Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Santa Fe Mid-Town Campus

The development of an abandoned university campus is Santa Fe’s most important opportunity in decades. We heard Alan Affeldt speak about his proposal at our local bookstore, "Collected Works", which has a regular Sunday program of issues of interest to the community.  Alan is someone who in other places might be called an “operator”.  This project is his most ambitious, but he has learned how to use the system in order to accomplish the preservation and revival of buildings near and dear to the hearts of those who love the story of Fred Harvey, the Harvey Girls and the Harvey Hotels.

Alan was a Peacenik in his youth and money is not his bottom line.  He and his artist wife have no children so they have decided that their legacy would be a foundation they have created to help with, and benefit from, his restoration work.  He has learned how to get government agencies, municipalities, and foundations to help him accomplish his goals through tax breaks and direct aid. I have written about his projects in Las Vegas (New Mexico).

What is known as Santa Fe’s Midtown Campus consists of 64 acres of land. It was the campus of two successive colleges. The failure of the most recent institution offers the opportunity for the first true urban development plan in New Mexico, which ranks as one of the poorest states in the union. Here is one of the proposals for the area.

Affeldt points out that Santa Fe is the only State Capital without a University.  The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque has already expressed interest in bringing part of its program to Santa Fe but does not want to take over the entire campus. There are, however, existing buildings that could be used for students. Further, Affeldt believes that certain buildings on campus are of such distinction that they could be designated as architectural assets to the city. There is also a building with working sound stages and proscenium stage theater that are the legacy of movie star and New Mexico resident Greer Garson.  Here she is standing in front of it ...

Access is a critical issue which I am sure exists else-where but I have never been aware of it.  At this point the campus has one entrance from a main thoroughfare and a second from a side street.  Additional access and egress points need to be obtained through land that belongs to the City, the State and the Federal Governments. Such multiple negotiations are the particular expertise of Affeldt since he has done it several times before.  

For the project that he calls “The Central Park Santa Fe Vision” Affeldt has formed a 40-person team of mostly in- state experts.  One is the internationally known New Mexican architect, Antoine Predock who is counted on to create some landmark buildings. Another local architect on the team is Shawn Evans whose goal is “to untangle the many issues that can impede the vision and execution of a project, so communities have a voice in the process” and this also sums up Affeldt’s way of thinking and desire for a local-based team. He says that “New Yorkers are not going to understand the land of mañana.”  As the joke goes here, mañana does not mean tomorrow, it just means “not today”!

Needless to say, there is competition from all over.  There are 21 proposals in all.  The New Mexican had an article about a Silicon Valley Executive who has made application as he sees the potential for an “innovation center”. It would be easier just to let an outside commercial developer take it off the City’s hands for a fortune, taking care of the debt and interest the city is paying off… Would that be best for the city in the long run?  I don’t think so. One of our great needs is affordable professional housing. People here are nervous about the interest that the expanding Los Alamos National Laboratory may have in the site as we do not want a nuclear weapons facility. 

The system in Santa Fe is that the Mayor and the City Council are fed bits and pieces of the proposals applicants submit to the city ‘s contracted manager in order to make it a blind process.  Personally, I would like to see it more open and transparent, but the feeling is that this is the least prejudicial method.  I am just one of the many concerned citizens anxious to see what happens!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Another Acquisition – Gustave Baumann

Once upon a time we were collecting like crazy but in recent times as we get older and our home fuller, we are exercising more discipline … at least my wife is, and she pushes me in the same direction. Recently, however, we made two acquisitions within a couple of weeks of each other.  One I wrote about last week and the other is something I have been flirting with, for a long time. It is a print by Gustave Baumann.

