Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Virtual Museum

I thought I would finally get some time off and could post some repeats considering practically every art institution is closing everywhere, even the Tate in London, which at first boasted that it would stay open after many were closing is now shut. 

Though I knew that some museums were trying to remain open on line I did not realize how prevalent this was until I got the email, “The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Museum Resources, E-Learning, and Online Collections”.  It lists something like 110 different art sites that one can visit and many of those have multiple sites listed.  That should keep the homebound busy!

There are even discoveries that specialists can make. Just one example is a former museum director who has spent his retirement studying Native American ceramics and written several books on the subject.  He saw on line an image of a vitrine full of such ceramics and reported, “I never knew that the Pitts River Museum at Oxford College, England had so many Native American ceramics.”  

As you may have heard The European Art Fair (TEFAF) that takes place in Maastricht, closed shortly after it opened.  Next thing I knew all the dealers were sending me virtual tours of their booths. Here is one from friends of ours based in Munich, Germany, The Arnoldi-Livie Gallery.  You can move your cursor to get different angles or hit one of the little circles to get a closer look at a single work:

Go to the site of The Uffizi in Florence,  a museum like no other in Italy, and look at their collection.  Page one has Caravaggio’s Bachus and Botticelli’s Spring and put in an artist’s name in the search box for any artist you desire.  Entering Raphael or Michelangelo will also lead to fabulous results.  If you wish, click on the image you can get further details about the work:

Piero della Francesca, The Duke and Duchess of Urbino

I have never visited The Frick Pittsburg although Miss Helen Clay Frick was a very good client of ours, and, by the way, a very gracious lady. She was the daughter of the American industrialistfinancierunion-buster, and art patron who was from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Miss Frick turned the historic family home into a museum in which she wished to emulate the Frick Collection in New York.  Through the tour on its website, I got to see a Rubens, a couple of tapestries and a French 18th-century gueridon table with Sevres plaque and candle holders which we sold to Miss Frick:

Peter Paul RubensMarguerite de Montmorency, Princess of Condé

There are many specialized collections, for instance, musical instruments. Click on:  for the world’s largest archive of musical instruments registering over 64,000 items!

I am sorry, I did not realize that your interest was in trains.  Then please visit The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania: For me, it brought back childhood memories.  I remember going to camp on an overnight sleeper train… no one slept! James, the husband of my nanny Evelyn, was a short-order cook on the Pennsylvania Railroad and she was a great cook too.  That is where I acquired my “culinary skills” and still enjoy a quickly cooked meal on a stovetop best.  In fact, in my teenage years, I once cooked a several course meal for a group of friends on a single electric skillet! 

There are links to National Parks and sites for kids, many coming from art museums, digital libraries, science and history sites and all kinds of collections but let me go back for one more art site.

How about The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, one of this country’s best repositories for modern art I am illustrating a self-portrait by Chuck Close from their collection. Why Chuck Close? First of all, I love his work, and then for more personal reasons.  He was a genuinely nice guy, one could call him a “mensch”!  We had kids at the same school and he was represented by Pace Gallery, which was in the same 57th Street building as Rosenberg & Stiebel. He even joined us for the luncheon at our gallery celebrating the opening of Stiebel Modern, (the contemporary branch which we had for 5 years).

Chuck Close, Self Portrait, Yellow Raincoat

To me, it is obvious that art dealers should go online.  Some artists represented by contemporary galleries, however, don’t want their art to be sold in the same way as from Amazon, even if the income is much needed. 

I just hope that people do not get so used to looking at pictures online that they fail to visit the real thing when this is all over. Somehow, I don’t think they will. On another level, even if you cannot own a Leonardo da Vinci, you can bookmark one in a museum that you can call your own!

As a final act of goodwill, today, I will give away my source where you can enjoy all this research: ... ENJOY!

PS: I do not usually put responses to my missives but this one that I received from Richard (Dick) Stolley Reporter and Bureau Chief at Life Magazine, Founding Editor of People Magazine and Senior Editorial Advisor at Time, Inc. seemed particularly important for the present situation in our country.

When I wrote last week I about The Art of Lying, Dick responded:

“As journalists, we are forbidden to lie, and most of us try to follow that Fourth Estate Commandment.  It's not always possible sometimes because we don't have the right information when we put pen to paper (so to speak).  So the real commandment is NEVER stop reporting.  Therein lies whatever Truth exists.”

