Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Frick Breuer

I must admit I do not miss a great deal about New York.  In old age I do not need to be doing something every second of every day.  In Santa Fe we have a number of museums and some are excellent in their niche fields such as The Georgia O’Keeffe or the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, but you are not going to find any Old Masters or European art.  For our fix we need to go to the big city and New York is one of the best.

We advise anyone going to the Metropolitan Museum to plan before they go and just pick one or two departments to visit.  If you try to see it all you will find when you leave that you have retained little.

For me the best museum from which I can retain the most is a small institution and if there is context it makes it even easier.  One of the best of this kind of institution is The Frick Collection In New York.  It is such a fixture in the New York art scene that it is easy to forget that it is essentially the creation of one man, Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919). chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company.  Being in the steel business he lived in Pittsburgh but in 1905 moved to New York where he built the mansion that is now the museum for 5 million dollars.  This would be about $155,000,000 in today’s dollars.  As my father would have said, “For some people their entire fortune!

Though he started late, in his 40’s, Frick became a great collector in an era when masterpieces of European art were readily available. There have been a number of renovations to his mansion on Fifth and 70th street but now, 85 years after its opening to the public, the entire collection has been moved out for a major updating and expansion of the building.

Where is the collection moving to you ask? Just 5 blocks away to the former Whitney Museum built by the architect, Marcel Breuer.  It would make no sense to try to recreate the rooms of the Frick in this cold, cold Brutalist building.  Instead, the Director and curators  are using this opportunity to present the collection in a new light, grouping works according to chronology and Nationality.

Last week I had the privilege of speaking with Ian Wardropper, who is approaching his tenth year as Director of the Frick, as he was touring what will be the Frick’s quarters for the next two years. We have known Ian for close to 50 years, from the time he was a, intern and then a Fellow at the Metropolitan, to heading the Art Institute of Chicago’s then sprawling department that ranged from European Sculpture to Egyptian antiquities, before coming back to the Met as head of the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts. 

The installation in the Breuer building may be a shock to those who know and love the traditional installation in the Frick Mansion but there are advantages. For once their three Rembrandt’s will be together as will all their Spanish pictures. They will have a space to put all the panels of their Fragonard series on view. There will be one room with about a dozen pieces from their wonderful collection of French 18th century furniture and a similar number of pieces of Sèvres.

They are doing another ceramic room where East meets West where you will be able to see Chinese porcelain next to Japanese porcelain next to Meissen and Sèvres. That will be interesting since the European tradition in porcelain is born from a desire to imitate the Chinese.

When you move a work of art in a museum or in your own home your perspective changes and you notice things you never noticed before.  For some time, the attribution of one of my Favorite Rembrandts, “The Polish Rider” was being questioned.  Now you will be able to make up your own mind when you see three great Rembrandts next to each other.  

I am sure there will be those who think this temporary Breuer installation is far better for understanding individual works and there will be those, like me, who won’t be able to wait until the art goes back to where it belongs in the Frick Mansion. Either way, having this changed perspective will add to our understanding of the collection.

I will leave you with this, -- Ian told me there were only between 1400 and 1500 works of art in the entire Frick Collection, while at the Met his department alone had 60,000 pieces. Quality counts far more than numbers.  When the Frick Breuer opens early in the New Year, I urge you to go and let me know what you think. I will be jealous until I can travel again and see it for myself!

Sunday, December 20, 2020


According to my on-line dictionary an Anachronism is, “a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists, especially a thing that is conspicuously old-fashioned.”  There may not be any younger people reading this but, if there are, then a dictionary is a book in which you can look up the definition of words!  Now you just click on your phone for this information.

Think of all the things that have hardly changed.  We don’t have to think about sitting in a chair or setting the table or how to use a knife and fork (of course Europeans do this differently from Americans).  The fly in the ointment is progress which today is mostly in technology.

Remember filling file drawers with maps from different parts of the world?  Today all you have to do is put your destination into Google Maps or a similar app and a nice voice will guide you to your destination.

Our house was built in 1989 and I recently noticed a wall jack next to the toilet. How many under the age of 25 know what this is for?  It is a jack for that old-fashioned telephone, the land line.  After all it was at one time the most convenient innovation that existed.  I guess the original owner of the house, could sit on the toilet with the phone on his lap and do his business (take that any way you want to!). Of course, that was probably a touch tone phone but who can remember using that piece of equipment that had a rotary dial?