I have been writing these Missives sine 2009 and my first Missive mentioning Gustave Baumann was in 2011 including some of his history and works of art.  In one of life’s ironies one of the illustrations in that Missive is what I am writing about today. In fact, last year I wrote about the Annex Galleries where we acquired it

Back in New York a dealer in photography told me once that he had received, with a collection of photographs, a Gustave Baumann print and no one in that part of the world had heard of the artist.  He asked if I would try to sell it in Santa Fe and I had little trouble doing so. 

Only if you are familiar with New Mexico’s landscape can you appreciate Bauman’s ability to capture its intense colors.  The artist himself addressed this subject: “A pallet and theories regarding color east of the Mississippi should all be tossed in the river as you cross the bridge.’”  Yes, the U.S. Southwest is quite different from our East Coast.  The same as crossing the border from one country to another.

The Annex Gallery in Santa Rosa, California sends out a daily print that is available for purchase.  Recently it boasted that for a solid week they had presented works for $400 and under.  They also deal in far more valuable works depending on the artist, rarity and quality of the work.  It never happens when you want it to but sometimes a regular email stops coming which is what happened to us.  I had meanwhile spoken with many about this fun and educational site.  A friend from Santa Fe who had moved back East recently forwarded the daily email from the Annex Gallery as he thought the subject would be of interest to us. He was most surprised when I told him I had immediately followed up and we had acquired it!

If you read my Missives you know we have a particular interest in the art of the Hopi Indians, and this is one of Baumann’s few prints representing this group.  Regarding the print we bought, Gala Chamberlain, director of the Annex Gallery, wrote : “For the composition of this woodcut Gustave Baumann created a Southwestern fantasy, a gathering of Hopi Katcinas (Kachinas), all with their telltale characteristics and colors. Kachinas (or Katsinas) are actually stylized religious icons, meticulously carved from cottonwood root and painted to represent figures from Hopi history and mythology. After moving to the Southwest Baumann rarely used figurative elements in his work, this being one of the exceptions.”  In fact, this does not depict the spirit beings that are katsinas., but rather a group of carvings or “dolls” made originally to educate young Hopi girls in the characteristics of the pantheon.

Chamberlain, has just published a catalogue raisonné titled “In a Modern Rendering: The Color Woodcuts of Gustave Baumann”.  It includes 1,100 color illustrations in a tome of 648 pages.  Not a book you can lay on your stomach while you lie in bed!  The author developed a close relationship with Gustave Baumann’s late daughter, Ann, and interviewed her once a week for many years in order to produce the monograph. Two pages in the catalog are devoted to our print. Further at the back of this comprehensive study there is a 1920 photograph of Baumann in his Santa Fe studio with his collection of Katsina dolls on the mantel.

The woodcut for our print was created in 1924 and it is from the first of 3 editions printed by the artist over years varying the colors for each edition. Our print is numbered 25 of 100. But the highest number known is #59.  Baumann was known for using several wood blocks with different colors, up to 12 in some prints.  Ours has 7 colors and is from his first edition of the print titled “Hopi Katcinas”. Aside from other details we learned that it is in an original Baumann frame.  It is marked with the letter “L” which stands for Lieber, who was Baumann’s agent in Indianapolis, and framed his work for exhibitions and at the request of clients.  

Baumann’s story of his acquisition of his Katsina dolls is reproduced in the catalog in his own words: “The Hopi villages are on 3 mesas and the way up was not paved until the 1960’s, not yet in the 1920’s.  Baumann writes, “The car made it and I felt like a new padre on a journey to nowhere looking for sketching material when a little adobe shack appeared in the distance.  It was a trading post.  The owner was a Hopi Indian who spoke very good English but seemed surprised to see me.  I looked around and there in a dark corner I saw some Katcinas [sic] on a shelf and hanging on the wall.  He seemed pleased that I was interested in them and I asked if they were for sale.  With what I knew about them it was difficult to make [a] selection.  The Hopi with nothing else to do was watching as they accumulated on the counter and I inquired about the cost.  Having settled on that I reached for my wallet.  Finding that I didn’t have enough cash I said I’d have to pay with a check on a Santa Fe Bank and you don’t know me.  He began to put my Katcinas [sic] into a large sack and then looked at the check.  “I’ll take it and I know you” How can you?  I’ve never been here before as he gave me a quisical [sic] look.  “I know that name” and added “I used to work at the Grand Canyon and danced at El Tovar-sometimes I’d go into the art room.  They had some pictures there with that name on them.  I know you”. And he took the check without even looking at it again.  I only wish I could remember his name. He was certainly a trusting soul.”