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Art of Lying

As usual some days before my Missive comes out, I try to think of something to write about.  In this case, it was the art of lying.  Maybe you can guess why?  I put it into Google and sure enough up came an article from the Scientific American titled, “The Art of Lying”. “Lying has gotten a bad rap. In fact, it is among the most sophisticated accomplishments of the human mind. But how can one tell if a person is fibbing?”

From the same article, “Of course, not everyone agrees that some lying is necessary. Generations of thinkers have lined up against this perspective. The Ten Commandments admonish us to tell the truth. The Pentateuch is explicit: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.’ Islam and Buddhism also condemn lying. For 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant, the lie was the ‘radical innate evil in human nature’ and was to be shunned even when it was a matter of life and death.” Here is a link to the entire article,

In a report for the BBC called “The Devious Art of Lying by Telling the Truth” Melissa Hogenboom addressed the interesting issue of the art of omission. She pointed out that we all lie, often as a kindness, such as “you look great” even if we don’t think so. “It is when individuals use lies to manipulate others or to purposely mislead that it is more worrying. And this happens more often than you might think.”.  Isn’t that why politicians lie.? Day one Bernie Sanders is going to legalize marijuana and shortly thereafter give us universal health care, Biden is going to bring this country together (Obama tried and look where that got us).  Unfortunately, the lies from our current president are dangerous to you and me by denying the reality of Covid-19 (initially another hoax) and then contradicting the advice of medical experts.

From The Week Magazine, website

Abraham Lincoln summed it up, "no man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar".  I know I don’t … do you? 

When Trump lied about the imminent danger posed by Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani saying he had plans to bomb embassies, he said it did not matter if he lied since Soleimani had committed so many atrocities.  Why did it matter … 

When you know people are lying to you, you learn not to trust them.  Reminds me of the old joke, “there is youth, middle age and you're looking good”.  After a while when people say the latter to you, you no longer give it credence.  If many other lies follow, you do not know what to believe so you ignore what you are being told. 

From The Week Magazine, website

It is something to think about.  Why do we accept lies of a certain type and from certain people?  We recognize soon enough if people lie as a rule, or occasionally to make us feel better or to get themselves out of trouble.  If someone lies to us regularly, at some point, we realize we are being misguided.  Evaluating the source of the information with which we are constantly bombarded is more important than ever.  In the present circumstance, misinformation could be lethal.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Aliens

You might expect this topic to be visitors from outer space, but it could not be further from the truth: it is the title of a play we saw recently. Live theater has been the one art form that has not flourished in Santa Fe. In our two decades here, one after another promising theater company has failed. The singular exception has been Ironweed Productions. Artistic director Scott Harrison has miraculously managed to produce a few first-rate dramas every year since 2005. He has selected plays that he feels are “rooted in the American experience” and has used local New Mexican talent and whatever modest venue was available. We have missed a few productions but those that we have seen have never disappointed us. This is theater on the level of the best of off-Broadway. 

Charles Isherwood, critic for the New York Times, called “The Aliens” the best play of the year in 2010 when it came out. The setting is the fenced back yard of a coffee shop in a small town in Vermont. Here two thirtyish men, a high school and a college dropout, hang out discussing music, poetry, and life, when a high school student, newly hired by the coffee shop, joins them.

This is essentially a character study. In a note in the text, playwright Annie Baker stated that at least one-third of her play should be silent, uncomfortably so. The slow pace, with long pauses for smoking and looking out at nothing in particular, makes it somewhat awkward for the audience, but it gives one a chance to think and take in all the insights we are being fed.

Here in Santa Fe a bare room was turned into a small theater with the seats on risers before a set consisting of a fence, shed, a couple of chairs, a picnic table, and garbage pails.  All were used to such good effect that you could practically smell the food coming out of the kitchen.

This is a play that depends as much on the actors and director as it does on the script, and it is written as such. Here it is carried by local talent.  The director for the Ironweed production was actress Lynn Goodwin, a graduate of Yale, (BA Theater) Columbia (MFA Writing) and UCLA (Screenwriting).  The cast featured Matt Sanford, Niko'a Salas, and Mickey Dolan.

For me it was enjoyable watching the performance of Matt Sanford since I wrote about him some time ago when he was heading the program of training teenagers in the backstage arts, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center here in Santa Fe.  He has since become the Lensic stage manager, but I had no idea that he was also an accomplished actor. 

Niko’a Salas is credited in the program as “a local actor, writer, and creation craving creative”.  He turned in a startlingly athletic, as well as emotionally intense, performance.