Take a look at your library, do you still have the World Book or Encyclopedia Britannica?  When did you last use that? At home when I was young, we had the World Book which was simpler than the Britannica and it was about 10 feet from the apartment foyer in which we ate dinner so that it could be consulted when any question arose. I am ashamed to admit it but most of the time I was too lazy to use it.  Now I don’t even take volumes down from the shelves with Thieme Becker and Benezit (artists’ dictionaries).  I also hardly use the rest of our large library on art history.  No matter where I am, I am no distance at all from the answers on any topic because they are on my phone hanging from my hip!

In the 1990’s when we started to collect Native American Art my wife commissioned a wood carved Katsina sitting at the computer.  Remember those big contraptions.  Today we have laptops and tablets and phones which, all a lot smaller.

Across from my desk is a 12-foot set of shelves; 8 feet have my father’s classical long playing record collection and 4 feet of my theater, folk and calypso music.  Oh yes, for you youngsters they call those vinyl today.  Above that are 12 feet of cd’s, called disks, and in another part of the house a number of DVD’s.  Again, they are all anachronisms because it is all inside this box called the laptop, tablet or cell phone.

The English philosopher John Gray who focuses on the history of ideas has said, “The worst of progress is not that it is an illusion.  It is that it is endless.”

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Covid 19 - We Are The Lucky Ones

It all started on a Friday when my wife had the sniffles and a cough.  I had little doubt that she had a cold.  After all, Penelope, had been through two hip revisions and eight weeks of infusions and had not ventured out of the house except to go to the hospital.  However, our son, wife and one year old granddaughter were on their way, moving to Santa Fe, so Penelope became, in my opinion, a little paranoid and wanted a Covid test so we would not communicate the disease.  We called our primary doctor’s office and they told us we could get the test there, but it would take 4-7 days to get the results… well, the family would be here by then. When questioned they told us there was a faster way with 24-48hour results:  Our local hospital, Christus St. Vincent’s, had taken over a defunct Kwik Lube Station turning it into a ”Drive-thru Respiratory Collection Site”!

Making sure the hospital had received the required doctor’s order in advance, we drove over and found the new testing place right next to the Toyota oil change stop. Not only did they check us out on the list at the entrance, but from the car we had to call the hospital to reaffirm our doctor’s order.

We were then directed to wait on a line in front of one of three bays. Instead of a car rack on which to hoist the car there was a nurse with a hospital dolly and, after being asked all the questions yet again, my wife got the swab up the nose. 

I suggested that I get the test too, since if she had it, which I doubted, I too surely would.  It seems that it does not always work that way and, since there is a limited supply, I had to have symptoms.  By now you have guessed the results my wife tested positive and I got the symptoms, so I went through the same routine just two days later.  In my case, however, I first waited in line at the Toyota station and got a good laugh from the oil change mechanic when I told him my symptoms… oops went in one entrance too early!

Within a couple of days our primary care doctor called to see how we were doing and went through the CDC’s latest recommendations.  Also, as luck would have it because of her staph infection Penelope is still a hospital out-patient under the care of, Dr. Palestine, an infectious disease specialist who had been at the forefront in dealing with the Aids epidemic. In addition, she had made a friend of one of the main nurses for the infusion clinic who gave us wonderful advice and moral support. They all said the same thing, they hoped we had the lighter variety of the disease.  Until then I did not realize that even existed.  

Then more advice came.  There was a new program at the hospital just started two weeks earlier of Monoclonal Antibody Infusions.  Because of my wife’s condition and our age, Dr. Palenstine was able to get us in the program.  The treatment does not cure the disease, but it can lessen the seriousness of symptoms.  It involved a one-hour infusion and one hour of observation in spaces that had been hastily set up in the ER department.

The symptoms we have experienced imitate the flu or a bad cold but there are also chills, diarrhea, exhaustion, and loss of taste and smell.  As my kids would have said when they were little, “I feel “Yukky”!  What the doctors are most concerned about is breathing.  I am all for breathing!  Happily, though our oxygenation, which we can check with a little meter on the finger, has remained high. Our doctors have checked in on us by phone and a nurse from the hospital calls us daily to get our “vitals”, listen to our symptoms, and chart our progress.

Of primary interest to us is that Dr. Palestine confirmed that 10 days after our first symptoms we would no longer shed the virus and put others in danger.  If we would have had a severe case, additional days of isolation would be in order.  We have decided that 2 weeks will do it and we can hug our granddaughter again!

In the meantime, we are lucky indeed to have great medical care in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Kiss

I looked at two objects in our collection and though they were created about 100 years apart they stuck me as similar, having   a universal quality and meaning. Their common subject, The Kiss. The Kiss is found in many cultures though it might take on different forms.  When it is on the cheek that could have many meanings, but on the lips … It is surprising that it is rarely depicted.

The first, I have mentioned before so suffice it to say that it is a Katsina group carved by a Hopi artist Ros George around 1995 representing a clown and a fertility Katsina kissing.