Almost a century later, during our years of collecting, when our then young son was the specialist in katsina dolls, we too had remarkable experiences on the Hopi reservation that echo Baumann’s. 

Sunday, December 15, 2019

A New Acquisition

We have now made our third acquisition of a painting by Patrick McGrath Muñiz and I thought it might be of interest to a wider audience. [If you go to Missives from the Art World and put the artist’s name in the search engine you will find that I wrote my first missive about the artist in 2015.]

Collecting as a family has its great advantages, as we can discuss and enjoy together, but also its disadvantages, in that sometimes something one loves, the other does not, and we have to leave it behind.  Here was a picture that we came together on and now have a work of art that we can enjoy every day when we walk into our living room.

Evoke Gallery in Santa Fe carries McGrath Muñiz’ work and they recently had a one-man show.  As we would be traveling at the time of the opening, we asked the gallery to send us images of the works in advance and we picked out certain ones to view before they installed the show. When we saw them in real life, we realized that our favorite had certain passages that disturbed us.  We had a very good gallerist who listened to our discussions and brought out other works we had not selected. When she brought out “Monachus Mundanus” (Monk of the World) we both said, “That’s it!”  If you click on the image to enlarge it you will see more details. 

My wife, the curator, art historian, and lover of Spanish Art was immediately attracted.  This artist clearly has a great interest in the Old Masters and has studied them carefully, using their techniques and sometimes borrowed figures as he did in our new acquisition.  Style is one thing, but the content is totally his own.

Patrick was born in 1975 in Puerto Rico where he went to the School of Fine Arts of San Juan for his BA. He later went on to earn his master’s degree (Suma Cum Laude) from the Savannah College of Art and Design.

In our picture he is clearly inspired by the paintings of Francisco Zurbaran but his figure in Franciscan robes is also a self-portrait. The canvas measures 24 x 48 inches so it makes quite a statement.  There is so much more to it with all its symbolism. The artist states that he is commenting on climate change and man’s culpability in the worldwide problem.  

The monk holds a skull in the manner of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the environment. Did you notice the barcode on the skull, a symbol of the consumer and, in the artist’s words, the “disposable nature of humanity”? As an aside my favorite painting in New York since I was 10 years old (the age I was finally allowed into the Frick!) has been Giovanni Bellini’s, St. Francis in the Desert, no skull, but in a beautiful landscape

The fractured ground our contemporary Monk stands on suggests the foundations of our civilization are beginning to crack.  The flooded highway in the background refers to the devastation Hurricane Harvey wreaked on Houston, Texas, where the artist now lives. The drowning cow and submerged car represent the contributions to climate change of the meat and automobile industries.  In the boat to the left we see a miniature Trump, a fast food worker and a Trump supporter praying to the sanctified Ronald McDonald, holy king of burgers!

Our current president is an embarrassment to our country, but I like Patrick’s take.  He has put Trump in other paintings more obviously, but I did not want his ugly mug staring at me. Here he is insignificant, which is what I pray for. The Latin taped inscription, translated says, “I believe in the life, transformation, death and resurrection of all religions, states, corporations and all the other human fictions”.  There is still more symbolism, but I believe I have given you the idea. Patrick doesn’t just paint but thinks a lot, and references history from recent to past.  Would it be too trite to say Patrick McGrath Muñiz is a thinking man’s artist?

