, the idea to write about this commission is that the artist included me every step of the way through email images.  Of course, as with any artist, he had shows to get ready for before he could actually start work on my piece, but he did send me his idea for the design which I liked. He had given me the size of the piece and had taken my business card into consideration as to where my name and the company name appeared.  FYI, my company name is Pahaana which is the Hopi word for foreigner which we were on 2nd Mesa and in Santa Fe.

Art’s design was very carefully thought out.  He wrote: “Sometimes designs can get "too busy" when combined altogether, so with your interests in the Kokopelli, sunrise, kiva and rain, I separated the designs into all sides of the card holder. The Kokopellis are shown with prayer feathers for longevity of life, abundant of crops, happiness, and above all; healthy livelihood. The back the Father Sun is depicted with just the forehead showing; meaning sunrise with the rays coming down. And the designs on each sides of the sun rays represent water and clouds. On each side of the card holder, are the kivas with thunder clouds and rain coming down.”

Note that there is a ladder to go down into the Kiva which symbolizes going underground.  

FRONT: the Kokopelli; BACK: the sun symbol;
SIDES: the Kiva with rain cloud

Additionally, he wrote, “I intend to use a thicker gauge of silver for the bottom of the holder (Base) so the weight stabilizes the entire holder.”  I understood this better when I received the piece and found how it was weighted which the old one was not.  Like all of us we learn as we go along, and this piece was far more substantial than the first one I bought.

A week later Art wrote, “Attached you will see where i am in the process of your biz card holder.  Everything is transposed onto sterling silver plates.  I have drilled small holes where i will began cutting out the designs.  The designs are slightly modified from the sketch i sent to you. But overall still has all the motifs you desired.”

Design is transposed onto silver plates

A few days later I received the following, “Good morning and greetings from Hopi, attached you will see that i am finished cutting out the designs.   Now, i will be soldering the cut out plates onto similar sized sterling plates.”  I asked a question, “How do you make the black stand out on the bottom layer?”  Art replied, “I have checked all my lines and indentations are good, I will then put the entire piece into dissolved liver of sulfur, heating the contents until the card holder is totally blackened. Then i will began to grind, polish/buff, and, I will be finished.” 

After soldering

Art learned Hopi Overlay after serving in the Marine Corps.  He studied with the master Jeweler Glen Lucas, who he described as, “the person who put "precision cutting overlay" on the market”. To give you an insight into where Art is coming from, he wrote, “Today I am semi-retired and enjoy getting back to jewelry making.  It’s a hobby to me these, but my primary work is my cornfield, which i also enjoy as that is where my ideas and designs originate, amongst nature and its awesome powers.”  Living in an arid land farming is the only thing more important to the Hopi than art.