The other is an Art Nouveau Inkwell with an intertwined couple kissing as they emerge from ocean waves.  It was created by a Czech Artist, Peter Tereszczuk (1875-1963).  He was an Austrian-Ukrainian sculptor working in Vienna who specialized in small bronzes in the Art Nouveau style. The piece in our collection is an inkwell signed and dated 1900.

Of course, when I said to myself, The Kiss, the most famous came to mind, the sculptures by August Rodin: The Kiss and Eternal Springtime. Both are known in several versions and countless replicas too familiar to illustrate.

Then there is the sculpture by Constantin Brancusi, 1916, limestone, in the Philadelphia Museum. The Romanian modernist sculptor was showing off his proto-cubist style.  I look at it as an introduction to abstraction.  The plaster for this piece was shown in the landmark 1913 Armory Show, of which he had already made several between 1907-1908.

The Art Nouveau period has always been one of my favorites and the greatest proponent in painting might very well be Gustav Klimt. Austrian symbolist painter (1862-1918).  He painted one of the more passionate kisses. The Belvedere Museum in Vienna owns the painting, and it is said that the museum bought the picture before the paint was dry between 1907 and 1908.  The following I have taken whole hog from a website

"The Kiss" is a ménage of different schools of art. The gold leaf hearkens back to such Byzantine artworks as the mosaics in the Church of San Vitale. The composition of the work reflects the influence of Japanese prints that was also evident in some earlier Impressionist paintings. The contrasting patterns of the two lovers' cloaks reflects the Arts and Crafts movement of the era and overall, Klimt imbued "The Kiss" with elements of his signature Art Nouveau style.” 

I shall finish with a most unusual kiss by Marc Chagall painted in 1915 shortly before the marriage of the artist and his beloved Bella.  I can understand being so in love that you are walking or, maybe, flying on air.  The painting is in the Museum of Modern Art.   Chagall’s muse, Bella, worked hard to discover when his birthday was in order to surprise him and he recorded the event maybe not from a strictly realistic point of view but over the next 23 years, nothing much had changed as you see from the additional photo!  What a wonderful fantasy!


Sunday, November 29, 2020

Our Museums are in Trouble

If you have been reading my Missives, I must assume that you have interest in the art world.  I recently read a very disturbing article in the Artnet News about the struggle that museums are going through.  Already at the beginning of last April there was a headline saying that the pandemic had already cost American arts organizations 4.5 billion dollars.

Quite a number of museums are in dire straits and could very well close for good if they do not get financial aid. In fact, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) predicts that 12.5% of all museums will be closing permanently.  The AAM, the American Alliance of Museums (formerly known as the American Association of Museums) did an international survey of 850 institutions.  Having lost 35% of their operating budget this year, they expect to lose another 28% in 2021.

I do not think we have to worry about the survival of museums like the Metropolitan since they have donors with very deep pockets, still, a loss of 150 million dollars for their 150th  Anniversary year gives one pause.

The Metropolitan Museum, Photo by Cindy Ord

According to UNESCO the number of museums in the last 8 years has grown by 60%. There are not only closures because of COVID, there will be  increasingly limited public funds for the arts, so many of these newer and/or smaller institutions will not survive.

Coupled with COVID restrictions is the decline in tourism affecting attendance income even when museums reopen. But here is a statistic I would not have thought of, -- replacing galas with virtual events, which two-thirds of museums have done, had a revenue shortfall of 34%.

The Prado Museum in Madrid

The American Alliance of Museums has been around since 1906 bringing museums together and developing standards and best practices.  As you might have read, together with the American Association of Museum Directors  (AAMD),  The AAM has relaxed its rules on deaccessioning.  Formerly they would only allow the sale of works of art in order to upgrade the collection, but never for operating expenses.  On April 15, 2020, The Center for Art Law reported, “Due to COVID-19, the AAMD announced that museum’s will not be censured, sanctioned, suspended, or expelled as they usually would. The AAMD reported that the museum’s good faith use of deaccessioning proceeds to pay for “direct care” of the museum’s collections is permitted.”

In the case of one British institution, the Royal Opera House in London, a painting by David Hockney consigned to Christies yielded them £13 million.  It turned out that the unannounced buyer was David Rose, billionaire co-founder of British cellphone retailer Carphone Warehouse and Chair of the Opera House’s Board of Directors, and it will return to the Royal Opera House on long term loan!  Granted that art collection does not represent an opera house’s primary function, but would that museum deaccessions would have such a happy result!

David Hockney's Portrait of Sir David Webster, 1971

After reading the various reports I gave something to all our local museums as well as a few other institutions.  I do hope you will follow suit!