Mickey Dolan is a 2017 graduate of the New Mexico School for the Arts which was founded as a charter school just a decade ago and has become one of the top-rated high schools in the U.S. On stage his subtle transition from an insecure 15-year-old trying to observe the rules of a boss who doesn’t want any loiterers around to an admirer of the older men was completely convincing. 

There was tragedy and uplifting moments.  Though the two men would be defined as bums, they show that everyone has worth. For me the most telling line was “Everyone is a genius and no one is”.  You have heard one hand washes the other.  We all need people to help us along the way.  No one makes it on their own. Near the end the boy plays the guitar abysmally and sings likewise, one of the men tells him so lovingly, “that was great, you are going to go far, really”.  You can see that it has given the boy confidence that he never had before.

The first act is exposition and setting up of the concept. We felt bad for a couple who left before the second act. They missed what turned out to be a moving morality play. My father loved opera and when he gave me his tickets he always said stay until the end that is when you will hear the best aria.  In “The Aliens” it was definitely worth waiting for!

“The Aliens” can still be seen in Santa Fe this coming Thursday through Sunday.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Murals of New Mexico

The article by one of our great art critics, Peter Schjeldahl, “Wall Power: The influence of Mexico’s Great Muralists” (The New Yorker of March 2, 2020) about the exhibition at the Whitney Museum in New York, made me think …

Well then, why not the murals of New Mexico. The great Mexican muralists have certainly been an influence here along with the WPA commissions for Federal Buildings during the Depression. Set against our clear blue skies, the brown earth colors of walls that continue our regional tradition of adobe construction make a perfect background for commissioned murals and those by what are today known as street artists. 

If you define a mural as painting on a wall, then murals date back to 30,000 BC from the earliest paintings in the Chauvet cave in France but the art form is alive and well. Banksy, an England-based street artist, is a name that many of you may have heard of because he can bring big money at auction, but the authors of many murals are unknown, sometimes because the works are collective efforts. 

The Mexican modernists used murals to tell us the history of a place. This is the case with a major mural in Santa Fe which as I write is slated for destruction.  It is by a local Hispanic artist, Gilberto Guzman together with a team of Native American, Anglo and Hispanic artists. Guzman is 88 years old and the work was done nearly 40 years ago. It was commissioned for a building that then housed the state archives. Left in dereliction the building is to be subsumed into a new and larger museum of contemporary art.  It is being built under what I consider a false premise; that people who have come originally from, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas or Palm Springs will leave important works from their collections to a small museum in Santa Fe rather that the more illustrious institutions in the places they came from. 

According to the official statement from the state, the reason that mural is not to be incorporated in the facades of the new contemporary museum is because it is “unstable with extensive cracking.”  A writer to our local newspaper pointed out that Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco of “The Last Supper” started to deteriorate a few years after it was painted but they have managed to preserve it.  So, it is with most murals: they naturally need frequent restoration … a time-honored practice. 

A number of “compromises” have been offered to satisfy protesters of the loss of our mural in the heart of our city that celebrates our multiculturalism.  Proposals include a photographic image to be projected “somewhere” inside the new museum, and, more recently, chunks of the original to be installed in the new museum’s lobby.  Here is most of the image already sealed off from the street and an image before the controversy.

For a mid-20th century traveler along the 2,450 miles of Route 66 spanning 8 states it would have seemed that billboards had replaced murals. There is still a famous series urging motorists to spend the night in the New Mexico town of Tucumcari which boasts 2,500 motel beds, though it had only 5,000 residents. It turns out that now even Tucumcari has its own mural by Doug and Sharon Quarles celebrating its billboard history.

A number of murals contribute to the recent campaign to improve image of the city of Gallup, New Mexico.  Located in the middle of Indian Country, it had been a place where Indians went to get drunk since the reservations are dry.   Also, there are quite a number of unscrupulous dealers selling fake Indian Jewelry with signs for 50% off.  However, the city is proud of their annual “Indian Ceremonial” which is a major Intertribal gathering with dances and events.  Here is a Gallup mural that pays tribute to the Navajo Code Breakers of World War II.  It is by Be Sargeant.

I cannot find an artist’s name for this mural of a war scene which was painted in August of 2011 on the new Hamilton Military Museum in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

This next image is from a parking lot in Taos, New Mexico.  The artist is George Chacon.  I cannot explain why but, for me, seeing this mural every day would make the ritual of parking actually pleasurable.

While touring through New Mexico it has always been a pleasure to look up and discover a mural in an unexpected location. This mural on a water tower can be found in the only town I know of named after a game show, “Truth or Consequences”.