A few days ago, Patrick posted a “monograph” of his work over the last 20 years and it is done the new way with a 7-minute video.  So, if you want to see more ...

Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Night at the Museum

Last year we attended the opening of the Albuquerque Museum’s great exhibition  of treasures from the Hispanic Society in New York.  This year we had a slight change of pace with “The Jim Henson Exhibition – Imagination Unlimited”. The evening started with cocktails and one of the best meals I have ever had at a large gathering surrounded by everything Jim Henson-themed.

The minute I hear the name Jim Henson I think, Sesame Street and the Muppets but these seem to now all be separate entities: Sesame Street, The Muppets and The Jim Henson Foundation.  This show came directly from the Foundation and its president, Cheryl Henson, daughter of Jim. Of course, no matter that they are all different companies they all originated in the fertile mind of Jim Henson. 

My three kids born between 1967 and 1980 all grew up on Sesame Street and the Muppets.  I asked them what they remembered and here are their responses, from the oldest down.  From my daughter: “I was 2 when Sesame Street began, and it was the only show I was allowed to watch…... Even though I own a book store and spend the day alphabetizing, I have to sing [the alphabet] from the beginning. Thank you so much Sesame Street! I also truly believed in the Snuffleupagus and was stricken to see him hanging up when I went on a tour of the studio in kindergarten or first grade.” From my older son: “I learned to count with a Transylvanian accent … and laugh after I said each number mwahhhhaaahhha”. From the youngest: “Jim Henson is the best and his influence on kids’ imagination cannot be overstated. Yes, I learned the alphabet and counting via Sesame Street. Big Bird was the ultimate celebrity in my eyes. I had a Fraggle Rock laser disc (because my Dad believed laser discs were sure to be the format of the future. :-) and a VHS of The Muppets take Manhattan which I watched over and over again.”

While we were in Albuquerque we went to the Atomic Museum where I read this great quote from Albert Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Henson clearly had a great imagination, but he had so much more.  Often talent presents itself early and Jim Henson was creating cartoons by the time he was a teenager.  He made posters and sets for his high school theater productions.  As a college student he studied graphic design and started a successful poster business. He always considered himself a visual artist though he gained fame as a puppeteer.  At first it was just hand puppets but he kept up with the times, developing the mechanics, adapting to television  and going on to push the limits of computer technology to allow his characters to do far more than just being moved by  hand and sticks. 

Here is a drawing by one of Henson’s chief designers and puppeteers who sometimes drove the school bus on Sesame Street, Caroly Wilcox.  It is a sketch of notes showing how the characters are not supported on strings like marionettes but from below while the puppeteer tracks the action above his head on a TV monitor.

Courtesy of the Jim Henson Company
Though I learned about Jim Henson through my kids I always identified with Cookie Monster and The Grouch!  Here is Cookie Monster in the form of a Cookie jar and I believe it is still available on-line!

One of Henson’s most popular puppets was Kermit the Frog.  He actually created it for his first television show in 1955.  After a few subtle changes he became a star on Sesame Street which started in 1969.  He appears “in person” in the exhibition lent by the Henson family.

Henson’s work knows no borders. Here is a tribute from Native American cartoonist, Ricardo Caté from Santa Domingo Pueblo, in our newspaper, The New Mexican, where he publishes daily.

Henson died in 1990 at the age of 53. In 1989 he worked on an HBO music education series called “The Ghost of Faffner Hall” and in 1990 “The Witches” which was a feature film based on a Roald Dahl novel.  Who knows what he might have still accomplished but just think how much he created and how many lives he affected.  How many people do we know or have heard of that have reached generations of individuals across the world?

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Addressing the Statue

I have written before about the extremes of political correctness.  Today some of the old movies are not shown for fear of offending someone and the new Disney Plus channel is using a warning about “outdated cultural depictions”.  in 2017 the Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, established a commission to evaluate a number of public statues on city land to decide if they should be removed. 