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Family Sayings

For many reasons I have been thinking of my parents and the things they used to say.  More and more have come back to me while our movements have been severely restricted.  My parents were from Germany and I was born during World War II so my parents did not want me speaking German at school so only spoke English with me.  Of course, when they spoke to each other they spoke in their native German.  I used to say jokingly, that I learned German in self-defense so I could know what they were saying about me.  Though my German is severely limited by a lack of vocabulary, and a whole lot else, maybe someone can explain to me why so much of the language has come back to me lately.  They do say that you remember more from your youth as you get older.

 “I wake up in the morning with nothing to do and by the end of the day, I have finished half of it” is a comment I have read about the shutdown.   That is my state of mind too!  However, I am reminded of what my father used to say to me when I complained about having too much schoolwork: “The more you do, the more you can get done.”  So true. Though these days  really have to push myself, I sometimes amaze myself with what gets accomplished. 

As a corollary to that my father said in German, “Wennshon denn schon” (If you are going to do it, give it your all). That is my translation, but I like what I found online, “You might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb” or “Go whole hog”

My parents were born in 1911 and 1913 when Germany still had an Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II (1888-1918).  One of their favorite sayings was, “Wo der Kaiser zu Fuss geht” (where the Kaiser goes on foot). That should be obvious, -- to the privy. I can imagine my grandparents saying that to my father when he was a little boy… and it stuck.

My family art dealership was founded in Frankfurt am Mein where they had a client who could never find his hat upon departure. He would run through the gallery saying over and over again, “Meine hut meine hut, wo ist meine hut” (My hat, my hat, where is my hat).  Whenever, I am missing something, I walk around repeating that.  It is kind of soothing, especially these days, to remember that you are neither the first, nor alone, in this predicament!

If my mother was really angry with me, she would say, “Mach disch nicht dummer wie du bist”. (Don’t make yourself dumber than you are).  That one really hurt.  I tried it once on my wife ... Never Again!

To end on a lighter note, at breakfast every morning my parents and I had fresh orange juice which my father squeezed.  To this day I continue to have the fresh orange juice but the shop down the street squeezes it for me.  Anyway, my parents always said “Prost” (Cheers) and we clicked glasses before drinking up.  Their Frankfurt accent, which I always equate with a southern drawl in this country, made it sound like “Brost”.

Fast forward some 50 years and my wife is doing an exhibition of the art from the collection of Moritz, Landgraf von Hesse for the Portland Art Museum in Oregon.  When we had a dinner with the Landgraf and raised our wine glasses I said, “Prost”.  Mistake, big mistake.  The Landgraf understood me just fine but gently corrected me: “Prost is something you say in the beer hall. In fine company you say, “Zum Wohl” (To health).  Now Penelope and I say Prost at breakfast and Zum Wohl with wine at dinner. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

What Happened at Bonwit Teller?

When the Biden victory was called that Saturday morning, my wife started crying and for many hours couldn’t stop.  I had to explain to one person at the hospital that she was not in pain but they were tears of joy.  I was wrong!

Penelope told me later that when she heard trump (I will never capitalize his name) was on his way out she was reliving what he did to her and her institution 40 years earlier.

It was June 5, 1980 and Penelope called me totally frantic, “get your camera and meet me at the Robert Miller gallery." My colleague’s gallery was  right across the street from Bonwit Teller department store which was being demolished to make way for Trump Tower. 

Built in 1929 by the Stewart Company it was meant to be the last word in elegance in the French-inspired Art Deco style. Bankrupted following the Wall Street crash, the Stewart store was purchased by Bonwit Teller who engaged the well-known architect, Eli Jacques Kahn to redo the building in an updated American style.  The entrance was modernized with a 20x30 foot bronze grill, but two 15-foot tall figural Art Deco relief sculptures remained at the top of the façade. Penelope felt that  the two elements were a wonderful illustration of New York’s architectural transition from 1920’s Art Deco to what was to become known in the 30’s as the Moderne style.

At that time, Penelope was the curator in the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of 20th century arts, building the decorative arts (today known as Design) collection. When she learned that Bonwit Teller was going to be torn down by the new owner donald trump, she contacted his staff.  Getting him a serious appraisal of $200,000 which could have served as a tax deduction she also offered great PR for his debut as a developer in Manhattan. She vividly remembers the personal meeting where he agreed to donate the grill and reliefs to the museum saying, “It will be a great deal!”

The entrance grill disappeared first. Penelope was told that it had gone to a salvage yard in New Jersey so the Met sent out a truck and registrar’s crew but the salvage company knew nothing about it. Lately it has been rumored to be in donald’s, trump tower dining room which, at a couple of stories high, could accommodate it.