Murals can be found everywhere.  For friends and family visiting Philadelphia my daughter arranged an impressive tour of recent murals in underserved urban communities, but for me the incredible light and bright colors of the southwest give the murals of New Mexico a special quality. I fervently hope that the growing community effort succeeds is saving the best example in Santa Fe.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Native American Jewelry

Put jewelry into Google and the first response says, “The first jewelry was worn by the Cro-Magnons, ancestors of Homo sapiens. Their jewelry included crude necklaces and bracelets made of bone, teeth and stone stitched to animal sinew … there is evidence as far back as 8,800 BC that the Paleo-Indians shaped stones and shells into jewelry pieces by using a thin stone drill.”

If you look closely at an arrowhead, aside from its shape and purpose, the notches were also decorative The main reason given that Paleo- Indians wore jewelry was, for adornment and to signify social status and the more the better. This remains true universally: “My diamond has more carats than your diamond”. 

The Coe Center in Santa Fe recently did a small exhibition of jewelry called, “How it was Handed to Me.”  The focus was the work of the Caesar family who have specialized in Plains jewelry made of nickel “german” silver, an alloy. In conjunction with this the Coe organized panel sessions with Native jewelers addressing the handing down of the art from one generation to the next within a family and the broader tradition of mentorship.  It was Bruce Caesar speaking of his learning from his father who also worked in nickel silver, that the name of the show came from. Here is a crown in the exhibition which he made for the young women in the tribe.

The panels revealed some cultural conflicts.   Many artists that I have met do not like to be pigeonholed, but the artists in these sessions wanted to be identified with their heritage. At the same time, they wanted to elaborate on tradition going in new and different directions.  Several of them talked of the new materials, techniques and tools that they were exploring.
Some interesting practicalities came up in their discussions such as the cost of materials.  One artist who wanted to work in gold explained that this would entail an investment risk.  To cover the cost of the material she might have to price the work too high to sell easily. 

Another issue was, whether it was legitimate to use the computer for design. All the participants replied in the affirmative though it could be frowned upon in some of the competitions they attended.  They were asked if they liked these contests and they did.  It was a very good way to be recognized in their field.

Most of the artists wanted to work in more than one medium such as paintings and jewelry or maybe wood carving and jewelry.  I will only touch on a few of the artists on the second session panel but after going to both panels of about 1 ½  hours each you can see what an exhaustive subject jewelry can be.  Considering how old the art is that is not surprising!

Kenneth Johnson (Muscogee/Seminole) is an influential figure in the field and a member of the Coe Center board of trustees. He curated the Caesar family exhibition, rounded up the panels and was the MC for the two evenings.  Calling on artists, teachers and students in the audience, he demonstrated the close relations between members of the Native jewelry community. 

Johnson has the unique distinction of having made rings for all of the women justices who have served on the Supreme Court. He works in a wide range of metals, including, copper, silver, gold, platinum and palladium, He is particularly known for his stampwork and engraving which are illustrated in his own silver wedding ring. He also incorporates coins and bead-set gemstones. Native Peoples magazine featured him on the cover with a gold ring (in the center detail) he made for a couple’s 40th wedding anniversary with a 4 carat diamond, 1 carat for each decade of their marriage as well as the wife’s birthstone, an emerald, underneath.

One of the panelists at the Coe was Adrian Standing Elk Pinnecoose (Navajo/Southern Ute).  He was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis as a child. However, from his wheelchair, he can do computer generated digital work.  He was accepted into Santa Fe Indian Market in 2018 breaking a barrier that has restricted participants to traditional techniques.  Here is a picture of Adrian and a design he made with his 3-D printer.

Samuel LaFountain (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa/ Diné (aka Navajo)) specializes in making one of a kind pieces. Even though people usually want what they have seen somewhere else, he prefers to always be challenging himself.

Another panelist, LeOreal “Effie” Wall (Ute Mountain Ute, Northern Ute), is still a teenager and a senior at the Institute for American Indian Arts. She   was passionate and articulate, offering great praise for the mentorship that many of the established artists give to young students, opening their studios to them and in some cases hiring them as assistants.  This follows in the tradition of the European Old Masters who also took in apprentices, who became assistants and often went on to be independent artists. Rembrandt had over 40 students many of whom became the leading lights of the Golden Age of Painting in Holland.

As regular visitors to Santa Fe’s Indian Market we have noticed how jewelry has developed over the years to the point that it is the most innovative of the art forms presented and the most successful in terms of sales. The Coe programs gave insight into just how this has come about.