One institution in New York, however, has addressed the subject head-on and that is The Museum of Natural History.  Why?  Because they have a monument to Theodore, “Teddy”, Roosevelt (1858-1919) at the center of the steps to the museum’s main entrance. It has become the site of protest demonstrations. I would venture that more people have looked at the statue since the hullabaloo began than in the many years before.

The mayor’s commission decided that this sculpture could stay in place, but more information should be supplied. To its credit the museum faced this issue straight away.

The  monument  was meant to celebrate Theodore Roosevelt not as President but as a conservationist and author of works on natural history.  The Roosevelt family were major supporters of the Museum and Teddy’s father was one of the its founders. 

In 1883 Teddy Roosevelt headed west to achieve a boyhood dream of frontier life.  He figured he was going on a hunting trip but, once there, he bought a cattle ranch in the Badlands of what is now western North Dakota.  He realized the plight of the bison and other animals. It is estimated that some 30 million bison populated the North American prairie before European settlers came but, through sport, and desire for hides, when Roosevelt arrived, there were only about 1,000 left.

Roosevelt in the Badlands

Today we discuss the widening extent of the powers of the President and it is said that Roosevelt is considered the first modern president because, during his term (1901-1909), he began that expansion.  He wished to improve conditions for workers and implement better health and safety laws at the same time as reigning in the power of big business.  How successful he was can only be judged relatively to his time.  More pertinent to the Museum of Natural History he is also known as the “Conservation President” as he set aside more than 230 million acres of land as national parks, forests and other protected sites.

To deal with the controversy around the Roosevelt Memorial the Museum has mounted what is definitely a reading show with all points of view expressed in quotes accompanied by photos of the speakers. One defender of the monument, Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History at Rice University, is quoted as saying “Theodore Roosevelt was the explorer-naturalist par excellence. All the things that the Museum’s trying to do with science education—he was the leader in this. T.R. was a promoter of scientific experts, particularly naturalists, so it makes sense for him to be honored at the Museum.”

Harriet F. Senie, Director, Art Museum Studies, City College of New York, speaks to critics’ misinterpretation of figures that the designer of the over-all monument, John Russell Pope, termed “heroic”, and were traditional allegories “representing Africa and America, emphasized by the animals in the parapet reliefs.”

There are several quotes from Andrew Ross, Director of American Studies Program at New York University, who represents the anti-sculpture faction and, at least in this show, is Roosevelt’s severest critic.  He writes, “I don’t think any educator in New York City would describe Roosevelt as a racial unifier. In fact quite the opposite.  And the portrayal of the superiority of his figure on horseback [with] half-naked African and Native American [men] carrying his rifles on foot is a very stark illustration not of racial unity but of racial hierarchy.”

It is true that Roosevelt held some views we, or at least most of us, no longer share. He believed that the “English-speaking race” was superior to others”.  Does anything ever change!

in the exhibition it is pointed out that this was not what sculptor, James Earle Fraser, who completed the sculpture in 1939, intended to illustrate. He said of it in 1940, “The two figures at [Roosevelt’s] side are guides symbolizing the continents of Africa and America, and if you choose may stand for Roosevelt’s friendliness to all races.” 

Ross goes on, “I would remove it from public view.  I don’t think it deserves to occupy that prominent position any longer and certainly not in front of [this] museum.”  Frankly I find this a bit scary.  This is a teacher of our young folk who wishes to deny or erase history.  As I pointed out at the beginning Theodore Roosevelt is in many ways a model for our children.  Today we are concerned about climate change and our public lands.  No one is perfect and we have every right to decry defects in our leaders.  In fact, that is exactly what is going on right now in our country. 

The show ends with what to me is the most telling quotation, particularly today.  “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President… is not only unpatriotic and servile but is morally treasonable to the American public.  Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else.  But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant of unpleasant, about him than about anyone else.” Theodore Roosevelt, editorial in The Kansas City Star, May 7, 1918.