Then, on June 5 Robert Miller, the art dealer whose gallery looked out directly on the Bonwit Teller reliefs and who had made the appraisal, called Penelope at the Met to say he believed that they were about to jackhammer the stonework. Penelope, 9-months pregnant, (our son was born on June 14) jumped into a cab only to get caught in a typical Fifth Avenue traffic jam. “She “got out and ran”, as well as a pregnant woman can, the 10 blocks to the Miller gallery. I joined her at my colleague’s gallery as Penelope declared, “I am going over there” but Robert cut her off saying “They will recognize you. I will go”.  Gathering all the cash in the gallery, he rushed down to find the foreman of the crew, offering to pay if they would preserve the reliefs.  When he came back fuming, he said “They won’t do it.  The foreman said that the young donald told him personally that the reliefs must be destroyed because some crazy lady from a museum up town wanted them”.

Art Deco relief, detail

The story received several articles in the New York Times and on television at the time.  A photograph I took was panned over by ABC making it look like a video, but Robert Miller’s gallery director got most of the photographic play!

The story is included in a book by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher called “Trump Revealed” published by Scribner in 2016. It was revived in  the NY Times and Washington Post and  even made it to our local paper the New Mexican when trump posed as a defender of history and culture after Charlottesville.

Back in 1980 trump,  using a technique we have unfortunately come to know well, contacted the press as a “Mr. Baron” of the Trump organization, making up stories that ranged from their having had had the sculptures appraised by three  art experts who had found they had no artistic merit, to it would have cost too much to take down the reliefs, to  someone on the street below might have been hurt during their removal.

Today it is just more of the same! 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Quirky Objects

I like this idea of making observations in our own collection and so I started looking around for what I would call quirky or unusual works of art, i.e. they don’t fit in to the normal art vocabulary of the artist or the type of object.

In our former life we collected Art Nouveau objects. When we left New York, we donated our Jugendstil metalwork collection to the Cooper Hewitt and sold 99% of furniture. Even though we knew that our umbrella stand would not “fit in”, in Santa Fe we wanted a souvenir of a previous life. It was probably made in Eastern Europe, possibly Austria.  It is certainly a little different from the norm and frankly I have never seen another one.

Adapting to our New Mexico home, this Jewish boy found himself acquiring several crosses, though he objected when his wife suggested putting one on the front door!  In 2008 we discovered the “found art” of Pablo Flores quite by accident when we visited the Silver Sun Gallery in Santa Fe in 2008 known for its  Native jewelry. Pablo Flores creates religious sculptures he calls "Revotos (rather than exvotos) from objects he finds on his restorative walks. Although each cross cost under $100 they have become meaningful to us.  This might make more sense if you know that the artist is a reformed alcoholic, who, before he became an ordained minister and father of 3, had a life of booze, drugs, gangs, guns and as a result, prison. For illustration purposes I am picking “Walk the Walk” where you see the sole of a shoe fixed in place by the rusted lid of a tin can.

Another cross was a natural for me to accept.  We acquired it from Charlie Sanchez, a specialist in straw work, at Traditional Spanish Market in the summer of 2018.  It is signed on the back and titled, "Cruz de los Sepharditos de Nuestra Tierra Sagrada".   The straw inlay of the cross represents a Star of David above a Menorah (the eight-candle holder used on the holiday of Chanukah) in the center making it a truly Judeo/Christian object. When we were buying this fascinating object, I could not resist asking the artist, Why?  His reply was that his DNA test proved him 66% Sephardic Jew. He is the descendant of Jews who fled Spain with the Reconquest . They came to New Mexico where a group settled along the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque in Sanchez’ village of Tomé.

I will end with a table by an artist that my wife “discovered” when she was curator at the Metropolitan Museum.  It is by the artist Albert Paley who became the outstanding exponent metalwork of the Studio Craft Movement. He started out making pieces of jewelry that he wanted to form to the body he was making them for. (These incredible works looked great on his statuesque wife, Frances.)  He subsequently moved on to steel furniture, architectural ornament and monumental sculpture. His metamorphosis occurred in 1974 when he won the Renwick Gallery’s national design competition to create decorative metalwork doors for the gallery shop. His Portal Gates opened the door to a new career. For an excellent lecture by Albert about his work go to

 I remember when Penelope took me to Albert’s studio in Rochester, New York where he forged his steel and I saw there a lectern, which I loved but we had absolutely no use for.  When I had to ask if I could by it, Albert’s responded, “There are 6 people ahead of you”.  A few years later when we were in a new apartment, I longed for a coffee table to go between 2 couches opposite each other, but my wife did not want one.  I was inspired to ask if we could get a coffee table, if Albert would make one for us.  She agreed but then I heard her on the phone with Albert saying that he should make a table on which I could not pile on large coffee table books!  Here is the result of one of our quirkiest and favorite works of art that has been the centerpiece of our homes in New York and New Mexico.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

A Bronze Mystery

I have had reason to visit the infusion center at our local hospital, Christus St. Vincent, on a daily basis bringing my wife for antibiotic infusions. Due to Covid restrictions I must wait for her outside the center which is at the back of the hospital. In a nearby enclosed staff “picnic area” I discovered a sculpture that I told my wife has become my new girlfriend!

