Sunday, October 27, 2019

I Was Used By Richard Meier

Richard Meier (1934-) is what we call these days a starchitect.  He won the most prestigious award for architecture, the Pritzker Prize, in 1984, the year after I.M. Pei won.  I am not a big fan though I can appreciate his innovation.  He has been described as, “an American abstract artist and architect, whose geometric designs make prominent use of the color white.”  Is white your favorite color?

I believe that the first Richard Meier building I was in was the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, shortly after it opened in 1983.  My two memories of it are that aside from being very white, inside and out, the stair railings were built so a child could easily fall through, a fault that was later corrected. Also, on the top floor which was to house the drawings a large skylight allowed for direct sunlight on the walls, the greatest peril for works on paper!

In 1995 Meier completed the City Hall and Library for the Hague in the Netherlands, creating a new city center.  In 2017, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the de Stijl movement, Meier’s  huge white slab building  was painted with blocks of color in the style of  Piet Mondrian, de Stijl’s preeminent into “the world’s largest Mondrian painting”.  The new façade was created by artists Madje Vollaers and Pascal Zwart of Studio VZ.  Although meant to be temporary, in my personal opinion it was a great improvement!

In the mid 1990’s, when I was on the President’s Cultural Property Committee, we were taken to Meier’s yet unfinished Getty Museum to meet with many Arts Ministers from Central America.  Here is a photo of the committee and others participating in the conference in front of the building.

The Getty officially opened in December of 1997 at a staggering cost of $1.3 billion!  To be fair, it is a campus complex including the Conservation Institute, the Research Institute, the Foundation, the Trust and, of course, the museum.  The President of the museum at the time had rejected several suitable locations on terra firma, as he wanted to build a monument overlooking L.A.. He picked a spot in Brentwood with breathtaking views but directly on a major earthquake fault! Special structural considerations were needed and, methods had to be invented to secure the museum’s works of art against the inevitable tremors and quakes.

A short time after this I was told that Richard Meier wanted to meet and have lunch with me.  I must say I was somewhat flattered.  Why would this starchitect want with me?  It  took a while to realize what his goal was.  My parents were originally from Frankfurt am Main, Germany and he wanted to learn all about it.  My knowledge, however, was fairly limited having only been there a few times and my parents’ stories were limited.  The other shoe dropped sometime later when I found out that Meier had been asked to build the Museum Angewandte Kunst (decorative arts museum) in that town and needed background information!  Of course, he had not mentioned this. I was not a happy camper!

To quote Meier, “Any work of architecture that has with it some discussion, some polemic, I think is good. It shows that people are interested, people are involved.” According to one definition, Polemic is “a strong verbal or written attack on someone or something”.  So, as I have found there are those who love his work as well as some that hate it, I suppose he would consider it a success!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Buffy Sainte-Marie

It was a dream come true, hearing Buffy Sainte-Marie performing here in Santa Fe.  In the 1960’s I frequented the Greenwich Village coffee houses in New York but to my recollection, I had never heard her live before.  We are so lucky to live somewhere that people enjoy visiting and entertainers want to come despite the fact that they  make money touring playing venues much larger than our local Lensic theater with its 821 seats. During her solo performance Buffy talked several times about how expensive it is to travel, especially with her band, so I presume that is why they did not come along.  She used the excuse, however, that they had just been to Australia.

Joel Aalberts, Executive Director of the Lensic introduced her performance by explaining that the evening’s event was a fund raiser for Indigenous Solutions/Indigenous Ways, The Friendship Club of Santa Fe and Tewa Women United.  All very appropriate for our new holiday in the State of New Mexico, Indigenous People’s Day, formerly known as Columbus Day.

Buffy Sainte-Marie was born in 1941 or 1942 into the Cree Tribe in Saskatchewan, Canada where records of the Indians were not that carefully kept.  She was adopted by a family from Massachusetts where she grew up. During her performance she mentioned twice the bullying and sexual harassment she experienced both from her stepbrother in their home, and a relative who lived outside their home.

The concert began with a traditional Indian blessing in the Tewa language and English for an on-stage group of local Native women elders.  There was one of two signers translating throughout the evening. I don’t know why people who could not hear would come to a small concert like this but maybe it was just a fitting symbol of communication.  Part of the Buffy message is that we have consideration for others as we all need to get along, particularly important in these divided times.

Of course, the reason for going to a concert given by Buffy Sainte-Marie is to hear her sing her songs.  She is not only has a great voice but she is a multitalented in the musical arts, playing different instruments.  She played two string instruments a keyboard and a mouthbow on this particular evening. If I am not mistaken, she only sang songs that she herself had written.  Her lyrics make you realize her talent for poetry as well.

Of course, she sang some of her strongest and most popular songs such as, “My Country 'tis of Thy People you're Dying” and her fans’ 1964 all-time favorite, “Universal Soldier”.

She explained it came to her when she was stuck overnight in San Francisco Airport and in the middle of the night this Airforce transport landed, and injured soldiers were brought through on gurneys… that was Vietnam.