Who’s that woman under the tree?

At first, looking at it against the sunlight, I just saw a life size bronze of a crouching woman with voluptuous breasts, but then I noticed a protrusion from her underside.  Was this a hermaphrodite?

When I described it to my wife, she said this was a classic position for giving birth and I should look at it from the bother side. So, the next day I visited, and went to the back of the sculpture. With the sun shining directly on it I saw the baby’s head coming out.

I was fascinated by the piece and kept going back to it. There was no label indicating who it was by. About the fifth time I walked around it I found the signature.  It was quite clear on the base, so either I was just not focusing, or it had been covered by autumn leaves.  Below is an image of the signature, E. Robergé, with the date, but who is that? A thorough search of the internet has been no help so far.  Maybe, one of my readers will be able to enlighten me.

Why was this wonderful piece hidden at the back of the hospital while another innocuous bronze sculpture of a mother and child was prominently positioned in front of the main entrance. Could it be that people would find its realism too much to handle?

I phoned the Hospital Foundation, which I presumed to be responsible for much of the art there, but they were not able to help.  I was told there was no information that they knew of on my lady and no committee or individual in charge of art acquisitions.

There is a great deal of colorful “art” work on the walls of the hospital but most of it is what I would call “art by the yard”, images of unidentified paintings printed on stretched canvas of the type available online as “wall art”. I can only guess it was budgeted in a building or renovation program.  Once in a while a piece stands out and one can assume that it was donated by an artist or a grateful patient.  In the case, of my new girlfriend I assume that it was the artist.

My curiosity about this sculpture started out because I thought I saw as an ambiguity, it then became an inquiry and then a fascination.  As you have probably experienced, we always want to know more about the one we love! 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Art that Makes Me Smile

These days we need to try to laugh and smile through the tears.  Being restricted to home more than usual I draw on our personal art collection.

When my wife wanted to rush me to close my art business in New York and join her here in Santa Fe full-time, (turned out to be the best decision of our lives) she lured me by allowing me to buy a wide screen TV and amplifier speakers, DVR, DVD player etc. Shortly thereafter we saw a cartoon I could not resist as it spoke to my personal moment.  It is by Ricardo Caté, of Santo Domingo Pueblo, whose cartoons titled “Without Reservations” have appeared in the local Santa Fe newspaper, The New Mexican, every day since 2006.  He describes Indian humor as the result of “us living in a dominant culture, and the funny part is that we so often fall short of fitting in.”   We bought the watercolor from Ricardo at his first Indian Market, an annual event in Santa Fe and it filled his characterization perfectly. That modest acquisition cost us only $20 but it was the first of many more ambitious examples of Caté’s work  that we now own.

Most of my life my work has been with artists who have long since past, but I have learned that works by living artists can afford a more immediate experience. One example is the carved wood sculpture that hangs in our home.  We acquired it when we were driving up to Taos, New Mexico, not for the skiing for which the town is famed, but for my wife’s shoulder surgery with the orthopedic surgeon to the Olympic ski team.

Since we can hardly ever pass up an art shopping opportunity, we stopped on the way at the Chimayo Trading del Norte at Rancho de Taos.  There we discovered this unusual mask that reminded us of Commedia dell'arte but was signed by a well-known Warm Springs Chiricahua Apache sculptor, Bob Hazous. Since we had met the artist previously, I wrote to him. asking about our purchase.  Here is his reply: “I have always enjoyed the Italian theatrical masks since my first visit to Venice … My mask: I don’t recall the exact time when it was created, probably somewhere in the late 1980’s … I clearly remember making the mask, probably looked at as a humorous piece by some, but to me it represented an aesthetic and compositional challenge, probably inspired by the eyeglass frame [most likely the antique trade sign for an optometrist]. Where that came from, I couldn’t tell you. I surround myself with junk of all kinds for inspiration to be used in an artwork or contemplation. Your photos are great. Thanks for sharing that almost lost memory.”

My final smile for today is a Hopi carved wood sculpture of an embracing couple. The figures are a yellow clown and a Kokopelmana, who is the female fertility Katsina in the Hopi religious pantheon of spirits.  The group is signed RG on the base for the Hopi carver, Ros George. He specializes in making small sculptures out of a single piece of cottonwood using only a pocketknife and an Exacto razor knife.  

We acquired the piece five years ago at an auction to benefit Santa Fe’s Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.  Adding to the provenance was the fact that it had been donated to the auction by a prominent dealer, Lynn Fox who specialty is Native American pottery.  He told the Wheelwright that it dated from 1995, which was the height of realistic action Katsina figures.

So, here are three smiles in our home: one acquired directly from the artist; another from a trading post (for those not acquainted with the Southwest, read art dealer); and lastly at a charity auction.  If you are a collector, you seize opportunity wherever it presents itself.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Time: Redux

This is a Missive I sent out 9 years ago and the idea of time and patience is weighing on all of us.  How long until the elections, when can we take off our masks even what day is it today.  This is the story of how time and patience may pay off ...


Time is a subject that has always fascinated and tortured me.  Let’s get the latter over with first.  I have the curse of always being early or on time.  I am usually waiting for someone or am embarrassed by reaching someone’s house too early.  I am obsessive about deadlines no matter what they are.  I have always blamed this on my parents German background.  I remember being seriously late once (45 minutes) and my hosts were getting ready to call the police!  My father always said if people are usually late, once in a while they should also be early, but it is never that way. I realize now that this is because they use every minute at their disposal to accomplish something while I am standing on one foot waiting!

The corollary is a lack of patience that I also suffer from.  When our son was a child he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and I realized that I have always suffered from the same problem which makes me a good multi-tasker but horrible in the patience department. We also learned, that there are always some things that such an individual can concentrate on.  In a child it may be video games: for me, it is art that I love.

For instance, some years ago we sold a drawing by Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940).  Since none of the players are alive anymore, I think that I can mention the names.  We acquired it from the Richard S. Davis Collection, a well-known collector and former director of the Minneapolis Museum of Art.   We sold it to another renowned collector, John Gaines.  When the latter decided to sell it in a public sale, the auction house told him that the expert who was writing the catalog raisonné did not recognize the drawing as by the artist.  John Gaines came back to me and, of course, I bought the drawing back.  Then I set to work.  I researched the provenance and learned that Richard Davis had acquired the drawing from a most reputable dealer in works on paper, Lucien Goldschmidt.  

The portrait was of Thadée Nathanson whom Vuillard and other artists of the Nabis school drew and painted.  The best-known images, however, are from around the time when Nathanson and his brother published the Revue Blanche (1891-1903), an arts journal of the time.  I then took the drawing out of its frame and saw that the sheet had been torn out of a sketchpad.  I sent all that I had found to the same expert that the auction house had been in touch with.  In due course, I received his expertise authenticating the work as by Vuillard, and the subject as Nathanson Because of the sitter’s obvious age in the drawing the date must be about 1930The auction houses get so much to deal with that they cannot always do what is necessary, but I was determined and invested the time and effort to prove my conviction of the drawing’s authenticity.

It is kind of exciting being an art detective and that is what the collector must do as well.  You want to know as much as possible about a work of art that you wish to acquire both before and after its acquisition.  Not just is the price right, though this is important, the more passionate a collector, the lower down it will be on your priority list.  After hitting the books and if possible, asking scholars for their opinion, you need to weigh the evidence and then you make the final decision. Usually, by repeating the process over and over again our decisions become better and more informed, but still, in matters of art, I have found that an investment of time pays off.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Enrichment Through Technology: Redux

Here is a Missive from 2010 that I believe we can relate to even more today ...

I hear from all sides the disparagement of technology, at the same time said individual turns on the microwave to heat up dinner and turns on the TV.

Nobody reads anymore. Then why are the Kindle and other electronic book readers doing so well?

Nobody writes letters anymore, then why do we produce millions of emails every day.

Some of us remember the Texaco broadcasts with Milton Cross on Saturday afternoons from the Metropolitan Opera. We had friends and relatives across the country who were glued to their radios to hear that week’s opera. So the concept of the simulcast is nothing new but it has gotten a lot better. Not only has video been added but it has been improved technologically and the cinematographer has learned how to use his/her camera to capture the essence of the theater experience; the feeling that you are participating in the original performance with the audience in the theater.

In the last decade, technology has brought the arts ever closer to us. The other night we went to the Lensic theater here in Santa Fe to see a Simulcast of Hamlet from The National Theater in London. It was a much-acclaimed new production and had received excellent reviews. It was, of course, not exactly a simulcast since I doubt that the play went from 2 AM to 6 AM in London but it was a film of the actual production that had taken place in London that evening. The next evening many went back to the Lensic to see a simulcast of Don Carlo from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. We see and hear the audience that is watching the production live as well giving us, even more, the feeling of participation in the actual event.