After her performance there was an after party at which we were all giving a shoulder bag which included Buffy’s Biography.

Altogether the experience was much more than an exercise in nostalgia, it was a stirring performance by a still-great artist and a perfect opening for the Indigenous Day weekend.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The San Francisco Mint

I remember being taken to the Mint when I was still in my single digits.  I believe it was one in Washington D.C.  I was so disappointed, not sure why but maybe it was because I went with a my class to a donut factory we all got samples and at the Mint we could not get close enough t actually see the money, just the stacks on a conveyor belt below our glass glorified catwalk.

In any case, it did give me a taste for how money is actually made.  Therefore, when I read an article in The Arts Journal, one of the art blogs I subscribe to, I latched onto this headline “The Museum where they Print Money”. The article came from the San Francisco Chronicle, “SF Newest Museum is opening in the City’s Oldest Mint”.  In 1792 Congress passed the Coinage Act, establishing the first national mint which Congress declared would be in Philadelphia, this country’s Capital at the time.  Congress directed that “In copper: half cent and cent, In silver: half dime, dime, quarter, half dollar, and dollar and In gold: quarter eagle ($2.50), half eagle ($5), and eagle ($10)”.   Only the gold and half penny have disappeared in the meantime!

When gold fever gripped the country, they needed to open U.S. branch Mints with assay offices to weigh and value the gold. The California Gold Rush began in 1848 and the San Francisco Mint opened in 1854 , the oldest one in the West, turning nuggets and gold dust into coins.  It was soon too small, and a new mint was established in 1874.  This building known both as the Old United States Mint and “The Granite Lady” was one of the few to survive the 1906 earthquake.  Only the base and basement were made of granite, the upper stories were done in sandstone.  It is very much in the same Classical Style as the Metropolitan Museum built in the same decade but by different architects.

By the time of the fire, the San Francisco mint held $300 million, one third of the United States Gold Reserve.  Fort Knox was established only in 1936 and in 1937 got the first shipment of the country’s precious bullion reserve.  At the same time San Francisco built a new Mint. 

Designated a National Historical landmark, the old Mint was open to the public until 1993. In 2003 the Federal government sold it to the City of San Francisco for $1.  They used an 1879 silver dollar struck at the mint to pay. It was supposed to become a historical museum and called San Francisco Museum at the Mint.  They finished the first phase but then the project languished between many possible owner museums.  In 2014 the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society began raising funds for phase 2 but they failed. Vice president of the Historical Society was also active in real estate and saw an opportunity in this property located in the heart of the oldest part of the city.  He made a deal with the city that if he left the original building intact and it remained a museum he could build on the property.

The Historical Society has a 5-year lease with an option to renew.  They have started out modestly with an exhibition on the untold stories of the men of the gold rush, which I certainly would be interested in seeing.  If you go let me know what you think.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Highland’s University Statue

For my birthday my wife surprised me with a visit back to the Castaneda ...

The idea was that their much-touted restaurant and 12 course tasting menu would be open and ready, but that was not to be.  Construction delays as always.  We had a lovely time anyway, and, wanting to visit a part of town we had not been to before, we went over to Highlands University. It was founded in 1893 as a teacher training school but is now a branch of the state university system.

On a Saturday afternoon the campus was almost empty and even the library was closed.  That would, of course, not have been the case in my day but then, I didn’t have the internet for research. As we walked around, we found the Commons with a bronze statue in the center.  Titled “Harmony” it consists of three figures by artist and educator Gary Coulter (1935-2000). It was dedicated in 1987 to “to recognize and honor the cultural and ethnic diversity of New Mexico Highlands University’s students”. Definitely not a great work of art but what they did with it I found so appropriate for a place of learning in these days of conflict.

Large plaques on each side of the base have excerpts from the writings of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and José Marti, as well as “A song of the Tewa”.

The Tewa are a linguistic group of Native Americans living today in pueblos along the Rio Grande. The Song of the Tewa, is looking to the day when tame animals and children are blessed as are their brother Indian tribes and even the Mexican and Anglo-American people, wishing all “may make our lives together here”.

José Marti (1853-1895) was Cuban poet, and philosopher who is regarded as a hero in his country as a revolutionary activist. In 1893 he writes, “Man has no special rights because he belongs to a particular Ethnic Group, “Anyone, you might want to send this plaque to?

JFK writes in 1962, “In a time of turbulence and change, it is more true than ever that knowledge is power…” “Liberty without learning is always in peril and learning without liberty is always in vain.”  Oh, how I wish that our politicians would learn their history before aspiring to a political office.

The plaque with the best known quotation is, of course, Martin Luther King’s, “I have a dream” speech of 1963, It continues, “I have a dream that one day, on the red hills of Georgia the sons of slaves the sons of former slave owners will sit together at the table of brotherhood.”

Just think if every student who came to Highlands University would just sit in front of this statue and take in the lessons that each of these plaques had to offer what fabulous individuals and politicians they would make!