The next day we went to the inauguration of several new additions to the New Mexico Museum of Art’s website. To my surprise part of the pitch was that you can enjoy the museum without actually setting foot inside the door.

I must admit to having been a little shocked. Whenever I speak to classes or groups I tell them that they have to engage with the original work of art, that reproductions are no substitute. But I do not think that the museum director was suggesting that there is no longer a reason to go to actually go into the museum or the theater for that matter. Then I remembered when Barnes & Noble and Borders started putting coffee bars and reading areas allowing the visitors to linger and sample their wares. The result more people bought more.

Many of us do not have easy access to the original. We may be across the state, the country or in another country altogether. The Metropolitan Opera has a finite number of seats for a particular performance so even if you live across the street you might not be able to get a seat... not to mention that those seats are extremely expensive. Why shouldn’t the family in Timbuktu have access to the arts as well?

The website of the New Mexico Museum of Art offers much of the permanent collection online with a tasting from all their departments, only a fraction of which can be on view in the museum at any one time. Of course, the exhibitions that are showing at the museum are also on the site with images and teasers about forthcoming exhibitions. What I found the most innovative is the section called “New Mexico Art Tells New Mexico History”. Like all internet sites, this one is a work in progress but at the moment there is a section on ‘Ancestral Peoples’, ‘Opening of the West’, ‘Growing New Mexico’, and ‘People, Places and Politics’. This is a wonderful tool designed for use in New Mexico schools to supplement the social studies curriculum, but it can also serve the visitor new to New Mexico or new to an art museum. What a wonderful way for a parent or teacher to prepare a child for a visit. In turn, that child will have the background knowledge to make his or her own discoveries.

As technology improves it can bring the art experience closer to us and make the entry to the museum or theater all the more thrilling.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Autumn Color Redux

If you have been my friend for a while, you likely have heard stories twice ... here is a good one ...


We had been coming out to Santa Fe for about ten years when we decided to look for a house.  I remember saying to my wife that we had experienced this town for about three months of the year and how would we like it in other months. She assured me that I would love all but I was not totally convinced.

You have seen Missives that I have written in the winter months buried in snow, and we have enjoyed all the months so far, but this is the first October that I have been out here.

What a treat it has turned out to be! Now I am not what you would normally call a nature lover.  I do appreciate it, but I do not usually wax lyrical on the subject. But over the last two weeks in the Santa Fe area I have experienced a living work of art.

We live on a dry sandy riverbed, called in these parts, an arroyo.   At the moment it is awash in yellow flowers and looks absolutely lush.  The color comes from the chamisa which is not exactly a flower.  A clinical definition is “a saltbush, Atriplex canescens,  of the western U.S. and Mexico, having grayish, scurfy foliage”.  From that who would believe how beautiful it could be!  But just take a look at some of the images taken in front of our home.  You won’t be surprised to learn that our arroyo is known as Arroyo Chamisa and it runs for miles.

As beautiful as it can be, chamisa does have a downside.  Some people are extremely allergic to it and even leave town during the worst allergy seasons.  Though I have always had allergies and sneeze my head off on a regular basis, the chamisa, for me at least, does not add to the discomfort.

The beautiful color of the arroyo is not the only vibrant yellow that we see from our town.  When we look up into the mountains we see dense areas of yellow which we believed for years was just effects created by the incredible sunlight that has drawn artist to the area since the early 20th century. This year we discovered there is more to it than that.  We have forests of Aspen trees which all turn color at this time of year making the hills into a fairy tale.

Since we do not ski we have never visited the well-known ski basin of Santa Fe which is so popular in the winter months.  I thought that it was a long road trip miles above us.  It turns out that it is only 15 miles and though it is a winding mountain road we can get up close and personal with the aspens in just a little over 30 minutes.  So one day last week we got in the car and went up to Aspen Vista trail and walked into the mountains.

In this part of the world we dread wildfires, which are not infrequent, and the smell of smoke from the controlled fires, like that set by the Forestry Service the day before our walk, fills us with apprehension. Yet, we have learned that clearing the underbrush indirectly benefits the aspens. It allows the sun to shine on the saplings that grow in quickly, regenerating from sprouts. Since aspens need a lot of sun they are found on the side of the mountain that gets the most hours of exposure and that is the side we see from town. It was amazing how a short drive brought to life what had previously been no more than a backdrop to the city we live in.

I will return to New York next week for a month and leave this all behind. When I come back to Santa Fe there will be a new season and a new month to enjoy.